December 29, 2015

Bronze Age people from Ireland had steppe ancestry and R1b

From the paper:
We were able to deduce that Neolithic Ballynahatty had a dark hair shade (99.5% probability), most likely black (86.1% probability), and brown eyes (97.3% probability) (46). Bronze Age Rathlin1 probably had a light hair shade (61.4%) and brown eyes (64.3%). However, each Rathlin genome possessed indication of at least one copy of a haplotype associated with blue eye color in the HERC2/OCA2 region.
Third, we followed the methods described in Haak et al. (9), which use a collection of outgroup populations, to estimate the mixture proportions of three different sources, Linearbandkeramik (Early Neolithic; 35 ± 6%), Loschbour (WHG; 26 ± 12%), and Yamnaya (39 ± 8%), in the total Irish Bronze Age group. These three approaches give an overlapping estimate of ∼32% Yamnaya ancestry.
PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1518445113

Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome

Lara M. Cassidy, Rui Martiniano et al.

The Neolithic and Bronze Age transitions were profound cultural shifts catalyzed in parts of Europe by migrations, first of early farmers from the Near East and then Bronze Age herders from the Pontic Steppe. However, a decades-long, unresolved controversy is whether population change or cultural adoption occurred at the Atlantic edge, within the British Isles. We address this issue by using the first whole genome data from prehistoric Irish individuals. A Neolithic woman (3343–3020 cal BC) from a megalithic burial (10.3× coverage) possessed a genome of predominantly Near Eastern origin. She had some hunter–gatherer ancestry but belonged to a population of large effective size, suggesting a substantial influx of early farmers to the island. Three Bronze Age individuals from Rathlin Island (2026–1534 cal BC), including one high coverage (10.5×) genome, showed substantial Steppe genetic heritage indicating that the European population upheavals of the third millennium manifested all of the way from southern Siberia to the western ocean. This turnover invites the possibility of accompanying introduction of Indo-European, perhaps early Celtic, language. Irish Bronze Age haplotypic similarity is strongest within modern Irish, Scottish, and Welsh populations, and several important genetic variants that today show maximal or very high frequencies in Ireland appear at this horizon. These include those coding for lactase persistence, blue eye color, Y chromosome R1b haplotypes, and the hemochromatosis C282Y allele; to our knowledge, the first detection of a known Mendelian disease variant in prehistory. These findings together suggest the establishment of central attributes of the Irish genome 4,000 y ago.


December 22, 2015

Refining Y-chromosome phylogeny with South African sequences


Refining the Y chromosome phylogeny with southern African sequences

Chiara Barbieri, Alexander Hübner, Enrico Macholdt, Shengyu Ni, Sebastian Lippold, Roland Schröder, Sununguko Wata Mpoloka, Josephine Purps, Lutz Roewer, Mark Stoneking, Brigitte Pakendorf

The recent availability of large-scale sequence data for the human Y chromosome has revolutionized analyses of and insights gained from this non-recombining, paternally inherited chromosome. However, the studies to date focus on Eurasian variation, and hence the diversity of early-diverging branches found in Africa has not been adequately documented. Here we analyze over 900 kb of Y chromosome sequence obtained from 547 individuals from southern African Khoisan and Bantu-speaking populations, identifying 232 new sequences from basal haplogroups A and B. We find new branches within haplogroups A2 and A3b1 and suggest that the prehistory of haplogroup B2a is more complex than previously suspected; this haplogroup is likely to have existed in Khoisan groups before the arrival of Bantu-speakers, who brought additional B2a lineages to southern Africa. Furthermore, we estimate older dates than obtained previously for both the A2-T node within the human Y chromosome phylogeny and for some individual haplogroups. Finally, there is pronounced variation in branch length between major haplogroups; haplogroups associated with Bantu-speakers have significantly longer branches. This likely reflects a combination of biases in the SNP calling process and demographic factors, such as an older average paternal age (hence a higher mutation rate), a higher effective population size, and/or a stronger effect of population expansion for Bantu-speakers than for Khoisan groups.


December 18, 2015

Archaic femur from Maludong, China

PLoS ONE 10(12): e0143332. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143332

A Hominin Femur with Archaic Affinities from the Late Pleistocene of Southwest China

Darren Curnoe et al.

The number of Late Pleistocene hominin species and the timing of their extinction are issues receiving renewed attention following genomic evidence for interbreeding between the ancestors of some living humans and archaic taxa. Yet, major gaps in the fossil record and uncertainties surrounding the age of key fossils have meant that these questions remain poorly understood. Here we describe and compare a highly unusual femur from Late Pleistocene sediments at Maludong (Yunnan), Southwest China, recovered along with cranial remains that exhibit a mixture of anatomically modern human and archaic traits. Our studies show that the Maludong femur has affinities to archaic hominins, especially Lower Pleistocene femora. However, the scarcity of later Middle and Late Pleistocene archaic remains in East Asia makes an assessment of systematically relevant character states difficult, warranting caution in assigning the specimen to a species at this time. The Maludong fossil probably samples an archaic population that survived until around 14,000 years ago in the biogeographically complex region of Southwest China.


November 26, 2015

Neolithic farmers from Greece and Anatolia

A couple of new papers appeared this week. First, an article in Nature on natural selection in ancient Europe includes a sample of Anatolian Neolithic farmers and concludes that the European Neolithic farmers were descended from them with a bit of extra European hunter-gatherer admixture. Second, a new preprint on the bioRxiv includes Neolithic samples from northern Greece and finds that they too resemble the Anatolian and European farmers. I think it is time to declare the problem of "Neolithization of Europe" done. It took less than 4 years to solve it with ancient DNA. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of papers in historical review:

Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature16152

Genome-wide patterns of selection in 230 ancient Eurasians

Iain Mathieson et al.

Ancient DNA makes it possible to observe natural selection directly by analysing samples from populations before, during and after adaptation events. Here we report a genome-wide scan for selection using ancient DNA, capitalizing on the largest ancient DNA data set yet assembled: 230 West Eurasians who lived between 6500 and 300 BC, including 163 with newly reported data. The new samples include, to our knowledge, the first genome-wide ancient DNA from Anatolian Neolithic farmers, whose genetic material we obtained by extracting from petrous bones, and who we show were members of the population that was the source of Europe’s first farmers. We also report a transect of the steppe region in Samara between 5600 and 300 BC, which allows us to identify admixture into the steppe from at least two external sources. We detect selection at loci associated with diet, pigmentation and immunity, and two independent episodes of selection on height.



Early farmers from across Europe directly descended from Neolithic Aegeans

Zuzana Hofmanová, Susanne Kreutzer et al.

Farming and sedentism first appear in southwest Asia during the early Holocene and later spread to neighboring regions, including Europe, along multiple dispersal routes. Conspicuous uncertainties remain about the relative roles of migration, cultural diffusion and admixture with local foragers in the early Neolithisation of Europe. Here we present paleogenomic data for five Neolithic individuals from northwestern Turkey and northern Greece, spanning the time and region of the earliest spread of farming into Europe. We observe striking genetic similarity both among Aegean early farmers and with those from across Europe. Our study demonstrates a direct genetic link between Mediterranean and Central European early farmers and those of Greece and Anatolia, extending the European Neolithic migratory chain all the way back to southwestern Asia.


November 18, 2015

Two more Denisovans (Sawyer, Renaud et al. 2015)

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1519905112

Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences from two Denisovan individuals

Susanna Sawyer, Gabriel Renaud et al.

Denisovans, a sister group of Neandertals, have been described on the basis of a nuclear genome sequence from a finger phalanx (Denisova 3) found in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains. The only other Denisovan specimen described to date is a molar (Denisova 4) found at the same site. This tooth carries a mtDNA sequence similar to that of Denisova 3. Here we present nuclear DNA sequences from Denisova 4 and a morphological description, as well as mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data, from another molar (Denisova 8) found in Denisova Cave in 2010. This new molar is similar to Denisova 4 in being very large and lacking traits typical of Neandertals and modern humans. Nuclear DNA sequences from the two molars form a clade with Denisova 3. The mtDNA of Denisova 8 is more diverged and has accumulated fewer substitutions than the mtDNAs of the other two specimens, suggesting Denisovans were present in the region over an extended period. The nuclear DNA sequence diversity among the three Denisovans is comparable to that among six Neandertals, but lower than that among present-day humans.


November 16, 2015

West_Asian in the flesh (hunter-gatherers from Georgia) (Jones et al. 2015)

Years ago, I detected the presence of a West_Asian genetic component (with dual modes in "Caucasus" and "Gedrosia") whose origins I placed in the "highlands of West Asia" and which I proposed spread into Europe post-5kya with Indo-European languages.

Earlier this year, the study by Haak et al. showed that steppe invaders after 5kya brought into Europe a 50/50 mix of "Eastern European Hunter-Gatherer" (EHG) ancestry/An unknown population from the Near East/Caucasus. The "unknown population" was most similar to Caucasians/Near Easterners like Armenians but did not correspond to any ancient sample.

