Tarim Basin mummies genomic study genetics

The surprising origins of the Tarim Basin mummies

The surprising origins of the Tarim Basin mummies

Genomic study of the Tarim Basin mummies in western China reveals an indigenous Bronze Age population that was genetically isolated but culturally cosmopolitan

In a new study, an international team of researchers has determined the genetic origins of Asia’s most enigmatic mummies - the Tarim Basin mummies in western China. Once thought to be Indo-European speaking migrants from the West, the Bronze Age Tarim Basin mummies are revealed to be a local indigenous population with deep Asian roots and taste for far-flung cuisine.

Tarim Basin mummies genomic study genetics
Aerial view of the Xiaohe cemetery. Credits: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

As part of the Silk Road and located at the geographical intersection of Eastern and Western cultures, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has long served as a major crossroads for trans-Eurasian exchanges of people, cultures, agriculture, and languages. Since the late 1990s, the discovery of hundreds of naturally mummified human remains dating to circa 2,000 BCE to 200 CE in the region’s Tarim Basin has attracted international attention due to their so-called ‘Western’ physical appearance, their felted and woven woolen clothing, and their agropastoral economy that included cattle, sheep and goat, wheat, barley, millet, and even kefir cheese. Buried in boat coffins in an otherwise barren desert, the Tarim Basin mummies have long puzzled scientists and inspired numerous theories as to their enigmatic origins.

Excavation of burial M75 at the Xiaohe cemetery. Credits: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

The Tarim Basin mummies’ cattle-focused economy and unusual physical appearance had led some scholars to speculate that they were the descendants of migrating Yamnaya herders, a highly mobile Bronze Age society from the steppes of the Black Sea region of southern Russia. Others have placed their origins among the Central Asian desert oasis cultures of the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), a group with strong genetic ties to early farmers on the Iranian Plateau.

To better understand the origin of the Tarim Basin mummies’ founding population, who first settled the region at sites such as Xiaohe and Gumugou circa 2,000 BCE, a team of international researchers from Jilin University, the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Seoul National University of Korea, and Harvard University generated and analyzed genome-wide data from thirteen of the earliest known Tarim Basin mummies, dating to circa 2,100 to 1,700 BCE, together with five individuals dating to circa 3,000 to 2,800 BCE in the neighboring Dzungarian Basin. This is the first genomic-scale study of prehistoric populations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and it includes the earliest yet discovered human remains from the region.

The Tarim Basin mummies were not newcomers to the region

Typical Xiaohe boat coffin with oar. The coffin is covered with a cattle hide. Credits: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

To their great surprise, the researchers found that the Tarim Basin mummies were not newcomers to the region at all, but rather appear to be direct descendants of a once widespread Pleistocene population that had largely disappeared by the end of the last Ice Age. This population, known as the Ancient North Eurasians (ANE), survives only fractionally in the genomes of present-day populations, with Indigenous populations in Siberia and the Americas having the highest known proportions, at about 40 percent. In contrast to populations today, the Tarim Basin mummies show no evidence of admixture with any other Holocene groups, forming instead a previously unknown genetic isolate that likely underwent an extreme and prolonged genetic bottleneck prior to settling the Tarim Basin.

“Archaeogeneticists have long searched for Holocene ANE populations in order to better understand the genetic history of Inner Eurasia. We have found one in the most unexpected place,” says Choongwon Jeong, a senior author of the study and a professor of Biological Sciences at Seoul National University.

In contrast to the Tarim Basin, the earliest inhabitants of the neighboring Dzungarian Basin descended not only from local populations but also from Western steppe herders, namely the Afanasievo, a pastoralist group with strong genetic links to the Early Bronze Age Yamanya. The genetic characterization of the Early Bronze Age Dzungarians also helped to clarify the ancestry of other pastoralist groups known as the Chemurchek, who later spread northwards to the Altai mountains and into Mongolia. Chemurchek groups appear to be the descendants of Early Bronze Age Dzungarians and Central Asian groups the from Inner Asian Mountain Corridor (IAMC), who derive their ancestry from both local populations and BMAC agropastoralists.

“These findings add to our understanding of the eastward dispersal of Yamnaya ancestry and the scenarios under which admixture occurred when they first met the populations of Inner Asia,” says Chao Ning, co-lead author the study and a professor of School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University.

The Tarim Basin groups were genetically but not culturally isolated

Tarim Basin mummies genomic study genetics
A naturally mummified woman from burial M11 of the Xiaohe cemetery. Credits: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

These findings of extensive genetic mixing all around the Tarim Basin throughout the Bronze Age make it all the more remarkable that the Tarim Basin mummies exhibited no evidence of genetic admixture at all. Nevertheless, while the Tarim Basin groups were genetically isolated, they were not culturally isolated. Proteomic analysis of their dental calculus confirmed that cattle, sheep, and goat dairying was already practiced by the founding population, and that they were well aware of the different cultures, cuisines, and technologies all around them.

“Despite being genetically isolated, the Bronze Age peoples of the Tarim Basin were remarkably culturally cosmopolitan – they built their cuisine around wheat and dairy from the West Asia, millet from East Asia, and medicinal plants like Ephedra from Central Asia,” says Christina Warinner, a senior author of the study, a professor of Anthropology at Harvard University, and a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

“Reconstructing the origins of the Tarim Basin mummies has had a transformative effect on our understanding of the region, and we will continue the study of ancient human genomes in other eras to gain a deeper understanding of the human migration history in the Eurasian steppes,” adds Yinquiu Cui, a senior author of the study and professor in the School of Life Sciences at Jilin University.

Tarim Basin mummies genomic study genetics
A profile view of the burial M13 from the Xiaohe cemetery. Credits: Wenying Li, Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

References:

The genomic origins of the Bronze Age Tarim Basin mummies, Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04052-7

 

Press release from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.


