Archaeologists unearth huge Phoenician defensive moat

Archaeologists unearth huge Phoenician defensive moat

Wide and intact, it helped fortify the defensive nature of the area, noticeably increasing its ability to resist attacks.

Cabezo Pequeño del Estaño phoenician

With a depth of three meters and over eight meters tall, the discovery of a defensive moat in the walled Phoenician site of Cabezo Pequeño del Estaño, located at the Alicante province town of Guardamar del Segura, strengthened the defensive capabilities of the village. The new archaeological dig, which is being conducted these days at the site, is framed within the General Research Plan of the Education, Culture and Sport Council of the Valencia Region government, promoted by the town hall of Guardamar del Segura and by the INAPH archaeological research institute of the University of Alicante (UA).

One of its head archaeologists from the INAPH, Fernando Prados, has classified the outstanding finding of the moat at this Phoenician walled site as “enormous and intact”. Works are being directed by Prados; also partaking are Antonio García, director of the Archaeological Museum of Guardamar Segura; José Gambín, architect at the same town and doctor Helena Jiménez, lecturer of Ancient History at the University of Murcia. The work team is rounded out with the participation of researchers in training and technicians from the UA.

Finding the defensive moat

Excavating the fortification is making it possible to obtain a comprehensive view of the defensive structure, obscured until now by sedimentary accumulation and the harmful effects of erosion and the quarry, which destroyed 75% of the village in the 90s (20th century). An aerial photo preserved prior to this destruction revealed the potential existence of a defensive moat that traversed the hill parallel to the lines of the wall. The excavation has confirmed this fact by revealing the moat, which was handmade; one can see marks of chisels in the rocky substrate.

With a depth of around three meters and a width of over eight at its tallest part, this device strengthens the defensive nature of the village, providing heightened defence in the event of attacks. Together with the existing one in the Castillo de Doña Blanca, in Cádiz, it is the only one with these attributes preserved in the western Mediterranean area from its time.

Once more, as happens with the spectacular wall of this site, the closest known parallels are found in the Near East, in Phoenician cities such as Tell Dor or Beirut (today the capital of Lebanon).

The exceptional nature of this finding confirms the essential role of Cabezo Pequeño del Estaño as the spearhead of the Phoenician colonial policies between the 9th and 8th Century BC. The uncertainty and hostility that these settlers experienced upon arriving at the Iberian coast led them to erect a fortification large enough to fulfil their interests at the mouth of the Segura river: to harness the resources, mainly metallurgic.

 

Press release from Asociación RUVID


Crusades genetics DNA Sidon Lebanon

The Crusades: genetics tells a story of war and love

Crusaders made love and war, genetic study finds

First genetic study of the Crusaders confirms that warriors mixed and had families with local people in the near East, and died together in battle

 

The first genetic study of ancient human remains believed to be Crusaders confirms that warriors travelled from western Europe to the near East, where they mixed and had families with local people, and died together in battle. Researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and their collaborators analysed ancient DNA extracted from nine skeletons dating back to the 13th century, which were discovered in a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon.

The results, published today (18 April) in the American Journal of Human Genetics, confirm that while the Crusaders mixed with local people and recruited them to their cause, their genetic presence in the region was short-lived.

The Crusades were a series of religious wars fought between 1095 and 1291, in which Christian invaders tried to claim the near East. It's known that nobility led the Crusades, but historical records lack details of the ordinary soldiers who travelled to, lived and died in the near East.

In recent years, archaeologists uncovered 25 skeletons dating back to the 13th century within a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon. All of those found in the pit were male and had been violently killed during battle, as seen by the blunt force injuries to their skulls and other bones. Their bodies had been disposed of in the pit and burned.

Nearby, an isolated skull was found. The head may have been used as a projectile that was catapulted into the opposition's camp to spread disease and slash morale, illustrating the brutality of the battles.

Clues found alongside the skeletons in the pit, such as European shoe buckles, a coin and carbon-14 dating analysis, led archaeologists to believe the human remains were Crusaders.

In a new study, researchers at the Wellcome Sanger Institute produced whole-genome sequences of the ancient skeletons' DNA and confirm they were in fact Crusaders.

The team report that three individuals were Europeans of diverse origins, including Spain and Sardinia, four were near Easterners who had been recruited to the fight, and two individuals had mixed genetic ancestry, suggesting they were the descendants of mixed relationships between Crusaders and near Easterners.

Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: "Historical documents tell us the names of the nobility who led the Crusades, but the identities of the soldiers remained a mystery. Genomics gives an unprecedented view of the past and shows the Crusaders originated from western Europe and recruited local people of the near East to join them in battle. The Crusaders and near Easterners lived, fought and died side by side."

