March 31, 2005

A prehistory of the North

A Prehistory of the North by John F. Hoffecker seems like an interesting book about the settlement of the northern regions of the Earth. A small description:
Early humans did not simply drift northward from their African origins as their abilities to cope with cooler climates evolved. The initial settlement of places like Europe and northern Asia, as well as the later movement into the Arctic and the Americas, actually occurred in relatively rapid bursts of expansion. A Prehistory of the North is the first full-length study to tell the complex story, spanning almost two million years, of how humans inhabited some of the coldest places on earth.

In an account rich with illustrations, John Hoffecker traces the history of anatomical adaptations, diet modifications, and technological developments, such as clothing and shelter, which allowed humans the continued ability to push the boundaries of their habitation. The book concludes by showing how in the last few thousand years, peoples living in the circumpolar zone-with the exception of western and central Siberia-developed a thriving maritime economy.

Written in nontechnical language, A Prehistory of the North provides compelling new insights and valuable information for professionals and students.

and an interesting excerpt about the contact between the Inuit and the Vikings:
Although the victory is not widely appreciated, it is apparent that native Americans won their first contest with European invaders. By AD 1500, the Norse settlements in Greenland and elsewhere in the New World had been abandoned. The Dorset people had also disappeared by this time, and the Inuit inherited all of the arctic-and some of the subarctic-regions of the New World.

The reason for the retreat of the Vikings from these regions has been the subject of much debate. Economic competition and warfare with the Inuit seem likely to have been factors, along with declining trade and the isolation of the settlers from the larger Norse population. The primary cause, however, probably lies in the return of colder climates that heralded the beginning of the "Little Ice Age" in AD 1450-1500. Falling temperatures were almost certainly the reason for the economic decline that took place at this time and the reduction in population that followed. Conflict with the Inuit probably exacerbated Norse problems, but did not create them.7

The real obstacle to Viking survival in the north was their inability to adapt to colder climates during the 1400s. The Inuit were also forced to make adjustments to their way of life at this time (for example, increased focus on seal hunting), but they seem to have accomplished this without major trauma and within the larger context of their existing adaptation.

Isotopic analyses of the skeletal remains of Greenland Vikings, combined with the study of food remains from their settlements, indicates that they gradually adopted a diet based more heavily on marine foods (and less on livestock).8 However, they never abandoned the fundamental traditions of a society and culture derived from medieval Europe. Dressed in woolen clothing, they were still struggling to maintain their farming estates as arctic climates descended on southern Greenland.9

March 30, 2005

Interesting discussion on human diversity, race, sexual selection

over at Foreign Dispatches. An important point that I make there concerns the often misunderstood meaning of sexual selection, which is not choosing (selection) individuals to have sex with, but the selection of alleles which produce an attractive individual.

Of course, in human terms, we think of "attractive" as someone who elicits a sexual response, i.e., someone we want to have sex with. But, that is not what is important for sexual selection, i.e., for an evolutionary process. It doesn't make one iota of difference if you sleep with 100 women who have the "green hair" allele, as long as you choose to procreate with 1 woman who has the "blue hair" allele: it is the "blue hair" allele that gets selected in this case.

March 29, 2005

Ancient DNA compendium

For easy reference:

Review paper

Cenntral and Northern Asia

Neolithic NE Siberia
Neolithic Siberians
More Scytho-Siberian
Central Asia
Neolithic cis-Baikal
Ancient Mongolia

Northern Central and Eastern Europe

Eartly Danish
HIV Bronze Age
Tyrolean Iceman
Neolithic Linearbandkeramik
Viking King

Southern and Western Europe

Neanderthal from Iberia
Pre-Roman Iberian
Aldaieta Basques
Medieval al-Andalus
Ancient Britons

The Americas

Ancient Peruvians
mt-DNA haplogroup M in North Americans
Native Americans
Pre-Columbian mummy

Sexual dimorphism in 26 populations

Using the same data as before, I calculate the sexual dimorphism in 26 craniometric samples from around the world.

There are many ways to express sexual dimorphism, i.e., differences between men and women, which extend to both size and shape. I will limit myself to the simple measure of the average (over all traits) ratio of the male to the female mean (over all individuals).

Zulu 1.06
Egypt 1.06
Atayal 1.06
Zalavar 1.06
San 1.07
Hainan 1.07
Tasmanian 1.07
Moriori 1.07
Norse 1.07
Lake Alexandrina 1.07
Tolai 1.07
Dogon 1.08
Berg 1.08
Philippine 1.08
Yauyos 1.08
Teita 1.08
Buriat 1.08
Santa Cruz Island 1.08
North Kyushu 1.08
Ainu 1.09
Andaman Islands 1.09
Arikara 1.09
Hokkaido 1.09
Mokapu 1.09
Easter Island 1.09
Guam 1.09

So, it appears that these populations do not differ by much from each other in terms of sexual dimorphism. But, if we look at individual traits, the situation is much different. Men and women are most dimorphic (in decreasing order) in terms of their glabella projection (1.52), supraorbital projection (1.25), simotic subtense (1.2), mastoid breadth (1.18), mastoid height (1.16). So, it turns out that men and women can be quite different in terms of some traits, but not in terms of others.

Average 2003 earnings

Via CNN.

Any theories?

March 28, 2005

Who is the most diverse of them all?

Here is the diversity ranking of Howells' 28 human populations based on 45 cranial measurements. The numbers are the average population standard deviation (for each population over all 45 measurements) as a percentage of the average human standard deviation (for all groups over all 45 measurements). In parentheses, the racial cluster of each population according to my previous analysis.

Guam 76.8 (Mongoloid)
Andaman Islands 76.8 (Andamanese)
Santa Cruz Island 76.9 (Americanoid)
Zalavar 77.0 (Caucasoid)
Yauyos 77.8 (Americanoid)
Easter Island 77.9 (Polynesoid)
Arikara 78.2 (Americanoid)
Moriori 78.2 (Polynesoid)
Tolai 78.3 (Australoid)
Lake Alexandrina 78.3 (Australoid)
Atayal 78.8 (Mongoloid)
Hainan 79.2 (Mongoloid)
Anyang 79.9 (Mongoloid)
Norse 80.1 (Caucasoid)
North Kyushu 80.6 (Mongoloid)
Mokapu 80.9 (Polynesoid)
Ainu 81.3 (Ainu)
Eskimo 81.6 (Eskimo)
Egypt 82.8 (Caucasoid)
Phillipine 84.2 (Mongoloid)
Dogon 84.5 (Negroid)
Teita 84.8 (Negroid)
Zulu 85.1 (Negroid)
Berg 85.3 (Caucasoid)
Tasmanian 85.3 (Australoid)
Hokkaido 85.5 (Mongoloid)
Buriat 87.0 (Mongoloid)
San 89.0 (Capoid)

Caucasoid vs. Negroid phenotypic variation

It is well known that the populations of Africa have an excess of neutral genetic variation. This observation, in addition to paleoanthropological data has led to the conclusion that mankind has originated in Africa.

Neutral variation is just one type of human variation. It is the type of variation that doesn't seem to be doing anything, thus making it useful to assess the relationships between populations. On the other hand, genes that actually do something may be under selection, and hence their patterns of variation may reflect environmental selective pressure and not genetic relationship.

We can't at present quantify the amount of genetic variation for most human traits of interest, because we don't have a clue about which genes are responsible for these traits. Therefore, we have to turn to the study of human phenotypes thought to be under genetic control.

I have carried a simple experiment using Howells' craniometric data to measure the level of phenotypic diversity for 45 different measurements.

I limit myself to the three medieval European populations (Norse, Berg and Zalavar) and the three Sub-Saharan African populations (Dogon, Teita, Zulu). It's interesting that the European populations are spatially closer to each other than the African populations. Therefore, we should expect them to be more similar to each other than the Africans are. In addition, if African neutral genetic diversity extends also to the functional diversity underlying human cranial development, we would expect the Africans to be even more diverse.

I limit myself to the male samples and compute the standard deviation for each trait separately for the Europeans, the Africans, and the entire human sample.

First, we can compute what the average standard deviation is, i.e., averaged over all 45 traits. It turns out that this is (normalized so that humans have SD=100):

Humans (100) : Africans (88) : Europeans (85)

Predictably, humans in total are most diverse, followed by Africans, and then Europeans. It is however surprising that Europeans are almost as diverse as Africans, given that they are drawn from three medieval locations of Central-Northern Europe compared to the three widely separated African populations. It would be interesting to see how these numbers look if we sample from the entire range of the Caucasoid and the Negroid race, rather than just these convenient publically available populations.

