Category Archive 'DNA'
19 Apr 2018

Oldest American Domestic Dogs

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Science News reports recent analysis proves dogs have lived with humans in North America longer than previously supposed and that the genetics of some dogs kept by early inhabitants of North America have not survived to the present day.

A trio of dogs buried at two ancient human sites in Illinois lived around 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest known domesticated canines in the Americas.

Radiocarbon dating of the dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist Angela Perri said April 13 at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. The previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves. Until now, nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a Texas site were the oldest physical evidence of American canines.

Ancient dogs at the Midwestern locations also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, said Perri, of Durham University in England. A dog buried at Germany’s Bonn-Oberkassel site around 14,000 years ago was included in a two-person grave. Placement of the Americas dogs in their own graves indicates that these animals were held in high regard by ancient people.

An absence of stone tool incisions on the three ancient dogs’ skeletons indicates that they were not killed by people, but died of natural causes before being buried, Perri said. …

She and her colleagues studied two of three dogs excavated at the Koster site in the 1970s and a dog unearthed at Stilwell II in 1960. These sites lie about 30 kilometers apart in west-central Illinois.

Perri’s team found that the lower jaws and teeth of the Stilwell II dog and one Koster dog displayed some similarities to those of modern wolves. Another Koster dog’s jaw shared some traits with present-day coyotes, possibly reflecting some ancient interbreeding.

A new genetic analysis positions the 10,000-year-old Illinois dogs in a single lineage that initially populated North America. Dog origins are controversial, but may date to more than 20,000 years ago (SN Online: 7/18/17). Ancient American dogs, including the Koster and Stilwell II animals, shared a common genetic ancestor, cell biologist Kelsey Witt Dillon of the University of California, Merced reported April 13 at the SAA meeting. That ancestor originated roughly 15,000 years ago after diverging from a closely related Siberian dog population about 1,000 years earlier, she said.

Dillon’s team, which includes Perri, studied 71 complete mitochondrial genomes and seven nuclear genomes of dogs from more than 20 North American sites, ranging in age from 10,000 to 800 years ago. Mitochondrial DNA is typically inherited from the mother, whereas nuclear DNA comes from both parents.

Much of the genetic blueprint of those ancient dogs is absent in present-day canines, Dillon said. Only a small number of U.S. and Asian dogs share maternal ancestry with ancient American dogs, suggesting the arrival of European breeds starting at least several hundred years ago reshaped dog DNA in the Americas, she proposed.

RTWT

12 Apr 2018

No Wonder There Are So Many Democrats!

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The BBC reports that the human part of humanity is outnumbered.

More than half of your body is not human, say scientists.

Human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists.

Understanding this hidden half of ourselves – our microbiome – is rapidly transforming understanding of diseases from allergy to Parkinson’s.

The field is even asking questions of what it means to be “human” and is leading to new innovative treatments as a result.

“They are essential to your health,” says Prof Ruth Ley, the director of the department of microbiome science at the Max Planck Institute, “your body isn’t just you”.

No matter how well you wash, nearly every nook and cranny of your body is covered in microscopic creatures.

This includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea (organisms originally misclassified as bacteria). The greatest concentration of this microscopic life is in the dark murky depths of our oxygen-deprived bowels.

Prof Rob Knight, from University of California San Diego, told the BBC: “You’re more microbe than you are human.”

Originally it was thought our cells were outnumbered 10 to one.

“That’s been refined much closer to one-to-one, so the current estimate is you’re about 43% human if you’re counting up all the cells,” he says.

But genetically we’re even more outgunned.

The human genome – the full set of genetic instructions for a human being – is made up of 20,000 instructions called genes.

But add all the genes in our microbiome together and the figure comes out between two and 20 million microbial genes.

RTWT

03 Dec 2017

NYC Has Solved the Rat Diversity Problem

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Uptown rats are genetically different from Downtown rats, and you can even easily differentiate West Village rats from East Village rats. I can only suppose that most Upper West Side rats are probably liberal and Jewish. The Atlantic:

Manhattan’s rats are genetically most similar to those from Western Europe, especially Great Britain and France. They most likely came on ships in the mid-18th century, when New York was still a British colony. [Fordhan University grad student Matthew] Combs was surprised to find Manhattan’s rats so homogenous in origin. New York has been the center of so much trade and immigration, yet the descendants of these Western European rats have held on.