However, the researchers believe the Crusaders' influence in the region was short-lived as European genetic traces are insignificant in people living in Lebanon today.

When the researchers sequenced the DNA of people living in Lebanon 2,000 years ago during the Roman period, long before the Crusades, they found that today's Lebanese population is genetically similar to the Roman Lebanese, suggesting the Crusades had no lasting impact on Lebanese genetics.

Dr Marc Haber, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: "The Crusaders travelled to the near East and had relationships with the local people, with their sons later joining to fight their cause. However, after the fighting had finished, the mixed generation married into the local population and the genetic traces of the Crusaders were quickly lost."

In the study, the team worked with archaeologists at the Sidon Excavation site to transfer bones of the nine skeletons from Lebanon to a laboratory in Cambridge dedicated to ancient DNA. Here, small portions of the surviving 800 year-old DNA were extracted from the temporal bone in the skulls by DNA extraction experts. An ultra-sterile working environment was set up by the scientists to prevent contamination of the samples with their own DNA, which would render them useless.

The ancient DNA samples were particularly difficult to extract and sequence as the bodies had been burned and buried in a warm and humid climate, where DNA degrades quickly. Recent advances in DNA extraction and sequencing technology made studying the ancient and damaged DNA possible.

Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal, Director of the Sidon excavation site in Lebanon, said: "I was thrilled to discover the genetic identities of the people who lived in the near East during the Crusades. Only five years ago, studies like this would not have been possible. The uniting of archaeologists and geneticists creates an incredible opportunity to interpret significant events throughout history."

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Publication:

Marc Haber et al. (2019) A transient pulse of genetic admixture from the Crusaders in the Near East identified from ancient genome sequences. American Journal of Human Genetics. DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2019.03.015

Funding:

This study was supported by Wellcome (098051).

The Wellcome Sanger Institute

The Sanger is one of the world's leading genome and biodata institutes. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease and to understand life on Earth. Find out more at http://www.sanger.ac.uk or follow @sangerinstitute

About Wellcome

Wellcome exists to improve health by helping great ideas to thrive. We support researchers, we take on big health challenges, we campaign for better science, and we help everyone get involved with science and health research. We are a politically and financially independent foundation.

 

Press release from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

A history of the Crusades, as told by crusaders' DNA

Crusades genetics DNA Sidon Lebanon
This image shows the bones of the Crusaders found in a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon. Credit: Claude Doumet-Serhal

History can tell us a lot about the Crusades, the series of religious wars fought between 1095 and 1291, in which Christian invaders tried to claim the Near East. But the DNA of nine 13th century Crusaders buried in a pit in Lebanon shows that there's more to learn about who the Crusaders were and their interactions with the populations they encountered. The work appears April 18 in The American Journal of Human Genetics.

The remains suggest that the soldiers making up the Crusader armies were genetically diverse and intermixed with the local population in the Near East, although they didn't have a lasting effect on the genetics of Lebanese people living today. They also highlight the important role ancient DNA can play in helping us understand historical events that are less well documented.

"We know that Richard the Lionheart went to fight in the Crusades, but we don't know much about the ordinary soldiers who lived and died there, and these ancient samples give us insights into that," says senior author Chris Tyler-Smith, a genetics researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

"Our findings give us an unprecedented view of the ancestry of the people who fought in the Crusader army. And it wasn't just Europeans," says first author Marc Haber, also of the Wellcome Sanger Institute. "We see this exceptional genetic diversity in the Near East during medieval times, with Europeans, Near Easterners, and mixed individuals fighting in the Crusades and living and dying side by side."

This image shows the bones of the Crusaders found in a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon. Credit: Claude Doumet-Serhal

Archaeological evidence suggested that 25 individuals whose remains were found in a burial pit near a Crusader castle near Sidon, Lebanon, were warriors who died in battle in the 1200s. Based on that, Tyler-Smith, Haber, and their colleagues conducted genetic analyses of the remains and were able to sequence the DNA of nine Crusaders, revealing that three were Europeans, four were Near Easterners, and two individuals had mixed genetic ancestry.

Throughout history, other massive human migrations--like the movement of the Mongols through Asia under Genghis Khan and the arrival of colonial Iberians in South America--have fundamentally reshaped the genetic makeup of those regions. But the authors theorize that the Crusaders' influence was likely shorter-lived because the Crusaders' genetic traces are insignificant in people living in Lebanon today. "They made big efforts to expel them, and succeeded after a couple of hundred years," says Tyler-Smith.

This ancient DNA can tell us things about history that modern DNA can't. In fact, when the researchers sequenced the DNA of people living in Lebanon 2,000 years ago during the Roman period, they found that today's Lebanese population is actually more genetically similar to the Roman Lebanese.