Origin of domestic horses finally established

Origin of domestic horses finally established

origin domestic horses domestic horse
Origin of domestic horses finally established. Farmer catching horses in north-central Kazakhstan. © Ludovic ORLANDO / CAGT / CNRS Photothèque

Horses were first domesticated in the Pontic-Caspian steppes, northern Caucasus, before conquering the rest of Eurasia within a few centuries. These are the results of a study led by paleogeneticist Ludovic Orlando, CNRS, who headed an international team including l’Université Toulouse III - Paul Sabatier, the CEA and l’Université d’Évry. Answering a decades-old enigma, the study is published in Nature on 20 October 2021.

By whom and where were modern horses first domesticated? When did they conquer the rest of the world? And how did they supplant the myriad of other types of horses that existed at that time? This long-standing archaeological mystery finally comes to an end thanks to a team of 162 scientists specialising in archaeology, palaeogenetics and linguistics.

A few years ago, Ludovic Orlando's team looked at the site of Botai, Central Asia, which had provided the oldest archaeological evidence of domestic horses. The DNA results, however, were not compliant: these 5500-year-old horses were not the ancestors of modern domestic horses1. Besides the steppes of Central Asia, all other presumed foci of domestication, such as Anatolia, Siberia and the Iberian Peninsula, had turned out to be false.

We knew that the time period between 4,000 to 6,000 years ago was critical but no smoking guns could ever be found” says CNRS research professor Orlando.

The scientific team, therefore, decided to extend their study to the whole of Eurasia by analysing the genomes of 273 horses that lived between 50,000 and 200 years BC. This information was sequenced at the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse (CNRS/Université Toulouse III - Paul Sabatier) and Genoscope2 (CNRS/CEA/Université d’Évry) before being compared with the genomes of modern domestic horses.

This strategy paid off: although Eurasia was once populated by genetically distinct horse populations, a dramatic change had occurred between 2000 and 2200 BC.

That was a chance: the horses living in Anatolia, Europe, Central Asia and Siberia used to be genetically quite distinct” notes Dr Pablo Librado, first author of the study.

Then, a single genetic profile, previously confined to the Pontic steppes (North Caucasus)3, began to spread beyond its native region, replacing all the wild horse populations from the Atlantic to Mongolia within a few centuries.

The genetic data also point to an explosive demography at the time, with no equivalent in the last 100,000 years” adds Orlando. “This is when we took control over the reproduction of the animal and produced them in astronomic numbers.”

But how can this rapid population growth be explained? Interestingly, scientists found two striking differences between the genome of this horse and those of the populations it replaced: one is linked to a more docile behaviour and the second indicates a stronger backbone. The researchers suggest that these characteristics ensured the animals’ success at a time when horse travel was becoming “global”.

The study also reveals that the horse spread throughout Asia at the same time as spoke-wheeled chariots and Indo-Iranian languages. However, the migrations of Indo-European populations, from the steppes to Europe during the third millennium BC4 could not have been based on the horse, as its domestication and diffusion came later. This demonstrates the importance of incorporating the history of animals when studying human migrations and encounters between cultures.

origine cheval
Origin of domestic horses finally established. Horse mandible excavated from the Ginnerup archaeological site, Denmark, June 2021. (This site was included in the study.) © Lutz Klassen, East Jutland Museum

This study was directed by the the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse (CNRS/ Université Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier) with help from Genoscope (CNRS/CEA/Université d’Évry). The French laboratories Archéologies et sciences de l'Antiquité (CNRS/Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne/Université Paris Nanterre/Ministère de la Culture), De la Préhistoire à l'actuel: culture, environnement et anthropologie (CNRS/Université de Bordeaux/Ministère de la Culture) and Archéozoologie, archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements (CNRS/MNHN) also contributed, as did 114 other research institutions throughout the world. The study was primarily funded by the European Research Council (Pegasus project) and France Genomique (Bucéphale project).

Some previous results of the Pegasus project:

Notes

1 Read this press release: Unsaddling old theory on origin of horses, 22 February 2018.
2 Genoscope is a department of CEA-Jacob.
3 The Pontic steppe is the western part of the Eurasian steppe. The home of the modern domestic horse is thought to be in the Don and Volga basins, east of the Dnieper.
4 For example, see this press release: 7,000 years of demographic history in France, 25 May 2020.

 

Press release from CNRS on the study, published on Nature, concerning the origin of domestic horses.

The new study on the origin of domestic horses, references:

Librado, P., (...), Orlando, Ludovic (2021). "The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes". Nature, 20/10/2021. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04018-9

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Horses were domesticated in the Northern Caucasus steppes and then spread across Asia and Europe

 

A large group of researchers have conducted the largest genetic study carried out to date, which has made it possible to determine that the horses from which all current domestic horses descend were first domesticated in the steppes north of the Caucasus and, from there, spread to other regions of Asia and Europe.

Researchers from the Milá y Fontanals Institution (IMF) and the Institute of Archaeology (IAM) of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), together with scientists from the Museum of Human Evolution (MEH), the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Extremadura (UEx), the UCM-ISCIII Joint Centre for Human Evolution and Behaviour in Madrid, the Laboratory of Prehistoric Archaeology of the University Jaume I of Castellón (UJI) and the Faculty of Geological Sciences of the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM)have participated in the largest genetic study carried out to date, which has made it possible to determine that the horses from which all current domestic horses descend were first domesticated in the steppes north of the Caucasus and, from there, spread to other regions of Asia and Europe.

This study brings to an end a long-standing debate about the location and chronology of the earliest documented evidence of domestication of the horses that gave rise to today's populations, as well as aswering questions about when this domestication process began to spread to other regions of the world, thus replacing other types of horses that existed at the time. The results have been published in the October issue of prestigious international journal Nature.