When Combs looked closer, distinct rat subpopulations emerged. Manhattan has two genetically distinguishable groups of rats: the uptown rats and the downtown rats, separated by the geographic barrier that is midtown. It’s not that midtown is rat-free—such a notion is inconceivable—but the commercial district lacks the household trash (aka food) and backyards (aka shelter) that rats like. Since rats tend to move only a few blocks in their lifetimes, the uptown rats and downtown rats don’t mix much.

When the researchers drilled down even deeper, they found that different neighborhoods have their own distinct rats. “If you gave us a rat, we could tell whether it came from the West Village or the East Village,” says Combs. “They’re actually unique little rat neighborhoods.” And the boundaries of rat neighborhoods can fit surprisingly well with human ones.

Combs and a team of undergraduate students spent their summers trapping rats—beginning in Inwood at the north tip of Manhattan and working their way south. They got permission from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, which gave them access to big green spaces like Central Park as well as medians and triangles and little gardens that dot the city. And they asked local residents. “More often than not, they were very, very happy to show us exactly where they had rats.” says Combs. A crowdsourced map of rat sightings also proved very helpful.

Rats, although abundant, are not easily fooled into traps. They’re wary of new objects. To entice them, the bait was a potent combination of peanut butter, bacon, and oats. And the team placed their traps near places where rats had clearly crawled. They looked for rat holes, droppings, chew marks on trash cans, and sebum marks—aka the grease tracks rats leave when they traverse the same path to the garbage over and over again.

For the DNA analysis, Combs cut off an inch or so of the rats’ tails. (Over 200 of these tails are still saved in vials in a lab freezer.) The team also took tissue samples for other researchers interested in studying how rats spread diseases through the urban environment. And some of the rats they skinned and stuffed for the collections of the Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural History, where they will join stuffed rats from 100 years ago.

RTWT

01 Dec 2017

Yeti is Apparently a Bear

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Himalayan brown bear

Science:

Hikers in Tibet and the Himalayas need not fear the monstrous yeti—but they’d darn well better carry bear spray. DNA analyses of nine samples purported to be from the “abominable snowman” reveal that eight actually came from various species of bears native to the area.

In the folklore of Nepal, the yeti looms large. The creature is often depicted as an immense, shaggy ape-human that roams the Himalayan hinterlands. Purported sightings over the years, as well as scattered “remains” secreted away in monasteries or held by shamans, have hinted to some that the yeti is not merely a mythical boogeyman.

But science has not borne this out so far. Previous genetic analyses of a couple of hair samples collected in India and Bhutan suggested that one small stretch of their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)—the genetic material in a cell’s power-generating machinery that’s passed down only by females—resembled that of polar bears. That finding hinted that a previously unknown type of bear, possibly a hybrid between polar bears and brown bears, could be roaming the Himalayas, says Charlotte Lindqvist, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York in Buffalo.

To find out for sure, Lindqvist and her colleagues took a more thorough look at the mtDNA of as many samples of supposed yeti remains as she could get her hands on. Some were obtained when she worked with a U.K. production crew on the 2016 documentary Yeti or Not?, which sought to sift fact from folklore. The filmmakers got hold of a tooth and some hair collected on the Tibetan Plateau in the late 1930s, as well as a sample of scat from Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner’s museum in the Tyrolean Alps. More recent samples included hair collected in Nepal by a nomadic herdsman and a leg bone found by a spiritual healer in a cave in Tibet. The team also analyzed samples recently collected from several subspecies of bears native to the area, including the Himalayan brown bear, the Tibetan brown bear, and the black bear. Altogether, the scientists analyzed 24 samples, including nine purported to be from yeti.

Of the nine “yeti” samples, eight turned out to be from bears native to the area, the researchers report today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The other sample came from a dog.