Of course, the above ratio is averaged over all 45 traits. What about individual traits? I list the three traits in which Africans are most diverse compared to Europeans and vice versa. Here we set the African standard deviation to be 100:

Simotic chord (least nasal breadth): Europeans (73)
Bregma-subtense fraction: Europeans (77)
Orbit breadth (left): Europeans (77)
Interorbital breadth: Europeans (116)
Nasio-occipital length: Europeans (118)
Biauricular breadth: Europeans (140)

It is obvious that for some traits Africans are more diverse compared to Europeans and for others Europeans are more diverse than Africans.

In conclusion, it turns out that we should not generalize from neutral genetic variation to functional genetic variation, as the latter may show a different pattern of variation than the former. Moreover, each group may be more diverse in terms of some traits but not in terms of others.

March 27, 2005

Four roads

Human civilization is at a critical stage of its development, and there are basically four views on its future:
  • The primitivists emphasize civilization's ills both for mankind and for nature, and propose that we adopt a less technological way of living. According to some extreme views this might entail going back to the Paleolithic, or even abandon symbolic thinking!
  • The conservationists agree that civilization cannot be sustained, so they propose a partial rollback of its development: population control or reduction, abandonment of certain technologies, and reversion to a more nature-oriented lifestyle.
  • The progressives think that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with our civilization. It should go on existing as it is, and any attempts to reform it will fail; if small reforms and adjustments are needed, then these will be made as a matter of course.
  • The transhumanists are impatient with civilization as it is, and they view it as a means rather as an end. They often acknowledge that it has many problems, but they emphasize that it is much better than earlier ones, and the way to overcome it is by intensifying it, by essentially running it to its final end which is the transcendence of our humanity and the establishment of a new order based on new technologies.
This classification is based on perceptions of the value of technology, from its total rejection as in the case of the primitivists to its near deification in the case of the transhumanists.

A good analogy would be that of a man running towards a chasm. The primitivists want us to start running in the opposite direction; the conservationists propose that we stop running and think about it; the progressives deny that a chasm even exists, or perhaps they assume that we'll figure out a way to overcome it; the transhumanists relish in its existence and urge us to run faster and jump hard, because that is the only way to reach the side of our post-human future.

So, which type are you?

Which type best describes you?

Free polls from

Development of new marker systems for ancient DNA research

Last summer, a news story referred to some work on the pigmentation of Ancient Germans. The Ph.D. thesis of the scientist responsible for that work can be found here (in pdf form and in German).

From a cursory reading, it appears that Dr. Schmidt is able to predict with very high confidence whether someone has red hair or UV sensitive skin Type I. With the exception of a single medieval individual who apparently had both, all individuals are believed by her to have had blond or dark hair and non-UV sensitive skin.

I was able to find some data on the prevalence of UV sensitive skin Type I in a sample of modern German children (11.6%), although according to the authors this also included children of predominantly Southern European immigrants. Therefore, the frequency may be higher in ethnic Germans.

It would be interesting to see such phenotypical markers analyzed in other ancient DNA samples from Europe, such as the Basques, the Etruscans, the Iranians, as well as the much anticipated study on ancient Greek DNA.

Burnt City Citizens' DNA Under Study, Iran

French and German scientists are to help study D.N.A. of the skeletons found in the 5000-year-old site of Burnt City in Sistan-Baluchistan, uncovering secrets about the ancient people living in the area.

The study will help archaeologists identify the race of the people, their skin and hair color, and find out from where they immigrated to the area.

According to head of the archaeology team of the Burnt City, Mansour Sajadi, some theories have already been formed on the race and genetic qualities of the citizens, yet D.N.A. studies are necessary to confirm the theories and answer further questions on the civilization.

German and French genetic scientists and archaeologists are soon to join the Iranian team for the study of these D.N.A. features.

A team of Italian archaeobotanists have been working on the site during the two previous archaeological seasons and they are to return to Iran for the next upcoming one.

The Burnt City is located in an area land of 150 hectares between Zabol and Zahedan cities, in the southern province of Sistan-Baluchistan. So far archaeological work has been carried out on the site for 8 seasons, but many secrets still remain unsolved of the rich developed civilization that lived there 5000 years ago.


March 26, 2005

mtDNA haplogroup cluster UKJT reduces the risk of Parkinson's

Ann Neurol. 57(4): 564-567

Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup cluster UKJT reduces the risk of PD.

Pyle A et al

There is increasing evidence that genetic variants of mitochondrial DNA have an important role in the cause of idiopathic Parkinson's disease. We determined the mitochondrial DNA haplogroup of 455 Parkinson's disease cases, 185 Alzheimer's disease cases, and 447 healthy English control subjects. The UKJT haplogroup cluster was associated with a 22% reduction in population-attributable risk for Parkinson's disease. There was no association between individual haplogroups or the UKJT cluster and Alzheimer's disease, confirming that the association with Parkinson's disease was disease specific and not a general effect seen in all neurodegenerative diseases.


Y chromosomes from Yunnan

Ann Hum Biol. 32(1):80-7

The distribution of Y chromosome haplogroups in the nationalities from Yunnan Province of China.

Yang Z et al.

The genetic structure of 26 identified nationalities from Yunnan Province of China was studied using Y chromosome haplogroups. A total of 12 haplogroups were obtained in 1214 male samples from all the nationalities. The genetic relationships among 26 nationalities were studied. The ethnic groups were compared according to their different ancient lineages. The ancient lineages had their own characteristics in the distribution of Y chromosome haplogroups. Our results showed that Yunnan Province has great genetic diversity in its people. The ethnic groups differ from each other in the number of haplogroups and haplogroup frequencies. The genetic evidence was in agreement with the study of linguistic and historical records.


The dual origins of the Malagasy

American Journal of Human Genetics (Online Early)

The Dual Origin of the Malagasy in Island Southeast Asia and East Africa: Evidence from Maternal and Paternal Lineages

Matthew E. Hurles et al.

Linguistic and archaeological evidence about the origins of the Malagasy, the indigenous peoples of Madagascar, points to mixed African and Indonesian ancestry. By contrast, genetic evidence about the origins of the Malagasy has hitherto remained partial and imprecise. We defined 26 Y-chromosomal lineages by typing 44 Y-chromosomal polymorphisms in 362 males from four different ethnic groups from Madagascar and 10 potential ancestral populations in Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific. We also compared mitochondrial sequence diversity in the Malagasy with a manually curated database of 19,371 hypervariable segment I sequences, incorporating both published and unpublished data. We could attribute every maternal and paternal lineage found in the Malagasy to a likely geographic origin. Here, we demonstrate approximately equal African and Indonesian contributions to both paternal and maternal Malagasy lineages. The most likely origin of the Asia-derived paternal lineages found in the Malagasy is Borneo. This agrees strikingly with the linguistic evidence that the languages spoken around the Barito River in southern Borneo are the closest extant relatives of Malagasy languages. As a result of their equally balanced admixed ancestry, the Malagasy may represent an ideal population in which to identify loci underlying complex traits of both anthropological and medical interest.


Armand Leroi on Beauty

In the following excerpt, Armand Marie Leroi talks about beauty. Dr. Leroi is the author of Mutants : On Genetic Variety and the Human Body, a very fascinating (and slightly disturbing) book on mutant organisms. He has also written an interesting op-ed on race titled A Family Tree in Every Gene
But that's intellectual beauty. What of human physical beauty? This is something that interests me greatly. I'm not interested in the general aesthetic question here, but ourselves. Some people say that beauty is uninteresting and that it's just a matter of taste. I don't think so. I would say, and there are others who would certainly agree with me, that we have a general psychological program from which stems a universal notion of beauty. Incidentally, this idea that we all perceive certain features to be beautiful is one that Darwin would have disagreed with. Darwin believed that the perception of beauty was particular to particular peoples in particular times and places. He was probably wrong, or at least he was only partly right. I won't attempt to justify that answer, but I think it to be true. These days, the general thinking tends to be that there's a universal notion of beauty which is true for people around the world. And the question is, what is that and what drives it?