"If you look at the genetics of people who lived during the Roman period and the genetics of people who are living there today, you would think that there was just this continuity. You would think that nothing happened between the Roman period and today, and you would miss that for a certain period of time the population of Lebanon included Europeans and people with mixed ancestry," says Haber.

These findings indicate that there may be other major events in human history that don't show up in the DNA of people living today. And if those events aren't as well-documented as the Crusades, we simply might not know about them. "Our findings suggest that it's worthwhile looking at ancient DNA even from periods when it seems like not that much was going on genetically. Our history may be full of these transient pulses of genetic mixing that disappear without a trace," says Tyler-Smith.

That the researchers were able to sequence and interpret the nine Crusaders' DNA at all was also surprising. DNA degrades faster in warm climates, and the remains studied here were burned and crudely buried. "There has been a lot of long-term interest in the genetics of this region, because it has this very strategic position, a lot of history, and a lot of migrations. But previous research has focused mainly on present-day populations, partly because recovering ancient DNA from warm climates is so difficult. Our success shows that studying samples in a similar condition is now possible because of advances in DNA extraction and sequencing technology," says Haber.

Next, the researchers plan to investigate what was happening genetically in the Near East during the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age.

But they also hope that these kinds of studies will become more commonplace--and more interdisciplinary. "Historical records are often very fragmentary and potentially very biased," Tyler-Smith says. "But genetics gives us a complementary approach that can confirm some of the things that we read about in history and tell us about things that are not recorded in the historical records that we have. And as this approach is adopted by historians and archaeologists as a part of their field, I think it will only become more and more enriching."

This image shows the bones of the Crusaders found in a burial pit in Sidon, Lebanon. Credit: Claude Doumet-Serhal

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This work was supported by The Wellcome Trust.

The American Journal of Human Genetics, Haber et al.: "A transient pulse of genetic admixture from the Crusaders in the Near East identified from ancient genome sequences" https://www.cell.com/ajhg/fulltext/S0002-9297(19)30111-9

The American Journal of Human Genetics (@AJHGNews), published by Cell Press for the American Society of Human Genetics, is a monthly journal that provides a record of research and review relating to heredity in humans and to the application of genetic principles in medicine and public policy, as well as in related areas of molecular and cell biology. Visit: http://www.cell.com/ajhg

 

Press release from Cell Press


From hunting to herding in the Early Neolithic settlement of Aşıklı Höyük

Switch from hunting to herding recorded in ancient pee

Urine salts reveal timing and scale of neolithic revolution at Turkish site

Study authors Jay Quade (left) and Jordan Abell (right) looking for optimal samples at the site of an ancient Turkish settlement where salts left behind by animal and human urine give clues about the development of livestock herding. Credit: Güneş Duru

The transition from hunting and gathering to farming and herding is considered a crucial turning point in the history of humanity. Scholars think the intensive food production that came along with the Neolithic Revolution, starting around 10,000 B.C., allowed cities to grow, led to technological innovation and, eventually, enabled life as we know it today.

It has been difficult to work out the details of how and when this took place. But a new study published in Science Advances begins to resolve the scale and pace of change during the first phases of animal domestication at an ancient site in Turkey. To reconstruct this history, the authors turned to an unusual source: urine salts left behind by humans and animals.

Whereas dung is commonly used in all sorts of studies, “this is the first time, to our knowledge, that people have picked up on salts in archaeological materials, and used them in a way to look at the development of animal management,” says lead author Jordan Abell, a graduate student at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

The team used the urine salts to calculate the density of humans and animals at the site over time, estimating that around 10,000 years ago, the density of people and animals occupying the settlement jumped from near zero to approximately one person or animal for every 10 square meters. The results suggest that domestication may have been more rapid than previously expected. They also support the idea that the Neolithic Revolution didn’t have just one birthplace in the Fertile Crescent of the Mideast, but rather occurred across several locations simultaneously.

Connecting the Dots

At the ancient settlement of Aşıklı Höyük in central Turkey, archaeological evidence suggests that humans began domesticating sheep and goats around 8450 BC. These practices evolved over the next 1,000 years, until the society became heavily dependent on the beasts for food and other materials.

Students working on the western Section of Aşıklı Höyük, where the evidence was found. Credit: Güneş Duru

As it happened, co-authors Susan Mentzer from the University of Tübingen and Jay Quade from the University of Arizona, where Abell worked on this project as an undergraduate, had previously documented some unusually high levels of salts around Aşıklı Höyük, and were perplexed by what they meant. Using this data and others, the new study supports the idea that the salts likely came from the urine of humans, sheep and goats. The study uses the abundance of the salts over time to track the growth of the community and its animals over a period of 1,000 years.