RTWT

20 Oct 2017

Neanderthal DNA

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How Stuff Works:

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany analyzed the genetic data of 112,338 people of British ancestry who have Neanderthal DNA to conduct a study on the link between Neanderthal DNA and humans’ physical characteristics. Having access to a large cohort of study participants from the UK Biobank proved important, since there just isn’t much Neanderthal DNA floating around. (People of European and Asian descent get anywhere from 1–4 percent of their genes from Neanderthals, thanks to interbreeding thousands of years ago.)

Prior research has found that the ancient hominids may have influenced a variety of disease-related traits in humans. For instance, the presence of Neanderthal DNA is associated with the increased sensitivity to certain allergens and a higher risk for nicotine addiction. But in the new study, the researchers focused on nondisease phenotypes — the observable physical characteristics of an organism — in modern humans.

With the help of questionnaires given through UK Biobank, the researchers determined that the propensity to smoke and loneliness are associated with Neanderthal DNA. They also found that some Neanderthal alleles (variant forms of genes) contributed to lighter skin and hair tones in modern humans, while others contributed to darker tones. But breaking down the study’s results isn’t as easy as pointing to a certain shade of skin and linking it to Neanderthal DNA. Multiple alleles influence skin and hair color, and Neanderthals might’ve had a large range of skin and hair tones based on different pieces of genetic material, just like modern humans.

The researchers noted in the study that many of the Neanderthal-linked traits are related to sunlight exposure, including an allele that contributes to circadian rhythm and the tendency to be an “evening person.” In the study, non-African people living farther from the equator had higher frequencies of that allele. Indeed, Neanderthals had been living in northern environments with lower and more varying levels of ultraviolet radiation for thousands of years when modern humans came to the region from sunnier Africa.

So, if you stay up late and nap during the day? That might be the Neanderthal in you.

25 Jul 2017

“Ghost Species” Found To Have Contributed Genetic Material to Sub-Saharan Africans

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Homo erectus imagined by the Smithsonian.

Before It’s News:

The evolutionary history of a salivary protein may point to interbreeding between humans and an enigmatic ancient relative

In saliva, scientists have found hints that a “ghost” species of archaic humans may have contributed genetic material to ancestors of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa today.

The research adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that sexual rendezvous between different archaic human species may not have been unusual.

Past studies have concluded that the forebears of modern humans in Asia and Europe interbred with other early hominin species, including Neanderthals and Denisovans. The new research is among more recent genetic analyses indicating that ancient Africans also had trysts with other early hominins.

“It seems that interbreeding between different early hominin species is not the exception — it’s the norm,” says Omer Gokcumen, PhD, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences.

“Our research traced the evolution of an important mucin protein called MUC7 that is found in saliva,” he says. “When we looked at the history of the gene that codes for the protein, we see the signature of archaic admixture in modern day Sub-Saharan African populations.”

The research was published on July 21 in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. The study was led by Gokcumen and Stefan Ruhl, DDS, PhD, a professor of oral biology in UB’s School of Dental Medicine.

The scientists came upon their findings while researching the purpose and origins of the MUC7 protein, which helps give spit its slimy consistency and binds to microbes, potentially helping to rid the body of disease-causing bacteria.

As part of this investigation, the team examined the MUC7 gene in more than 2,500 modern human genomes. The analysis yielded a surprise: A group of genomes from Sub-Saharan Africa had a version of the gene that was wildly different from versions found in other modern humans.

The Sub-Saharan variant was so distinctive that Neanderthal and Denisovan MUC7 genes matched more closely with those of other modern humans than the Sub-Saharan outlier did.

“Based on our analysis, the most plausible explanation for this extreme variation is archaic introgression — the introduction of genetic material from a ‘ghost’ species of ancient hominins,” Gokcumen says. “This unknown human relative could be a species that has been discovered, such as a subspecies of Homo erectus, or an undiscovered hominin. We call it a ‘ghost’ species because we don’t have the fossils.”

Given the rate that genes mutate during the course of evolution, the team calculated that the ancestors of people who carry the Sub-Saharan MUC7 variant interbred with another ancient human species as recently as 150,000 years ago, after the two species’ evolutionary path diverged from each other some 1.5 to 2 million years ago.