A new paper in Nature Communications by Jones et al. finds this "missing link" in the flesh in Upper Paleolithic/Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from Georgia which they call "Caucasus Hunter-Gatherers" (CHG). From the paper:
The separation between CHG and both EF and WHG ended during the Early Bronze Age when a major ancestral component linked to CHG was carried west by migrating herders from the Eurasian Steppe. The foundation group for this seismic change was the Yamnaya, who we estimate to owe half of their ancestry to CHG-linked sources.
The authors also make the connection to South Asia:
In modern populations, the impact of CHG also stretches beyond Europe to the east. Central and South Asian populations received genetic influx from CHG (or a population close to them), as shown by a prominent CHG component in ADMIXTURE (Supplementary Fig. 5; Supplementary Note 9) and admixture f3-statistics, which show many samples as a mix of CHG and another South Asian population (Fig. 4b; Supplementary Table 9).
Also of interest:
Both Georgian hunter-gatherer samples were assigned to haplogroup J with Kotias belonging to the subhaplogroup J2a (see methods).
The paper is open access, so go ahead and read it for other details.

Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8912 doi:10.1038/ncomms9912

Upper Palaeolithic genomes reveal deep roots of modern Eurasians

Eppie R. Jones et al.

We extend the scope of European palaeogenomics by sequencing the genomes of Late Upper Palaeolithic (13,300 years old, 1.4-fold coverage) and Mesolithic (9,700 years old, 15.4-fold) males from western Georgia in the Caucasus and a Late Upper Palaeolithic (13,700 years old, 9.5-fold) male from Switzerland. While we detect Late Palaeolithic–Mesolithic genomic continuity in both regions, we find that Caucasus hunter-gatherers (CHG) belong to a distinct ancient clade that split from western hunter-gatherers ~45 kya, shortly after the expansion of anatomically modern humans into Europe and from the ancestors of Neolithic farmers ~25 kya, around the Last Glacial Maximum. CHG genomes significantly contributed to the Yamnaya steppe herders who migrated into Europe ~3,000 BC, supporting a formative Caucasus influence on this important Early Bronze age culture. CHG left their imprint on modern populations from the Caucasus and also central and south Asia possibly marking the arrival of Indo-Aryan languages.


November 11, 2015

Genetic structure of 1,272 Italians

From the paper:
The distribution of the pairwise Fst distances between all population pairs is shown in Supplementary Table S3. The genetic distance between Southern and Northern Italians (Fst=0.0013) is comparable to that between individuals living in different political units (ie, Iberians-Romanians Fst=0.0011; British-French Fst=0.0007), and, interestingly, in >50% of all the possible pairwise comparisons within Europe (Supplementary Figure S7).
European Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication 11 November 2015; doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2015.233

The Italian genome reflects the history of Europe and the Mediterranean basin

Giovanni Fiorito et al.

Recent scientific literature has highlighted the relevance of population genetic studies both for disease association mapping in admixed populations and for understanding the history of human migrations. Deeper insight into the history of the Italian population is critical for understanding the peopling of Europe. Because of its crucial position at the centre of the Mediterranean basin, the Italian peninsula has experienced a complex history of colonization and migration whose genetic signatures are still present in contemporary Italians. In this study, we investigated genomic variation in the Italian population using 2.5 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms in a sample of more than 300 unrelated Italian subjects with well-defined geographical origins. We combined several analytical approaches to interpret genome-wide data on 1272 individuals from European, Middle Eastern, and North African populations. We detected three major ancestral components contributing different proportions across the Italian peninsula, and signatures of continuous gene flow within Italy, which have produced remarkable genetic variability among contemporary Italians. In addition, we have extracted novel details about the Italian population’s ancestry, identifying the genetic signatures of major historical events in Europe and the Mediterranean basin from the Neolithic (e.g., peopling of Sardinia) to recent times (e.g., ‘barbarian invasion’ of Northern and Central Italy). These results are valuable for further genetic, epidemiological and forensic studies in Italy and in Europe.


November 04, 2015

Selection against Neandertal deleterious alleles

Sampled Neandertals (from Europe, the Caucasus, and Siberia) certainly had lower effective population size than living humans, but I wonder what the comparison would be between ancient tribes of modern humans and Neandertals in the Near East where admixture presumably took place.


The Genetic Cost of Neanderthal Introgression

Kelley Harris, Rasmus Nielsen

Approximately 2-4% of the human genome is in non-Africans comprised of DNA intro- gressed from Neanderthals. Recent studies have shown that there is a paucity of introgressed DNA around functional regions, presumably caused by selection after introgression. This observation has been suggested to be a possible consequence of the accumulation of a large amount of Dobzhansky-Muller incompatibilities, i.e. epistatic effects between human and Neanderthal specific mutations, since the divergence of humans and Neanderthals approx. 400-600 kya. However, using previously published estimates of inbreeding in Neanderthals, and of the distribution of fitness effects from human protein coding genes, we show that the average Neanderthal would have had at least 40% lower fitness than the average human due to higher levels of inbreeding and an increased mutational load, regardless of the dominance coefficients of new mutations. Using simulations, we show that under the assumption of additive dominance effects, early Neanderthal/human hybrids would have experienced strong negative selection, though not so strong that it would prevent Neanderthal DNA from entering the human population. In fact, the increased mutational load in Neanderthals predicts the observed reduction in Neanderthal introgressed segments around protein coding genes, without any need to invoke epistasis. The simulations also predict that there is a residual Neanderthal derived mutational load in non-African humans, leading to an average fitness reduction of at least 0.5%. Although there has been much previous debate about the effects of the out-of-Africa bottleneck on mutational loads in non-Africans, the significant deleterious effects of Neanderthal introgression have hitherto been left out of this discussion, but might be just as important for understanding fitness differences among human populations. We also show that if deleterious mutations are recessive, the Neanderthal admixture fraction would gradually increase over time due to selection for Neanderthal haplotypes that mask human deleterious mutations in the heterozygous state. This effect of dominance heterosis might partially explain why adaptive introgression appears to be widespread in nature.



The Strength of Selection Against Neanderthal Introgression

Ivan Juric, Simon Aeschbacher, Graham Coop

Hybridization between humans and Neanderthals has resulted in a low level of Neanderthal ancestry scattered across the genomes of many modern-day humans. After hybridization, on average, selection appears to have removed Neanderthal alleles from the human population. Quantifying the strength and causes of this selection against Neanderthal ancestry is key to understanding our relationship to Neanderthals and, more broadly, how populations remain distinct after secondary contact. Here, we develop a novel method for estimating the genome-wide average strength of selection and the density of selected sites using estimates of Neanderthal allele frequency along the genomes of modern-day humans. We confirm that East Asians had somewhat higher initial levels of Neanderthal ancestry than Europeans even after accounting for selection. We find that there are systematically lower levels of initial introgression on the X chromosome, a finding consistent with a strong sex bias in the initial matings between the populations. We find that the bulk of purifying selection against Neanderthal ancestry is best understood as acting on many weakly deleterious alleles. We propose that the majority of these alleles were effectively neutral-and segregating at high frequency-in Neanderthals, but became selected against after entering human populations of much larger effective size. While individually of small effect, these alleles potentially imposed a heavy genetic load on the early-generation human-Neanderthal hybrids. This work suggests that differences in effective population size may play a far more important role in shaping levels of introgression than previously thought.


October 22, 2015

Bronze Age Plague

This paper used the same data as the Allentoft et al. paper, but instead of focusing on the human DNA recovered from ancient Eurasians, it went looking for interesting stuff in the non-human DNA (the stuff that is usually thrown away).

The result: 2,800-5,000 year old Yersinia pestis from Europe to the Altai. It will be cool to look at even older remains than the Bronze Age, but this already pushes the date for plague by a couple thousand years, and implicates steppe people in its earliest spread.

Cell Volume 163, Issue 3, p571–582, 22 October 2015

Early Divergent Strains of Yersinia pestis in Eurasia 5,000 Years Ago

Simon Rasmussen18, Morten Erik Allentoft18, Kasper Nielsen, Ludovic Orlando, Martin Sikora, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Anders Gorm Pedersen, Mikkel Schubert, Alex Van Dam, Christian Moliin Outzen Kapel, Henrik Bjørn Nielsen, Søren Brunak, Pavel Avetisyan, Andrey Epimakhov, Mikhail Viktorovich Khalyapin, Artak Gnuni, Aivar Kriiska, Irena Lasak, Mait Metspalu, Vyacheslav Moiseyev, Andrei Gromov, Dalia Pokutta, Lehti Saag, Liivi Varul, Levon Yepiskoposyan, Thomas Sicheritz-Pontén, Robert A. Foley, Marta Mirazón Lahr, Rasmus Nielsen, Kristian Kristiansen, Eske Willerslev

The bacteria Yersinia pestis is the etiological agent of plague and has caused human pandemics with millions of deaths in historic times. How and when it originated remains contentious. Here, we report the oldest direct evidence of Yersinia pestis identified by ancient DNA in human teeth from Asia and Europe dating from 2,800 to 5,000 years ago. By sequencing the genomes, we find that these ancient plague strains are basal to all known Yersinia pestis. We find the origins of the Yersinia pestis lineage to be at least two times older than previous estimates. We also identify a temporal sequence of genetic changes that lead to increased virulence and the emergence of the bubonic plague. Our results show that plague infection was endemic in the human populations of Eurasia at least 3,000 years before any historical recordings of pandemics.


