Humans living in Argentina 14,000 years ago were hunting giant armadillos. This one looks especially grumpy.

Humans living in Argentina 14,000 years ago were hunting giant armadillos. This one looks especially grumpy.


Original Article:




A glimpse of the last people on Earth to colonize a continent without humans.


For more than a decade, evidence has been piling up that humans colonized the Americas thousands of years before the Clovis people. The Clovis, who are the early ancestors of today’s Native Americans, left abundant evidence of their lives behind in the form of tools and graves. But the mysterious pre-Clovis humans, who likely arrived 17,000 to 15,000 years ago, have left only a few dozen sources of evidence for their existence across the Americas, mostly at campsites where they processed animals during hunting trips. Now a fresh examination of one such campsite, a 14,000-year-old hunter’s rest stop outside the city of Tres Arroyos in Argentina, has given us a new understanding of how the pre-Clovis people might have lived.

Archaeologists are still uncertain how the pre-Clovis people arrived in the Americas. They came after the end of the ice age but at a time when glaciers and an icy, barren environment would still have blocked easy entrance into the Americas via Northern Canada. So it’s extremely unlikely that they marched over a land bridge from Siberia and into the Americas through the middle of the continent—instead, they would have come from Asia via a coastal route, frequently using boats for transport. That would explain why many pre-Clovis sites are on the coast, on islands, or on rivers that meet the ocean.
These early settlers were hunter-gatherers who used stone tools for a wide range of activities, including hunting, butchery, scraping hides, preparing food, and making other tools out of bone and wood. Many of the pre-Clovis stone tools look fairly simple and were made by using one stone to flake pieces off the other, thus creating sharp edges. At the campsite in Argentina, known as the Arroyo Seco 2 site, archaeologists have found more than 50 such tools made from materials like chert and quartzite. They’re scattered across an area that was once a grassy knoll above a deep lake, which is rich with thousands of animal bone fragments that have been carbon dated to as early as 14,000 years ago. There are even a couple-dozen human burials at the site, dated to a later period starting roughly 9,000 years ago. The spot has the characteristic look of a hunter’s camp, used for processing animals, that was revisited seasonally for thousands of years.

Writing in PLoS One, the researchers describe a number of reasons why a bunch of sharp-edged rocks and broken animal bones point to a 14,000-year-old human occupation of Argentina. First of all, there are far too many animal bones from a diversity of species grouped in one place for it to be accidental. Yes, there are some natural traps where we find massive numbers of prehistoric bones, but those are almost always in holes or depressions in the ground—and this area was on a rather high hill during the Pleistocene. Second, the stones aren’t just sharp-edged in a way that suggests flaking; many also show signs of wear and tear from scraping hide. “A large majority of the flaked edges were used transversely on dry skin,” the researchers write. “Consequently, it is likely that the skins were brought to the site in a state of intermediate processing.” Also, most of the stone used for the tools, including quartzite and chert, can only be found over 110km from Arroyo Seco. So that piece of evidence also points to human hunter-gatherers carrying tools with them over great distances.
The Pleistocene diet

One question remains. How can we be sure the tools at the site really are 14,000 years old? Archaeologists infer some of this from carbon dates on the animal bones, which have been tested by several labs around the world. The problem is that the site’s stratigraphy, or historical layers, are difficult to read due to erosion at the site. So even if a tool appears right next to a bone in a given layer, it may have come from later and been moved around by wind and water. That said, there is evidence that some of the early bones were broken by stone tools. A 14,000-year-old bone from Equus neogeus, an extinct American horse, bears distinct marks from a hammerstone. “This bone was intentionally broken while still fresh,” note the researchers.

With a firm connection between the human tools and the animal bones found at Arroyo Seco, we can begin to piece together what everyday life was like for these people—at least at mealtime. Analysis of more than 600 bone fragments out of thousands found at the site revealed that a large amount of these people’s meat came from animals that no longer exist. Various extinct horse species were a major part of the pre-Clovis diet, as were other extinct mammals like giant ground sloths, camels, mammoths, and giant armadillos. When these people arrived in South America, they found a land that no human had ever colonized. Many of these species would have been easy pickings for well-organized bands of hunters with sophisticated languages, tools, and tactics. Some paleoecologists hypothesize that these animals went extinct partly due to human hunting, and this campsite definitely provides evidence that extinct animals were part of the pre-Clovis diet for millennia. That said, Arroyo Seco contains far more bones from guanaco (a local relative of the camel) and rodents than it does from extinct mammals.

