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-- Precursor to Paleo-Hebrew Script Discovered in Jerusalem - 5/09/14
-- European genetic identity may stretch back 36,000 years - 6/11/14
-- Archaeologists discover 20 monumental tombs dating back 6,500 years in France - 9/13/14
-- Native Americans and Northern Europeans more closely related than previously thought
-- New evidence for the earliest modern humans in Europe - 11/2/11
-- Modern humans emerged far earlier than previously thought, fossils from China suggest - 11/28/10

 Precursor to Paleo-Hebrew Script Discovered in Jerusalem

Alan Millard examines the Proto-Canaanite script of the earliest alphabetic text ever found in Jerusalem

This new Jerusalem Proto-Canaanite inscription precedes the development of the Paleo-Hebrew script, which was used by the Israelites until the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. When the Judean exiles returned from Babylon, they brought back the square Aramaic script, which ultimately replaced the Paleo-Hebrew script. Both the Paleo-Hebrew and the square Aramaic scripts, however, were used together for hundreds of years.
In Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem, Hebrew University archaeologist Eilat Mazar, who previously excavated what many consider to be King David’s palace, continues the excavations of her famous grandfather, Professor Benjamin Mazar, at the southern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
The spectacular discovery of the inscription—the earliest alphabet letters found in Jerusalem—immediately inspired a number of epigraphers to attempt to translate it. Alan Millard notes that at least seven different readings have been proposed by as many eminent epigraphers.

This new Proto-Canaanite Jerusalem inscription dates to a time before the direction of letters (whether they were read right to left or left to right) had been firmly determined and before a distinction between Hebrew, Aramaic and Phoenician had been established. Eilat Mazar has tentatively dated the wall in which the inscribed jar was found to the 10th century B.C.E.

Alan Millard believes that we will likely never know with certainty what the earliest alphabetic text from Jerusalem says. What we can conclude is that the storage jar was inscribed in a place where ordinary workmen made pots, not in the lofty study of a royal scribe. Along with other early inscriptions, including the Gezer Calendar and the Qeiyafa Ostracon, Millard contends that this inscription from Jerusalem may signal widespread—if elementary—literacy during the time of David and Solomon.

 European genetic identity may stretch back 36,000 years

6 November 2014 Ann Gibbons

Europeans carry a motley mix of genes from at least three ancient sources: indigenous hunter-gatherers within Europe, people from the Middle East, and northwest Asians from near the Great Steppe of eastern Europe and central Asia. One high-profile recent study suggested that each genetic component entered Europe by way of a separate migration and that they only came together in most Europeans in the past 5000 years. Now ancient DNA from the fossilized skeleton of a short, dark-skinned, dark-eyed man who lived at least 36,000 years ago along the Middle Don River in Russia presents a different view: This young man had DNA from all three of those migratory groups and so was already “pure European,” says evolutionary biologist Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen, who led the analysis.

In challenging the multiple migration model, the new genome data, published online today in Science, suggest that Europeans today are the descendants of a very old, interconnected population of hunter-gatherers that had already spread throughout Europe and much of central and western Asia by 36,000 years ago. “What is surprising is this guy represents one of the earliest Europeans, but at the same time he basically contains all the genetic components that you find in contemporary Europeans—at 37,000 years ago,” Willerslev says.

The origins of Europeans used to seem straightforward: The first modern humans moved into Europe 42,000 to 45,000 years ago, perhaps occasionally meeting the Neandertals whose ancestors had inhabited Europe for at least 400,000 years. Then, starting 10,000 years ago, farmers came from the Middle East and spread rapidly throughout Europe. As researchers recently sequenced the genomes of more than a dozen ancient members of our species, Homo sapiens, in Europe and Asia in rapid succession, they added a third genetic component: a “ghost” lineage of nomads who blew into northeast Europe from the steppes of western Asia 4000 to 5000 years ago.

To explore European ancestry further, Willerslev’s team extracted DNA from the ulna, or lower arm bone, of a skeleton of a young man discovered in 1954 at Kostenki 14, one of more than 20 archaeological sites at Kostenki-Borshchevo. This area in southwest Russia was a crossroads at the boundary of eastern Europe and western Asia and was famous for its carved Venus figures of women. Using radiocarbon dating, the man, also known as the Markina Gora, was recently dated to 36,200 to 38,700 years old, making it the second oldest modern human whose whole genome has been sequenced.

Kostenki XIV (Markina Gora), reconstructed by M. M. Gerasimov

A reconstruction of Kostenki 14.

Willerslev extracted 13 samples of DNA from the arm bone, and his graduate student Andaine Seguin-Orlando and other lab members sequenced the ancient genome to a final coverage of 2.42x, which is relatively low and means that on average each nucleotide site was read 2.4 times. From the sequence data, they found gene variants indicating that the man had dark skin and eyes. He also had about 1% more Neandertal DNA than do Europeans and Asians today, confirming what another, even older human from Siberia had shown—that humans and Neandertals mixed early, before 45,000 years ago, perhaps in the Middle East.