A Rapid Transition

Working with Turkish archaeologists, including Istanbul University’s Mihriban Özbaşaran, who heads the Aşıklı Höyük dig, the team collected 113 samples from all across the site — from trash piles to bricks and hearths, and from different time periods — to look at patterns in the sodium, nitrate and chlorine salt levels.

They found that, overall, the urine salts at Aşıklı Höyük increased in abundance over time. The natural layers before the settlement was built contained very low levels of salts. The oldest layers with evidence of human habitation, spanning 10,400 to 10,000 years ago, saw slight increases but remained relatively low in the urine salts. Then the salts spike during a period from 10,000 to 9,700 years ago; the amount of salts in this layer is about 1,000 times higher than in the preceding ones, indicating a rapid increase in the number of occupants (both human and animal). After that, the concentrations decrease slightly.

Abell says these trends line up with previous hypotheses based on other evidence from the site — that the settlement transitioned first from mostly hunting sheep and goats to corralling just a few, then changed to larger-scale management, and then finally shifted to keeping animals in corrals on the periphery of the site as their numbers grew. And although the timing is close to what the study authors expected, the sharp change around 10,000 years ago “may be new evidence for a more rapid transition” toward domestication, says Abell.

Using the salt concentrations, the team estimated the number and density of people plus sheep and goats at Aşıklı Höyük, after accounting for other factors that might have influenced the salt levels. They calculated that around 10,000 years ago, the density of people and animals occupying the settlement jumped from near zero to approximately one person or animal for every 10 square meters. By comparison, modern-day semi-intensive feedlots have densities of about one sheep for every 5 square meters.

Although it is not currently possible to distinguish between human and livestock urine salts, the urine salt analysis method can still provide a helpful estimate of sheep and goat abundance. Over the 1,000 year period, the team calculated that an average of 1,790 people and animals lived and peed on the settlement every day. In each time period, the estimated inhabitants were much higher than the number of people that archaeologists think the settlement’s buildings would have housed. This indicates that the urine salt concentrations can indeed reflect the relative amounts of domesticated animals over time.

Aşıklı Höyük Turkey Neolithic Revolution
View from the rooftops of reconstructed Aşıklı Höyük houses from the 8th and 9th century BC. Credit: Güneş Duru

The researchers plan to further refine their methods and calculations in the future, and hope to find a way to differentiate between human and animal urine salts. They think the methodology could be applied in other arid areas, and could be especially helpful at sites where other physical evidence, such as bones, is lacking.

A Broader Revolution

The study’s results also help shed light on the geographic spread of the Neolithic Revolution. It was once thought that farming and herding originated in the Fertile Crescent, which spans parts of modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories, then spread outward from there. But mounting evidence, including today’s study, indicates that domestication and the transition to Neolithic lifestyles took place concurrently over a broad and diffuse swath of the region.

Anthropologist and co-author Mary Stiner from the University of Arizona said that the new method could help to clarify the larger picture of humanity’s relationship to animals during this transitional period. “We might find similar trends in other archaeological sites of the period in the Middle East,” she said, “but it is also possible that only a handful of long-lasting communities were forums for the evolving human-caprine relationships in any given region of the Middle East.”

Güneş Duru and Melis Uzdurum from Istanbul University were also authors on the paper.

 

Press release from the Earth Institute at the Columbia University, by Sarah Fecht

 

Urine salts provide evidence of Early Neolithic animal management

Urine salts elucidate Early Neolithic animal management at Aşıklı Höyük, Turkey

A close examination of midden soil layers at the early Neolithic site of Aşıklı Höyük in Turkey reveals that they are highly enriched in sodium, chlorine, and nitrate salts commonly found in human and goat and sheep urine, offering a distinct signal for following the management of those animals through the history of the site. The findings, along with an enriched nitrogen signal in the soil, suggest a new way for archaeologists to study the evolution of animal management at this critical point in human history, at similarly dry, thickly stratified sites that may not contain other domestication evidence such as animal bones or dung, or the presence of corrals or other animal enclosures. Jordan Abell and colleagues used several techniques to identify these soluble urine salts and to distinguish them from natural geological salt deposition at Aşıklı Höyük. The researchers found a 5-10 times increase in these salts between about 10,400 BP to 10,000 BP, and a 10-1000 times increase between 10,400 and 9,700 BP, demonstrating increasing reliance upon and eventual domestication of sheep and goats over this time. Based on these salt concentrations, Abell et al. estimate that about 1,790 humans and animals lived and urinated on the site per day for roughly 1,000 years of occupation. High soluble nitrogen levels in the trash heaps of the site are similar to those seen in modern feedlots, the researchers note.

Press release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science