The absence of certain bones can tell us about how these people lived, too. Though there are bones from megafauna like the giant sloth Megatherium, we see no skulls, chest, or pelvic bones from the animal. The researchers speculate that’s because hunters would have done an initial butchery at the site where they killed or scavenged the animal and then transported parts of it to be processed at camp:

Given the body mass of this species (between 4 and 5 tons), it would have been extremely difficult to transport the entire carcass and even challenging to transport complete hindquarters weighing between 600 and 750 kg, and forequarters weighing between 250 and 300 kg. Taking into consideration these values, the best hypothesis is that the Megatherium was hunted or scavenged near the site, the skeleton was butchered into smaller parts, and these units were then transported to their current location at the site. The larger bones were transported with portions of meat already removed, and the bone may have been used for other purposes such as bone quarrying.

Of the extinct mammals that humans processed at Arroyo Seco, the most common seems to be horse. When people arrived in the Americas, it was full of at least two species of extinct horses. But by the time of the Inca and other great civilizations of South America, those animals were long gone. It wasn’t until Europeans arrived with their steeds that the continent was once again populated with horses.

Still, we can look back and imagine what it must have been like for those pre-Clovis people, entering a world where no human had ever gone before, full of animals that are legendary to us today. In many ways, they lived on a different planet than the one we inhabit now. At the edge of a now mostly vanished lake, on a knoll, those people fed their families, made tools, and strategized about how to hunt for game bigger than anything on land in the modern world. They returned year after year for centuries. Eventually, they buried their dead there among the animal bones left by their ancestors.






Despite long-held assumptions, UC researchers find the diversity of salts in water and soil beneficial — not harmful — for cultivating maize in ancient New Mexico.


Original Article:


A team of University of Cincinnati researchers had to go deep to uncover brand new knowledge that they say will “shake up” the archaeological field in the southwestern United States.

Various salt compounds found deep in the soil of New Mexico’s desert may be the key to understanding how crops were cultivated in ancient Chaco Canyon — despite the backdrop of what seems an otherwise arid and desolate landscape, according to a University of Cincinnati study.

Prior studies on the canyon’s environment suggest that water management techniques used by the Ancestral Puebloans during periods of drought eventually resulted in toxic levels of salinity (salt) in the water. This left scientists doubting any viability of the soil for growing corn, which they believe eventually led to the abandonment of the Chaco culture.

But recent research at the University of Cincinnati finds the contrary is true.

In fact, the researchers found that together with volcanic minerals already indigenous to the area, the calcium sulfate mixture actually increased the soil’s fertility for cultivating maize. This find, they say reveals further evidence for the development and maintenance of a thriving agricultural urban center.

“One thing we can say with a great degree of certainty — the Ancestral Puebloans did not abandon Chaco Canyon because of salt pollution,” says Kenneth Barnett Tankersley, UC associate professor of anthropology and geology. “Previous investigations of this area only looked at surface soil samples and found what they thought were toxic levels of salt, but the studies lacked an in-depth chemical analysis of the type of salt found in the water and soil and an anthropological look at how the culture lived.”

By investigating modern Puebloan culture as well as looking at the geological environment, the researchers used a holistic approach to investigate how the culture flourished. Analyzing 1,000-year-old sediment, water and salt compounds and examining the water management technology of early Chaco Canyon dwellers led the research to conclusions that Tankersley described as remarkable.

All salts are not created equal

“What we have found regarding water management, salt issues and salt contamination will shake up southwestern archaeology anywhere in the world for any era,” Tankersley contends. “Harsh salts such as chloride minerals can indeed be deleterious to plants such as maize, however, not all salts are chlorides, and not all salts are harmful to plants.”

The UC interdisciplinary team of faculty and graduate students from the departments of geology, anthropology and geography published the conclusions and details of the study this month in the Journal of Archaeological Science titled, “Evaluating soil salinity and water management in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.”