October 15, 2015

Modern humans in China ~80,000 years ago (?)

Another (?)-worthy paper has just appeared in Nature in the heels of the African ancient genome paper. Time will tell how these worldview-altering discoveries will change the story of Mankind, and a degree of skepticism is warranted. In the view I've held for a few years, modern humans expanded to Arabia before 100 thousand years ago, started leaving it 70 thousand years ago as the ecological situation worsened due to desertification and broke through the "Neandertal barrier" between 70-50 thousand years ago when they developed the skills and technology to overcome them.

The new paper claims that modern humans were in China 80 thousand years ago and came to Europe much later because Neandertal represented a barrier to successful entry to Europe. This begs the question of how they reached China without encountering Neandertals, as Neandertals were also in West Asia where -presumably- they passed through to get to China. A coastal route to south China would explain away this problem, but the coastal migration is usually envisioned much later, at around 60 thousand years ago. On top of that, how did Chinese end up having equal (or more) levels of Neandertals admixture if modern humans first went to China and later moved west and successfully outcompeted the Neandertals. How were they able to do so eventually? (There is no evidence that the kind of advantages associated with behavioral modernity first emerged in East Asia). It's possible that there were 80 thousand year-old modern humans in China (just as there were 100 thousand year-old modern humans in Israel), but that the later East Asians are not descended from them.

One would think that science would present an increasingly reasonable and consistent picture of the past, but it seems that we're a very long way from the point where the dust settles and the puzzle pieces start falling into place.

Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature15696

The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China

Wu Liu, María Martinón-Torres, Yan-jun Cai, Song Xing, Hao-wen Tong, Shu-wen Pei, Mark Jan Sier, Xiao-hong Wu, R. Lawrence Edwards, Hai Cheng, Yi-yuan Li, Xiong-xin Yang, José María Bermúdez de Castro & Xiu-jie Wu

The hominin record from southern Asia for the early Late Pleistocene epoch is scarce. Well-dated and well-preserved fossils older than ~45,000 years that can be unequivocally attributed to Homo sapiens are lacking1, 2, 3, 4. Here we present evidence from the newly excavated Fuyan Cave in Daoxian (southern China). This site has provided 47 human teeth dated to more than 80,000 years old, and with an inferred maximum age of 120,000 years. The morphological and metric assessment of this sample supports its unequivocal assignment to H. sapiens. The Daoxian sample is more derived than any other anatomically modern humans, resembling middle-to-late Late Pleistocene specimens and even contemporary humans. Our study shows that fully modern morphologies were present in southern China 30,000–70,000 years earlier than in the Levant and Europe5, 6, 7. Our data fill a chronological and geographical gap that is relevant for understanding when H. sapiens first appeared in southern Asia. The Daoxian teeth also support the hypothesis that during the same period, southern China was inhabited by more derived populations than central and northern China. This evidence is important for the study of dispersal routes of modern humans. Finally, our results are relevant to exploring the reasons for the relatively late entry of H. sapiens into Europe. Some studies have investigated how the competition with H. sapiens may have caused Neanderthals’ extinction (see ref. 8 and references therein). Notably, although fully modern humans were already present in southern China at least as early as ~80,000 years ago, there is no evidence that they entered Europe before ~45,000 years ago. This could indicate that H. neanderthalensis was indeed an additional ecological barrier for modern humans, who could only enter Europe when the demise of Neanderthals had already started.


October 08, 2015

West Eurasian admixture throughout Africa (?)

In 2012, I wrote:
It is no longer tenable to view West Eurasian back-migrations as limited events that affected only North and East Africa: their effects are clearly evident throughout Africa, having affected different populations to a different extent.
A new paper in Science seems to confirm West Eurasian admixture related to Early Neolithic farmers throughout Africa, including the Yoruba, and Mbuti. I haven't read the paper yet, but it would be a striking discovery if confirmed.

UPDATE (1/26/2016). An erratum has now appeared that rejects the claim for Eurasian admixture in all Africans which was the result of the bioinformatic error. I continue to think that there was Eurasian back-migration into Africa, but it was a long shot that this had happened in the last 4,500 years (hence the ? in the title of this entry). A time series of African DNA may show whether the null model of Sub-Saharan Africans receiving virtually no admixture from Eurasia for the entirety of the existence of H. sapiens can remain valid.

Science DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2879

Ancient Ethiopian genome reveals extensive Eurasian admixture throughout the African continent

M. Gallego Llorente et al

Characterizing genetic diversity in Africa is a crucial step for most analyses reconstructing the evolutionary history of anatomically modern humans. However, historic migrations from Eurasia into Africa have affected many contemporary populations, confounding inferences. Here, we present a 12.5x coverage ancient genome of an Ethiopian male (‘Mota’) who lived approximately 4,500 years ago. We use this genome to demonstrate that the Eurasian backflow into Africa came from a population closely related to Early Neolithic farmers, who had colonized Europe 4,000 years earlier. The extent of this backflow was much greater than previously reported, reaching all the way to Central, West and Southern Africa, affecting even populations such as Yoruba and Mbuti, previously thought to be relatively unadmixed, who harbor 6-7% Eurasian ancestry.


September 19, 2015

Recent admixture in contemporary West Eurasians

After applying Globetrotter to the world and to the British, a new study in Current Biology applies to the intermediately-sized region of West Eurasia. This is an open-access article, so go ahead and read it.

Current Biology DOI:

The Role of Recent Admixture in Forming the Contemporary West Eurasian Genomic Landscape
George B.J. Busby et al.

Over the past few years, studies of DNA isolated from human fossils and archaeological remains have generated considerable novel insight into the history of our species. Several landmark papers have described the genomes of ancient humans across West Eurasia, demonstrating the presence of large-scale, dynamic population movements over the last 10,000 years, such that ancestry across present-day populations is likely to be a mixture of several ancient groups [ 1–7 ]. While these efforts are bringing the details of West Eurasian prehistory into increasing focus, studies aimed at understanding the processes behind the generation of the current West Eurasian genetic landscape have been limited by the number of populations sampled or have been either too regional or global in their outlook [ 8–11 ]. Here, using recently described haplotype-based techniques [ 11 ], we present the results of a systematic survey of recent admixture history across Western Eurasia and show that admixture is a universal property across almost all groups. Admixture in all regions except North Western Europe involved the influx of genetic material from outside of West Eurasia, which we date to specific time periods. Within Northern, Western, and Central Europe, admixture tended to occur between local groups during the period 300 to 1200 CE. Comparisons of the genetic profiles of West Eurasians before and after admixture show that population movements within the last 1,500 years are likely to have maintained differentiation among groups. Our analysis provides a timeline of the gene flow events that have generated the contemporary genetic landscape of West Eurasia.


September 18, 2015

Political (non) diversity in social psychology

Behavioral and Brain Sciences / Volume 38 / January 2015, e130 (13 pages)

Political diversity will improve social psychological science

José L. Duartea1, Jarret T. Crawforda2, Charlotta Sterna3, Jonathan Haidta4, Lee Jussima5 and Philip E. Tetlocka6

Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity – particularly diversity of viewpoints – for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims: (1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years. (2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike. (3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority's thinking. (4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination. We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.


August 13, 2015

Rethinking the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa

An excellent review which -among its other graces- demolishes the view that mtDNA haplogroup L3 provides a terminus post quem of 70 thousand years for the Out-of-Africa expansion, a question I've discussed in this blog before.

I think the evidence is overwhelming at this point that there were modern humans outside Africa before 100,000 years ago. The argument that they were a  failed expansion is shoddy and is based, as far as I can tell on things like the age of L3, the assumption that Y-chromosome haplogroup E is native to Africa and not derived from back-to-Africa migrants, the assumption that Out-of-Africa coincided with the Upper Paleolithic cultural efflorescence (disproven by the earlier dating of Neandertal admixture), or the failed hypothesis of a coastal route Out of Africa 60 thousand years ago that seems to be repeated in inverse proportion to the evidence for it. The halving of the human autosomal mutation rate relative to what was inferred before has certainly not helped either.

Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews Volume 24, Issue 4, pages 149–164, July/August 2015

Rethinking the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa

Huw S. Groucutt, Michael D. Petraglia, Geoff Bailey, Eleanor M. L. Scerri, Ash Parton, Laine Clark-Balzan, Richard P. Jennings, Laura Lewis, James Blinkhorn, Nick A. Drake, Paul S. Breeze, Robyn H. Inglis, Maud H. Devès, Matthew Meredith-Williams, Nicole Boivin, Mark G. Thomas andAylwyn Scally

Current fossil, genetic, and archeological data indicate that Homo sapiens originated in Africa in the late Middle Pleistocene. By the end of the Late Pleistocene, our species was distributed across every continent except Antarctica, setting the foundations for the subsequent demographic and cultural changes of the Holocene. The intervening processes remain intensely debated and a key theme in hominin evolutionary studies. We review archeological, fossil, environmental, and genetic data to evaluate the current state of knowledge on the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa. The emerging picture of the dispersal process suggests dynamic behavioral variability, complex interactions between populations, and an intricate genetic and cultural legacy. This evolutionary and historical complexity challenges simple narratives and suggests that hybrid models and the testing of explicit hypotheses are required to understand the expansion of Homo sapiens into Eurasia.