RTWT

20 Jun 2017

Cats Have Enslaved Humans For Millennia…

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The Atlantic has an article describing a DNA study apparently determining the geographic and temporal origins of the feline conspiracy to use mankind to do all the work of providing food and shelter.

Sometime around the invention of agriculture, the cats came crawling. It was mice and rats, probably, that attracted the wild felines. The rats came because of stores of grain, made possible by human agriculture. And so cats and humans began their millennia-long coexistence.

This relationship has been good for us of course—formerly because cats caught the disease-carrying pests stealing our food and presently because cleaning up their hairballs somehow gives purpose to our modern lives. But this relationship has been great for cats as species, too. From their native home in the Middle East, the first tamed cats followed humans out on ships and expeditions to take over the world—settling on six continents with even the occasional foray to Antarctica. Domestication has been a fantastically successful evolutionary strategy for cats.

A comprehensive new study of DNA from ancient cat skeletons and mummies spanning 9,000 years traces the spread of cats from the Middle East to the rest of the world. …

Modern domestic cats appear to have all originated in one of two places. The first was Anatolia, which roughly corresponds to modern-day Turkey. These cats spread to Europe as early as 4,400 B.C.E. A second domesticated lineage appears to have begun in Egypt and then later spread through the Mediterranean. And wherever the cats followed humans, they also interbred with the native wildcats already there.

This DNA exchange went both directions along the trade routes, too. That led to what, at first, seemed like baffling results in the ancient DNA. For example, a 2,000-year-old cat in Egypt had DNA sequences typical of wildcats in India. Claudio Ottoni, another member of the research team now at the University of Oslo, remembers thinking it was a mistake when he first got the sequences back on his laptop. In fact, that cat was found in an ancient Roman port city called Berenike, which was directly connected to trade routes in the Indian Ocean. Humans brought cats onto ships to catch mice and, in the process, spread cats all around the world.

Compared to many other animals, cats have also changed very little in the domestication process. Behaviorally, they’ve become more tolerant of humans. Physically, though, they’re still about the same size and shape. They still like to pounce on small prey. “Cats have done since before they were domesticated what we needed them to do,” says Leslie Lyons, a feline geneticist at the University of Missouri. In other words, unlike dogs that herd sheep or hunt badgers, cats didn’t need humans to breed them to become good mouse hunters.

RTWT

01 Nov 2016

Melanesian DNA Reveals Unknown Third Hominid Descent

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melanesians

Research into human DNA has established that some homo sapiens, long, long ago, interbred with Neanderthals. (Hey! democrats had to come from somewhere.) But more recent research into the DNA of South Pacific islanders had found ancestry from Neanderthals and Denisovians and from a previously unknown third hominid group.

Daily Mail:

Islanders in the Pacific Ocean may be may be carrying traces of a long lost human species locked up in their DNA.

Today, modern humans inherit a small chunk of our genes from Neanderthals, with evidence that some of us carry the genetic remnants of a lesser known sister group, called the Denisovans.

But genetic analysis of people living in modern Melanesia suggests they carry traces of a third, as yet unidentified prehistoric relative distinct from the others.

The island groups of Melanesia – which includes Papua New Guinea, Fiji and the Solomon Islands and others – are geographically cut off by the Pacific Ocean, with their DNA providing a unique window into how human ancestors spread across the region.

The latest research, presented at a meeting of the American Society for Human Genetics in Vancouver, bolsters previous findings that there may be another strand to the story of modern humans, with multiple groups of prehistoric human interbreeding.

Read the whole thing.

01 Oct 2016

The Kākāpō

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kakapo

New Zealand’s flightless, wingless parrot has had its genes thoroughly sequenced. All 123 of them. (Atlas Obscura)

New Zealand has only three native mammals (all bats), and the country is full of birds that have taken advantage of this lack of predators, acting more like rodents or weasels than your average winged creature. Kākāpōs are no exception. Their faces are covered in feathery whiskers, which they drag on the ground to help them navigate. They’re layered with body fat, and astoundingly heavy—the largest males can weigh as much as a housecat.

Their weight keeps them from flying, but they’re adept at climbing trees, scrabbling up the bark with extra-sharp claws and “parachuting” down with their wings outstretched, like hang gliders. Although technically parrots, they’re so far removed from even their closest relatives that they have an entire genus all to themselves. Even their official government information page calls them “eccentric.”