This conclusion was reached by a team of 114 institutions and 162 researchers specialising in archaeology, palaeogenetics and linguistics, led by Professor Ludovic Orlando, CNRS researcher and principal investigator of the ERC-PEGASUS project, which, together with France Genomique-Projet Bucéphale, financed the research. The study involved sequencing the genomes of 273 remains of horses that inhabited various regions of Eurasia in a chronological arc extending from 50,000 to 200 BC. All the genetic information was sequenced at the Centre for Anthropobiology and Genomics of Toulouse, CAGT (CNRS/University of Toulouse III-Paul Sabatier) and Genoscope (CNRS/CEA/University of Évry), before being compared to the genomes of modern domestic horses. Thanks to the large battery of statistical analyses carried out, it has been possible to establish that between 2,200 and 2,000 BC, a drastic change took place in which the genetic profile existing in the Pontic steppes began to spread beyond its region of origin, thus replacing in a few centuries all wild horse populations from the Atlantic to Mongolia.

According to L. Orlando, "this replacement in the genetic composition of Eurasian populations is associated with significant genomic differences between this new type of horse and the horses of the populations that disappeared. On the one hand, this new type of horse from the steppes of the northern Caucasus had a more docile behaviour and, on the other hand, a more robust constitution in the vertebral skeleton".

The researchers suggest that these characteristics triggered the successful selection of these animals, at a time when horse travel was becoming widespread in Eurasia.

According to Pablo Librado (CNRS), first author of this research, "this study has also shown that the distribution of this new type of horse in Asia coincides with the appearance of light carts and the spread of Indo-Iranian languages. In contrast, the migration of Indo-European populations from the steppe zone to the heart of Europe during the third millennium BC did not use this new type of horse as a vector for its expansion. This result demonstrates the importance of also incorporating the genetic history of animals when analysing the dimension of human migrations and intercultural contacts".

The individuals analysed include equids from various sites on the Iberian Peninsula, including Casas del Turuñuelo (Guareña, Badajoz) and Cova Fosca (Alt Maestrat, Castelló).

The Cova Fosca was excavated by Francesc Gusi and Carmen Olaria. According to C. Olaria, professor of Prehistory at the UJI and co-author of this study,

"Cova Fosca has a very rich Holocene archaeozoological record. We were able to identify horse remains in ancient Neolithic levels, a very rare taxon in Iberian sites from this period. This uniqueness allowed us to publish years ago, together with Jaime Lira Garrido and Juan Luis Arsuaga, the first mitochondrial sequences of horses from this site".

According to J. L. Arsuaga, scientific director of the Museum of Human Evolution, professor of Palaeontology at the UCM, director of the UCM-ISCIII Joint Centre and co-author of this study,

"in Cova Fosca we found a unique mitochondrial lineage exclusive to Iberia that currently appears in very few horses, all of which are Iberian or of Iberian origin. In this new study we aimed to unveil the genomic secrets of the Cova Fosca".

Building Tartessos and Casas del Turuñuelo

origin domestic horses horse
A new study on the origin of domestic horses.View of animal slaughter documented in the courtyard of the building at Casas del Turuñuelo

Casas del Turuñuelo is one of the most impressive discoveries in peninsular archaeology in recent years. Its excavations are being carried out under a project directed by the IAM-CSIC and are being co-directed by Esther Rodríguez González and Sebastián Celestino, also researchers at the IAM-CSIC.

According to Esther Rodríguez González, co-author of this new study, "Turuñuelo is an architectural complex from the middle of the first millennium BC belonging to the Tartessos culture where we have found the largest hecatomb documented to date in a site of Mediterranean protohistory. This mass slaughter is notable for the large number of equids that have been differentiated in the courtyard of this site. For this study we selected Equid 4".According to Sebastián Celestino, also co-author of this research, "a multidisciplinary team of specialists from the humanities and biosciences has been created around Turuñuelo, which is generating a constant exchange of information and ideas, thus offering a great multidisciplinary approach to the study of this site".

Among the lines of research of "Construyendo Tartessos" [Building Tartessos], the genetic study of these slaughtered equids stands out. Jaime Lira Garrido (UEx/Centro Mixto UCM-ISCIII), who is a co-author of this study, explains that

"this latest work led by Professor Orlando has also allowed us to delve deeper into the evolutionary history of Iberian horses. In a previous study, Orlando and his team discovered that a genomic lineage developed on the Iberian Peninsula that is now extinct and very different from the rest of the ancient and modern Eurasian horse lineages described to date. The evolutionary origin of this lineage and the causes that led to its disappearance are still unknown. However, we have been able to identify in the Neolithic sample from the Cova Fosca the oldest evidence of this extinct lineage and that the Turuñuelo Equid 4 was, nevertheless, a descendant of this new type of horse that was so rapidly distributed throughout the known world some 4.000 years ago".

This study has been funded mainly by the European Research Council (PEGASUS project) and France Genomique (Bucéphale project).

 

Press release from Asociación RUVID on the new study on the origin of domestic horses.

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South Ural State University (SUSU) scientists and their foreign colleagues have continued study devoted to the time and place of horse domestication. A research group has established where exactly the focus of domestication is located in Eurasia. The results of the work have been published in the highly rated journal “Nature” (Top 10%).

The identical signs have been found in the genomes of domesticated horses in Eurasia. Specialists have noticed that remains of these animals have a strong spine. Probably, this is the reason for domesticated horses popularity and global spreading of horse travels.

The research group which includes PhD, SUSU professor Andrey Epimakhov has established the Pontic-Caspian steppes, northern Caucasus, is the centre of horse domestication. The process has occurred between 2000 and 2200 BC (the Bronze Age). Horses are distinct i n different presumed foci of domestication such as Anatolia, Siberia and the Iberian Peninsula, but several ages later the common genome has spreaded from the Atlantic to Mongolia within a few centuries.

Our research group that is led by paleo-geneticist Ludovic Orlando, National Center for Scientific Research (France), has analysed the genomes of 273 horses that lived between 50,000 and 200 years BC. The study has covered the whole of Eurasia to research presumed territories to be considered as primary foci of domestication. However, all of the territories have turned out to be false. For instance, the site of Botai, Central Asia, has provided the oldest archaeological evidence of domestic horses. Nevertheless, the DNA results are not compliant: these 5500-year-old horses are not the ancestors of modern domestic horses. On the contrary, the Ural 4000 years old samples don’t raise doubts in horse exploitation and chariot teams,” Andrey Epimakhov explained.