In contrast to earlier studies that suggested the salts were toxic, the researchers exhumed samples from deeper in the earth and found that salts in the canyon’s water and soil from 1,000 years ago were instead non-deleterious sulfate minerals.

Looking back, according to the researchers, Ancestral Puebloans flourished in this area from the ninth to 12th centuries in the arid, yet fertile land they referred to as an oasis. But during this time the Puebloans suffered severe droughts in the canyon on several occasions, leaving them searching for other ways to manage water.

Early bottled water

Described by Tankersley as an unprecedented structural endeavor by pre-Columbian Native Americans, Chaco Canyon is characterized by the construction of monumental great houses and ceremonial Kivas surrounded by mountain chains dotting the horizon.

He describes them as multistory, planned structures comprised of millions of pieces of dressed sandstone and thousands of roof beams — some functioning as residences and others as sacred and ceremonial centers.

“The settlement was surrounded by mountains, which would provide water in the spring after the snow melted,” says Tankersley. “During the rainy season when floodwaters hit, the Puebloans would capture runoff water from small canyons known as the Rincons and local arroyos (periodic streams) such as Chaco Wash and the Escavada Wash.

“This process helped the water gather essential minerals along the way providing a rich fertilizer and an efficient irrigation system.”

Moreover, the researchers found evidence for water from ponds and puddles collected in ceramic jars during periods of drought, which the Puebloans stacked and stored in thickly walled rooms inside the great houses.

Tankersley explains this as an efficient way to keep the water at a constant cool temperature for drinking during dry periods.

Not only were these early denizens ahead of their time for such sophisticated infrastructure in these early mesa lands, but Tankersley describes the Ancestral Puebloans as master artisans who loved color.

“Among our research we also found evidence for sulfates being used as a base for paint pigments,” says Tankersley. “We already know that sulfate mineral salts were among the most important and sacred raw materials of past and present Puebloan cultures. They even influenced the selection of Pueblo sites such as the Santa Domingo Pueblo, chosen because of its close proximity to a deposit of calcium sulfate referred to as gypsum.

“When ground up and mixed with water, gypsum created a whitewash to paint the inside and outside of their homes.”

After uncovering a range of decorated crafts, ceramics and refined stone artifacts, he says scientists have unearthed strong evidence for amalgams made of sulfate gypsum and other local minerals to create a variety of pigments to decorate objects and paint murals on walls.

Many of their painted designs were stylized birds, deer, snakes, goats and ceremonial designs in story-form pictographs — illustrations Tankersley describes as the earliest known form of writing.

Kinship mobility

One of the most valuable resources the researchers had while combing through the desert was the friendships they built with the Puebloans and Navajo who still live in the immediate vicinity of the canyon, Tankersley said.

“The first president of our flagship organization, the Society for American Archaeology, was a Native American and since then somehow archaeologists got away from talking to indigenous people,” says Tankersley. “This brings back what we call ethnoarchaeology — comparing past human livelihoods with those of the modern direct descendants.

“When compared to what their ancestors did, the great thing about the Puebloans is that they have a high degree of cultural continuity.”

Further dialogue with the Native Americans helped shed light on how corn grown in different regions was found among the local samples the researchers investigated. Comparing the chemical isotope signatures in various corncobs to the same chemical signature in water from the areas outside Chaco Canyon, the researchers found specimens from sites as far as 300 km away.

“We explain this movement of maize into Chaco Canyon from significant distances away in terms of ‘kinship mobility,'” says Tankersley. “This is the distance goods and services, ceremonial or economic, moved between extended families.”

He further describes Ancestral Puebloans as a sharing culture — families gathering over great distances to share produce, exchange wares and participate in seasonal feasts and celebrations.

Understanding human behavior and culture is something the researchers value as much as analyzing the chemical and geological environment and Tankersley says that without this holistic approach much of research is left unsolved or misguided, in his opinion.

While the focus of this research was on Chaco Canyon, the researchers found the conclusions for water management systems and kinship mobility relevant to modern urban centers built in arid environments anywhere and anytime in the world.

Furthermore, the theory — that Ancestral Puebloan water management systems built in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, had led to catastrophic salt pollution and ultimately the abandonment of the area — can no longer be supported, the researchers contend.