Many people think that beauty is a certificate of health; this is an idea that comes out of sociobiology. But it is more obvious than than that. It's simply the idea that beautiful people are healthy people and we search for healthy mates. And that's probably true. Or at least it was. But is it still? In the past, health was primarily a matter of environmental conditions—your exposure to contagious diseases and the amount of food that you had when you were growing up. Rich people had better environments, hence the positive association between beauty and wealth. But what of modern economically egalitarian societies such as Holland? In such societies, does the ancient association still obtain? If the variance in beauty is due to the variance in the quality of the rearing environment then it must be the case that the Dutch — who all eat much the same good food, live in much the same well-designed houses, and have access to much the same excellent health-care — must all be equivalently beautiful. But is this so? The answer is, of course, no. Among the Dutch you can find good-looking and not so good-looking people. And the question is then, why?

I would argue that the reason for this is that there is and will always be variance in beauty is because there is variance in mutational load. What is beauty fundamentally about? I would argue — and this is really just a postulate at this time, but it is one that interests me a great deal — that the fundamental reason why some of us are more beautiful than others is because of those deleterious mutations that we all carry We may carry 300 deleterious mutations on average, but there is of course a variance associated with that. Not everybody has 300. Some people have more, some people have fewer. If this is true—and statistically it must be true — then someone in the world has the fewest mutations of all. Someone in the world is the least mutant human of all. Indeed, we can actually calculate, making some assumptions about the shape of the distribution, how many mutations that person has — and it turns out to be 191 versus the average of 300. This, to my mind, is surprisingly many. I would suggest that if we could find that person, he or she would be a good candidate for being the most beautiful person in the world. At least she would be, assuming she did not grow up in some impoverished underdeveloped nation. Which, statistically, she will have done since most people do.

March 25, 2005

Greek racial calculator updated

A bug fix plus a new calculator for women here.

Prehistoric Basques were closer to modern Near Easterners

This paper shows that 6th-7th century Basque mtDNA was similar to that of present-day Atlantic fringe populations, but both are not similar to prehistoric mtDNA dating back to 5000BP. Therefore, some population movement has taken place between 5000BP and the 6th-7th century, leading to the present-day distribution of mtDNA. Note that a "Near Eastern" tendency has already been found in Paleolithic Cro-Magnons from Italy, and ancient Etruscans. Here are some interesting findings of the article:
The first component, which accounts for 42.6% of the total variance, established a differentiation between the present-day populations of the Near East and those of Europe. Within Europe, the populations of the Mediterranean area (MdE, MdC and MdW) and those of Eastern Europe (NE and SE) are closer to those of the Near East. Regarding the prehistoric populations of the Basque Country, they are situated between the two groups (Europe and Near East), whereas the historical population of Aldaieta falls within the variability range of present-day European populations.


As we have seen, haplogroup K has a considerable bearing on the distribution of modern and ancient populations in both PC analyses. This haplogroup is at a high frequency in the prehistoric populations of the Basque Country (16% in Pico Ramos and around 23% in Longar and SJAPL) (Table 4), whereas the average value in present-day European populations is 4.8%, ranging between 3.6% and 7.7% (Richards et al. 2000).


As we have already seen, we did not find any individuals in the prehistoric populations that belong to lineage V (Izagirre & de la Rúa, 1999) and we found only one individual (2.7%) in the historical population of Aldaieta. On the other hand, Maca-Meyer et al. (2003) propose that the origin of haplogroup V should be displaced to Cantabria. Should this be the case, the presence of haplogroup V in the historical population of Aldaieta suggests the existence of genetic flow between the population of the Basque Country and that of the neighbouring region, at least since Late Antiquity.


The frequency of haplogroup H in the historical population of Aldaieta (48.6%) is similar to that displayed in the present-day Atlantic fringe populations. However, the prehistoric populations of the Basque Country studied prior to this show a lower frequency of haplogroup H, as in Longar it is 44% and in the other two prehistoric populations (SJAPL and Pico Ramos) its frequency is around 37% (Table 4).


Haplogroup J has been the main lineage of mtDNA related to the Neolithic expansion from the Near East around 10,000 years ago (Richards et al. 1996, 2000). A lower frequency of J has been displayed in the present-day Basque population (2.4%), whereas in all other regions of Europe its frequency ranges between 7% and 14%. However, in certain prehistoric populations from the Basque Country (SJAPL and Pico Ramos), and in the historical population of Aldaieta, the presence of this haplogroup is greater than in the rest of the European populations studied, displaying values of around 16%, although it is absent in the prehistoric population of Longar (Table 4). Nevertheless, haplogroup J is of no relevance in either of the first two components in the PC analysis performed in this paper (Fig. 4b and 5b).


Like us, Vernesi et al. (2004) detected a significant difference between the present-day population of Tuscany and the prehistoric one inhabiting the same area (Etruscan), with a gap of 2,500 years between them, finding only two haplotypes in common between both populations. It may be that this phenomenon is more widespread and has occurred in other regions of Western Europe. Data on more prehistoric populations are required in order to confirm this phenomenon. It should also be taken into account that these differences have only been detected in the mtDNA, as currently, the nuclear genome of prehistoric European individuals has not been studied at the population level.


Bearing in mind this temporal variation in the frequency of haplogroup H in the Basque Country, it is not correct to state that the widespread situation in the Upper Palaeolithic involved the existence of high frequencies of haplogroup H, simply due to the fact that present-day Basques present this characteristic. Another example is the case of haplogroup J. Given that the present-day Basque population is an outlier regarding the Neolithic component, it has been proposed that this region experienced a smaller genetic impact from Neolithic farmers. But if we accept that lineage J is a marker of migrations of Neolithic populations from the Near East, then the Basque Country also experienced the impact of these peoples, as is shown by the high frequency of haplogroup J in certain ancient populations.


As advised by Vernesi et al. (2004), this leads us to reconsider the supposition whereby the genetic patterns of present-day populations reflect the evolutionary processes experienced by their predecessors (Sokal et al. 1991; Richards et al. 2000, 2002, amongst others). Up until now it was thought that there was no evolutionary process subsequent to the Neolithic that altered the genetic composition of European populations (Barbujani & Bertorelle, 2001). However, our data on ancient DNA (as well as those of Vernesi et al. 2004) reveal a discontinuity between prehistoric and present-day populations, which leads us to reconsider the limitations involved in the reconstruction of evolutionary history on the basis of the genetic patterns of present-day populations.

Annals of Human Genetics (OnlineEarly)

Temporal Mitochondrial DNA Variation in the Basque Country: Influence of Post-Neolithic Events

A. Alzualde et al.


The Basque population has been considered an outlier in a large number of genetic studies, due to its hypothesized antiquity and greater genetic isolation. The present paper deals with an analysis of the mtDNA variability of the historical population of Aldaieta (VIVII c. AD; Basque Country) which, together with genetic data existing for other prehistoric populations of the Basque Country (4,5005,000 YBP), permits an appraisal of the hypotheses proposed for the origin of the genetic differentiation of the Basque population. Given that this is an aDNA study, application has been made both of standard precautions, to avoid contamination, and of authentication criteria (analysis of duplicates, replication in an independent laboratory, quantification of target DNA, sequencing and cloning of PCR products). The variability of the mtDNA haplogroups of the historical population of Aldaieta falls within the range of the present-day populations of Europe's Atlantic fringe, whereas the prehistoric populations of the Basque Country display clear differentiation in relation to all others. Consequently, we suggest that between 5,0001,500 YBP approximately, there may have been gene flow amongst the western European populations that homogenised mtDNA lineages.


Saami and Berbers

An excellent new paper on mtDNA haplogroup phylogenetics:
An age of ~60 ky indicates that haplogroup U arose very soon after the "out of Africa" exit. As for U5, its sequence divergence was 8.1 ± 1.8 substitutions, corresponding to 41.4 ± 9.2 ky, a time estimate in full agreement with its proposed proto-European origin (Richards et al. 2000). It is striking that the sequence divergence of U5b1b, the subclade encompassing mtDNAs from the Saami, Yakut, Berbers, and Fulbe, was 1.7 ± 0.5 substitutions, thus corresponding to only 8.6 ± 2.4 ky.

Am. J. Hum. Genet. (Online Early)

Saami and BerbersAn Unexpected Mitochondrial DNA Link

Alessandro Achilli et al.