Research has also demonstrated that the horse spread throughout Asia at the same time as spoke-wheeled chariots and Indo-Iranian languages.

Remind that dental calculus research has helped scientists to determine the time and place of horse domestication. There are dairy diet markers that have been detected in samples found in the Volga region. Milk has been a part of people's ration since animal domestication.

 

Press release from the South Ural State University on the new study on the origin of domestic horses.


Europeans in the Americas Vikings wood L'Anse aux Meadows

Europeans in the Americas 1000 years ago

Europeans in the Americas 1000 years ago

Columbus was not the first European to reach the Americas. The Vikings got there centuries beforehand, although exactly when has remained unclear. Here, scientists of the University of Groningen and an international team of colleagues, show that Europeans were already active in the Americas in 1021 AD. The article Evidence for European presence in the Americas in AD 1021 has recently been published in Nature.

The Vikings sailed great distances in their iconic longships. To the west, they established settlements in Iceland, Greenland and eventually a base at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada. However, it has remained unclear when this first transatlantic activity took place. Here, scientists show that Europeans were present in the Americas in 1021 AD - precisely 1000 years ago this year. This date also marks the earliest known point by which the Atlantic had been crossed, and migration by humankind had finally encircled the entire planet.

Europeans in the Americas Vikings wood L'Anse aux Meadows
Microscope image of a wood fragment from the Norse layers at L’Anse aux Meadows. Credit: Petra Doeve, University of Groningen, CC BY

A Solar Storm Solution

In this study, the chopping of wood by Vikings at L'Anse aux Meadows was dated to exactly the year 1021 AD. The three pieces of wood studied, from three different trees, all came from contexts archaeologically attributable to the Vikings. Each one also displayed clear evidence of cutting and slicing by blades made of metal - a material not produced by the indigenous population. The exact year was determinable because a massive solar storm occurred in 992 AD that produced a distinct radiocarbon signal in tree rings from the following year.

 

Isotope Chronology

"The distinct uplift in radiocarbon production that occurred between 992 and 993 AD has been detected in tree-ring archives from all over the world" says Associate Professor of Isotope Chronology Michael Dee (Energy and Sustainability Research Institute Groningen (ESRIG), University of Groningen), director of the research. Each of the three wooden objects exhibited this signal 29 growth rings (years) before the bark edge. "Finding the signal from the solar storm 29 growth rings in from the bark allowed us to conclude that the cutting activity took place in the year 1021 AD" says Margot Kuitems (ESRIG, University of Groningen), first author of the paper.

 

How Far, How Often?

The number of Viking expeditions to the Americas, and the duration of their stay over the Atlantic, remain unknown. All current data suggest that the whole endeavour was somewhat short lived, and the cultural and ecological legacy of this first European activity in the Americas is likely to have been small. Nonetheless, botanical evidence from L'Anse aux Meadows has confirmed that the Vikings did explore lands further south than Newfoundland.

 

The Sagas

1021 AD is the earliest year in which European presence in the Americas can be scientifically proven. Previous dates for the Viking presence in the Americas have relied heavily on the Icelandic Sagas. However, these began as oral histories and were only written down centuries after the events they describe. Whilst contradictory and at times fantastical, the Sagas also suggest encounters occurred, both violent and amiable, between the Europeans and the indigenous people of the region. However, little archaeological evidence has been uncovered to support such exchanges. Other medieval accounts also exist, which imply prominent figures on the European mainland were made aware the Vikings had made landfall across the Atlantic.

This is Dr Margot Kuitems (University of Groningen), first author of the paper, is seen here preparing samples at the radiocarbon facility at the Centre of Isotope Research, Groningen (the Netherlands). Credit: Ronald Zijlstra, CC BY-ND

Europeans in the Americas 1000 years ago:  Summary

The Vikings were active in North America in the year 1021 AD. This now represents the earliest – and only – known year in which Europeans were present in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus in 1492 AD. It also represents a definitive point in time by which the Atlantic Ocean had been traversed and human migration had finally encircled the globe.

 

Press release from the University of Groningen.


A research rewrites the version of the Inquisition on the relations between confessors and devotees

A research rewrites the version of the Inquisition on the relations between confessors and devotees

The researcher at the University of Valencia María Tausiet analyses the power relations between priests and devotees, and the implication of the Inquisition in hiding them for four centuries. Within the framework of the CIRGEN European project, on gender identities and roles in Europe and America in the eighteenth century, endowed with 2.5 million euros in aid, the expert explains how many abuses and conspiracies were silenced, in the face of to keep up appearances.

In an article published in the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, historian Maria Tausiet delves into the story of Antonio Gavín, a Spanish clergyman converted to Protestantism who in 1724 wrote a book to denounce the moral corruption of the Catholic Church, with its superstitions, deceptions and perversions. His rational and enlightened point of view was framed in a sensational context. However, much can be learned from this about the relationships between some priests and the women who attended the confessional. The paper tells the story of Francisca Guerrero and the priest Miguel Navarro.

“According to Gavín’s report, Francisca had bewitched her confessor to seduce him and poisoned a creature, which made her a suspect of witchcraft”, says the researcher.

In this context, many relationships between confessors and penitents assumed a mutual agreement from which both parties benefited.

Normally, “they sought to acquire fame as holy women, and they, a way to rise within the Church thanks to having found authentic miracle workers”, says Tausiet.

These relationships did not necessarily have to involve sexual encounters, although these were probably quite frequent.

The story of Francisca and the priest took place in Zaragoza in the first years of the eighteenth century, and it remained hidden among the papers of the Inquisition until the Aragonese Antonio Gavín revealed the story, spicing it up with his inventions with the aim of damaging the Catholic Church.

“However, his version also harmed women, with his macho vision of events. Whether or not it was true that Francisca and her confessor reached an agreement, or that she posed as a saint and he took advantage of her, Francisca bore the brunt”, explains the CIRGEN project researcher.