Link and here

August 12, 2015

Mesolithic monolith from Sicilian Channel

Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports Volume 3, September 2015, Pages 398–407

A submerged monolith in the Sicilian Channel (central Mediterranean Sea): Evidence for Mesolithic human activity

Emanuele Lodolo, Zvi Ben-Avraham

The ancient geography of the Mediterranean Basin was profoundly changed by the increase in sea level following the Last Glacial Maximum. This global event has led to the retreat of the coastlines, especially in lowland areas and shallow shelves, such as the Sicilian Channel. The NW sector of this shelf, known as Adventure Plateau, is studded by isolated shoals mostly composed of Late Miocene carbonate rocks and by some volcanic edifices. These shoals, until at least the Early Holocene, formed an archipelago of several islands separated by stretches of extremely shallow sea. One of these submerged features – the Pantelleria Vecchia Bank – located 60 km south of Sicily, has been extensively surveyed using geophysical and geological methods. It is composed of two main shoals, connected seaward by a rectilinear ridge which encloses an embayment. Here we present morphological evidence, underwater observations, and results of petrographic analysis of a man-made, 12 m long monolith resting on the sea-floor of the embayment at a water depth of 40 m. It is broken into two parts, and has three regular holes: one at its end which passes through from part to part, the others in two of its sides. The monolith is composed of calcirudites of Late Pleistocene age, as determined from radiocarbon measurements conducted on several shell fragments extracted from the rock samples. The same age and composition characterize the metre-size blocks forming the rectilinear ridge. The rest of the rocks composing the shoals are mostly Tortonian limestones–sandstones, as revealed by their fossil content. Extrapolating ages from the local sea level curve, we infer that seawater inundated the inner lands at 9350 ± 200 year B.P., the upper limit which can be reasonably taken for the site abandonment. This discovery provides evidence for a significant Mesolithic human activity in the Sicilian Channel region.


August 07, 2015

Prehistoric farmers from northern Greece had lactose intolerance, brown eyes, dark skin

According to this:
Πολύ σημαντικό πρόσφατο εύρημα αποτελεί η ανάκτηση ολόκληρων γονιδιωμάτων από τρεις προϊστορικούς αγρότες, που έζησαν στη Βόρεια Ελλάδα 7.500 με 5.500 χρόνια πριν από σήμερα. Τα δεδομένα αυτά αναλύονται και αναμένεται να ρίξουν φως στις προγονικές σχέσεις των πρώτων Ευρωπαίων και να δώσουν πλήθος πληροφοριών, που συνδέονται με λειτουργικά και μορφολογικά χαρακτηριστικά. Ήδη, είναι γνωστό, ότι κάποιοι νεολιθικοί πρόγονοί μας δε μπορούσαν να πέψουν το γάλα, ήταν δηλαδή δυσανεκτικοί στη λακτόζη και είχαν καστανά μάτια και σκουρόχρωμη επιδερμίδα.
Related video:

July 26, 2015

Paleoamericans galore

Two new papers in Nature and Science add to the debate on Native American origins. The first study (in Nature) detects that some Amazonians have a few percent ancestry from a group related to Australasians, which suggests that early native Americans were not homogeneous but came in two flavors: the main one found all over the Americans and the Australasian-related one. The second study (in Science) looks at ancient "Paleoamerican"-postulated populations and finds that they don't have any particular relationship to Australasians. Thus, whatever population brought the "Paleoamerican" admixture into the Amazon, it remains to be found.

Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14895

Genetic evidence for two founding populations of the Americas 

Pontus Skoglund et al.

Genetic studies have consistently indicated a single common origin of Native American groups from Central and South America1, 2, 3, 4. However, some morphological studies have suggested a more complex picture, whereby the northeast Asian affinities of present-day Native Americans contrast with a distinctive morphology seen in some of the earliest American skeletons, which share traits with present-day Australasians (indigenous groups in Australia, Melanesia, and island Southeast Asia)5, 6, 7, 8. Here we analyse genome-wide data to show that some Amazonian Native Americans descend partly from a Native American founding population that carried ancestry more closely related to indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andaman Islanders than to any present-day Eurasians or Native Americans. This signature is not present to the same extent, or at all, in present-day Northern and Central Americans or in a ~12,600-year-old Clovis-associated genome, suggesting a more diverse set of founding populations of the Americas than previously accepted.


Science DOI: 10.1126/science.aab3884

Genomic evidence for the Pleistocene and recent population history of Native Americans

Maanasa Raghavan1,*, Matthias Steinrücken2,3,4,*, Kelley Harris5,*, Stephan Schiffels6,*, Simon Rasmussen7,*, Michael DeGiorgio8,*, Anders Albrechtsen9,*, Cristina Valdiosera1,10,*, María C. Ávila-Arcos1,11,*, Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas1* et al.

How and when the Americas were populated remains contentious. Using ancient and modern genome-wide data, we find that the ancestors of all present-day Native Americans, including Athabascans and Amerindians, entered the Americas as a single migration wave from Siberia no earlier than 23 thousand years ago (KYA), and after no more than 8,000-year isolation period in Beringia. Following their arrival to the Americas, ancestral Native Americans diversified into two basal genetic branches around 13 KYA, one that is now dispersed across North and South America and the other is restricted to North America. Subsequent gene flow resulted in some Native Americans sharing ancestry with present-day East Asians (including Siberians) and, more distantly, Australo-Melanesians. Putative ‘Paleoamerican’ relict populations, including the historical Mexican Pericúes and South American Fuego-Patagonians, are not directly related to modern Australo-Melanesians as suggested by the Paleoamerican Model.


July 21, 2015

British origins (with ancient data)



Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon genomes from East England reveal British migration history

Stephan Schiffels, Wolfgang Haak, Pirita Paajanen, Bastien Llamas, Elizabeth Popescu, Louise Lou, Rachel Clarke, Alice Lyons, Richard Mortimer, Duncan Sayer, Chris Tyler-Smith, Alan Cooper, Richard Durbin

British population history has been shaped by a series of immigrations and internal movements, including the early Anglo-Saxon migrations following the breakdown of the Roman administration after 410CE. It remains an open question how these events affected the genetic composition of the current British population. Here, we present whole-genome sequences generated from ten ancient individuals found in archaeological excavations close to Cambridge in the East of England, ranging from 2,300 until 1,200 years before present (Iron Age to Anglo-Saxon period). We use present-day genetic data to characterize the relationship of these ancient individuals to contemporary British and other European populations. By analyzing the distribution of shared rare variants across ancient and modern individuals, we find that today’s British are more similar to the Iron Age individuals than to most of the Anglo-Saxon individuals, and estimate that the contemporary East English population derives 30% of its ancestry from Anglo-Saxon migrations, with a lower fraction in Wales and Scotland. We gain further insight with a new method, rarecoal, which fits a demographic model to the distribution of shared rare variants across a large number of samples, enabling fine scale analysis of subtle genetic differences and yielding explicit estimates of population sizes and split times. Using rarecoal we find that the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxon samples are closest to modern Danish and Dutch populations, while the Iron Age samples share ancestors with multiple Northern European populations including Britain.


July 12, 2015

Phylogeographic refinement of haplogroup E

Genome Biol Evol (2015) 7 (7): 1940-1950.

Phylogeographic Refinement and Large Scale Genotyping of Human Y Chromosome Haplogroup E Provide New Insights into the Dispersal of Early Pastoralists in the African Continent

Beniamino Trombetta et al.

Haplogroup E, defined by mutation M40, is the most common human Y chromosome clade within Africa. To increase the level of resolution of haplogroup E, we disclosed the phylogenetic relationships among 729 mutations found in 33 haplogroup DE Y-chromosomes sequenced at high coverage in previous studies. Additionally, we dissected the E-M35 subclade by genotyping 62 informative markers in 5,222 samples from 118 worldwide populations. The phylogeny of haplogroup E showed novel features compared with the previous topology, including a new basal dichotomy. Within haplogroup E-M35, we resolved all the previously known polytomies and assigned all the E-M35* chromosomes to five new different clades, all belonging to a newly identified subhaplogroup (E-V1515), which accounts for almost half of the E-M35 chromosomes from the Horn of Africa. Moreover, using a Bayesian phylogeographic analysis and a single nucleotide polymorphism-based approach we localized and dated the origin of this new lineage in the northern part of the Horn, about 12 ka. Time frames, phylogenetic structuring, and sociogeographic distribution of E-V1515 and its subclades are consistent with a multistep demic spread of pastoralism within north-eastern Africa and its subsequent diffusion to subequatorial areas. In addition, our results increase the discriminative power of the E-M35 haplogroup for use in forensic genetics through the identification of new ancestry-informative markers.