Researchers involved in this project: Kenneth B. Tankersley, UC Department of Anthropology and Geology; Vernon L. Scarborough, UC Department of Anthropology; Lewis A. Owen, UC Department of Geology; Warren D. Huff, UC Department of Geology; Nicholas P. Dunning, UC Department of Geography; Christopher Carr, UC Department of Geography; Jessica Thress, UC Department of Anthropology; Samantha G. Fladd, University of Arizona-Tucson, School of Anthropology; Katelyn J. Bishop, UCLA, Department of Anthropology; Stephen Plog, University of Virginia-Charlottesville, Department of Anthropology and Adam S. Watson, American Museum of Natural History, Department of North American Archaeology.



This map shows the area covered by a new University of Utah study that concludes a population boom and resulting scarcity of wild foods are what caused early people in eastern North America to domesticate wild food plants for the first time on the continent starting about 5,000 year ago. The triangles and names represent archaeological sites previously identified as locations where one or more of the these plants first were domesticated: squash, sunflower, marshelder and pitseed goosefoot, a relative of quinoa. The small circles are sites where radiocarbon-dated artifacts have been found, with a single circle often representing many dated artifacts. The study area includes much of eastern North America inland from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Credit: Elic Weitzel, University of Utah.


Original Article:


UNIVERSITY OF UTAH—University of Utah anthropologists counted the number of carbon-dated artifacts at archaeological sites and concluded that a population boom and scarce food explain why people in eastern North America domesticated plants for the first time on the continent about 5,000 years ago.

“Domesticated plants and animals are part of our everyday lives, so much so that we take them for granted,” says Brian Codding, senior author of the study published online August 2 by the British journal Royal Society Open Science. “But they represent a very unique thing in human history. They allowed for large numbers of people to live in one place. That ultimately set the stage for the emergence of civilization.”

Graduate student Elic Weitzel, the study’s first author, adds: “For most of human history, people lived off wild foods – whatever they could hunt or gather. It’s only relatively recently that people made this switch to a very different method of acquiring their food. It’s important to understand why that transition happened.”

The study dealt not with a full-fledged agricultural economy, but with the earlier step of domestication, when early people in eastern North America first started growing plants they had harvested in the wild, namely, squash, sunflower, marshelder and a chenopod named pitseed goosefoot, a pseudocereal grain closely related to quinoa.

Codding, an assistant professor of anthropology, says at least 11 plant domestication events have been identified in world history, starting with wheat about 11,500 years ago in the Middle East. The eastern North American plant domestication event, which began around 5,000 years ago, was the ninth of those 11 events and came after a population boom 6,900 to 5,200 years ago, he adds.

For many years, two competing theories have sought to explain the cause of plant domestication in eastern North America: First, population growth and resulting food scarcity prompted people to grow foods on which they already foraged. Second, a theory called “niche construction” or “ecosystem engineering” that basically says intentional experimentation and management during times of plenty – and not immediate necessity – led people to manage and manipulate wild plants to increase their food supply.

“We argue that human populations significantly increased prior to plant domestication in eastern North America, suggesting that people are driven to domestication when populations outstrip the supply of wild foods,” Weitzel says.

“The transition to domesticating food allowed human populations to increase drastically around the world and made our modern way of life possible,” he adds. “People start living near the fields. Whenever you’ve got sedentary communities, they start to expand. Villages expand into cities. Once you have that, you have all sorts of social changes. We really don’t see state-level society until domestication occurs.”

When early North Americans first domesticated crops

The region of eastern North America covered by the study includes most of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas, and portions of Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“This is the region where these plant foods were domesticated from their wild variants,” Weitzel says. “Everywhere else in North America, crops were imported from elsewhere,” particularly Mexico and Central America.

Four indigenous plant species constitute what scientists call the Eastern Agricultural Complex, which people began to domesticate about 5,000 years ago.

Previous research shows specific domestication dates were 5,025 years ago for squash at an archaeological site named Phillips Spring in Missouri, 4,840 years ago for sunflower seeds domesticated at Hayes in Tennessee, 4,400 years ago for marshelder at the Napoleon Hollow site in Illinois, and 3,800 years ago for pitseed goosefoot found in large quantities at Riverton, Illinois, along with squash, sunflower and marshelder.