The man from Kostenki shared close ancestry with hunter-gatherers in Europe—as well as with the early farmers, suggesting that his ancestors interbred with members of the same Middle Eastern population who later turned into farmers and came to Europe themselves. Finally, he also carried the signature of the shadowy western Asians, including a boy who lived 24,000 years ago at Mal’ta in central Siberia. If that finding holds up, the mysterious DNA from western Eurasia must be very ancient, and not solely from a wave of nomads that entered Europe 5000 years ago or so, as proposed by researchers in September.

Willerslev says the data suggest the following scenario: After modern humans spread out of Africa about 60,000 years ago, they encountered Neandertals and interbred with them, perhaps in the Middle East. Then while one branch headed east toward Melanesia and Australia, another branch of this founder population (sometimes called “basal Eurasians”) spread north and west into Europe and central Asia. “There was a really large met-population that probably stretched all the way from the Middle East into Europe and into Eurasia,” Willerslev says. These people interbred at the edges of their separate populations, keeping the entire complex network interconnected—and so giving the ancient Kostenki man genes from three different groups. “In principle, you just have sex with your neighbor and they have it with their next neighbor—you don’t need to have these armies of people moving around to spread the genes.”

Later, this large population was pushed back toward Europe as later waves of settlers, such as the ancestors of the Han Chinese, moved into eastern Asia. The Kostenki man does not share DNA with eastern Asians, who gave rise to Paleoindians in the Americas.

Other researchers say that this new genome is important because “it is the first paper to document some degree of continuity among the first people to get to Europe and the people living there today,” says population geneticist David Reich of Harvard University, one of the authors on the triple migration model. It also is “a striking finding that the Kostenki 14 genome already has the three major European components present that we detect in modern Europeans,” says Johannes Krause of the University of Tübingen in Germany.

But even if the man from Kostenki in Russia had all these elements 36,000 years ago, that doesn’t mean that other Europeans did, Reich says. His team’s DNA data and models suggest that Europeans in the west and north did not pick up DNA from the steppes until much later. He and Krause also think that Willerslev’s study needs to be confirmed with higher resolution sequencing to rule out contamination, and to have more population genetics modeling explain the distribution of these genetic types. The bottom line, researchers agree, is that European origins are “seem to be much more complex than most people thought,” Willerslev says.

Posted in Archaeology, Biology

 Archaeologists discover 20 monumental tombs dating back 6,500 years in France

September 13, 2014   April Holloway     for Ancient Origins

A team of archaeologists in France have unearthed a Neolithic necropolis containing at least twenty monuments and some intact burials, according to a report in Past Horizons. The monumental constructions, some of which are several hundred metres long, are the first tombs of their kind to be found in the region.

The discovery was made on an area of land in Fleury-sur-Orne in northwestern France, which currently has planning permission for the construction of a residential development with up to 1,800 houses.

The necropolis, which dates back to the Middle Neolithic (c 4,500 BC), consists of elongated structures made from earth and wood, ranging in size from 12 metres to 300 metres in length. The monuments are surrounded by ditches, which range from 20 cm in width to up to 15 metres, and which may have once held wooden fences. The fact that the tombs range in size from small, simple burials to large and more elaborate constructions, suggest that their society had a hierarchical structure.

One of the graves, measuring 60 metres in length, with a single burial in the centre and surrounded by the remains of seven sheep.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the 6,500-year-old tombs were once covered with mounds of earth, which have since been destroyed by agricultural practices over the centuries. Reports suggest that at least some of the mounds were still visible until WW2.

One of the tombs remained exceptionally well-preserved and was found to have the original walls of stacked grass turves still intact, and many of the graves were found to contain preserved arrow heads. One grave contained the skeletal remains of a man with an arrow still embedded in his pelvic bone.

In one grave, an arrow head was found embedded in a pelvic bone

Archaeologists will now undertake extensive testing on the human remains uncovered at the site in an attempt to learn about their origins, their diet, and causes of death.

 Native Americans and Northern Europeans more closely related than previously thought

November 30, 2012 Genetics Society of America

Using genetic analyses, scientists have discovered that Northern European populations -- including British, Scandinavians, French, and some Eastern Europeans -- descend from a mixture of two very different ancestral populations, and one of these populations is related to Native Americans. This discovery helps fill gaps in scientific understanding of both Native American and Northern European ancestry, while providing an explanation for some genetic similarities among what would otherwise seem to be very divergent groups.

This research was published in the November 2012 issue of the Genetics Society of America's journal Genetics.