Y-chromosomes of Sicilian and Calabrian Arbereshe

European Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication 1 July 2015; doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2015.138

Shared language, diverging genetic histories: high-resolution analysis of Y-chromosome variability in Calabrian and Sicilian Arbereshe

Stefania Sarno et al.

The relationship between genetic and linguistic diversification in human populations has been often explored to interpret some specific issues in human history. The Albanian-speaking minorities of Sicily and Southern Italy (Arbereshe) constitute an important portion of the ethnolinguistic variability of Italy. Their linguistic isolation from neighboring Italian populations and their documented migration history, make such minorities particularly effective for investigating the interplay between cultural, geographic and historical factors. Nevertheless, the extent of Arbereshe genetic relationships with the Balkan homeland and the Italian recipient populations has been only partially investigated. In the present study we address the genetic history of Arbereshe people by combining highly resolved analyses of Y-chromosome lineages and extensive computer simulations. A large set of slow- and fast-evolving molecular markers was typed in different Arbereshe communities from Sicily and Southern Italy (Calabria), as well as in both the putative Balkan source and Italian sink populations. Our results revealed that the considered Arbereshe groups, despite speaking closely related languages and sharing common cultural features, actually experienced diverging genetic histories. The estimated proportions of genetic admixture confirm the tight relationship of Calabrian Arbereshe with modern Albanian populations, in accordance with linguistic hypotheses. On the other hand, population stratification and/or an increased permeability of linguistic and geographic barriers may be hypothesized for Sicilian groups, to account for their partial similarity with Greek populations and their higher levels of local admixture. These processes ultimately resulted in the differential acquisition or preservation of specific paternal lineages by the present-day Arbereshe communities.


mtDNA from Xiaohe cemetery

BMC Genetics 2015, 16:78 doi:10.1186/s12863-015-0237-5

Analysis of ancient human mitochondrial DNA from the Xiaohe cemetery: insights into prehistoric population movements in the Tarim Basin, China

Chunxiang Li et al.



The Tarim Basin in western China, known for its amazingly well-preserved mummies, has been for thousands of years an important crossroad between the eastern and western parts of Eurasia. Despite its key position in communications and migration, and highly diverse peoples, languages and cultures, its prehistory is poorly understood. To shed light on the origin of the populations of the Tarim Basin, we analysed mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms in human skeletal remains excavated from the Xiaohe cemetery, used by the local community between 4000 and 3500 years before present, and possibly representing some of the earliest settlers.


Xiaohe people carried a wide variety of maternal lineages, including West Eurasian lineages H, K, U5, U7, U2e, T, R*, East Eurasian lineages B, C4, C5, D, G2a and Indian lineage M5.


Our results indicate that the people of the Tarim Basin had a diverse maternal ancestry, with origins in Europe, central/eastern Siberia and southern/western Asia. These findings, together with information on the cultural context of the Xiaohe cemetery, can be used to test contrasting hypotheses of route of settlement into the Tarim Basin.


Complex demographic history of Western Central African Pygmies

bioRxiv doi:

Whole genome sequence analyses of Western Central African Pygmy hunter-gatherers reveal a complex demographic history and identify candidate genes under positive natural selection

PingHsun Hsieh et al.

African Pygmies practicing a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle are phenotypically and genetically diverged from other anatomically modern humans, and they likely experienced strong selective pressures due to their unique lifestyle in the Central African rainforest. To identify genomic targets of adaptation, we sequenced the genomes of four Biaka Pygmies from the Central African Republic and jointly analyzed these data with the genome sequences of three Baka Pygmies from Cameroon and nine Yoruba famers. To account for the complex demographic history of these populations that includes both isolation and gene flow, we fit models using the joint allele frequency spectrum and validated them using independent approaches. Our two best-fit models both suggest ancient divergence between the ancestors of the farmers and Pygmies, 90,000 or 150,000 years ago. We also find that bi-directional asymmetric gene-flow is statistically better supported than a single pulse of unidirectional gene flow from farmers to Pygmies, as previously suggested. We then applied complementary statistics to scan the genome for evidence of selective sweeps and polygenic selection. We found that conventional statistical outlier approaches were biased toward identifying candidates in regions of high mutation or low recombination rate. To avoid this bias, we assigned P-values for candidates using whole-genome simulations incorporating demography and variation in both recombination and mutation rates. We found that genes and gene sets involved in muscle development, bone synthesis, immunity, reproduction, cell signaling and development, and energy metabolism are likely to be targets of positive natural selection in Western African Pygmies or their recent ancestors.


July 05, 2015

Γιατί πρέπει να ψηφίσουμε ΝΑΙ στις 5 Ιουλίου

Απευθύνω το παρόν σε όσους ειλικρινά πιστεύουν πως βοηθούν την Ελλάδα ψηφίζοντας Όχι στο δημοψήφισμα της 5 Ιουλίου.

Υπάρχουν φυσικά και οι άλλοι, οι οποίοι υστερόβουλα θέλουν να επικρατήσει το Όχι: είτε γιατί έχουν διαφυλάξει τα χρήματα τους σε θυρίδες ή το εξωτερικό και προσδοκούν να κερδίσουν από τη δραχμή, είτε γιατί προσβλέπουν σε μια καταστροφική προεπαναστατική κατάσταση που θα τους βοηθήσει να αδράξουν την εξουσία.

Υπάρχουν όμως και ορισμένοι που ειλικρινά πιστεύουν πως το Όχι θα βοηθήσει την πατρίδα. Σ'αυτούς λοιπόν απευθύνομαι. Είτε πιστεύετε πως με το Όχι θα επιτευχθεί μια καλύτερη συμφωνία για την Ελλάδα, είτε θεωρείτε πως το Όχι είναι ζήτημα εθνικής ανεξαρτησίας και περηφάνιας και νομίζετε πως μετά από τόσο χρόνια κηδεμονίας από την Τρόικα ήρθε ο καιρός να ανακτήσουμε τις τύχες της χώρας μας.

Αν πιστεύετε πως το Όχι θα οδηγήσει σε μια καλύτερη συμφωνία, αναρωτηθείτε πώς θα το εκλάβουν στο εξωτερικό, αφού με τους ξένους πιστωτές θα πρέπει τελικά να συνενοηθούμε.

Οι μεν, που θέλουν την Ελλάδα εκτός Ευρωζώνης, θα εκλάβουν φυσικά το Όχι ως εκδήλωση της βούλησης του Ελληνικού λαού να απορρίψει τα προγράμματα βοήθειας που επιτρέπουν την συνεχιζόμενη παραμονή της χώρας στη νομισματική ένωση.

Οι δε, που επιθυμούν ακόμα την παραμονή της Ελλάδας στην Ευρωζώνη, δεν μπορούν να προσφέρουν κάτι καλύτερο, γιατί από τη μια θα κατηγορηθούν πως ενέδωσαν στον εκβιασμό της Ελλάδας και θα γίνουν ευάλωτοι σε ανάλογους εκβιασμούς από άλλες χώρες με δημοσιονομικό πρόβλημα.

Επιπλέον, η δημοσιονομική επιδείνωση εξαιτίας του κλεισίματος των τραπεζών οδηγεί σε μεγαλύτερη ύφεση την οικονομία και αυξάνει την ανάγκη προσαρμογής. Απορρίπτοντας την συμφωνία, ο Ελληνικός λαός δεν θα πάρει μια καλύτερη συμφωνία -αν πάρει καν μια συμφωνία- αλλά μια χειρότερη, αφού, προφανώς, η υπάρχουσα πρόταση -πέρα από το ότι δεν υπάρχει επισήμως πλέον στο τραπέζι- θα έχει απορριφθεί συνάμα και από τον Ελληνικό λαό.

Αλλά κι ακόμα κι αν οι έξω θελήσουν να επιτύχουν συμφωνία μετά το Όχι, τί σας κάνει να πιστεύετε πως οι έσω θα την επιτύχουν; Επί πέντε μήνες προσπαθούσαν τάχα να κάνουν συμφωνία, οδηγώντας την πραγματική οικονομία σε ολοένα και χειρότερη κατάσταση. Όταν κάποιος που δεν κατόρθωσε να φέρει συμφωνία σε πέντε μήνες υποστηρίζει πως θα την επιτύχει σε μια ώρα (Βαρουφάκης) ή 48 ώρες (Τσίπρας), λογικό είναι να δυσπιστούμε στην έπαρση τους.

Αλλά κι αν νομίζετε πως πράγματι δεν θα υπάρχει καλύτερη συμφωνία και η Ελλάδα θα οδηγηθεί στη Δραχμή, αναλογιστείτε τις συνέπειες σε ανθρώπινη δυστυχία που θα σημάνει μια τέτοια προοπτική σε μια χώρα εξαρτημένη από τις εισαγωγές για βασικά αγαθά όπως τα τρόφιμα, φάρμακα, και καύσιμα. Κι ακόμα -αν υποτεθεί- πως η περίοδος προσαρμογής είναι βραχύβια και η οικονομία αρχίσει πάλι να αναπτύσσεται, νομίζετε πραγματικά πως αυτό θα ωφελήσει την πατρίδα; Άλλωστε ο υπερδανεισμός, η αποσάρθρωση της παραγωγής, το πελατειακό κράτος και όλα όσα οδήγησαν την Ελλάδα στην καταστροφή γεννήθηκαν και άνθισαν και επί δραχμής. Δεν είναι το νόμισμα που οδηγεί μια κοινωνία στην ευμάρεια αλλά η συνετή ή μη χρήση της νομισματικής πολιτικής.