Three more recent sites also have been found to contain evidence of domestication of all four species: Kentucky’s Cloudsplitter and Newt Kindigenash rockshelters, dated to 3,700 and 3,640 years ago, respectively, and the 3,400-year-old Marble Bluff site in Arkansas.

Sunflower and squash – including acorn and green and yellow summer squashes – remain important crops today, while marshelder and pitseed goosefoot are not (although the related quinoa is popular).

Deducing population swings from radiocarbon dates

“It’s really difficult to arrive at measures of prehistoric populations. So archaeologists have struggled for a long time coming up with some way of quantifying population levels when we don’t have historical records,” Weitzel says.

“People have looked at the number of sites through time, the number of artifacts through time and some of the best work has looked at the effects of population growth,” such as in the switch from a diet of tortoises to rabbits as population grew in the eastern Mediterranean during the past 50,000 years, he adds.

Codding says that in the past decade, archaeologists have expanded the use of radiocarbon-dates for artifacts to reconstruct prehistoric population histories. Weitzel says radiocarbon dates in the new study came from artifacts such as charcoal, nutshells and animal bones – all recorded in a database maintained by Canadian scientists.

The University of Utah anthropologists used these “summed radiocarbon dates” for 3,750 dated artifacts from eastern North America during the past 15,000 years.

“The assumption is that if you had more people, they left more stuff around that could be dated,” Weitzel says. “So if you have more people, you conceivably should have more radiocarbon dates.”

“We plotted the dates through time,” namely, the number of radiocarbon dates from artifacts in every 100-year period for the past 15,000 years, he adds.

The analysis indicated six periods of significant population increase or decrease during that time, including one during which population nearly doubled in eastern North America starting about 6,900 years ago and continuing apace until 5,200 years ago – not long before plant domestication began, Codding says.

Codding notes that even though plant domestication meant “these people were producing food to feed themselves and their families, they’re still hunting and foraging,” eating turtles, fish, water fowl and deer, among other animals.

The other theory

Weitzel says the concept of niche construction is that people were harvesting wild plants, and “were able to get more food from certain plants.” By manipulating the environment – such as transplanting wild plants or setting fires to create areas favorable for growth of wild food plants – they began “experimenting with these plants to see if they could grow them to be bigger or easier to collect and consume,” he adds. “That kind of experimentation then leads to domestication.”

Codding says: “The idea is that when times are good and people have plenty of food then they will experiment with plants. We say that doesn’t provide an explanation for plant domestication in eastern North America.” He believes the behavioral ecology explanation: increasing population and-or decreasing wild food resources led to plant domestication.

Source: University of Utah news release.






Original Article:


MANİSA – Doğan News Agency


Archaeologists working in the western province of Manisa have discovered a 2,200-year-old dinner set believed to have been buried as part of a ritual in the ancient city of Aigai.

The dinner set was buried in a hollow in the bedrock as part of a ritual after being used on a special occasion. According to scholars’ hypotheses, beliefs required the dinner set to never be used again, thereby requiring its burial.

The dinner set, which has been sent to the Museum of Manisa for display, includes pieces such as cooking pots (khytra and lopas), cups (skyphos) and pitchers (lagynos) for drinking, as well as clay figures depicting gods and goddesses.

The set was found in the Aigai Town Parliament building, which was built around 150 B.C. and was thought to have been used during sermons dedicated to architecture.

Work in Aigai, located in Manisa’s Yunusemre district, was resumed on July 14 this year with the support of the Culture and Tourism Ministry under the direction of the archaeology departments at Ege University and Celal Bayar University.

Excavations on the site, which are currently being conducted on only a small area due to a lack of sponsorship, will continue until September.


Right: Photograph during excavation exhibiting excellent dry preservation of plant remains Left: A well-preserved, desiccated barley grain found at Yoram Cave Credit: Uri Davidovich

Right: Photograph during excavation exhibiting excellent dry preservation of plant remains Left: A well-preserved, desiccated barley grain found at Yoram Cave Credit: Uri Davidovich


Original Article:



BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY—An international team of researchers has succeeded for the first time in sequencing the genome of Chalcolithic barley grains. This is the oldest plant genome to be reconstructed to date. The 6,000-year-old seeds were retrieved from Yoram Cave in the southern cliff of Masada fortress in the Judean Desert in Israel, close to the Dead Sea. Genetically, the prehistoric barley is very similar to present-day barley grown in the Southern Levant, supporting the existing hypothesis of barley domestication having occurred in the Upper Jordan Valley.