The sequencing of entire human mitochondrial DNAs belonging to haplogroup U reveals that this clade arose shortly after the "out of Africa" exit and rapidly radiated into numerous regionally distinct subclades. Intriguingly, the Saami of Scandinavia and the Berbers of North Africa were found to share an extremely young branch, aged merely 9,000 years. This unexpected finding not only confirms that the Franco-Cantabrian refuge area of southwestern Europe was the source of late-glacial expansions of hunter-gatherers that repopulated northern Europe after the Last Glacial Maximum but also reveals a direct maternal link between those European hunter-gatherer populations and the Berbers.


March 24, 2005

Which five books would you save?

Imagine that a meteor strike wipes out the vast majority of living humans, leaving only a few thousand scattered individuals around the world. Naturally, civilization collapses, with only basic reading and arithmetic skills retained.

The survivors transmit a great deal of "lore" about the achievements of the past to their children, but the scarcity of specialists and the breakdown of communications and education result in this knowledge becoming increasingly vague. Newer generations have not experienced past civilization and they become increasingly doubtful about the stories they hear about "skyscrapers", "airplanes", "relativity", etc. As a result, knowledge becomes myth, and is increasingly forgotten or embellished with fantastical elements.

Centuries pass. Environmental conditions start to improve. The remnants of mankind emerge out of their hiding places. Almost everything has been lost, but the survivors have adapted, and our species is no longer in danger of immediate extinction.

One day, a young sheperd boy discovers the ruins of a great building that once housed a library. Almost nothing of the library's collection remains, save for an old briefcase left by some unfortunate visitor in the basement. The boy takes the briefcase to the elders of his village, who -after much effort- manage to open it, discovering that it contains five books, the first books to see daylight in over a thousand years.

If you were to magically insert any five books into that briefcase, which ones would you choose and why?

PS: I will give my own answer after I think about it for a day or two.


So, here is my list:

The New Testament. Almost all human civilization has had a religious aspect to it, and the religious imperative has spurred much discovery and exploration. The New Testament would provide a basic moral ideal around which society could function, and has functioned successfully in the past. It would also contain the imperative to spread the gospel around the world, which would help re-establish communication among different survivors.

The Elements by Euclid. Human beings could probably not understand most advanced mathematical subjects without a suitable education. The Elements would provide basic geometrical knowledge that is both practically useful, but also encompasses the entire mathematical process: axioms, reasoning, proofs.

The Republic by Plato. The Republic is a book of basic philosophy which covers and hints at many subjects. It can be read by a non expert easily, unlike most later philosophical works. Its main value would be to instruct people about the value of discussion and argumentation as a way to approach the truth. It would also teach people to value laws as a way to create a well-ordered society.

Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, or some other anatomical text. This would help demystify the human body, and show that it is a well-working system which can be studied scientifically. Such a book would be a useful in medicine and biology, and it would spur people to investigate the inner workings of living things.

Any accessible book on modern cosmology. People should learn about our picture of the universe, even if they do not understand perfectly how it works. They should learn that the earth is round, that the moon is its satellite, that it orbits the sun, which is a star in a galaxy, one of many in an expanding universe with billions of other galaxies. Perhaps they will not believe it at first, but even if they take it as a myth, it will be better than other possible myths. It would also hint at the grandeur of the universe, and thus motivate them to learn about it.

Tiny weed defies gene laws

LONDON (Reuters) - A tiny weed has defied accepted laws by receiving traits from its grandparents that were not carried by its parents, scientists say.

According to the scientific laws of inheritance described by Gregor Mendel in the mid-1800s, characteristics are determined by unique units of inheritance that are passed on intact from one generation to the next.

But scientists at Purdue University in Indiana have discovered the classic rules don't apply to a plant called Arabidopsis thaliana, which has bypassed genetic abnormalities carried by both parents and reverted to normal traits from the grandparents.

"This means inheritance can happen more flexibly than we thought in the past," said Robert Pruitt, a molecular geneticist at the university.

"While Mendel's laws that we learned in high school are still fundamentally correct, they're not absolute."

If the mechanism he and his colleagues discovered in the plant exists in animals, they believe it could pave a path for gene therapy to treat diseases in plants and humans.

In research reported in the science journal Nature, the scientists said they found the anomaly when they noticed normal flowers on plants that were the offspring of deformed plants.

The parents had a mutated gene that prevented its flowers from opening. But the grandparents and 10 percent of the grandchildren had normal flowers.

"If you take this mutant Arabidopsis, which has two copies of the altered gene, let it seed and then plant the seeds, 90 percent of the offspring will look like the plant, but 10 percent will look like the normal grandparents," Pruitt said in a statement.

"Our genetic training tells us that's just not possible. This challenges everything we believe," he added.

Nature 434, 505 - 509


A fundamental tenet of classical mendelian genetics is that allelic information is stably inherited from one generation to the next, resulting in predictable segregation patterns of differing alleles1. Although several exceptions to this principle are known, all represent specialized cases that are mechanistically restricted to either a limited set of specific genes (for example mating type conversion in yeast2) or specific types of alleles (for example alleles containing transposons3 or repeated sequences4). Here we show that Arabidopsis plants homozygous for recessive mutant alleles of the organ fusion gene HOTHEAD5 (HTH) can inherit allele-specific DNA sequence information that was not present in the chromosomal genome of their parents but was present in previous generations. This previously undescribed process is shown to occur at all DNA sequence polymorphisms examined and therefore seems to be a general mechanism for extra-genomic inheritance of DNA sequence information. We postulate that these genetic restoration events are the result of a template-directed process that makes use of an ancestral RNA-sequence cache.


March 23, 2005

More on the Minimal Set

NuSapiens continues the discussion on the Minimal Set of colonists. A suggestion which turned up in the discussion of my earliest post is the following. As NuSapiens states:
Abiola recommends a group of around 100 Africans or African-Americans (since most of global human diversity is a subset of African diversity) screened for genetic diseases, who will live in monogamous heterosexual pairs. The group would include medical doctors, chemists, botanists, zoologists, metallurgists, engineers, and generic schoolteachers, but not lawyers, philosophers, etc.

In fact, this is quite similar to what probably happened when the first biologically modern humans left Africa. Of course, the OOA humans had the extra challenge of meeting archaic sapiens, such as Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalis, in their travels in Europe and Asia. The other key difference is level of technical ability, but not technological toolkit.

This may seem like a reasonable suggestion: only one planet was populated by humans, Earth, and this was populated by Africans and their descendants. So, prudence would have us repeat the experiment without changing anything in the "recipe" of success, and hence send an African sample to our hypothetical colonization mission.

There are, however, two problems with this idea.

First, there is no reason to repeat the course of evolution. Since we already have humans adapted to extreme environmental conditions, there is no reason to start from scratch, i.e., from Africans, hoping that these will adapt (once again) to all environments found in their new planet. We'd be better off sending a cross-section of humanity instead. This would contain adaptations not found in Africans, related to the diverse environments of our planet, and perhaps influential for the development of civilization on Earth.

Second, it must be remembered that the people who managed to colonize the whole surface of our planet were not general Africans, and almost certainly very different from African Americans. They were drawn from a very specific subset of Africans, i.e., prehistoric East Africans. By drawing a sample from general Africans of today, we would not be approximating the ancient African population which gave rise to the greater part of mankind and human civilization.

mtDNA deletions in Finland

Neurology 64(6):976-81.

Prevalence of large-scale mitochondrial DNA deletions in an adult Finnish population.

Remes AM et al.

BACKGROUND: Large-scale mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) deletions are associated with clinical conditions such as Kearns-Sayre syndrome and chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia in adults and Pearson syndrome in children. Reported case series have suggested that deletions are not uncommon in the population, but their prevalence has not been documented. METHODS: The authors ascertained patients with clinical features associated with mtDNA deletions in a defined adult population in northern Finland. Buccal epithelial samples were requested from each patient fulfilling the selection criteria, and full-length mtDNA was amplified using the long PCR method. Deletion breakpoints were identified using sequencing. Patients with deletions were examined clinically. RESULTS: The authors identified four patients with single large-scale mtDNA deletions. The prevalence of deletions was calculated to be 1.6/100,000 in the adult population in the province of Northern Ostrobothnia (0.0 to 3.2; 95% CI). Analysis of incident cases from a neighboring province revealed two patients with deletions and yielded a similar population frequency. CONCLUSIONS: The frequency of large-scale mitochondrial DNA deletions is similar among populations, suggesting that there is a constant rate of new deletions.