These eccentricities worked well in a predator-free environment. But once humans brought rats and cats to New Zealand, they decimated the formerly thriving population. Ornithologists in New Zealand got serious about the kākāpō in the late 1980s, and set up a government-sponsored Kākāpō Recovery Programme. In the decades since, the Programme has relocated the entire the entire kākāpō population to three small islands, which they’ve cleared of invasive predators. They have collared and named nearly every individual, and keep careful track of the bird’s family tree.

Their efforts have paid off, and the kākāpō population is up to 123, nearly triple its record low. But it’s still difficult to understand these weirdos. For one thing, they’re simply terrible at mating—they only attempt it every two or three years, when the fruit of their favorite tree, the podocarp, is ripe. When they do try, it’s often a bit pathetic. Males will climb the highest hill they can find, dig a hole, lie in it, and make a booming sound until an intrigued female wanders past.

03 Jun 2016

The Dog, Domesticated Twice

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wolf

The Atlantic has news about the (dual) origin of man’s best friend.

On the eastern edge of Ireland lies Newgrange, a 4,800-year-old monument that predates Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza. Beneath its large circular mound and within its underground chambers lie many fragments of animal bones. And among those fragments, Dan Bradley from Trinity College Dublin found the petrous bone of a dog.

Press your finger behind your ear. That’s the petrous. It’s a bulbous knob of very dense bone that’s exceptionally good at preserving DNA. If you try to pull DNA out of a fossil, most of it will come from contaminating microbes and just a few percent will come from the bone’s actual owner. But if you’ve got a petrous bone, that proportion can be as high as 80 percent. And indeed, Bradley found DNA galore within the bone, enough to sequence the full genome of the long-dead dog.

Larson and his colleague Laurent Frantz then compared the Newgrange sequences with those of almost 700 modern dogs, and built a family tree that revealed the relationships between these individuals. To their surprise, that tree had an obvious fork in its trunk—a deep divide between two doggie dynasties. One includes all the dogs from eastern Eurasia, such as Shar Peis and Tibetan mastiffs. The other includes all the western Eurasian breeds, and the Newgrange dog.

The genomes of the dogs from the western branch suggest that they went through a population bottleneck—a dramatic dwindling of numbers. Larson interprets this as evidence of a long migration. He thinks that the two dog lineages began as a single population in the east, before one branch broke off and headed west. This supports the idea that dogs were domesticated somewhere in China.

But there’s a critical twist.

The team calculated that the two dog dynasties split from each other between 6,400 and 14,000 years ago. But the oldest dog fossils in both western and eastern Eurasia are older than that. Which means that when those eastern dogs migrated west into Europe, there were already dogs there.

Here’s the full story, as he sees it. Many thousands of years ago, somewhere in western Eurasia, humans domesticated grey wolves. The same thing happened independently, far away in the east. So, at this time, there were two distinct and geographically separated groups of dogs. Let’s call them Ancient Western and Ancient Eastern. Around the Bronze Age, some of the Ancient Eastern dogs migrated westward alongside their human partners, separating from their homebound peers and creating the deep split in Larson’s tree. Along their travels, these migrants encountered the indigenous Ancient Western dogs, mated with them (doggy style, presumably), and effectively replaced them.

Today’s eastern dogs are the descendants of the Ancient Eastern ones. But today’s western dogs (and the Newgrange one) trace most of their ancestry to the Ancient Eastern migrants. Less than 10 percent comes from the Ancient Western dogs, which have since gone extinct.

Read the whole thing.

newgrangeAerialCU
Newgrange, the white facade is modern.

26 Apr 2016

Men of Haplogroup R1b-L11 (Half the Men Living in Western Europe) Thought to Descend From One Bronze Age Man

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Bronze_Age_Burial
Bronze Age burial.

Genome Web summarizes an interesting paper on “Punctuated bursts in human male demography…” published yesterday in Nature Genetics.