The priest forced her husband to change residence, and he moved in with her. On one occasion, a woman asked Francisca to cure her sick daughter and she could only predict that she would die that night, as she did. So her family felt that she had cursed her and reported her to the Inquisition. Both Francisca and her confessor were prosecuted and imprisoned by the Court. But he escaped, like so many other ecclesiastics, and died at 84 years of age. Francisca, on the other hand, died shortly after in the inquisitorial prisons. Before her death, the woman, who according to Gavín had spent the last years of her life locked up in her house by order of the confessor, gave birth.

Inquisition devotees
A research rewrites the version of the Inquisition on the relations between confessors and devotees. Woman in prison, painting of Francisco de Goya in the Prado Museum

European project

This study is part of the European project CIRGEN (Circulating Gender in the Global Enlightenment: Ideas, Network, Agencies), funded with an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) valued at 2.5 million euros. The initiative is attached to the University Institute for Women’s Studies and linked to the Department of Modern and Contemporary History of the University of Valencia and its research team is formed entirely of women.

Article: María Tausiet. «When Venus stays awake, Minerva sleeps”: a narrative of female sanctity in eighteenth-century Spain». Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 2021, VOL. 22, NO. 3, 295-310. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14636204.2021.1960685

 

 

Press release from the University of València, Asociación RUVID


Native American Japan debunked Jomon

Popular theory of Native American origins coming from Japan debunked

Popular theory of Native American origins debunked by genetics and skeletal biology

Latest scientific findings suggest the ancestral Native American population does not originate in Japan, as believed by many archeologists

Native American Japan debunked Jomon
Popular theory of Native American origins coming from Japan, debunked by genetics and skeletal biology. Jomon teeth vs Native American teeth. Photo credits: G. Richard Scott, University of Nevada Reno

A widely accepted theory of Native American origins coming from Japan has been attacked in a new scientific study, which shows that the genetics and skeletal biology “simply does not match-up”.

The findings, published today in the peer-reviewed journal PaleoAmerica, are likely to have a major impact on how we understand Indigenous Americans’ arrival to the Western Hemisphere.

Based on similarities in stone artifacts, many archaeologists currently believe that Indigenous Americans, or ‘First Peoples’, migrated to the Americas from Japan about 15,000 years ago.

It is thought they moved along the northern rim of the Pacific Ocean, which included the Bering Land Bridge, until they reached the northwest coast of North America.

From there the First Peoples fanned out across the interior parts of the continent and farther south, reaching the southern tip of South America within less than two thousand years.

The theory is based, in part, on similarities in stone tools made by the ‘Jomon’ people (an early inhabitant of Japan, 15,000 years ago), and those found in some of the earliest known archaeological sites inhabited by ancient First Peoples.

But this new study, out today in PaleoAmerica – the flagship journal of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University – suggests otherwise.

Carried out by one of the world’s foremost experts in the study of human teeth and a team of Ice-Age human genetics experts, the paper analysed the biology and genetic coding of teeth samples from multiple continents and looked directly at the Jomon people.

“We found that the human biology simply doesn’t match up with the archaeological theory,” states lead author Professor Richard Scott, a recognized expert in the study of human teeth, who led a team of multidisciplinary researchers.

“We do not dispute the idea that ancient Native Americans arrived via the Northwest Pacific coast—only the theory that they originated with the Jomon people in Japan.

“These people (the Jomon) who lived in Japan 15,000 years ago are an unlikely source for Indigenous Americans. Neither the skeletal biology or the genetics indicate a connection between Japan and the America. The most likely source of the Native American population appears to be Siberia.”

In a career spanning almost half a century, Scott – a professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada-Reno – has traveled across the globe, collecting an enormous body of information on human teeth worldwide, both ancient and modern.  He is the author of numerous scientific papers and several books on the subject.

This latest paper applied multivariate statistical techniques to a large sample of teeth from the Americas, Asia, and the Pacific, showing that quantitative comparison of the teeth reveals little relationship between the Jomon people and Native Americans. In fact, only 7% of the teeth samples were linked to the non-Arctic Native Americans (recognized as the First Peoples).

And, the genetics show the same pattern as the teeth—little relationship between the Jomon people and Native Americans.

“This is particularly clear in the distribution of maternal and paternal lineages, which do not overlap between the early Jomon and American populations,” states co-author Professor Dennis O’Rourke, who was joined by fellow human geneticists – and expert of the genetics of Indigenous Americans – at the University of Kansas, Jennifer Raff.

“Plus, recent studies of ancient DNA from Asia reveal that the two peoples split from a common ancestor at a much earlier time,” adds Professor O’Rourke.

Together with their colleague and co-author Justin Tackney, O’Rourke and Raff reported the first analysis of ancient DNA from Ice-Age human remains in Alaska in 2016.

Other co-authors include specialists in Ice-Age archaeology and ecology.

Shortly before publication of the paper, two other new studies on related topics were released.

A new genetics paper on the modern Japanese population concluded that it represents three separate migrations into Japan, rather than two, as previously believed. It offered more support to the authors’ conclusions, however, about the lack of a biological relationship between the Jomon people and Indigenous Americans.

And, in late September, archaeologists reported in another paper the startling discovery of ancient footprints in New Mexico dating to 23,000 years ago, described as “definitive evidence” of people in North America before the Last Glacial Maximum—before expanding glaciers probably cut off access from the Bering Land Bridge to the Western Hemisphere. It remains unclear who made the footprints and how they are related to living Native Americans, but the new paper provides no evidence that the latter are derived from Japan.

Professor Scott concludes that “the Incipient Jomon population represents one of the least likely sources for Native American peoples of any of the non-African populations.”

Limitations of the study include that available samples of both teeth and ancient DNA for the Jomon population are less than 10,000 years old, i.e., do not antedate the early Holocene (when the First Peoples are understood to arrive in America).

“We assume,” the authors explain however, “that they are valid proxies for the Incipient Jomon population or the people who made stemmed points in Japan 16,000–15,000 years ago.”