Mate preferences

Personality and Individual Differences (Article in Press)

Universal dimensions of human mate preferences

Todd K. Shackelford et al.


To identify the universal dimensions of long-term mate preferences, we used an archival database of preference ratings provided by several thousand participants from three dozen cultures [Buss, D. M. (1989)]. Participants from each culture responded to the same 18-item measure. Statistical procedures ensured that ratings provided by men and women were weighted equally, and that ratings provided by participants from each culture were weighted equally. We identified four universal dimensions: Love vs. Status/Resources; Dependable/Stable vs. Good Looks/Health; Education/Intelligence vs. Desire for Home/Children; and Sociability vs. Similar Religion. Several standard sex differences replicated across cultures, including women’s greater valuation of social status and men’s greater valuation of physical attractiveness. We present culture-specific ratings on the universal dimensions across-sex and between-sex to facilitate future cross-cultural work on human mating psychology.


Physiognomy reborn

The ancient science of physiognomy aimed to derive conclusions about a person's character from his appearance. This science was largely "discredited" by the more "enlightened" egalitarian moderns who could not believe that appearance could have something to do with personality. It turns out, however, that appearance is related to personality to some degree, as the following article illustrates

Personality and Individual Differences (Article in Press)

Facial symmetry and the ‘big-five’ personality factors

Bernhard Finka et al.


The present study investigated possible associations between facial symmetry and actual personality as assessed by the ‘big-five’ personality factors: neuroticism (N), extraversion (E), openness (O), agreeableness (A), and conscientiousness (C). Digital photographs were taken of male and female faces, volunteers also completed the NEO-FFI personality inventory. Facial images were analysed for horizontal symmetry by means of digital image processing. Following previous reports we predicted that facial symmetry should be negatively related to neuroticism but positively related to extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. In general, our data on actual personality confirmed previous reports on perceptions of personality for neuroticism and extraversion. Neuroticism was found to be negatively but not significantly related to facial symmetry whereas extraversion was positively associated. In contrast to previous data, we found significant negative associations between facial symmetry and openness and agreeableness. Conscientiousness was non-significantly related to facial symmetry. The strongest associations with facial symmetry were found for extraversion and openness. Our results suggest that behavioural perceptions of an individual may reflect an individual’s actual personality, and facial symmetry is a correlate of personality. However, because of some inconsistencies between this and previous studies we suggest that (1) the associations between facial symmetry and personality traits require further investigation, and (2) future studies should urge for methodological consistency to make results comparable.


A narrow waist versus broad shoulders

The main findings of this study is that women felt threatened by other women "rivals" based on their waist-to-hip ratio throughout their lives. On the other hand, men paid attention to the shoulder-to-hip ratio of other male "rivals" more when they were younger. So, it seems that as men grow older, they pay less attention to overt signs of masculinity as threatening, whereas women continue to do so. Moreover, women with low WHR (i.e., attractive) paid more attention to this feature than other women. An interesting finding is that:
Remarkably, among men, the low WHR-low SHR rival, that is, the rival with a linear and slender body build, evoked the highest level of jealousy and was perceived as the most attractive and the most socially dominant of all rivals.

Personality and Individual Differences (Article in Press)

A narrow waist versus broad shoulders: Sex and age differences in the jealousy-evoking characteristics of a rival’s body build

Bram P. Buunk


This study examined the role of waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) and shoulder-to-hip ratio (SHR) of the rival in evoking jealousy in an adult sample of 70 men and 69 women. Women paid more attention to the rivals’ waist, hips, and hair, and men paid more attention to the rivals’ shoulders. Potential rivals with a low as opposed to a high waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) evoked more jealousy in women than in men, particularly among women with a low WHR. Among women, the low WHR-high SHR rival the V-type body build evoked the highest level of jealousy and was perceived as most attractive and the most socially and physically dominant. In contrast, among men the low WHR-low SHR rival, that is, a rival with a linear and slender body build, evoked the highest level of jealousy and was perceived as the most attractive and socially dominant, but not as the most physically dominant. As men were older, the SHR of the rival was a less important factor in evoking jealousy, whereas among women jealousy in response to the rival’s WHR was not affected by age.


A reply to a criticism of an article about the reality of race

can be found here:

Suppose I have a test for determining ‘race’ that is 75% accurate, and suppose I have another test that ascribes ‘disease type’ based on race that is 75% accurate.

We now have tests that are close to 100% accurate, e.g. Am. J. Hum. Genet., 76:268-275, 2005: “Of 3,636 subjects of varying race/ethnicity, only 5 (0.14%) showed genetic cluster membership different from their self-identified race/ethnicity.”

The cluster analysis is rather interpretive, and alternative groupings can be generated. One must ask if the population origins were unknown would the same groupings be generated?

Yes, the results of Rosenberg et al. Science, Vol 298, Issue 5602, 2381-2385 did not use any information about the population affiliation of individuals. Individuals were stripped of all identifying information and were clustered based on allelic values alone. In the resulting clustering the five major continental groups emerged.

Method of correlated vectors demolished

In a new Intelligence paper, Ashton and Lee demolish Arthur Jensen's "method of correlated vectors" which has been frequently used to find associations between the general intelligence factor g and other variables. The paper refers to several other criticisms of the method; I had posted about one such criticism here. The paper's conclusions:
Because of the problems outlined above, the method of correlated vectors is of limited value for identifying variables that are strongly associated with g. Even when g has a very strong relation with a given variable, the vector of that variable's correlations with intelligence subtests may be uncorrelated with the vector of those subtests' g-loadings. Moreover, the vector of g-loadings is itself heavily influenced by the nature of the subtests included in the battery, and therefore the correlations between the two vectors may vary widely across different collections of subtests. These problems do not mean that the results obtained from the method of correlated vectors must always be wrong: when the variable in question is related only to g, and when g is derived from an unbiased selection of subtests, then subtests with higher g-loadings will tend to show higher correlations with that variable, provided that sample sizes are adequate. (Even in this case, however, a very high correlation between the vectors does not rule out a rather weak association with g, as noted in Footnote 4.) But in light of the problems discussed in this article, it is clear that the method of correlated vectors can easily produce–and, indeed, already has produced–very doubtful results. These difficulties undermine the utility of this method for investigating associations between g and external variables.
Intelligence (Article in Press)

Problems with the method of correlated vectors

Michael C. Ashton et al.


The method of correlated vectors has been used widely to identify variables that are associated with general intelligence (g). Briefly, this method involves finding the correlation between the vector of intelligence subtests' g-loadings and the vector of those subtests' correlations with the variable in question. We describe two major problems with this method: first, associations of a variable with non-g sources of variance can produce a vector correlation of zero even when the variable is strongly associated with g; second, the g-loadings of subtests are highly sensitive to the nature of the other subtests in a battery, and a biased sample of subtests can cause a spurious correlation between the vectors.


Updated SMGF Y-chromosome database

The Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation has updated its searchable Y-chromosome database which can be accessed here.

March 22, 2005

Abiola Lapite's "Minimal Set"

Abiola Lapite writes that if we were to send 100 humans to a distant planet, we should choose a group with high genetic diversity, consisting (in his opinion) of 70% Africans.

But, what does "genetic diversity" have to do with the ability to establish (or re-establish) civilization? Many human groups with low genetic diversity (compared to Africans), e.g., Amerindians, or East Asians, were able to create civilization.

In fact, given Lapite's assumption that individuals can be screened for a long list of genetic diseases, then one could just as well send 50 male and 50 female clones. After all, inbreeding has ill iffects only in the presence of deleterious predispositions, and these could be culled by the genetic screening.

So, sending 50 male and 50 female clones with optimal genetic aptitudes (either most generic, or most adapted to the local conditions, if such information was available) would be much better than sending a "high diversity" group.

March 21, 2005

Zoroastrianism from Margiana?

Also of interest Indo-Iranian Origins and Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex.

Archeologist says Central Asia was cradle of ancient Persian religion

ATHENS (AFP) - The mysterious Margianan civilisation which flowered in the desert of what is now Turkmenistan some 4,000 years ago was the cradle of the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, Greco-Russian archeologist Victor Sarigiannidis claimed here.