Αν πάλι νομίζετε πως το Όχι είναι ζήτημα αξιοπρέπειας και εθνικής περηφάνιας, σκεφτείτε πως η πραγματική περηφάνια δεν προέρχεται από το να έχεις τη δυνατότητα να κάνεις αυτό που θες εσύ, αλλά από το να κάνεις σε κάθε περίσταση αυτό που είναι χρήσιμο και σωστό, είτε το έχεις σκεφτεί μόνος του (όπως θα έπρεπε) είτε κατ' ανάγκη επειδή αυτό επιβάλλεται από κάποιον άλλο.

Τόσα χρόνια, οι ψηφισμένες Ελληνικές κυβερνήσεις έκαναν αυτό που ήθελαν, χωρίς να ρωτάνε κανένα ξένο πιστωτή, εφόσον μπορούσαν ακόμα να δανείζονται από τις αγορές. Ήταν πραγματικά περήφανες και αξιοπρεπείς ή έσκαβαν, με τη διόγκωση του χρέους, το λάκο στον οποίο στη συνέχεια έπεσε ολόκληρη η χώρα;

Ή ήταν αναξιοπρεπές πως χάρη στους ξένους πιστωτές και τις προσταγές τους άνοιξε η συζήτηση για κάποιες προφανείς αδυναμίες του Ελληνικού Δημοσίου όπως το πελατειακό κράτος με τους υπεράριθμους δημόσιους υπαλλήλους, τα μαϊμού επιδόματα, η συνταξιοδότηση ανθρώπων στο άνθος της παραγωγικής τους ηλικίας, τα ρετιρέ του Δημοσίου, και μια σειρά από άλλες ατέλειες της οργάνωσης της Ελληνικής πολιτείας που -εξαιτίας της χρηματοδοτικής ασφυξίας- αναγκαζόμαστε να αντιμετωπίσουμε.

Όλα αυτά φυσικά δεν ήταν άγνωστα στην Ελληνική κοινωνία στην προ-Μνημονιακή εποχή. Λίγο πολύ όλοι τα γνωρίζαμε αλλά οι περισσότεροι τα θεωρούσαν ήσσονος σημασίας και αδιαφορούσαν να περικόψουν τα μικροπρονόμια της τάδε ή δείνα οικονομικής ομάδας αφού φαινόντουσαν πως λίγο επηρέαζαν την δική τους ζωή. Η εποχή του Δε Βαριέσαι έληξε όταν συνειδητοποιήσαμε πως όλα αυτά τα οποία δηκτικά σχολιάζαμε αλλά στην πράξη επιτρέπαμε έχουν συνέπειες οι οποίες τελικά μας αφορούν και τους ίδιους.

Η πτώση του βιοτικού επιπέδου δεν είναι αποτέλεσμα των Μνημονίων, αλλά της χρεωκοπίας του Δημοσίου, το οποίο δεν μπορούσε πλέον να δανείζεται και να μοιράζει λεφτά. Αντιθέτως, χάρη στα Μνημόνια, το Ελληνικό κράτος (το οποίο μόλις το 2014 κατόρθωσε να αποκτήσει ένα μικρό πρωτογενές πλεόνασμα) μπόρεσε να μαλακώσει την ανάγκη προσαρμογής: χωρίς τα προγράμματα, η εξίσωση πρωτογενών δαπανών-εξόδων θα έπρεπε να είχε γίνει κατευθείαν και απότομα από το 2010.

Την Κυριακή, λοιπόν, σκεφτόμαστε το συμφέρον μας και επιλέγουμε τον δύσκολο δρόμο των μεταρρυθμίσεων μέσα στην Ευρώπη και όχι τις ψευδαισθήσεις όσων νομίζουν πως υπάρχει εναλλακτική οδός. Τα αγαθά, άλλωστε, κόποις κτώνται.

June 24, 2015

Oase1 had a Neandertal ancestor no earlier than ~200 years before his time

Several important conclusions of the discovery that Oase1 had a Neandertal ancestor 4-6 generations before his time (37-42 thousand years ago):
  • This is a smoking gun that modern humans interbred with Neandertals, following up on the publication of the Ust'Ishim and Kostenki-14 genomes; these two had longer Neandertal chunks than modern humans, from which it was estimated that their Neandertal admixture happened more than 50,000 years ago, roughly what one gets when looking at Neandertal chunks in modern humans alone. The Oase1 has even longer Neandertal chunks, and Neandertal admixture happened in its very recent past. 
  • So, it seems that Neandertal admixture was not a one-off event but is bracketed at least by the period 50-40 thousand years ago and happened in at least two places: Europe and the Near East.
  • The fact that the earliest European sample (N=1) has a recent Neandertal ancestor indicates that Neandertal admixture in the earliest Europeans cannot have been extremely rare or non-existent; if it were, the chances of finding one with the first try would be extremely low.
  • It is unlikely that Neandertals were killed off by modern humans immediately after the arrival of the latter in Europe, as the Oase1 is dated well after the arrival of modern humans to Europe.
  • Modern Europeans don't seem to be particularly related to the population of Oase1. After one substracts contamination and Neandertal admixture, what is left over is actually closer to East Asians than modern Europeans. But, it's equally close to East Asians and European hunter-gatherers. This can be explained if modern Europeans have ancestry from the mysterious "Basal Eurasians" via the Neolithic farmers.
Why did the Neandertals (and the significantly-Neandertal admixed AMH like Oase1) disappear? My bet is on the Campanian Ignibrite eruption.

Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14558

An early modern human from Romania with a recent Neanderthal ancestor

Qiaomei Fu, Mateja Hajdinjak, Oana Teodora Moldovan, Silviu Constantin, Swapan Mallick, Pontus Skoglund, Nick Patterson, Nadin Rohland, Iosif Lazaridis, Birgit Nickel, Bence Viola, Kay Prüfer, Matthias Meyer, Janet Kelso, David Reich & Svante Pääbo

Neanderthals are thought to have disappeared in Europe approximately 39,000–41,000 years ago but they have contributed 1–3% of the DNA of present-day people in Eurasia1. Here we analyse DNA from a 37,000–42,000-year-old2 modern human from Peştera cu Oase, Romania. Although the specimen contains small amounts of human DNA, we use an enrichment strategy to isolate sites that are informative about its relationship to Neanderthals and present-day humans. We find that on the order of 6–9% of the genome of the Oase individual is derived from Neanderthals, more than any other modern human sequenced to date. Three chromosomal segments of Neanderthal ancestry are over 50 centimorgans in size, indicating that this individual had a Neanderthal ancestor as recently as four to six generations back. However, the Oase individual does not share more alleles with later Europeans than with East Asians, suggesting that the Oase population did not contribute substantially to later humans in Europe.


June 20, 2015

DNA from hot climates technically feasible

From the paper:
Ten petrous bones were selected from archaeological specimens, representing a wide range of geographical locations and climatic contexts (Table 1, for repository information see S1 File). The specimens were selected from Central Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Levant, Anatolia, and North Africa. The specimens are from Holocene archaeological contexts dated to between 10,000–1,800 calibrated years before present (cal. BP). The samples from Nubia, Jordan and Turkmenistan are from hot and arid regions. The sample from Turkey is from the Eastern Mediterranean (northwestern Turkey); the samples from Hungary and Serbia are from the Carpathian Basin/Southeast Europe, while the two samples from Cambodia and Vietnam are from tropical/subtropical Southeast Asia. We also included a metatarsal bone for one Neolithic individual from Hungary (Polgár Ferenci hát, PF280-443) as a control to confirm the differences between petrous and non-petrous reported in the previous study [8].
It has recently been demonstrated [8] that petrous bone samples yield exceptionally high percentages of endogenous ancient DNA. Here we have shown that both the total amount of endogenous DNA that can be recovered as well as the percentage of all reads that represents endogenous DNA vary substantially for different parts of the petrous bone. Our results have several implications for aDNA studies. The results support the hypothesis that dense bone parts are especially suitable for ancient DNA research, with the densest part of the petrous bone, that which composes the otic capsule, providing the best results. For our samples the yields obtained for this part (part C) exceed those obtained for part B (i.e. dense bone part of the petrous outside the otic capsule) by up to 65-fold and those from part A by up to 177-fold. It is therefore apparent that while high endogenous yields can be obtained from part B, and hence from any dense part in the petrous, optimal yields should be obtained from bone sample taken directly from the otic capsule.
Finally, our results show that endogenous yields from the five samples which originated from hot (either arid or humid) regions were always lower than 1% including extractions from part C of the petrous bone. However, deamination patterns suggest for two (Ain Ghazal and Vat Komnou) of the three samples for which we obtained sufficient numbers of reads that the obtained sequences are likely endogenous to the bones (S3 Fig). In contrast, the deamination pattern for the third sample, Man Bac, suggests that the human reads obtained are more likely to represent contamination than endogenous ancient DNA. These results suggest that it may be possible to obtain endogenous DNA from part C also for samples with relatively low amounts of endogenous DNA from hot environments, although extreme caution will be necessary in the interpretation of the results obtained from such samples.