 

Peopling the Americas: Not “Out of Japan”, PaleoAmerica
(13-Oct-2021), DOI: 10.1080/20555563.2021.1940440

 

Press release from Taylor & Francis Group on the popular theory of Native American origins coming from Japan, debunked by genetics and skeletal biology.


Roman concrete Caecila Metella's tomb

Roman noblewoman’s tomb reveals secrets of ancient concrete resilience

Roman noblewoman’s tomb reveals secrets of ancient concrete resilience

Study shows how changing chemistry in Roman mortar strengthens the tomb over time

 

Over time, concrete cracks and crumbles. Well, most concrete cracks and crumbles. Structures built in ancient Rome are still standing, exhibiting remarkable durability despite conditions that would devastate modern concrete.

One of these structures is the large cylindrical tomb of first-century noblewoman Caecilia Metella. New research shows that the quality of the concrete of her tomb may exceed that of her male contemporaries’ monuments because of the volcanic aggregate the builders chose and the unusual chemical interactions with rain and groundwater with that aggregate over two millennia.

“The construction of this very innovative and robust monument and landmark on the Via Appia Antica indicates that she was held in high respect,” says Marie Jackson, research associate professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, “and the concrete fabric 2,050 years later reflects a strong and resilient presence.”

The research is published in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society and is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-e “Extreme Durability of Cementitious Materials” program.

Who was Caecilia Metella?

The tomb of Caecilia Metella is a landmark on the Via Appia Antica, an ancient Roman road also known as the Appian Way. It consists of a drum-shaped tower that sits on a square base, in total about 70 feet (21 m) tall and 100 feet (29 m) in diameter. Built about 30 BCE, at the transformation of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, led by Emperor Augustus, in 27 BCE, the tomb is considered one of the best-preserved monuments on the Appian Way (a castle attached to the tomb was built in the 14th century).

Caecilia herself was a member of a wealthy family, the daughter of a Roman consul. She married into the family of Marcus Lincius Crassus, a Roman general and statesman who formed a famous triumvirate alliance with Julius Caesar and Pompey.

Not much more is known about Caecilia’s life, but the enduring magnitude of her tomb has caught the attention of visitors for centuries, including Lord Byron who wrote of the tomb in "Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage" in the early 1800s. After describing the fortress-like structure, Byron asks:

“What was this tower of strength? within its cave
What treasure lay so lock’d, so hid?—A woman’s grave.”

Jackson visited the tomb in 2006 with archaeologist Dottoressa Lisa Gianmichele and with a permit from the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma to collect small samples of the mortar for analysis.

“It was a very warm day in June,” she says, “yet when we descended the steps to the sepulchral corridor the air became very cool and moist.”

She notes the compact, cohesive, nearly perfectly preserved brick masonry walls and the nearly water-saturated volcanic rock outcrop in the sub-structure.

“The atmosphere was very tranquil,” she adds, “except for the fluttering of pigeons in the open center of the circular structure.”

What is Roman concrete?

Roman concrete Caecila Metella's tomb
The Roman concrete at Caecilia Metella's tomb.Lava overlying volcanic tephra in the substructure of the tomb. Photo Credit: Marie Jackson, CC BY-ND

Before diving into the particulars, let’s get oriented to the terminology of concrete. Walk along most any sidewalk and you’ll see that concrete is made of an aggregate (rock sands and gravels) and a cement binder. The cement in a modern sidewalk is likely Portland cement, produced by heating limestone and clay minerals in a kiln to form clinker, grinding the clinker and adding a small amount of gypsum.

The tomb is an example of the refined technologies of concrete construction in late Republican Rome that contain no cement. The technologies were described by the architect Vitruvius during the period when the tomb of Caecilia Metella was under construction. Building thick walls of coarse brick or volcanic rock aggregate bound with mortar made with hydrated lime and volcanic tephra (porous fragments of glass and crystals from explosive eruptions), would result in structures that "over a long passage of time do not fall into ruins."

Vitruvius’ words are proven true by the many Roman structures standing today, including Markets of Trajan (built between 100 and 110 CE, more than a century after the tomb) and marine structures like piers and breakwaters, which Jackson and her colleagues have also studied.

What the ancient Romans couldn’t have known, though, is how crystals of the mineral leucite, which is rich in potassium, in the volcanic tephra aggregate would dissolve over time to beneficially remodel and reorganize the cohesion of the concrete.

To understand the mineral structure of the concrete, Jackson teamed up with researchers Linda Seymour and Admir Masic from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nobumichi Tamura at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They delved into the microstructure of the concrete with an array of powerful scientific tools.

"Samples such as ancient mortar are highly heterogeneous and complex, made of a mixture of different crystalline phases with grain sizes ranging from a few micrometers down to a few nanometers,” says Tamura, who conducted analyses using the Advanced Light Source beamline 12.3.2. To identify the different minerals in the sample, as well as their orientation, he says, you need an instrument like the microdiffraction beamline at the Advanced Light Source that produces a “micron size, extremely bright and energetic pencil X-ray beam that can penetrate through the entire thickness of the samples, making it a perfect tool for such a study.”

Seymour, who participated in this study as a Ph.D. student at MIT and is now a project consultant with engineering firm Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, conducted additional analyses on the samples.

“Each of the tools that we used added a clue to the processes in the mortar,” she says. Scanning electron microscopy showed the micro-structures of mortar building blocks at the micron scale. Energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry showed the elements comprising each of those building blocks. “This information allows us to explore different areas in the mortar quickly, and we could pick out building blocks related to our questions,” she says. The trick, she adds, is to precisely hit the same building block target with each instrument when that target is only about the width of a hair.

Roman concrete Caecila Metella's tomb
The Roman concrete at Caecilia Metella's tomb. Scanning electron microscope image of the tomb mortar. The intact and wispy C-A-S-H features appear as gray, while the volcanic aggregate appears as white. Photo Credit: Marie Jackson, CC BY-ND

Why is the concrete at Caecilia’s tomb so unique?