[R]esearchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and elsewhere analyzed the Y chromosomes of more than 1,200 men from 26 populations using data collected by the 1000 Genome Project. After examining about 65,000 variants contained within this dataset, the researchers constructed a phylogenetic tree — a tree, they noted, that more closely resembled a bush in some spots.

“This pattern tells us that there was an explosive increase in the number of men carrying a certain type of Y chromosome, within just a few generations,” co-lead author Yali Xue from the Sanger Institute said in a statement. “We only observed this phenomenon in males, and only in a few groups of men.”

Xue and her colleagues drew upon a set of 1,244 Y chromosomes from men belonging to 26 world populations. …

[T]he branching patterns they observed among several lineages indicated extreme expansion some 50,000 years to 55,000 years ago as well as within the last few thousand years. The expansion 50,000 years to 55,000 years ago was also linked to an increase in lineages outside of Africa and could, they suggested, reflect the expansion of Eurasian populations.

It also supports the previously proposed notion that haplogroup E, which is the most predominant one in Africa, actually arose outside the continent and arrived there through gene flow from Asia some 50,000 years to 80,000 years ago.

The phylogenetic tree also hints that lineages that have spread throughout Eurasia may have first diversified within South and Southeast Asia. …

[These branching patterns] suggested that… bursts of male population growth might correspond to historical events. For instance, they noted an expansion of the Q1a-M3 lineage in the Americas some 15,000 years ago, which roughly corresponds with initial peopling there. In addition, they found that both the Eb1-M180 lineages in sub-Saharan Africa underwent an expansion about 5,000 years ago at about the time of the Bantu expansion. Finally, within Western Europe, they said the expansion of the R1b-L11 lineages some 4,800 years to 5,900 years ago could be associated with the rise of the Bronze Age Yamnaya culture.

The researchers were less certain about the reasons behind some of the other late expansions they observed.

“The best explanation is that they may have resulted from advances in technology that could be controlled by small groups of men,” the Sanger Institute’s Chris Tyler­-Smith added. “Wheeled transport, metal working, and organized warfare are all candidate explanations that can now be investigated further.”

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Leave it to newspapers to popularize this kind of thing. The Telegraph takes the last portion of the reported findings, the part relevant to Merry Old England, and runs with it.

Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown.

The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent.

He was part of a new order which emerged in Europe following the Stone Age, sweeping away the previous egalitarian Neolithic period and replacing it with hierarchical societies which were ruled by a powerful elite.

It is likely his power stemmed from advances in technology such as metal working and wheeled transport which enabled organised warfare for the first time.

Although it is not known who he was, or where he lived, scientists say he must have existed because of genetic variation in today’s European populations.

Read the whole thing.

11 Mar 2016

Researchers Investigating Origins of Rollo the Viking

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Rollo
Rollo d. 932

History Blog:

Scandinavian researchers have exhumed the bones of two direct descendants of Rollo, the 10th century Viking founder of the Duchy of Normandy, in an attempt to answer the long-debated question of whether Rollo was Danish or Norwegian.

Historians have differed on the matter of Rollo’s national origins since at least the 11th century. …

This January, French government and church authorities granted the research team permission to open the tomb of Rollo’s grandson Richard I and great-grandson Richard II. This is only the second time a French king’s tomb has been opened since World War II. On Monday, February 29th, Per Holck, Professor Emeritus at the University of Oslo, and University of Copenhagen geneticist Andaine Seguin Orlando, opened the two small ossuary coffins buried under the floor southern transept of the gothic church of Fécamp Abbey. Inside one of them were the skeletal remains of Richard II, known as Richard the Good, including a lower jaw with eight teeth.

They were hoping to find teeth because extracting ancient DNA is tricky and the genetic material inside teeth is well-protected by the outer layers. Holck and Orlando retrieved five of the teeth. They will be tested at the University of Oslo and the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen. If all goes well, the research team and French authorities will announce the results in the autumn.

Read the whole thing.

The closest match I’ve ever found to my own patrilineal DNA (from Lithuania) is that of Somerled the Viking, First Lord of the Isles.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

21 Dec 2015

Genetic Map of Britain

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genetics-mapBritain

The Independent, earlier this year, published an intriguing graphic.

The genetic map shows 17 clusters of similarities in the DNA of modern-day people that echo major moments in history, such as the collapse of the Romano-British culture in the 5th Century and the subsequent rise of the Anglo-Saxons, and the Norse Viking invasion of the Orkneys in the 9th Century.

It also reveals much older movements and separations of people, such as the ancient ancestry of the Celtic people of North Wales who are probably descended from some of the oldest inhabitants of Britain, and the clear genetic division between the people of Cornwall and Devon that still persists along the county boundary of the River Tamar.

“It has long been known that human populations differ genetically, but never before have we been able to observe such exquisite and fascinating detail,” said Professor Peter Donnelly, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University….

One of the most intriguing signatures seen in the genetics of present-day English is the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons from southern Denmark and northern Germany after the end of Roman rule in 410AD. The DNA samples showed this migration involved intermarriage with the Romano-British Celts rather than wholesale ethnic cleansing, as some historians have suggested.

“The results give an answer to the question we had never previously thought we would be able to ask about the degree of British survival after the collapse of Roman Britain and the coming of the Saxons,” said Professor Mark Robinson, an archaeologist at Oxford University.

“This has allowed us to see what has happened. The established genetic makeup of the British Isles today is reflecting events that took place 1400 years ago,” Professor Robinson said.

Other major events in history, such as the Roman invasion and occupation between 43AD and 410AD, the large-scale invasion by the Viking Danes in 865AD and the subsequent establishment of Danelaw, as well as the Norman invasion of 1066, cannot be seen in the genetic profiles of Britons today.

This probably reflects the fact that often major cultural shifts are carried out by relatively few people within an elite who do not leave their genetic mark on the conquered masses, said Sir Walter Bodmer, the veteran population geneticist who first had the idea of the study.

15 Dec 2015

Herodotus’ Account of Origin of the Etruscans Confirmed By DNA Research

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EtruscanSarcophagusLids
Etruscan sarcophagus lids

The Guardian:

[T]he Etruscans, whose descendants today live in central Italy, have long been among the great enigmas of antiquity. Their language, which has never properly been deciphered, was unlike any other in classical Italy. Their origins have been hotly debated by scholars for centuries.

Genetic research made public at the weekend appears to put the matter beyond doubt, however. It shows the Etruscans came from the area which is now Turkey – and that the nearest genetic relatives of many of today’s Tuscans and Umbrians are to be found, not in Italy, but around Izmir.

The European Human Genetic Conference in Nice was told on Saturday the results of a study carried out in three parts of Tuscany: the Casentino valley, and two towns, Volterra and Murlo, where important finds have been made of Etruscan remains. In each area, researchers took DNA samples from men with surnames unique to the district and whose families had lived there for at least three generations.

They then compared their Y chromosomes, which are passed from father to son, with those of other groups in Italy, the Balkans, modern-day Turkey and the Greek island of Lemnos, which linguistic evidence suggests could have links to the Etruscans.

“The DNA samples from Murlo and Volterra are much more highly correlated to those of the eastern peoples than to those of the other inhabitants of [Italy],” said Alberto Piazza of the University of Turin, who presented the research. “One particular genetic variant, found in the samples from Murlo, was shared only with people from Turkey.”…

The latest findings confirm what was said about the matter almost 2,500 years ago, by the Greek historian Herodotus. The first traces of Etruscan civilisation in Italy date from about 1200 BC.

About seven and a half centuries later, Herodotus wrote that after the Lydians had undergone a period of severe deprivation in western Anatolia, “their king divided the people into two groups, and made them draw lots, so that the one group should remain and the other leave the country; he himself was to be the head of those who drew the lot to remain there, and his son, whose name was Tyrrhenus, of those who departed”.

It was a Roman who muddied the waters. The historian Livy, writing in the first century BC, claimed the Etruscans were from northern Europe. A few years later, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek writer living in Rome, came up with the theory that the Etruscans were, on the contrary, indigenous Italians who had always lived in Etruria.

The Lydian empire had by then long since passed into history. Its inhabitants were said by Herodotus to have been the first people to make use of gold and silver coins and the first to establish shops, rather stalls, from which to trade goods. They gave the world the saying “as rich as Croesus” – Croesus was their last king.

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