PLoS ONE 10(6): e0129102. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0129102

Optimal Ancient DNA Yields from the Inner Ear Part of the Human Petrous Bone

Ron Pinhasi et al.

The invention and development of next or second generation sequencing methods has resulted in a dramatic transformation of ancient DNA research and allowed shotgun sequencing of entire genomes from fossil specimens. However, although there are exceptions, most fossil specimens contain only low (~ 1% or less) percentages of endogenous DNA. The only skeletal element for which a systematically higher endogenous DNA content compared to other skeletal elements has been shown is the petrous part of the temporal bone. In this study we investigate whether (a) different parts of the petrous bone of archaeological human specimens give different percentages of endogenous DNA yields, (b) there are significant differences in average DNA read lengths, damage patterns and total DNA concentration, and (c) it is possible to obtain endogenous ancient DNA from petrous bones from hot environments. We carried out intra-petrous comparisons for ten petrous bones from specimens from Holocene archaeological contexts across Eurasia dated between 10,000-1,800 calibrated years before present (cal. BP). We obtained shotgun DNA sequences from three distinct areas within the petrous: a spongy part of trabecular bone (part A), the dense part of cortical bone encircling the osseous inner ear, or otic capsule (part B), and the dense part within the otic capsule (part C). Our results confirm that dense bone parts of the petrous bone can provide high endogenous aDNA yields and indicate that endogenous DNA fractions for part C can exceed those obtained for part B by up to 65-fold and those from part A by up to 177-fold, while total endogenous DNA concentrations are up to 126-fold and 109-fold higher for these comparisons. Our results also show that while endogenous yields from part C were lower than 1% for samples from hot (both arid and humid) parts, the DNA damage patterns indicate that at least some of the reads originate from ancient DNA molecules, potentially enabling ancient DNA analyses of samples from hot regions that are otherwise not amenable to ancient DNA analyses.


June 18, 2015

Kennewick Man was a Native American

Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14625

The ancestry and affiliations of Kennewick Man

Morten Rasmussen, Martin Sikora, Anders Albrechtsen, Thorfinn Sand Korneliussen, J. Víctor Moreno-Mayar, G. David Poznik, Christoph P. E. Zollikofer, Marcia S. Ponce de León, Morten E. Allentoft, Ida Moltke, Hákon Jónsson, Cristina Valdiosera, Ripan S. Malhi, Ludovic Orlando, Carlos D. Bustamante, Thomas W. Stafford Jr, David J. Meltzer, Rasmus Nielsen & Eske Willerslev

Kennewick Man, referred to as the Ancient One by Native Americans, is a male human skeleton discovered in Washington state (USA) in 1996 and initially radiocarbon-dated to 8,340–9,200 calibrated years before present (BP)1. His population affinities have been the subject of scientific debate and legal controversy. Based on an initial study of cranial morphology it was asserted that Kennewick Man was neither Native American nor closely related to the claimant Plateau tribes of the Pacific Northwest, who claimed ancestral relationship and requested repatriation under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). The morphological analysis was important to judicial decisions that Kennewick Man was not Native American and that therefore NAGPRA did not apply. Instead of repatriation, additional studies of the remains were permitted2. Subsequent craniometric analysis affirmed Kennewick Man to be more closely related to circumpacific groups such as the Ainu and Polynesians than he is to modern Native Americans2. In order to resolve Kennewick Man’s ancestry and affiliations, we have sequenced his genome to ~1× coverage and compared it to worldwide genomic data including the Ainu and Polynesians. We find that Kennewick Man is closer to modern Native Americans than to any other population worldwide. Among the Native American groups for whom genome-wide data are available for comparison, several seem to be descended from a population closely related to that of Kennewick Man, including the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Colville), one of the five tribes claiming Kennewick Man. We revisit the cranial analyses and find that, as opposed to genomic-wide comparisons, it is not possible on that basis to affiliate Kennewick Man to specific contemporary groups. We therefore conclude based on genetic comparisons that Kennewick Man shows continuity with Native North Americans over at least the last eight millennia.


June 13, 2015

Into, out of, and across the Eurasian steppe

A new paper in Nature adds to the earlier study in the same journal by presenting data from 101 ancient Eurasians. The year is not yet halfway over, but it seems that the ancient DNA field is moving towards a new norm of studying dozens of individuals at a time and comprehensively tackling the "big problems" that have vexed archaeologists, linguists, and historians for decades if not centuries.

The first conclusion of the new study is the detection of the migration from the steppe to Europe that was the title piece of the earlier study. The authors do not present quantitative estimates of the amount of demographic replacement effected by the Yamnaya-to-Corded Ware migration, so it will be interesting to see if there are any minor significant differences in these. But, the two papers have different Yamnaya and Corded Ware samples, and yet arrive at qualitatively similar conclusions, so at least this part of the story should be considered firmly "settled".

The second conclusion is the migration from the European steppe to the Afanasievo culture of the Altai. This has been long-hypothesized based on the physical type of the Afanasievo people and their possession of a similar pastoralist/wheeled vehicle toolkit that would have allowed them to cover the huge difference between Europe and the Altai. This confirms movement #2 of the Anthony/Ringe model, although I doubt that this migration had anything to do with Tocharians as detailed below. But, it did happen.

The third conclusion is that the later steppe cultures of the Sintashta and Andronovo (putative Indo-Iranians according to some), were not a continuation of the Yamnaya-Afanasievo people, but had extra Neolithic farmer ancestry. So, it seems that Neolithic farmers entered the steppe, and the development of steppe cultures did not happen in isolation. Whether this involved migration of Corded Ware people (as the authors prefer), who were already a mixture of Yamnaya and Neolithic farmers, or some other mixture of Neolithic farmers with steppe populations (e.g., Tripolye plus Yamnaya) remains to be seen.

The fourth conclusion of the paper is that these steppe cultures were also later replaced by people of at least partial East Asian or "Native American"-like ancestry.  So, it seems that movements into the steppe happened both on the western end (as the incursion of Neolithic farmer ancestry into the Sintashta proves), but also on the eastern end, with the Europeoid populations of western origin receiving admixture from the eastern periphery of the Eurasian steppe.

As for the Yamnaya, the authors do not find a very strong signal of admixture (as did the earlier study), which they attribute quite plausibly to the lack of eastern hunter-gatherers in their dataset. On the other hand, they claim that the "Caucasus" genetic component in the steppe populations was of steppe ancestry rather than Near Eastern/Caucasian origin as was claimed in the earlier paper. This is based on the statistic D(Yoruba, Armenia BA; Yamnaya, Corded Ware) that is not significantly different from zero. However, Corded Ware is a mixture of Yamnaya and European Neolithic, so the sign of this statistic is determined by the sign of the statistic D(Yoruba, Armenia BA; Yamnaya, European Neolithic). If Yamnaya was simply a steppe population, descendants of local people without ancestry from the Middle East/Caucasus, then this statistic would be positive because of the shared Middle Eastern ancestry of Armenia BA and European Neolithic. Whereas, if Yamnaya is a mixture of a steppe population and a Middle Eastern/Caucasian one, then the statistic would be positive/negative for the respective parts, which would be consistent with an average not different from zero. I am sure that when the new data is re-analyzed together with the eastern hunter-gatherers it will be clear that the Yamnaya are not a pure steppe population.

Nonetheless, I am quite glad to read a sentence such as this:
Populations in northern and central Europe were composed of a mixture of the earlier hunter-gatherer and Neolithic farmer10 groups, but received ‘Caucasian’ genetic input at the onset of the Bronze Age (Fig. 2).
It seems that my prediction the the West_Asian component would appear in post-5ka Europeans and was related to Indo-Europeans has been adequately confirmed by the last two papers.

Speaking of the Caucasus/Middle East, it seems clear as a first approximation that the Bronze Age Armenians are quite similar to modern Armenians. Whether the genetic continuity of Armenians extends beyond the Bronze Age, or Armenians were formed by mixture in the Bronze Age remains to be seen. The question of Armenian linguistic origins is of course separate as it is commonly understood that the Armenian language is unrelated to Anatolian languages and may have arrived in Armenia from the Balkans at around the Bronze Age-Iron Age transition.

The authors also study some phenotypic traits such as lactase peristence (Yamnaya had some, but overall prevalence was much lower than modern Europeans, hence lots of selection to the present), and skin eye pigmentation. Like Wilde et al., and Mathieson et al., the steppe populations seem to have had brown eyes. Given that so did Neolithic Europeans, and (presumably) ancient Middle Easterners/Caucasians, I think it's a good bet that Proto-Indo-Europeans (whatever solution to the PIE urheimat one accepts) were a brown-eyed people, or in the very least far from the blue-eyed "Aryans" of racial mythology. Even the Bronze Age and Iron Age Asians seem to have been a predominantly brown-eyed people, although the derived HERC2 allele seems to be at a higher frequency in them than in the steppe Europeans.