In the thick concrete walls of Caecilia Metella’s tomb, a mortar that contains volcanic tephra from the nearby Pozzolane Rosse pyroclastic flow (a dense mass of hot tephra and gases ejected explosively from the nearby Alban Hills volcano) binds large chunks of brick and lava aggregate. It is much the same mortar used in the walls of the Markets of Trajan 120 years later.

In previous analysis of the Markets of Trajan mortar, Jackson, Tamura and their colleagues explored the “glue” of the mortar, a building block called the C-A-S-H binding phase (calcium-aluminum-silicate-hydrate), along with a mineral called strätlingite. The strätlingite crystals block the propagation of microcracks in the mortar, preventing them from linking together and fracturing the concrete structure.

But the tephra the Romans used for the Caecilia Metella mortar was more abundant in potassium-rich leucite. Centuries of rainwater and groundwater percolating through the tomb’s walls dissolved the leucite and released the potassium into the mortar. In modern concrete, such a flood of potassium would create expansive gels that would cause microcracking and eventual spalling and deterioration of the structure.

In the tomb, however, the potassium dissolved and reconfigured the C-A-S-H binding phase. Seymour says that X-ray microdiffraction and Raman spectroscopy techniques allowed them to explore how the mortar had changed. “We saw C-A-S-H domains that were intact after 2,050 years and some that were splitting, wispy or otherwise different in morphology,” she says. X-ray microdiffraction, in particular, allowed an analysis of the wispy domains down to their atomic structure. “We see that the wispy domains are taking on a nano-crystalline nature,” she says.

The remodeled domains “evidently create robust components of cohesion in the concrete,” says Jackson. In these structures, unlike in the Markets of Trajan, there’s much less strätlingite formed.

Stefano Roascio, the archaeologist in charge of the tomb, notes that the study has a great deal of relevance to understanding other ancient and historic concrete structures that use Pozzolane Rosse aggregate.

Admir Masic, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at MIT, says that the interface between the aggregates and the mortar of any concrete is fundamental to the structure’s durability. In modern concrete, he says, the alkali-silica reactions that form expansive gels may compromise the interfaces of even the most hardened concrete.

“It turns out that the interfacial zones in the ancient Roman concrete of the tomb of Caecilia Metella are constantly evolving through long-term remodeling," he says. “These remodeling processes reinforce interfacial zones and potentially contribute to improved mechanical performance and resistance to failure of the ancient material.”

Can we recreate that effect today?

Jackson and her colleagues are working to replicate some of the Romans’ successes in modern concretes, specifically in a U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-e project to encourage similar beneficially reactive aggregates in concretes that use engineered cellular magmatics in place of the tephra of the ancient Roman structures. The objective, according to ARPA-e, is that a Roman-like concrete could reduce the energy emissions of concrete production and installation by 85% and improve the 50-year lifespan of modern marine concretes four-fold.

“Focusing on designing modern concretes with constantly reinforcing interfacial zones might provide us with yet another strategy to improve the durability of modern construction materials,” Masic says. “Doing this through the integration of time-proven ‘Roman wisdom’ provides a sustainable strategy that could improve the longevity of our modern solutions by orders of magnitude.”

###

Find the full study here.

Reactive binder and aggregate interfacial zones in the mortar of Tomb of Caecilia Metella concrete, 1C BCE, Rome, Journal of the American Ceramic Society (16-Sep-2021), DOI: 10.1111/jace.18133 .

 

Press release by Paul Gabrielsen, from the University of Utah, on the Roman concrete at Caecilia Metella's tomb.


hepatitis B

New research analyses the evolution of the last ten thousand years of the hepatitis B virus

The University of Valencia participates in a research on the evolution of the last ten thousand years of the hepatitis B virus

A study published in the journal Science traces the evolution of the hepatitis B virus from prehistory to the present, revealing dissemination routes and changes in viral diversity. Domingo Carlos Salazar García, researcher from the Prehistory, Archeology and Ancient History Department of the University of Valencia, has participated in this study led by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (Germany). The research uncovers the evolution of the hepatitis B virus since the Early Holocene by analyzing the largest dataset of ancient viral genomes produced to date.

hepatitis B
Domingo Carlos Salazar García, researcher from the Prehistory, Archeology and Ancient History Department of the University of Valencia

“This research puts upfront a reality many times ignored but obvious, that viruses have been linked to humans since prehistoric times”, highlighted Salazar, graduated in Medicine and in History, researcher of excellence of the Valencian Community at the University of Valencia. “If SARS-COV-2 has been able to put human societies in check worldwide during the twenty-first century, we can only begin to imagine how viral diseases influenced life in prehistoric times”, he explains. “Historians and archaeologists must start considering more the influence of viruses and other agents that until now have been invisible on the archaeological record when reconstructing past lifestyles”, he says.

The hepatitis B virus (HBV) is a major health problem worldwide, causing close to one million deaths each year. Recent ancient DNA studies have shown that HBV has been infecting humans for millennia, but its past diversity and dispersal routes remain largely unknown. A new study conducted by a large team of researchers from all around the world provides major insights into the evolutionary history of HBV by examining the virus’ genomes from 137 ancient Eurasians and Native Americans dated between ~10,500 and ~400 years ago. Their results highlight dissemination routes and shifts in viral diversity that mirror well-known human migrations and demographic events, as well as unexpected patterns and connections to the present.

Present-day HBV strains are classified into nine genotypes, two of which are found predominantly in populations of Native American ancestry. The study provides strong evidence that these strains descend from an HBV lineage that diverged around the end of the Pleistocene and was carried by some of the first inhabitants of the Americas.

“Our data suggest that all known HBV genotypes descend from a strain that was infecting the ancestors of the First Americans and their closest Eurasian relatives around the time these populations diverged”, says Denise Kühnert, leader of the research group.