Members of the research team are from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) in Gatersleben, Germany; Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel; Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel; the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany; and the University of Haifa, Israel; The James Hutton Institute, UK; University of California, Santa Cruz, USA; University of Minnesota St. Paul, USA; University of Tübingen, Germany.

The analyzed grains, together with tens of thousands of other plant remains, were retrieved during a systematic archaeological excavation headed by Uri Davidovich, from the Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Nimrod Marom, from Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, Israel. The archaeobotanical analysis was led by Ehud Weiss, of Bar-Ilan University. The cave is very difficult to access and was used only for a short time by humans, some 6,000 years ago, probably as ephemeral refuge.

Oldest plant genome reconstructed to date

Most examination of archaeobotanical findings has been limited to the comparison of ancient and present-day specimens based on their morphology. Up to now, only prehistoric corn has been genetically reconstructed. In this research, the team succeeded in sequencing the complete genome of the 6,000-year-old barley grains. The results are now published in the online version of the journal Nature Genetics.

“These archaeological remains provided a unique opportunity for us to finally sequence a Chalcolithic plant genome. The genetic material has been well-preserved for several millennia due to the extreme dryness of the region,” explains Ehud Weiss, of Bar-Ilan University. In order to determine the age of the ancient seeds, the researchers split the grains and subjected half of them to radiocarbon dating while the other half was used to extract the ancient DNA. “For us, ancient DNA works like a time capsule that allows us to travel back in history and look into the domestication of crop plants at distinct time points in the past,” explains Johannes Krause, Director of the Department of Archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena. The genome of Chalcolithic barley grains is the oldest plant genome to be reconstructed to date.

Domestication of barley completed very early

Wheat and barley were already grown 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, a sickle-shaped region stretching from present-day Iraq and Iran through Turkey and Syria into Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. Up to this day, the wild forms of these two crops persist in the region and are among the major model species studied at the Institute of Evolution in the University of Haifa. “It was from there that grain farming originated and later spread to Europe, Asia and North Africa,” explains Tzion Fahima, of the University of Haifa.

“Our analyses show that the seeds cultivated 6,000 years ago greatly differ genetically from the wild forms we find today in the region. However, they show considerable genetic overlap with present-day domesticated lines from the region,” explains Nils Stein, who directed the comparison of the ancient genome with modern genomes at the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK), Gatersleben, with the support of Robbie Waugh and colleagues at the James Hutton Institute, Dundee, Scotland, and Gary Muehlbauer, University of Minnesota, USA. “This demonstrates that the domestication of barley in the Fertile Crescent was already well advanced very early.”

The comparison of the ancient seeds with wild forms from the region and with so-called ‘landraces’ (i.e., local barley lines grown by farmers in the Near East) enabled to geographically suggest, according to Tzion Fahima and his colleagues at the University of Haifa and Israel’s Tel-Hai College, “the origin of the domestication of barley within the Upper Jordan Valley – a hypothesis that is also supported by two archaeological sites in the surrounding area where the hitherto earliest remains of barley cultivation have been found.

Immigrants “trust” in extant landraces

Also the genetic overlap with present-day domesticated lines from the region is revealing to the researchers. “This similarity is an amazing finding considering to what extent the climate, but also the local flora and fauna, as well as the agricultural methods, have changed over this long period of time,” says Martin Mascher, from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, the lead author of the study. The researchers therefore assume that conquerors and immigrants coming to the region did not bring their own crop seeds from their former homelands, but continued cultivating the locally adapted extant landraces.

New insights into the origins of our crop plants

Combining archaeology, archaeobotany, genetics and computational genomics in an interdisciplinary study has produced novel insights into the origins of our crop plants. “This is just the beginning of a new and exciting line of research,” predicts Verena Schuenemann, from Tuebingen University, the second lead author of the study. “DNA-analysis of archaeological remains of prehistoric plants will provide us with novel insights into the origin, domestication and spread of crop plants.”