He said the theory would provoke controversy amongst his fellow archeologists, but said his excavations around the site of Gonur Tepe have uncovered temples and evidence of sacrifices that would consistent with a Zoroastrian cult.

The religion was founded by Zarathustra, a Persian prophet who was one of the world's first monotheists, and is still practiced today in Iran and India. A team of archeologists in the eastern Turkmenistan region have discovered the foundations of a huge palace, seven temples and a vast mausoleum.

Sarigiannidis believes the civilisation emerged with the arrival in the region of people seeking an escape from drought in Mesopotamia (now Syria).

"Ninety-five percent of the ruins of the mausoleum look similar to those of Mesopatamia," Sarigiannidis, a member of the Russian Science Academy said.

He also pointed out the similarity in the palace gate with the Minoan Palace of Knossos on the Greek Island Crete.

The latest finds from excavations in 2004 are on exhibit in the Turkmen capital and suggest a highly refined civilisation. They feature superb mosaics depicting griffins, wolves and lions, as well a marble statue of a ram and finely highlighted vases in gold and silver.

Sarigiannidis has called on the Greek government to continue to fund his excavations at the site and said the 17,000 euros per year grant he had been accorded until 2007 by the former socialist government had been cut by the current minister of culture.

The Sand Dune Forgotten by Time

Archaeologists working in the extreme desert terrain of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region have moved a step closer to unraveling the mystery of a 40-century-old civilization.

They unearthed 163 tombs containing mummies during their ongoing and long excavation at the mysterious Xiaohe tomb complex.

And it's all thanks to the translation of a diary kept by a Swedish explorer more than 70 years ago.

"We have found more than 30 coffins containing mummies," said Idelisi Abuduresule, head of the Xinjiang Cultural Relics and Archaeology Institute and the excavation team.

The complex is believed to contain 330 or so tombs buried in several layers within a 2,500-square-meter sand dune.

"Most of the items are in the original state of the time when they were buried, and that will help reveal a lot of information about the society and life style of the people of that time," said Idelisi, during his trip back from the desert dust and heat to the autonomous region's capital Urumqi to record the finds, and store the artifacts.

The Xiaohe tombs are believed to have been the burial site of the mysterious Loulan Kingdom, which disappeared without historical trace about 15 centuries ago.

Today's archaeologists are following in the footsteps of Swedish explorer Folke Bergman, who in 1934 ventured south along a river in Lop Nur Desert in the eastern part of Xinjiang.

He said on his return that he'd discovered a dune harboring over 1,000 coffins that date back 4,000 years ago.

He named the place Xiaohe (small river) tombs.

But the river he used to navigate to this ancient site dried up and the dune and its tombs were forgotten about for decades.

In the late 1990s, however, Chinese sociologists translated Bergman's records on archaeological exploration in the area into Chinese and the hunt for dune and its mysteries was once again underway.

In addition to burial articles such as bent wooden blocks and straw baskets, Idelisi's team has found in some coffins wooden figures wrapped in leather instead of mummified bodies.

A bird's-eye view of Xiaohe tombs shows the oval-shape dune taking on the appearance of dumpling pricked full of chopsticks.

Above every coffin protrudes two thick wooden stakes, a symbol some believe of ancient worshiping.

"Considering the scale of the burial site and the mysterious cultural signs, the analyses of the relics are going to yield some exciting results," predicted Idelisi.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage approved excavation of the Xiaohe tombs in 2003.

(China Daily March 19, 2005)

mtDNA and Y chromosomes of Kurdish groups

An interesting new paper on the genetics of the Kurds. Especially interesting is the discovery at a high frequency (up to 44%) of Y chromosome haplogroup P1, which has not been seen before AFAIK to such an extent. The authors hypothesize that P1 existed in a population that was ancestral to the Kurds.

Annals of Human Genetics (Early view)

MtDNA and Y-chromosome Variation in Kurdish Groups

Ivan Nasidze et al.


In order to investigate the origins and relationships of Kurdish-speaking groups, mtDNA HV1 sequences, eleven Y chromosome bi-allelic markers, and 9 Y-STR loci were analyzed among three Kurdish groups: Zazaki and Kurmanji speakers from Turkey, and Kurmanji speakers from Georgia. When compared with published data from other Kurdish groups and from European, Caucasian, and West and Central Asian groups, Kurdish groups are most similar genetically to other West Asian groups, and most distant from Central Asian groups, for both mtDNA and the Y-chromosome. However, Kurdish groups show a closer relationship with European groups than with Caucasian groups based on mtDNA, but the opposite based on the Y-chromosome, indicating some differences in their maternal and paternal histories. The genetic data indicate that the Georgian Kurdish group experienced a bottleneck effect during their migration to the Caucasus, and that they have not had detectable admixture with their geographic neighbours in Georgia. Our results also do not support the hypothesis of the origin of the Zazaki -speaking group being in northern Iran; genetically they are more similar to other Kurdish groups. Genetic analyses of recent events, such as the origins and migrations of Kurdish-speaking groups, can therefore lead to new insights into such migrations.


Endogamy and consagunity in Northern Sweden

Annals of Human Genetics (OnlineEarly)

The Influence of Past Endogamy and Consanguinity on Genetic Disorders in Northern Sweden

A. H. Bittles 1 et al.


It has been widely believed that consanguineous marriage was infrequent in northern Europe. As part of ongoing studies into the population structure of northern Sweden, the Demographic DataBase of Umeå University has undertaken digitization of the parish record books of the Swedish Lutheran Church, which date back to the late 17th century. To examine the prevalence and patterns of consanguineous marriage, information from the DataBase was abstracted for the Skellefteå region during the period 1720-1899 and extended family pedigrees constructed. Of the 14,639 marriages recorded, 3,043 (20.8%) were between couples related as sixth cousins or closer. Following changes in the Swedish civil law in 1844 that removed the requirement of royal dispensation for first cousin unions, a significant increase in first cousin marriages occurred during the next two generations, even though the total population of the region grew significantly. There was also strong evidence that consanguineous marriages were favoured within particular families. The findings of the study are consistent with the patterns of single gene disorders reported in specific communities in the region, and they suggest that founder effect, drift and consanguinity all were important influences on population genetic structure in previous generations.


Geography predicts neutral genetic diversity

A short new paper has discovered that geographical distance from Ethiopia, a putative cradle of mankind, predicts the genetic diversity of human populations. In other words, the further a population is from Ethiopia, the lower its genetic diversity is.

Current Biology Volume 15, Issue 5 , 8 March 2005, Pages R159-R160

Geography predicts neutral genetic diversity of human populations

Franck Prugnolle et al.


A leading theory for the origin of modern humans, the ‘recent African origin’ (RAO) model [1.], postulates that the ancestors of all modern humans originated in East Africa and that, around 100,000 years ago, some modern humans left the African continent and subsequently colonised the entire world, displacing previously established human species such as Neanderthals in Europe [2. and 3.]. This scenario is supported by the observation that human populations from Africa are genetically the most diverse [2.] and that the genetic diversity of non-African populations is negatively correlated with their genetic differentiation towards populations from Africa [3.].


March 20, 2005

Greek racial calculator launched

Currently in beta version, the Greek racial calculator computes your similarity to several Greek (and a few non-Greek) groups based on several traits. Right now, only works with males, but stay tuned for a female version in the future!

March 18, 2005

Resistance to Multiculturalism is not related to economic prosperity

A reader suggested that xenophobia could be related to economic prosperity, with more prosperous societies being more "tolerant".

To test this hypothesis, I regressed GDP per capita income (from the CIA World Factbook) with "Resistance to Multicultural Society" taken from the recent report on European attitudes. I dropped tiny super-high income Luxembourg, averaged the two German regions, and used Great Britain as representative for the United Kingdom.

The result? A slightly negative, statistically not significant correlation of -0.12.

Y chromosome polymorphisms in medicine

Annals of Medicine
Volume 36, Number 8 / December 2004

Y chromosome polymorphisms in medicine

Csilla Krausz et al.