 

HBV in prehistoric Europe

The study also shows that the virus was present in large parts of Europe as early as 10,000 years ago, before the spread of agriculture to the continent. “Many human pathogens are thought to have emerged after the introduction of agriculture, but HBV was clearly already affecting prehistoric hunter-gatherer populations”, says Johannes Krause, director of the Department of Archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and co-supervisor of the study.

After the Neolithic transition in Europe, the HBV strains carried by hunter-gatherers were replaced by new strains that were likely spread by the continent’s first farmers, mirroring the large genetic influx associated with the expansion of farming groups across the region. These new viral lineages continued to prevail throughout western Eurasia for around 4,000 years. The dominance of these strains lasted through the expansion of Western Steppe Herders around 5,000 years ago, which dramatically altered the genetic profile of Europeans but remarkably was not associated with the spread of new HBV variants.

 

The collapse and re-emergence of pre-historic HBV

One of the most surprising findings of the study is a sudden decline of HBV diversity in western Eurasia during the second half of the 2nd millennium BCE, a time of major cultural shifts, including the collapse of large Bronze Age state societies in the eastern Mediterranean region.

“This could point to important changes in epidemiological dynamics over a very large region during this period, but we will need more research to understand what happened”, says Arthur Kocher, lead author and researcher in the group.

All ancient HBV strains recovered in western Eurasia after this period belonged to new viral lineages that still prevail in the region today. However, it appears that one variant related to the previous prehistoric diversity of the region has persisted to the present. This prehistoric variant has evolved into a rare genotype that seems to have emerged recently during the HIV pandemic, for reasons that remain to be understood.

 

Article: Kocher et al. “Ten millennia of hepatitis B virus evolution”, Science, 2021. DOI: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abi5658

Press release from the University of Valencia and Asociación RUVID.


Oldest Acheulean North Africa Oued Boucherit

The oldest Acheulean evidence in North Africa

The oldest Acheulean evidence in North Africa

The CENIEH in collaboration with CNRPAH leads a study reporting the discovery of the oldest Acheulean lithic assemblage found in North Africa, dated to about 1.7 million years
Oldest Acheulean North Africa Oued Boucherit
View of the valley of Oued Boucherit (Algeria). Photo credits: Mathieu Duval

A new work published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, led by the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH) in collaboration with the Centre National de Recherches Préhistoriques, Anthropologiques et Historiques (CNRPAH) (Algeria), describes the most recent advances in the current investigation performed in the valley of Oued Boucherit, located about 20 km east of the city of Sétif (Algeria).

There, the sedimentary deposits hosts a unique succession of fossiliferous and archaeological levels ranging from 3.9 Ma to 1.7 Ma. Perhaps the most noticeable outcome of this work is the discovery of the oldest evidence of Acheulean lithic industries in North Africa. Dated to 1.7 million years (Ma), it is about 400,000 years older than those recently reported at Thomas Quarry locality (Casablanca, Morocco).

'This is an exceptional discovery', indicates Dr Mathieu Duval, Ramón y Cajal Researcher at CENIEH and lead author of the work, 'because it could drastically modify our vision and understanding of early human origins and migrations throughout the African continent'.

While the French paleontologist Camille Arambourg already mentioned in the 1950s the presence of Acheulean lithic industries (typically characterized by the presence of tools like handaxes or picks) in that area, their exact origin has remained unclear until now. Field prospections carried out over the last years have allowed to find new lithic pieces, and more importantly, to define a clear stratigraphic context and provide an age.

In 2018, another important discovery from this same area was published in the journal Science: the oldest lithic industries (Oldowan-like; typically characterized by small flakes and pebble tools) in North Africa, dated to 2.4 Ma. ‘Now, Oued Boucherit hosts the oldest Oldowan and Acheulean lithic assemblages found in North Africa’ says Prof. Mohamed Sahnouni, coordinator of the Archaeology Program at CENIEH and co-author of the work. ‘This area allows us to precisely study the emergence and evolution of Acheulean and Oldowan lithic industries, like perhaps very few other localities in Africa,’ adds the researcher who has been actively working in the area since the 1990s.

These discoveries drastically change our current vision about the origin and dispersion of the first lithic industries within Africa. Currently, the oldest Oldowan and Acheulean evidence are located in East Africa, dating to about 2.6 million years (Ma) and 1.8 Ma, respectively. Less than 5 years ago, the evidence was more than half a million years older than those found in North Africa.

Oldest Acheulean North Africa
Biface stone tool from Oued Boucherit (Algeria) dated to 1.7 million years. Photo credits: Mohamed Sahnouni

Now, the recent discoveries made at Oued Boucherit indicate instead that these industries appear in North Africa very close in time to those in East Africa. While these results may suggest in first instance a much faster dispersion of these lithic industries from East Africa than previously anticipated, the plausibility of a multiple African origin scenario for stone tool manufacture and use cannot be discarded.

At the forefront of geochronology

‘This work perfectly illustrates the reason why the Geochronology and Geology Program was designed’ explains Prof. J.M. Parés, Coordinator of this Program and co-author of the article. ‘Thanks to a combination of various dating methods applied at CENIEH, namely palaeomagnetism and Electron Spin Resonance dating, we have been able to provide a solid chronological framework to such an old site, something perhaps unthinkable 20 years ago,’ concludes the researcher.

The Geochronology and Geology Program at CENIEH, Spain, hosts a unique combination of world-class facilities and international researchers fully dedicated to Human Evolutionary studies. One of the main research lines of the program consists in of refining the chronology of the early human occupations in the Mediterranean area, with a special emphasis on the combination of different dating methods in order to obtain more robust chronologies. The work at Oued Boucherit is just the latest example of this investigation carried out for more than a decade since the inauguration of the Centre in 2009.

Full bibliographic information:
Duval M., Sahnouni M., Parés J.M., van der Made J., Abdessadok S., Harichane Z., Chelli Cheheb R., Boulaghraif K., Pérez-González A. (2021). The Plio-Pleistocene sequence of Oued Boucherit (Algeria): a unique chronologically-constrained archaeological and paleontological record in North Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews 271. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2021.107116.
Press release from CENIEH