May 30, 2007

Prehistoric European human sacrifice

A fascinating new paper from the June issue of Current Anthropology explores ancient multiple graves and raises the possibility that hunter gatherers in what is now Europe may have practiced ritual human sacrifice. This practice – well-known in large, stratified societies – supports data emerging from different lines of research that the level of social complexity reached in the distant past by groups of hunter gatherers was well beyond that of many more recent small bands of modern foragers.

Due to their number, state of preservation, richness, and variety of associated grave goods, burials from the Upper Paleolithic (26,000-8,000 BC) represent an important source of information on ideological beliefs that may have influenced funerary behavior. In an analysis of the European record, Vincenzo Formicola (University of Pisa, Italy) points to a high frequency of multiple burials, commonly attributed to simultaneous death due to natural disaster or disease.

However, a look at grave composition reveals that some of the multiple burials may have been selective. Not only do the skeletons in these graves vary by sex and age, but the most spectacular sites also include a severely deformed individual with a pathological condition that would have been apparent since birth, for example, dwarfism or congenital bowing of the bones.

These multiple graves are also richly ornamented and in choice locales. For example, the remains of an adolescent dwarf in Romito Cave (Calabria, Italy) lie next to a female skeleton under an elaborate engraving of a bull. In the Sunghir double burial (Russia), the skeletons of a pre-teen boy and girl are surrounded by ivory objects including about 5,000 beads, each of which may have taken an hour to make.

"These findings point to the possibility that human sacrifices were part of the ritual activity of these populations and provide clues on the complexity and symbolism pervading Upper Paleolithic societies as well as on the perception of "diversity" and its links to magical-religious beliefs," Formicola writes. "These individuals may have been feared, hated, or revered . . . we do not know whether this adolescent received special burial treatment in spite of being a dwarf or precisely because he was a dwarf."


Health status of Greek centenarians

Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2007 May 16; [Epub ahead of print]

Assessment of the health status of Greek centenarians.

Darviri C, Demakakos P, Charizani F, Tigani X, Tsiou C, Chalamandaris AG, Tsagkari C, Chliaoutakis J.

The present study aims at describing the health status of a sample of relatively functional and healthy Greek centenarians and at exploring the potential gender differences in health in this sample. Its objectives are to add to the accumulation of knowledge about the health status of centenarians and therefore to contribute to the exploration of the mechanisms of healthy longevity. The study employs a non-representative community sample of Greek centenarians of both sexes (N=47). It uses descriptive statistics in order to outline the health status of the participants and non-parametric tests to assess the statistical significance of the observed sex-differences. The study shows that the centenarians of our sample are relatively healthy and functional (15% of the sample was free of any major chronic disease). It also suggests, that the sex-difference in survival is statistical significant (p less or equal 0.013), and that the morbidity and co-morbidity rates of the Greek centenarians are relatively low (mean value of co-morbidity=1.4+/-0.97, S.D.). Moreover, it provides valuable information on the anthropometric characteristics of the sample, and on health services utilization. These results indicate that exceptional longevity is not necessarily accompanied by disability, disease and total dependence on others.


Migration routes in Romania

Ann Hum Genet. 2007 May 28; [Epub ahead of print]

Migration Rates and Genetic Structure of two Hungarian Ethnic Groups in Transylvania, Romania.

Brandstatter A, Egyed B, Zimmermann B, Duftner N, Padar Z, Parson W.

Institute of Legal Medicine, Innsbruck Medical University, Austria.

Transylvania's ethnic mosaic is composed of Romanians, German Saxons and Hungarians. The ethnic groups of the Hungarian minority that settled in Romania show differences in dialects, customs and religious affiliations. In this study entire mtDNA control region sequences from 360 individuals of Hungarian ethnicity from two populations (the Csango and the Szekely), settled in the historical region of Transylvania in Romania, were generated and analyzed following high quality sequencing standards. Phylogenetic analyses were used for haplogroup determination, quasi-median network analyses were applied for the visualization of character conflicts, and median joining reconstructions were used for depicting haplotype structures. Affiliation of haplotypes to major west Eurasian haplogroups was confirmed using coding region SNPs. Gene flow between the two populations was low and biased towards a higher migration rate from the Csango to the Szekely than vice versa. Phylogeographic analyses revealed effects of genetic isolation within the Csango population, which is, in its genetic structure, clearly different from the Szekely population. The pronounced genetic divergence between the two populations is in sharp contrast to the expectation of high genetic similarity due to the close geographic proximity of their native homelands. The population data will be incorporated in the EMPOP database (


May 21, 2007

Distribution of Genghis Khan's descendants

Genetika. 2007 Mar;43(3):422-6.