Ninety-five percent of the length of the human Y chromosome is inherited as a single block in linkage from father to male offspring as a haploid entity. Thus, the Y chromosome represents an invaluable record of all mutations that have occurred along male lineages throughout evolution. For this reason, Y chromosomal DNA variation has been mainly used for investigations on human evolution and for forensic purposes or paternity analysis. Recently, Y chromosomal polymorphisms have been applied in molecular medicine from the perspective of male-specific (spermatogenic failure, testis and prostate cancer) and prevalently male-associated (hypertension, autism) diseases. The absence of recombination on the MSY (male-specific Y) region means that polymorphisms, located in this region, are in tight association with potential functional variations associated with Y-linked phenotypes. Thus, an indirect way to explore if Y chromosome genes are involved in the etiology of a specific disease is the definition of Y chromosome haplogroups in patients versus disease-free and/or the general population. Data on patients with reduced sperm count and prostate cancer indicate that the 'at risk Y haplogroup' may be different in different populations. The situation is rather contradictory for other male-specific or male-associated diseases and further multicenter - possibly multiethnic - studies are needed.


March 17, 2005

Survey on European attitudes toward immigrants

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia released a report on "Majority Attitudes towards Migrants and Minorities" on March 15. The summary in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) form can be found here. Some interesting results below:

Some findings about Greece:

  • In general, resistance to immigrants and asylum seekers was widely shared by respondents from Mediterranean countries – in particular Greece showed marked resistance to immigrants. These stances were also strongly supported by people living in east European countries. In comparison, people from Nordic countries tended to dissociate themselves from these stances.
  • Perceived collective ethnic threat, in consideration of minorities, was expressed by the majority of respondents in western and eastern European societies. This attitude was particularly strong in Greece, and to a lesser extent in some of the eastern European countries. Perceived collective ethnic threat is somewhat less prevalent in western European and Nordic countries.
  • In general, dimensions of ethnic exclusionism were widely supported in Mediterranean countries, in particular Greece, and to some extent in east European countries and some west European countries, but less so in Nordic countries.

PS: This has to be the longest post ever in this blog!

Poll of Cypriot students

A poll of Cypriot students gives us some data (Link in Greek) about the resistance to heterogamy based on race and religion in a Greek sample. The positive answers to the question "Could you marry person from X" are summarized below, in order of increasing acceptance:

Other Religion (8.2%), Filippino (10.4%), Black (11.8%), Non-Orthodox Christian (26.7%), Swedish (34.8%), Russian (36.6%), English (41.3%), Non-Greek/Cypriot Orthodox Christian (58.1%)

March 16, 2005

Rising obesity in Europe

This trend is documented in the IOTF media brief on obesity in the EU (pdf), and is especially worrying for the case of Greece (στα Ελληνικά). A related story:

At least U.S. has allies in coalition of the fat

March 16, 2005


BRUSSELS, Belgium -- At least seven European countries now challenge the United States in size -- at least around the waistline.

In a group of nations from Greece to Germany, the proportion of overweight or obese men is higher than in the United States, experts said Tuesday in a major analysis of expanding girth on the European continent.

''The time when obesity was thought to be a problem on the other side of the Atlantic has gone by,'' said Mars Di Bartolomeo, Luxembourg's Minister of Health.

In Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Malta and Slovakia, a higher percentage of men are obese or overweight than the estimated 67 percent of men in the United States, according to a report from the International Obesity Task Force.

Obesity is especially acute in Mediterranean countries, underscoring concerns that people in the southern region are turning away from the traditional diet of fish, fruits and vegetables to fast food high in fat and refined carbohydrates.

In Greece, for example, 38 percent of women are obese, compared with 34 percent in the United States, the group said.

Even in countries with low rates of obesity, troubling trends are emerging. In France, obesity in women and men is rising.

Georges Buffon, Of the Varieties in the Human Species

Interesting reading for anyone interested in antique anthropology. Plus a biography of Comte de Buffon.

March 14, 2005

Πηγές για την εθνική ταυτότητα των Ελλήνων

Μια προς το παρόν ανοργάνωτη στίβα από αποσπάσματα αναφερόμενα στην εθνική ταυτότητα των Ελλήνων προστέθηκε εδώ.

March 12, 2005

Pop Culture is Filth?

In a blog entry titled Pop Culture is Filth, Edward C. Feser writes:
The Houston Chronicle reports on a recent study which has found that Hispanic children who learn English are far more likely to become sexually active. The author of the study claims not to know why this is so, but surely the reason is not mysterious: children who are exposed to the sewage that constitutes most American popular culture are very likely to internalize its permissive ethos and act on it. English opens the doorway to this culture, allowing hapless eleven-year olds to learn about oral sex, “threesomes,” “doggy style” and other such staples of our high-minded national conversation from Howard Stern and Friends reruns.

I have no opinion as to whether popular culture is filth, but the "Pop Culture is Filth" explanation ignores a much simpler one, which has the additional benefit of not requiring any assumption about the state of pop culture or its influence on human sexuality.

Sexual activity is affected by intention and opportunity. Pop culture may affect intention, but learning English certainly affects opportunity. If we ignore paid sex and romance novels, most sexual relationships do take place between individuals who can communicate with each other. Therefore, a Hispanic who learns English, has a much larger set of potential sexual partners, and hence the opportunity to have sex increases.

The principle at work here is similar to that discussed in Group Bias in Mate Selection and Outmarriage: the outmarriage rate of an ethnic group given a constant degree of ethnic bias will decrease as the size of the ethnic group compared to the total population increases. Here, the intention to outmarry (corresponding to the intention to have sex) is kept constant, but the opportunity to find foreigners decreases.

March 11, 2005

L1 and Alu insertions in Native Americans and East Asians

American Journal of Physical Anthropology (Early View)

Phylogenetic information in polymorphic L1 and Alu insertions from East Asians and Native American populations

L.H. Mateus Pereira et al.


This study attempts to ascertain genetic affinities between Native American and East Asian populations by analyzing four polymorphic Alu insertions (PAIs) and three L1 polymorphic loci. These two genetic systems demonstrated strong congruence when levels of diversity and genetic distances were considered. Overall, genetic relatedness within Native American groups does not correlate with geographical and linguistic structure, although strong grouping for Native Americans with East Asians was demonstrated, with clear discrimination from African and European groups. Most of the variation was assigned to differences occurring within groups, but the interpopulation variation found for South Amerindians was recognizably higher in comparison to the other sampled groups of populations. Our data suggest that bottleneck events followed by strong influence of genetic drift in the process of the peopling of the Americas may have been determinant factors in delineating the genetic background of present-day South Amerindians. Since no clear subgroups were detected within Native Americans and East Asians, there is no indication of multiple waves in the early colonization of the New World.


mtDNA in Balearic archipelago

American Journal of Physical Anthropology (Early View)

Mitochondrial DNA HVRI variation in Balearic populations

A. Picornell et al


The Balearic archipelago (Majorca, Minorca, and Ibiza islands and the Chuetas, a small and inbred community of descendants of Sephardic Jews) and Valencia were studied by means of the sequencing of a 404-bp segment of hypervariable region I (HVRI) mtDNA in 231 individuals. In total, 127 different haplotypes defined by 92 variable positions were identified. The incidence of unique haplotypes was very low, especially in Ibiza and the Chuetas. A remarkable observation in the Chueta community was the high frequency (23%) of preHV-1, a Middle Eastern lineage that is closely related, though not identical, to many others found at high frequencies in different Jewish populations. The presence of this haplogroup convincingly supported the Jewish origin of the Chueta community. The studied populations showed a reduced African contribution, and no individuals were detected with North African haplogroup U6, indicating a lack of maternal contribution from the Moslem settlement to these populations. Only Ibiza showed a lower diversity, indicating a possible genetic drift effect, also supported by the historical information known about this island. The variability in the sequence of mtDNA hypervariable region I correlated well with the existing information from the populations, with the exception of that of the Y-chromosome, which could indicate a differential contribution of the maternal and paternal lineages to the genetic pool of the Balearic Islands. The phylogenetic trees showed the intermediate position of the Chueta population between the Middle Eastern and Majorcan samples, confirming the Jewish origin of this population and their Spanish admixture.


Y haplogroup E3b1 in Somali males

A new study quantifies the extent of Eurasian (15%) and Sub-Saharan African (5%) paternal admixture in Somalis, a population which appears to be predominantly East African paternally. The authors also explain why the Somalis have low Sub-Saharan African admixture:
The time of the eastbound Bantu expansion was estimated to be 3400±1100 years ago.24 Bantu populations have high frequencies of E3a haplogroups.4 We have observed only a few individuals with the E3a haplogroup in our Somali population, thus, supporting the view that the Bantu migration did not reach Somalia.42 It has been suggested that a barrier against gene flow exist in the region.43 The barrier seems to be the Cushitic languages and cultures to which Somalis belongs. The Cushitic languages belong to the Afro-Asiatic languages that are spoken in Northern and Eastern Africa. The Cushitic languages and cultures are mainly found in the Somalis and the Oromos, one of the two main groups inhabiting Ethiopia.44, 45, 46. The Somali and Oromo languages have a high degree of similarity and the two populations share many cultural characteristics. The Somali and Oromo people live in clans with special patterns of marriage and the Somali and Oromo people have complex, interwoven pedigrees.44, 45

European Journal of Human Genetics (advance online publication)

High frequencies of Y chromosome lineages characterized by E3b1, DYS19-11, DYS392-12 in Somali males

Juan J Sanchez et al.

We genotyped 45 biallelic markers and 11 STR systems on the Y chromosome in 201 male Somalis. In addition, 65 sub-Saharan Western Africans, 59 Turks and 64 Iraqis were typed for the biallelic Y chromosome markers. In Somalis, 14 Y chromosome haplogroups were identified including E3b1 (77.6%) and K2 (10.4%). The haplogroup E3b1 with the rare DYS19-11 allele (also called the E3b1 cluster γ) was found in 75.1% of male Somalis, and 70.6% of Somali Y chromosomes were E3b1, DYS19-11, DYS392-12, DYS437-14, DYS438-11 and DYS393-13. The haplotype diversity of eight Y-STRs ('minimal haplotype') was 0.9575 compared to an average of 0.9974 and 0.9996 in European and Asian populations. In sub-Saharan Western Africans, only four haplogroups were identified. The West African clade E3a was found in 89.2% of the samples and the haplogroup E3b1 was not observed. In Turks, 12 haplogroups were found including J2*(xJ2f2) (27.1%), R1b3*(xR1b3d, R1b3f) (20.3%), E3b3 and R1a1*(xR1a1b) (both 11.9%). In Iraqis, 12 haplogroups were identified including J2*(xJ2f2) (29.7%) and J*(xJ2) (26.6%). The data suggest that the male Somali population is a branch of the East African population - closely related to the Oromos in Ethiopia and North Kenya - with predominant E3b1 cluster γ lineages that were introduced into the Somali population 4000-5000 years ago, and that the Somali male population has approximately 15% Y chromosomes from Eurasia and approximately 5% from sub-Saharan Africa.


Admixture in Buenos Aires

Hum Biol. 76(4):543-57.

Characterization of admixture in an urban sample from Buenos Aires, Argentina, using uniparentally and biparentally inherited genetic markers.

Martinez Marignac et al.

In this study we analyzed a sample of the urban population of La Plata, Argentina, using 17 mtDNA haplogroups, the DYS 199 Y-chromosome polymorphism, and 5 autosomal population-associated alleles (PAAs). The contribution of native American maternal lineages to the population of La Plata was estimated as 45.6%, whereas the paternal contribution was much lower (10.6%), clearly indicating directional mating. Regarding autosomal evidence of admixture, the relative European, native American, and West African genetic contributions to the gene pool of La Plata were estimated to be 67.55% (+/-2.7), 25.9% (+/-4.3), and 6.5% (+/-6.4), respectively. When admixture was calculated at the individual level, we found a low correlation between the ancestral contribution estimated with uniparental lineages and autosomal markers. Most of the individuals from La Plata with a native American mtDNA haplogroup or the DYS199*T native American allele show a genetic contribution at the autosomal level that can be traced primarily to Europe. The results of this study emphasize the need to use both uniparentally and biparentally inherited genetic markers to understand the history of admixed populations.

March 09, 2005

Paleoamerican skull from Brazil

Journal of Human Evolution (Article in Press)

A new early Holocene human skeleton from Brazil: implications for the settlement of the New World

Walter A. Neves et al.


Increasing skeletal evidence from the U.S.A., Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil strongly suggests that the first settlers in the Americas had a cranial morphology distinct from that displayed by most late and modern Native Americans [Jantz, R.L., Owsley, D.W., 2003. Reply to Van Vark et al.: is European Upper Paleolithic cranial morphology a useful analogy for early Americans? Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 121, 185–188; Steele, D.G., Powell, J.F., 1992. The peopling of the Americas: the paleobiological evidence. Hum. Biol. 63, 301–336; Neves, W.A., Prous, A., González-José, R., Kipnis, R., Powell, J., 2003. Human skeletal remains from Santana do Riacho I, Brazil: archeological background, chronological context and comparative cranial morphology. J. Hum. Evol. 45, 759–782]. The Paleoamerican morphological pattern is more generalized and can be seen today among Africans, Australians, and Melanesians. Here, we present the results of a comparative morphological assessment of a late Paleoindian/early archaic specimen from Capelinha Burial II, southern Brazil. The Capelinha skull was compared with samples of four Paleoindian groups from South and Central America and worldwide modern groups from W.W. Howells' studies. In both analyses performed (classical morphometrics and geometric morphometrics), the results show a clear association between Capelinha Burial II and the Paleoindians, as well as Australians, Melanesians, and Africans, confirming its Paleoamerican status.


March 05, 2005

Why had Mesopotamians built Mari?

French archeologist solves mystery of ancient Mesopotamian city purpose-built in desert for metallurgical industry.

By Annick Benoist - PARIS

The mystery of an ancient Mesopotamian city has finally been lifted after 25 years of meticulous work by a French archaeologist who has revealed it was one of the first "modern cities", purpose-built in the desert for the manufacture of copper arms and tools.

Link (Middle East Online)

Origin of Ethiopian genetic heterogeneity

In agreement with previous research, a new study observes the intermediate position of Ethiopians between Sub-Saharan Africans (Negroids) and Western Eurasians (Caucasoids); genetic heterogeneity of Ethiopians is found to be the result of admixture:
However, the reduction in Tn diversity does suggest that a population bottleneck occurred in Ethiopia, associated with a major out of Africa expansion(s), which parallels the conclusion made by Tishkoff et al. (1996) from analysis of the CD4 locus. Certainly our data are not incompatible with the argument from Tishkoff et al. (1996) that an element of the contemporary Ethiopian population may be descendants of the ancestral population that spawned the migration out of Africa. We also argue, however, that in addition to this early bottleneck event, later periods of admixture have played a major role in shaping the gene pool of Ethiopia, and its populations display both Eurasian and Sub-Saharan genetic influences.

These results confirms what I have stated on several occasions in the past, about the three major elements in the East African population, e.g.,:
Thus, it appears that a large fraction of present-day East African mitochondrial ancestry is derived from different populations than the ones that spawned non-Africans. This element is probably responsible for the introduction of the Negroid type in the region, which now forms a major element in the population, together with the pre-Negroid East Africans and more recent Caucasoid arrivals from across the Red Sea.

Annals of Human Genetics (OnlineEarly)

Ethiopia: between Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Eurasia

A. Lovell et al.


Ethiopia is central to population genetic studies investigating the out of Africa expansion of modern humans, as shown by Y chromosome and mtDNA studies. To address the level of genetic differentiation within Ethiopia, and its relationship to Sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia, we studied an 8kb segment of the X-chromosome from 72 chromosomes from the Amhara, Oromo and Ethiopian Jews, and compared these results with 804 chromosomes from Middle Eastern, African, Asian and European populations, and 22 newly typed Saharawi. Within Ethiopia the two largest ethnic groups, the Amhara and Oromo, were not found to be statistically distinct, based on an exact test of haplotype frequencies. The Ethiopian Jews appear as an admixed population, possibly of Jewish origin, though the data remain equivocal. There is evidence of a close relationship between Ethiopian and Yemenite Jews, likely a result of indirect gene flow. Within an African and Eurasian context, the distribution of alleles of a variable Tn repeat, and the spread of haplotypes containing Africa-specific alleles, provide evidence of a genetic continuity from Sub-Saharan Africa to the Near East, and furthermore suggest that a bottleneck occurred in Ethiopia associated with an out of Africa expansion. Ethiopian genetic heterogeneity, as evidenced by principal component analysis of haplotype frequencies, most likely resulted from periods of subsequent admixture. While these results are from the analysis of one locus, we feel that in association with data from other marker systems they add a complementary perspective on the history of Ethiopia.