According to Nick Patterson, first author of the report, "There is a genetic link between the paleolithic population of Europe and modern Native Americans. The evidence is that the population that crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia into the Americas more than 15,000 years ago was likely related to the ancient population of Europe."

To make this discovery, Patterson worked with Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics David Reich and other colleagues to study DNA diversity, and found that one of these ancestral populations was the first farming population of Europe, whose DNA lives on today in relatively unmixed form in Sardinians and the people of the Basque Country, and in at least the Druze population in the Middle East. The other ancestral population is likely to have been the initial hunter-gathering population of Europe. These two populations were very different when they met. Today the hunter-gathering ancestral population of Europe appears to have its closest affinity to people in far Northeastern Siberia and Native Americans.

The statistical tools for analyzing population mixture were developed by Patterson and presented in a systematic way in the report. These tools are the same ones used in previous discoveries showing that Indian populations are admixed between two highly diverged ancestral populations and showing that Neanderthals contributed one to four percent of the ancestry of present-day Europeans. In addition, the paper releases a major new dataset that characterizes genetic diversity in 934 samples from 53 diverse worldwide populations.

"The human genome holds numerous secrets. Not only does it unlock important clues to cure human disease, it also reveal clues to our prehistoric past," said Mark Johnston, Editor-in-Chief of the journal GENETICS. "This relationship between humans separated by the Atlantic Ocean reveals surprising features of the migration patterns of our ancestors, and reinforces the truth that all humans are closely related."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Genetics Society of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

N. Patterson, P. Moorjani, Y. Luo, S. Mallick, N. Rohland, Y. Zhan, T. Genschoreck, T. Webster, D. Reich. Ancient Admixture in Human History. Genetics, 2012; 192 (3): 1065 DOI: 10.1534/genetics.112.145037

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 New evidence for the earliest modern humans in Europe
Date:November 2, 2011
Source:Washington University in St. Louis

A photograph of the maxilla, including three teeth, of the earliest known modern human in Europe, discovered during excavations at Kent’s Cavern, Devon, in 1927.
Credit: Chris Collins (NHM) and Torquay MuseumThe timing, process and archaeology of the peopling of Europe by early modern humans have been actively debated for more than a century. Reassessment of the anatomy and dating of a fragmentary upper jaw with three teeth from Kent's Cavern, Devon, in southern England has shed new light on these issues.

Originally found in 1927, Kent's Cavern and its human fossil have been reassessed by an international team, including Erik Trinkaus, PhD, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and the results published in Nature.

The Kent's Cavern human joins the human skull and lower jaw from the Peştera cu Oase, Romania, in establishing the presence of modern humans at both ends of Europe (northwest and southeast) by at least 40,000 years ago.

"Modern humans were previously known to be this old in southeastern Europe, but they had not been documented as early in western Europe until the reassessment of the Kent's Cavern fossil," Trinkaus says. "The new date for the Kent's Cavern upper jaw suggests a rapid spread of modern humans once they had crossed into Europe."

All three of these fossils, although anatomically "modern," possess archaic features, indicating some degree of intermixture with the European Neandertals as modern humans spread across Europe.

None of these fossils is associated with diagnostic archeological remains, but they date close to the appearance of the Aurignacian industry, Trinkaus says. This supports the long-held view that the Early Upper Paleolithic Aurignacian represents early modern humans in the region.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

1.Tom Higham, Tim Compton, Chris Stringer, Roger Jacobi, Beth Shapiro, Erik Trinkaus, Barry Chandler, Flora Gröning, Chris Collins, Simon Hillson, Paul O’Higgins, Charles FitzGerald, Michael Fagan. The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in northwestern Europe. Nature, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nature10484

 Modern humans emerged far earlier than previously thought, fossils from China suggest

Date:October 28, 2010

Source:Washington University in St. Louis

An international team of researchers, including a physical anthropology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, has discovered well-dated human fossils in southern China that markedly change anthropologists perceptions of the emergence of modern humans in the eastern Old World.

The research, based at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, was published Oct. 25 in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery of early modern human fossil remains in the Zhirendong (Zhiren Cave) in south China that are at least 100,000 years old provides the earliest evidence for the emergence of modern humans in eastern Asia, at least 60,000 years older than the previously known modern humans in the region.

"These fossils are helping to redefine our perceptions of modern human emergence in eastern Eurasia, and across the Old World more generally," says Eric Trinkaus, PhD, the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor in Arts & Sciences and professor of physical anthropology.

The Zhirendong fossils have a mixture of modern and archaic features that contrasts with earlier modern humans in east Africa and southwest Asia, indicating some degree of human population continuity in Asia with the emergence of modern humans.

The Zhirendong humans indicate that the spread of modern human biology long preceded the cultural and technological innovations of the Upper Paleolithic and that early modern humans co-existed for many tens of millennia with late archaic humans further north and west across Eurasia.

The above story is based on materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.



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