[Distribution of the male lineages of Genghis Khan's descendants in northern Eurasian populations]

[Article in Russian]

[No authors listed]

Data on the variation of 12 microsatellite loci of Y-chromosome haplogroup C3 were used to screen lineages included in the cluster of Genghis Khan's descendants in 18 northern Eurasian populations (Altaian Kazakhs, Altaians-Kizhi, Teleuts, Khakassians, Shorians, Tyvans, Todjins, Tofalars, Sojots, Buryats, Khamnigans, Evenks, Mongols, Kalmyks, Tajiks, Kurds, Persians, and Russians; the total sample size was 1437 people). The highest frequency of haplotypes from the cluster of the Genghis Khan's descendants was found in Mongols (34.8%). In Russia, this cluster was found in Altaian Kazakhs (8.3%), Altaians (3.4%), Buryats (2.3%), Tyvans (1.9%), and Kalmyks (1.7%).


Prehistoric settlement of Australia

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 May 11; [Epub ahead of print]

Revealing the prehistoric settlement of Australia by Y chromosome and mtDNA analysis.

Hudjashov G, Kivisild T, Underhill PA, Endicott P, Sanchez JJ, Lin AA, Shen P, Oefner P, Renfrew C, Villems R, Forster P.

Published and new samples of Aboriginal Australians and Melanesians were analyzed for mtDNA (n = 172) and Y variation (n = 522), and the resulting profiles were compared with the branches known so far within the global mtDNA and the Y chromosome tree. (i) All Australian lineages are confirmed to fall within the mitochondrial founder branches M and N and the Y chromosomal founders C and F, which are associated with the exodus of modern humans from Africa approximately 50-70,000 years ago. The analysis reveals no evidence for any archaic maternal or paternal lineages in Australians, despite some suggestively robust features in the Australian fossil record, thus weakening the argument for continuity with any earlier Homo erectus populations in Southeast Asia. (ii) The tree of complete mtDNA sequences shows that Aboriginal Australians are most closely related to the autochthonous populations of New Guinea/Melanesia, indicating that prehistoric Australia and New Guinea were occupied initially by one and the same Palaeolithic colonization event approximately 50,000 years ago, in agreement with current archaeological evidence. (iii) The deep mtDNA and Y chromosomal branching patterns between Australia and most other populations around the Indian Ocean point to a considerable isolation after the initial arrival. (iv) We detect only minor secondary gene flow into Australia, and this could have taken place before the land bridge between Australia and New Guinea was submerged approximately 8,000 years ago, thus calling into question that certain significant developments in later Australian prehistory (the emergence of a backed-blade lithic industry, and the linguistic dichotomy) were externally motivated.


May 05, 2007

Walking speed in different cities

The New Scientist reports on a study regarding the average walking speed over a distance of 18 meters in different cities. The times to walk 18m are listed below
1) Singapore (Singapore); 10.55
2) Copenhagen (Denmark); 10.82
3) Madrid (Spain); 10.89
4) Guangzhou (China): 10.94
5) Dublin (Ireland); 11.03
6) Curitiba (Brazil); 11.13
7) Berlin (Germany); 11.16
8) New York (United States of America); 12.00
9) Utrecht (Netherlands); 12.04
10) Vienna (Austria); 12.06
11) Warsaw (Poland); 12.07
12) London (United Kingdom); 12.17
13) Zagreb (Croatia); 12.20
14) Prague (Czech Republic); 12.35
15) Wellington (New Zealand); 12.62
16) Paris (France); 12.65
17) Stockholm (Sweden); 12.75
18) Ljubljana (Slovenia); 12.76
19) Tokyo (Japan); 12.83
20) Ottawa (Canada); 13.72
21) Harare (Zimbabwe); 13.92
22) Sofia (Bulgaria); 13.96
23) Taipei (Taiwan): 14.00
24) Cairo (Egypt); 14.18
25) Sana'a (Yemen); 14.29
26) Bucharest (Romania); 14.36
27) Dubai (United Arab Emirates); 14.64
28) Damascus (Syria); 14.94
29) Amman (Jordan); 15.95
30) Bern (Switzerland); 17.37
31) Manama (Bahrain); 17.69
32) Blantyre (Malawi); 31.60
The Arabs' leisurly pace is rather obvious from this list. Also, predictably "tall" nations tend to be on the top of the list, but so is Singapore; perhaps in a crowded city-state fast walking may be a culturally acquired trait.

The website of the study has more info.

Native American DNA in the UK

The BBC has a story on native Britons with Native American mtDNA.
DNA testing has uncovered British descendents of Native Americans brought to the UK centuries ago as slaves, translators or tribal representatives.

Genetic analysis turned up two white British women with a DNA signature characteristic of American Indians.

An Oxford scientist said it was extremely unusual to find these DNA lineages in Britons with no previous knowledge of Native American ancestry.

Indigenous Americans were brought over to the UK as early as the 1500s.
Also of interest the previous post on Sub-Saharan African Y chromosome haplogroup A in white British surname. Such unusual results are likely to turn up in any population, no matter how homogeneous, provided that a large enough number of individuals are sampled.