The story of the Y-chromosomes seems very interesting, although these are not resolved to fine detail. The most interesting aspect of this part of the work is the appearance of haplogroup J in Iron Age samples from Russia, Armenia, and the Altai. This may tie in to the question of the Tocharian origins, which I have claimed were associated with R1b, rather than R1a (as the Indo-Iranians were). The modern Uygurs (who are partially of Tocharian origin) have both J2 and R1b, so were the recipients of West Eurasian elements other than the R1a that so seem to have dominated the eastern steppe, including the Afanasievo. I continue to think there's no evidence that the Afanasievo is Proto-Tocharian, as it's in the wrong place and 3,000 years before the attestation of Tocharian. 

Overall this is an amazing study which adds a lot to what we know about Bronze Age Eurasia. Hopefully there is more to come in the second half of 2015, but for the time being there is plenty to chew on.

Nature 522, 167–172 (11 June 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14507

Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia

Morten E. Allentoft, Martin Sikora, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Simon Rasmussen, Morten Rasmussen, Jesper Stenderup, Peter B. Damgaard, Hannes Schroeder, Torbjörn Ahlström, Lasse Vinner, Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, Ashot Margaryan, Tom Higham, David Chivall, Niels Lynnerup, Lise Harvig, Justyna Baron, Philippe Della Casa, Paweł Dąbrowski, Paul R. Duffy, Alexander V. Ebel, Andrey Epimakhov, Karin Frei, Mirosław Furmanek, Tomasz Gralak, Andrey Gromov, Stanisław Gronkiewicz, Gisela Grupe, Tamás Hajdu, Radosław Jarysz, Valeri Khartanovich, Alexandr Khokhlov, Viktória Kiss, Jan Kolář, Aivar Kriiska, Irena Lasak, Cristina Longhi, George McGlynn, Algimantas Merkevicius, Inga Merkyte, Mait Metspalu, Ruzan Mkrtchyan, Vyacheslav Moiseyev, László Paja, György Pálfi, Dalia Pokutta, Łukasz Pospieszny, T. Douglas Price, Lehti Saag, Mikhail Sablin, Natalia Shishlina, Václav Smrčka, Vasilii I. Soenov, Vajk Szeverényi, Gusztáv Tóth, Synaru V. Trifanova, Liivi Varul, Magdolna Vicze, Levon Yepiskoposyan, Vladislav Zhitenev, Ludovic Orlando, Thomas Sicheritz-Pontén, Søren Brunak, Rasmus Nielsen, Kristian Kristiansen & Eske Willerslev

The Bronze Age of Eurasia (around 3000–1000 BC) was a period of major cultural changes. However, there is debate about whether these changes resulted from the circulation of ideas or from human migrations, potentially also facilitating the spread of languages and certain phenotypic traits. We investigated this by using new, improved methods to sequence low-coverage genomes from 101 ancient humans from across Eurasia. We show that the Bronze Age was a highly dynamic period involving large-scale population migrations and replacements, responsible for shaping major parts of present-day demographic structure in both Europe and Asia. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesized spread of Indo-European languages during the Early Bronze Age. We also demonstrate that light skin pigmentation in Europeans was already present at high frequency in the Bronze Age, but not lactose tolerance, indicating a more recent onset of positive selection on lactose tolerance than previously thought.


June 10, 2015

101 ancient genomes from Bronze Age Eurasia

New data has been posted online. This seems related to this earlier post. Hopefully the study linked to this data will appear soon, but genome bloggers can get to it thanks to the early data release.

Investigation of Bronze Age in Eurasia by sequencing from 101 ancient human remains. 

The Bronze Age (BA) of Eurasia (c. 3,000-1,000 years BC, 3-1 ka BC) was a period of major cultural changes. Earlier hunter-gathering and farming cultures in Europe and Asia were replaced by cultures associated with completely new perceptions and technologies inspired by early urban civilization. It remains debated if these cultural shifts simply represented the circulation of ideas or resulted from large-scale human migrations, potentially also facilitating the spread of Indo-European languages and certain phenotypic traits. To investigate this and the role of BA in the formation of Eurasian genetic structure, we used new methodological improvements to sequence low coverage genomes from 101 ancient humans (19 > 1X average depth) covering 3 ka BC to 600 AD from across Eurasia. We show that around 3 ka BC, Central and Northern Europe and Central Asia receive genetic input through people related to the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, resulting in the formation of the Corded Ware Culture in Europe and the Afanasievo Culture in Central Asia. A thousand years later, genetic input from North-Central Europe into Central Asia gives rise to the Sintashta and Andronovo Cultures. During the late BA and Iron Age, the European-derived populations in Asia are gradually replaced by multi-ethnic cultures, of which some relate to contemporary Asian groups, while others share recent ancestry with Native Americans. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesised spread of Indo-European languages during early BA and reveal that major parts of the demographic structure of present-day Eurasian populations were shaped during this period. We also demonstrate that light skin pigmentation in Europeans was already present at high frequency during the BA, contrary to lactose tolerance, indicating a more recent onset of positive selection in the latter than previously believed.


June 09, 2015

Nilo-Saharan component

Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 9996 doi:10.1038/srep09996

The genetics of East African populations: a Nilo-Saharan component in the African genetic landscape

Begoña Dobon et al.

East Africa is a strategic region to study human genetic diversity due to the presence of ethnically, linguistically, and geographically diverse populations. Here, we provide new insight into the genetic history of populations living in the Sudanese region of East Africa by analysing nine ethnic groups belonging to three African linguistic families: Niger-Kordofanian, Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic. A total of 500 individuals were genotyped for 200,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms. Principal component analysis, clustering analysis using ADMIXTURE, FST statistics, and the three-population test were used to investigate the underlying genetic structure and ancestry of the different ethno-linguistic groups. Our analyses revealed a genetic component for Sudanese Nilo-Saharan speaking groups (Darfurians and part of Nuba populations) related to Nilotes of South Sudan, but not to other Sudanese populations or other sub-Saharan populations. Populations inhabiting the North of the region showed close genetic affinities with North Africa, with a component that could be remnant of North Africans before the migrations of Arabs from Arabia. In addition, we found very low genetic distances between populations in genes important for anti-malarial and anti-bacterial host defence, suggesting similar selective pressures on these genes and stressing the importance of considering functional pathways to understand the evolutionary history of populations.


May 30, 2015

Out of Egypt or Out of Ethiopia?

I am skeptical that once you remove non-African ancestry from Egyptians (even if you were able to do so perfectly), what you are left with is indigenous Northeastern Africans, the direct descendants of people who left Africa tens of thousands of years ago.

For one thing, Egypt has not only experienced gene flow from Europe and the Middle East, but also from elsewhere in Africa, more recently because of enslaved black Africans.

For another, even if you perfectly identified and removed both Eurasian and African non-native influences on the Egyptian population, you're left with some kind of indigenous northeastern African. But, did such a population with long-term continuity exist in Egypt since Out-of-Africa? The Eurasian experience (where ancient DNA falsifies continuity left and right even in a 1/10th of the OOA time scale) makes me doubt this. The Nile may have facilitated gene flow in a north-south direction, and the relatively recent emergence of the Sahara desert may very well have pumped populations into Egypt.


Tracing the Route of Modern Humans out of Africa by Using 225 Human Genome Sequences from Ethiopians and Egyptians

Luca Pagani et al.

The predominantly African origin of all modern human populations is well established, but the route taken out of Africa is still unclear. Two alternative routes, via Egypt and Sinai or across the Bab el Mandeb strait into Arabia, have traditionally been proposed as feasible gateways in light of geographic, paleoclimatic, archaeological, and genetic evidence. Distinguishing among these alternatives has been difficult. We generated 225 whole-genome sequences (225 at 8× depth, of which 8 were increased to 30×; Illumina HiSeq 2000) from six modern Northeast African populations (100 Egyptians and five Ethiopian populations each represented by 25 individuals). West Eurasian components were masked out, and the remaining African haplotypes were compared with a panel of sub-Saharan African and non-African genomes. We showed that masked Northeast African haplotypes overall were more similar to non-African haplotypes and more frequently present outside Africa than were any sets of haplotypes derived from a West African population. Furthermore, the masked Egyptian haplotypes showed these properties more markedly than the masked Ethiopian haplotypes, pointing to Egypt as the more likely gateway in the exodus to the rest of the world. Using five Ethiopian and three Egyptian high-coverage masked genomes and the multiple sequentially Markovian coalescent (MSMC) approach, we estimated the genetic split times of Egyptians and Ethiopians from non-African populations at 55,000 and 65,000 years ago, respectively, whereas that of West Africans was estimated to be 75,000 years ago. Both the haplotype and MSMC analyses thus suggest a predominant northern route out of Africa via Egypt.