Source: Bar-Ilan University news release.


FOUNDING FARMERS  A bone fragment from a 7,000-year-old farmer was discovered in this cave in the Zagros region of Iran. His DNA and the DNA of three other individuals from a second Iranian site revealed that two different groups were involved in early farming.

FOUNDING FARMERS A bone fragment from a 7,000-year-old farmer was discovered in this cave in the Zagros region of Iran. His DNA and the DNA of three other individuals from a second Iranian site revealed that two different groups were involved in early farming.

Original Article:



Fertile Crescent cultures diverged to take farming east and west

The cradle of agricultural civilization was culturally diverse.

Two societies lived side-by-side 10,000 years ago in the rich Near Eastern valleys of the Fertile Crescent, where humans first learned to farm, a new study finds. Over time, one group expanded west, carrying agriculture into Europe. The other spread east, taking their traditions into South Asia, researchers report online July 14 in Science.

“We thought the people of the Fertile Crescent were one group genetically and culturally, but in fact they were probably two or more,” says paleogeneticist Joachim Burger of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany, who led the new study. It’s time to rethink the textbook idea that modern Europeans and South Asians descend from a single Stone Age people, he says.

Earlier this year, Burger’s team reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the first European farmers came from western Anatolia near the present site of Istanbul. Scientists suspected that the Anatolians had started out even further east, at older sites in Iran, Iraq, Syria and southeastern Turkey where farming began about 10,000 years ago.

But DNA from 7,000- to 10,000-year-old remains, found at two ancient Iranian settlements, told a different story. Carbon and nitrogen ratios in bones showed that the people there ate more cultivated cereals than meat. While they were farmers and had lived several thousand years before the Anatolians, genetic analysis showed that the two blood lines were not closely related.

In fact, the two groups had probably separated more than 45,000 years earlier, just after humans left Africa, says statistical geneticist Garrett Hellenthal of University College London, a coauthor of the new study. Even 10,000 years ago, the ancestors of Iranians and Anatolians had already been isolated for 36,000 to 67,000 years.

Evidence of the Anatolian farmers is a few thousand years younger than the Iranian remains, but both cultures “must have known each other to some extent,” Burger says.

People in the two groups probably looked different and spoke separate languages, Burger says. They didn’t intermarry, but undoubtedly shared the ideas of early agriculture. It would have taken centuries to convert from hunting and gathering to an agrarian way of life.

“Domestication of wild beasts is nothing you do over the weekend,” Burger says. And “you don’t invent something crazy and complicated like farming coincidently at the same time.”

Not everyone agrees with that conclusion. “The change from hunting to farming happened probably several times,” says archaeologist Roger Matthews of the University of Reading in England, who was not involved in the new work. While both the Anatolians and Iranians were farmers, “it’s not actually the same idea they’re coming up with,” he says. In the east, early agrarians focused on goats as well as barley and wheat, while in the west, shepherds raised sheep and other foods. Both communities probably took initial but separate steps toward farming, Matthews says.

Sometime after farming was developed, the two cultures began to move apart. Why they spread so differently is still a mystery. More DNA samples from ancient people east of the Fertile Crescent are necessary to confirm that people spread from Iran eastward, says anthropologist Christina Papageorgopoulou of the Democritus University of Thrace in Greece. She coauthored the Anatolian study but was not involved in the new work.

More DNA from within the Fertile Crescent could also reveal a border or boundary between ancient Anatolians and Iranians. “I cannot imagine there was a connection,” she says. If there had been, scientists would see have seen it in the DNA. “I think there is some kind of barrier there.”

At this point, scientists can speak broadly about the blood relationships between these early farmers, but more high-quality DNA samples would let researchers zoom in to the village or household scale, to “come closer to ancient humans and how they lived,” Burger says. His vision is to analyze whole Stone Age villages, to reconstruct ancient family trees, understand who migrated where and move “from a global to a village view.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated July 15, 2016, to correct two country labels on the map.

I have finally gotten a Facebook page, well for it’s under my name Joanna Linsley-Poe. Please visit me there. I haven’t worked out all the bells and whistles yet just give me time.


%d bloggers like this: