Monthly Archives: November 2010

Sex bias in the prehistory of Homo sapiens?

There is a somewhat interesting new paper that finds some gender bias irregularities in the prehistory of our species:
Emery et al., Estimators of the Human Effective Sex Ratio Detect Sex Biases on Different Timescales, The American Journal of Human Genetics (2010), doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2010.10.021
Fig. 3
They argue that there is a “female bias” (greater female transmitted diversity) in Africans and a “male bias” in non-Africans (Eurasians hereafter).
I broadly agree. But I think it needs a qualification: Africans in particular must be always studied with their whole structure, so any study that ignores the branches best represented by Khoisan and Pygmies is itself biased (it applies to many other papers, not just this one).
Similarly Eurasians are studied only in the two standard HapMap samples, whose representativeness for all non-Africans is more than questionable (South Asian and Negrito/Papuan/Australian Aboriginal, as well as Native American samples are also needed).
I’ll explain here the bias in my own terms (all the necessary simplifications should be taken with the  lassitude they deserve):
First bifurcation:
  • Southern branch (Khoisan-plus): no bias
    • Y-DNA A
    • mtDNA L0
  • Main branch (all others): no bias (yet)
    • Y-DNA B’CDEF, aka Y(xA)
    • mtDNA L1″6
Second bifurcation (main group):
  • Western branch (Pygmy-plus): no bias
    • Y-DNA B
    • mtDNA L1
  • Main branch (all others):no bias (yet)
    • Y-DNA CDEF, aka Y(xA,B)
    • mtDNA L2″6
Third bifurcation (main group):
  • Major African branch: female bias
    • Y-DNA DE (E)
    • mtDNA L2″6 (again, all sublineages in Africa)
  • Eurasian branch: no clear bias (possible male bias)
    • Y-DNA CF and DE (D)
    • mtDNA M and N (< L3 < L3’4 < L3’4’6 < L2’3’4’6 < L2″6)
I understand that what is apparent in this third bifurcation, where there is a concentration of a particular male lineage, E (this is called female bias). In parallel there is a possible (but rather unclear, also rather mild a signal in the paper, see fig. 4).
It is very intriguing but hard to explain how this extinction of all male branch lineages between CDEF and DE (or rather E) in Africa happened, because there are nothing less than 16 coding region mutations between L2″6 and L3, what implies a lengthy period (but see PS below), and four clear successive branches in the line to L3 (L5, L2, L6 and L4).
We can maybe discard L5, L6 and L4 because they are small but L2 is not small at all, so there must have been some structure already in Central/East Africa in this period within the L2″6 population. 
Even if we totally ignore the Eurasian branches, there is something odd with that African male-only bottleneck.
The authors explain this by polygyny, while Dienekes rejects this and offers in turn the same explanation by another name: 

… an alternative explanation is that the higher female/male ratio in Africans is due to the fact that they are descended from a relatively small number of males who overwhelmed the pre-existing African gene pool. 

Hmmm, how is that different from polygyny?
I’m not really sure, sincerely, but what about the L2″6 population coalescing in a relatively small area (roughly Chad-Sudan-Ethiopia in my reconstruction) and this allowing for a case of male-biased drift that did probably have some component of that polygyny/overwhelming macho element in it, along with drift/founder effects?

PS – While there are 16 mutations between L2″6 and L3, most of them are upstream of the L2’3’4’6 node (i.e. after tiny lineage L5 branched out). Between L2’3’4’6 and L3 there are “only” 7 coding region mutational steps, less than half, the 16 mentioned above, and therefore also less than half the time. The branch leading to L5 can surely be safely ignored for this purpose, it is L2, L4 and the internal diversity of L3 which really cause the contradiction: the female gender bias.


Ancient lake revealed in Upper Egypt

An ancient major lake that would have appeared some 250,000 years ago and vanished definitively some 80,000 years ago has been discovered just North of the Egypt-Sudan border, just West of modern Aswan Reservoir, in the region known as Tushka.

Lake Tushka (deep blue) at two different prehistorical sizes
This lake probably played some role, yet to be understood, in the early period of Humankind. It was not the only one of its kind, other large lakes existed in what is now the Sahara, the most famous maybe being Lake Chad, which in the past was at least a thousand times larger than it is now, a true inland sea.

Today there are a few smaller lakes but were caused by human intervention, pumping excess water  from Lake Nasser.

Full story at Science News (found via Wash Park Prophet).

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Posted by on November 29, 2010 in Africa, Middle Paleolithic, Prehistory, water


Some new events in relation with Iruña-Veleia and Basque linguistic "popes"

De Lacalle fired
L. Lpz. de Lacalle

First and foremost, for its huge potential, is the cessation of the Deputy of Culture of Araba, Lorena López de Lacalle (EA), one of the ringleaders and the most visible political actor of the inquisitorial process brought against the extraordinary findings at this site (2006-07). 

It is a hopeful development that allows to place some serious manager on top of the archaeology of this Basque region. However it is an event that has not been caused by exposure to the Iruña-Veleia scandal: but by partisan politics on matters unrelated and of purely political nature. At least apparently, this case of cultural nepotism and shameless manipulation has not been denounced by any politician but the former third coalition partner Aralar, and that only because some of its members seem just too honest to do otherwise.
Now the Deputy General (provincial “prime minister”), Xabier Agirre (EAJ-PNV) has the chance of appointing someone who is not motivated by the, sadly too usual, corrupt second motives but by genuine interest in clarifying the matter with truth as the only parameter. After all, Agirre, as the direct boss of de Lacalle, shares some responsibility and now has the occasion to clear his name in this murky matter. 
I have many doubts on what direction will take the Culture department after the remodeling that will happen next week. But let us hope that Agirre has learned something from all this scandal and takes the opportunity to clear his own name by appointing a serious and honest new Deputy.
In the worst case, he can appoint a “clone” of de Lacalle. But, if he does, so, I and many others will hold him and his party directly responsible. So I believe it would not be a smart move because throwing one’s political fortune along with the dishonest bunch that have organized this inquisitorial scandal for no reason at all sounds totally stupid. 
I have seen many stupid things done in Basque politics but this would be one of the most idiotic ones, I believe. So I do keep some hope, the same that I stubbornly keep some hope on Humankind. 
(Ref. Gara[es])
Lakarra’s bad linguistics fierily denounced in anonymous linguistic paper-pamphlet

J. Lakarra

The other development, that I do welcome, is the denunciation made by some Basque-language philologist against the ignorant lingistics of Basque Language Academy member Joseba Lakarra, the main ringleader against the

While in general academic publications are signed and peer-reviewed, in this case there are many reasons to remain anonymous: Lakarra’s power in the Basque linguistic establishment is immense and of mafioso style, and that has been confirmed to me often in private communications, and counts with the interested support of the most reactionary schools of Spanish pseudo-historic and pseudo-linguistic scholarship, not less affected by cronyism and lack of scientific method in many cases. 
So any linguist, or in general scholar, throwing these truths around better does from the vintage point of anonymity, at risk of losing income and job. Additionally, anonymity allows the author to be more blunt, direct and even often sarcastic. In this particular case at least, I believe it is totally justified. 
The paper/pamphlet (in Spanish language) is titled: La Filología Vasca pese a Joseba Lakarra Andrinua (Basque Philology in spite of Joseba Lakarra Andrinua) and can be found HERE (downloadable PDF manuscript).
I think it is a must-read for anyone interested in Basque philology. It should be also a must-read for anyone with a honest interest in clarifying what has happened in relation to the Iruña-Veleia graffiti, because this Joseba Lakarra academic guy is the boss of all ringleaders in the cultural genocide and pseudo-scientific inquisition exerted in the case of the Western Vasco-Roman city.
However it has the handicap for international readers that it is only available in Spanish (this should not be a problem for most linguists anyhow). So I am advancing here some translated excerpts:
One can be a horrible philologist in two ways: one à la Gorrochategui, namely: being a professor of Indoeuropean, not to be any epigrapher, and get into trying to interpret an inscription in a non-Indoeuropean language. This way of being a philologist carries the risks usual of all imprudences: to read DESCARTES in an inscription of the 3rd century.
It is a way of doing philology that is laughable and entertaining, specially for those among us who are indeed philologists. It is also a way of exerting the discipline that is luckily harmless, for as much as the clumsiness committed are so obvious that all possible damage to philology is effectively aborted by putting an end to the credibility of whoever this day exerts our discipline. 
The other way of being a horrible philologist is à La Lakarra, that is: to know two or three things, but not knowing when to close your mouth. This is in itself the more harmful way, specially when our big-mouthed philologist manages to become editor of some pseudo-academic publication, moment when every attempt to make him shut up becomes hopeless. And this is the way in which our character, Joseba Koldobika Lakarra Andrinua, wants to exert the philological discipline. 
That our character is person of bad faith was already pondered by Luis Núñez Astrain when, in his work, El euskara arcaico: extensiones y relativos, page 122, wrote of the somewhat Olympian tone of that this professor styles usually. The Olympian tone expression is nothing but an euphemism that means insulting
The paper-pamphlet is too long and erudite for me to make an extensive criticism but what it unveils is very important to understand how Basque native linguistic science has been kidnapped by a petty academic mafia in which this individual of mediocre knowledge, excessive egomania and power-mongering instinct has played a central role.
It is specially important to understand why he and his pseudo-scientific and academically-entrenched minions have attacked with such might against the extraordinary findings of Iruña-Veleia, with the help of some irresponsible politicians such as the aforementioned former Deputy of Culture, Lorena López de Lacalle.

After quoting a 2006 paragraph from Lakarra, the “masked philologist” writes:

Take note of the expression falsifying reality. And take note of it because it is precisely in the year 2006 when Reality throws its first kick right to the mouth of our bellowing Lakarra: the discovery of the Iruñea-Veleia graffiti, dated in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. (…)
After all, when the unsuspecting archaeologists unearthed thousands of pieces with texts in Basque language, what they were doing in fact was nothing less than burying all the Lakarra project (…)
… what do the Iruña-Veleia graffiti say against the philological rantings of Lakarra, that so much panic and anxiety cause? Why that obsession for burying what archaeologists dug up?
It is enough to read the replies by Juan Martín Elexpuru (2009), Héctor Iglesias (2009) and Luis Silgo (2010), along with the Lakarrian program to get the exact idea of why for Lakarra the graffiti of Iruña-Veleia should have never existed. The story that such graffiti tell could support or deny, or not at all affect the Lakarrian program of copy-paste that Lakarra wants to make out for the Basque language out of the ideas of von der Gabelentz, Skalicka, Lehmann, Donegan, Stampe, Gil  and Plank. But prevention is best, and better to ignore the facts, essential evil of philology, and prevent others from contrasting them. For those who emit theories without the previous step of formulating hypothesis, facts are nothing but a nuisance, as every messiah knows. 
The Lakarrian, so boringly repeated in each and all of his tiresome essays, rests on the following premises:
  1. That glottochronology and comparative genetic reconstruction are a devilish instrument destined for the idlers.
  2. That Ruhlen, Greenberg and Venemman are the Devilish Trinity.
  3. That only the internal reconstruction method of Michelena is valid, not just for Basque but for whatever other language one wishes to study, and this one rests on the criterion of canonical form as typical of the reconstruction at the deepest level.
This new reconstructing paradigm is not exempt of some fascist stench and, notice, that everyone who does not embrace the new faith will be excommunicated and hold as lazy and idler or even worse: as etymologist, Nostraticist, glottochronologist, practicer of lexicostatistics or god knows which other abominable appellative.
What is left of the pompous Lakarrian plan that he has been using to torture us for more than a decade? Only the opportunist Lakarra, the one who learned a couple of things from here and there, the Lakarra that has not been able to learn in these ten years to stop insulting others, to be less demeaning with those he likes to call “my enemies”. (…) No excuses! What one has to do is to work more and better, and, if one cannot for whatever reason, at least to work in silence. He had just outside his home’s yard excellent material to begin working: the Iruña-Veleia shards. 

General background resources:

For further extensive information on the Iruña-Veleia scandal you can read (mostly in Spanish) at SOS Iruña-Veleia. They include a large collection of images of the controversial graffiti, kept so far hidden from view and scientific analysis by the provincial government of Araba.
You can also read several articles in English at this blog and at my old blog Leherensuge. I would particularly recommend this extensive post I wrote in October, which deals also with Lakarra and de Lacalle, as well as the demolition archaeology of Julio Núñez, and discusses the whole matter in some depth.

Update (Nov 28): if you are fluent in Spanish, maybe you’d like to go back to the not so distant past, the year 2007, and listen to this interview with Carlos Crespo, the third archaeologist of Lurmen, when the exceptional findings of Iruña-Veleia were still considered real by all… except the rumoring camarilla around Lakarra. Courtesy of Hala Bedi Irratia, found via Ostraka Euskalduna.


Linguistics: more on the shared IE-Basque word for bear (*h₂ŕ̥tḱos and hartz)

I was speculating the other day on the possibility that certain Indoeuropean terms meaning bear could have a Vascoid substrate as they resemble a lot the Basque word for bear: hartz. However I was soon corrected by a reader, Waggg, who indicated that there is strong evidence for a proto-Indoeuropean root *h₂ŕ̥tḱos and that variants of this word are widespread in Indoeuropean languages from both Europe and Asia.
I did accept the correction but my doubts remained: why of all animals only the word for bear appears to be an Indoeuropean loanword into Basque? Not even the name of the horse (the animal most characteristically associated with IEs) is such a borrowing (it is zaldi in Basque). Could it be that the word was introduced into proto-Indoeuropean before this linguistic family experienced expansion? 
Another unclear issue is why the Basque word hartz has the /h/ at the beginning if it was a borrowing from Celtic arth? This initial h, which is silent in southern dialects but aspired in the North, is generally accepted to be a residue from an original /k/ (or /g/), which seems attested in ancient Aquitanian epigraphy. It would just make no sense whatsoever to have it added to this suspicious borrowing.
So I asked linguist Roslyn M. Frank (University of Iowa), who speaks Basque more fluently than I do, and she just replied attaching some notes with permission to publish. I reproduce them here in their totality (just boldfacing the last paragraph, which is maybe the most relevant one):

[Notice: minor corrections added in Nov. 28 by suggestion of author]
Unquestionably, the reverent attitude of these two bear keepers underlines the fact that the bear was deeply respected among the Basques. He was treated with similar reverence across both America and Eurasia in times past, as is evidenced in the case of rites for the dead bear celebrated until recently in Lapland, Alaska, British Columbia and Quebec. “All across North America, Indians have honored bears. When northern hunting tribes killed one, they spoke to its spirit, asking for its forgiveness. They treated the carcass reverently; among these tribes the ritual for a slain bear was more elaborate than that for any other food animal (Rockwell 1991:2).” As Shepard (Shepard and Sanders 1992: 80) has observed, there is evidence of a wide and ancient distribution of bear ritual. It is present in virtually every country of Western and Eastern Europe, in Asia south to Iran, and among many of the Indian nations of the United States, even into Central and South America. For example, the Asiatic Eskimos held that during the festival of the slain bear, the bear’s shadow-soul could hear and understand the speech of humans and men, no matter where they were (Shepard and Sanders 1991: 86), while the Tlingit said, “People must always speak carefully of bear people since bears [no matter how far away] have the power to hear human speech. Even though a person murmurs a few careless words, the bear will take revenge” (Rockwell 1991: 64). The Basque bear keepers’ words echo a similar belief in the bear’s ability to understand human speech. And, far from describing him as a cuddly pet, the Basques’ comments, represent the bear as a familiar yet awesome being, in a fashion comparable to that of northern peoples for whom he is “un animal intelligent, habile, humain, familier et redouté” (Mathieu 1984: 12).
Among Finno-Ugric peoples and Native American groups, the bear is viewed as omnipotent and omnipresent. He has the power to hear all that is said. For this reason hunters would avoid mentioning the bear’s real name, choosing rather to address him with euphemisms. That these were the qualities attributed to the European Celestial Bear and his earthly representatives, can be demonstrated in social practice by the semantic taboo existing among Slavic and Germanic peoples which led them to avoid mentioning the bear’s real name, an avoidance pattern which, in all likelihood, stemmed from a profound adherence to the tenets of this shamanic cosmovision. The substitute term utilized in Slavic languages was “honey-eater,” while Germanic tribes preferred to call him the “brown one,” an expression that gave rise eventually to the English word “bear,” linked etymologically to the words “brown” and “bruin” (Praneuf 1989: 28–32).[1]
In contrast, it would appear that other European peoples kept the original etymon for “bear”, although they may well have avoided using it when they were in the presence of the animal or when they were hunting him. For example, there is the example of the name of the main character found in the Basque cycle of oral tales, Hartzkume. The word is a compound formed by (h)artz “bear” and -kume “offspring, baby.” The set of Indo-European cognates for bear includes words such as ours (French), art (Irish), arth (Welsh), arz/ourz (Breton), arsa (Avestan) and rksa (Sanscrit) as well as arktos (Greek) (Buck 1988: 186). As is well known, from the Greek etynom arktos comes our word Arctic, the region lying towards the two Sky Bears (cf. Krupp 1991: 232).
Because of the phonological nature of the Basque word for bear, (h)artz (pronounced more or less like the second element in the English expression “fine arts”), linguists such as Holmer have argued that the word must be identified with the set of cognates found in languages classified as Indo-European. But in Basque, according to Holmer, the etymon is “conserved in a more archaic form than in any other Indo-European language (Holmer 1950: 403). In summary, the semantic relationship holding between the Basque word for bear and those found in the Indo-European languages cited above suggests that, in the case of this item, we are dealing with a wide spread archaic semantic artifact embedded still today in many IE languages. The IE etymon, because of its phonological similarity to the Basque item, could be traced back to a much older European linguistic substratum, one dating back to 4000 B.C., that is, to a period contemporary with bear ceremonialism and the point in time when the projection of the Bear Son stories skywards began to take place. Similarly, this chronology would situate the semantic artifact in Europe prior to the emergence of modern Indo-European languages, as a pre-Indo-European phenomenon that coincided with the rise of megalithic peoples and their fascination with the heavens.[2]
Original footnotes:
[1] Specifically the IE etynom is bher-, “bright, brown,” gave rise to the Old English form bera, and eventually to the Modern English word bear. The word “bruin” is a cognate of this group, often used in English to refer not to the color “brown” but to bears themselves (Cf. Watkins 1969: 1509).
[2] Praneuf (1989:28) cites the following western variants of the same etynom: Hindi rich, Gypsy rich, Persan khers, Kurd hirç, Sariqoli of Pamir yurkh, Pactau of Afganistan yaz, as well as two eastern European representatives that are remarkably similar phonologically to the Basque item (h)artz, namely, the Armenian arch or ardch and the form ars found in Caucasian, although the Caucasian form refers to a “bear cub” rather than to a “bear.” Thus, further evidence for Holmer’s hypothesis concerning the archaic nature of the Basque word is found in the similarity holding between the reflexes of the etynom in the eastern and western extremes of the geographical zone, e.g., in Armenian and Caucasian and in Basque. I would like to thank Ryan McGonigle who first brought the Armenian item to my attention several years ago. As an aside, it would appear that the Basque word began with an aspirated /h/. This sound has been lost in the southern dialects of the language.

Also she explained:

As for the 4000 BC time frame, that was simply a rough date, but one that IE linguists often assign to PIE.


Posted by on November 24, 2010 in Basque language, European origins, linguistics


Perforated ostrich egg vessels from Upper Paleolithic China

I was totally unaware until now that there had been ostriches in Asia, much less as recently as the last Ice Age.
It seems they did exist and that modern humans used their eggs as either vessels or ornaments (or both) some 20,000 years ago.

The discovery was made at Xuchang (Henan) by archaeologists of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Source: Pileta de Prehistoria[en]

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Posted by on November 23, 2010 in archaeology, China, East Asia, Upper Paleolithic


Some more linguistic musings: bear and cub

I’m reading a fascinating paper (open access at Insula magazine, issues no. 3, 4 and 5) by US linguist Roslyn M. Frank (earlier mentioned in Leherensuge in relation with the Iruña-Veleia controversy), which among other things deals with the cosmological and mythological importance of the bear, preserved in the astonishingly similar carnival performances of some Basque and Sardinian towns (see in my previous linguistic musings how I strongly suspect that the name of the Mediterranean island comes from the word sardine, which has a quite unmistakable Basque/Vascoid etymology).
Bear: ursus, arctos, hartz
While reading it I realized that I had forgotten to mention another likely Vascoid widespread European (primarily Mediterranean) group of words: those meaning bear.
Bear is said hartz (nom. hartza) in Basque, arctos in Greek and ursus in Latin (and so the brown bear is known in biology as Ursus arctos). The similitude of hartz and arctos should be strikingly obvious. I suspect that ursus is also related (and this makes me think of the attested Basque deity Urtzi, which in turn relates with the divine or supernatural importance given to the bear in pre-Christian European mythologies, preserved until recently under a Christian varnish).

Update: a reader mentions that this term seems Indoeuropean, with quite clear cognates in Eastern IE and Hittite. Asian IE is generally a good control, so I accept the correction. I was surely mislead by the fact that neither Germanic nor Slavic use this word, but their specific terms seem to have arisen as taboo avoidance, meaning “brown” and “honey eater” respectively (see this).

In this case it’d seem Basques imported the word from Celtic, whose terms (art, arth) are very close in sound. Why this borrowing? Maybe taboo avoidance as well?

Of course there’s always the possibility that it’s a well conserved pan-European word, which would bring me to whether IE and Basque could be distantly related. But this is too complicated for what I dare to explore with my limited means.

Update (Nov. 25): There are at least some qualified opinions that do support the Indoeuropean root *h₂ŕ̥tḱos being a cognate of Basque hartz, maybe in the context of ancient pan-European cosmologies in which this animal seems to have played a major role. See this new post for a more complete explanation.

Ram and billy-goat: aries, ahari and aker
Related to this Mediterranean spread, I must mention another striking similarity and most likely Vasco-Greek cognate which is the word for ram (male sheep). As anyone minimally acquainted with Astrology knows, the Latin word for ram is aries. Curiously enough the Basque term for ram is ahari
The h is silent in the peninsular dialects (/a:ri/) but aspired in the continental ones (and that’s why it’s written in fact). As I have mentioned it is generally believed that this /h/ sound was once a /k/ (or /g/ maybe occasionally). What happens when you deconstruct this phonetic change? Ahari becomes akari, which is strikingly similar to the Basque word for billy-goat: aker.
I used to think this ahari word was a Neolithic loanword but maybe not after all.
Cub, kume
Anyhow what really pushed me to write these musings, this note, was to realize that English word cub could also have a Vascoid etymology. Suddenly I read hartzkume, mistranslated as “little bear”. But it is more accurately “bear cub” (kume: cub, whelp, related ume: child) and, thanks to that tiny translation error, I just realized how close is that word to its Basque equivalent kume (the m<>b phonetic change is relatively common, it seems, and it has even been argued for Basque that all /m/ sounds were once /b/ – though not too convincingly, as /m/ is attested in Iberian and is a too common distinct phoneme). 
Wikitionary offers two possible etymologies: Old Norse kobbi (seal) and Old Irish cuib (whelp, modernly nest). I would think that the Irish connection seems stronger and more clear, with a likely Vascoid substrate in the end related to Basque kume.
Update: However, if the Irish etymology would be wrong, and considering that the word “cub” is first registered in English in the 16th century, it could be a case of borrowing in the context of the Hundred Years’ War, in which parts of the Basque Country and Gascony were joined to the English crown.

This is also hypothesized for the English expression “by Jingo” (modernly derived into “jingoism“), which would have derived from Basque Jainko (God) in that 15th century context of the Angevin empire.


Posted by on November 22, 2010 in Basque language, European origins, linguistics


First ancient mtDNA nice maps

Guess that last week’s aperitif left you hungry for more and improved ancient mtDNA maps. At least that is my case. However it is hard to check all sequences, in some cases having to re-read the original papers, keep record, double-check for errors and get Open Office to do what you want it to do.
Still I am advancing, even snails do move. And finally I can offer you some of these maps, more will come soon, I believe.

I hope you like these:

Early/Middle UP – click to enlarge

Late UP – click to enlarge

Epipaleolithic/Euphrates Neolithic – click to enlarge