Monthly Archives: March 2012

On strike: blog closed the next 24 hrs

Update: strike journey ended already, you can read some details at or via my other blog.


As you may know a general strike has been called in the Basque Country and Galicia, and later another parallel one was also called in Spain by different unions. 

The strike is against the draconian social cuts and the retrograde ultra-capitalist destruction of workers’ rights imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund and implemented by the new ultra-conservative government (which has no significant more support that had when they were opposition a few months ago).
Therefore this blog will not be edited in the next 24 hrs. and I will not participate in any discussions.

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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in blogging, general strike


Y-DNA from Afghanistan

Hazaras (source)
Afghanistan was one of those potentially key crossroads with only indirect sampling, mostly via ethnic relatives from Pakistan. Therefore we must welcome with a great applause the following paper, which fills a gap in our knowledge (next Burma, please):


Afghanistan has held a strategic position throughout history. It has been inhabited since the Paleolithic and later became a crossroad for expanding civilizations and empires. Afghanistan’s location, history, and diverse ethnic groups present a unique opportunity to explore how nations and ethnic groups emerged, and how major cultural evolutions and technological developments in human history have influenced modern population structures. In this study we have analyzed, for the first time, the four major ethnic groups in present-day Afghanistan: Hazara, Pashtun, Tajik, and Uzbek, using 52 binary markers and 19 short tandem repeats on the non-recombinant segment of the Y-chromosome. A total of 204 Afghan samples were investigated along with more than 8,500 samples from surrounding populations important to Afghanistan’s history through migrations and conquests, including Iranians, Greeks, Indians, Middle Easterners, East Europeans, and East Asians. Our results suggest that all current Afghans largely share a heritage derived from a common unstructured ancestral population that could have emerged during the Neolithic revolution and the formation of the first farming communities. Our results also indicate that inter-Afghan differentiation started during the Bronze Age, probably driven by the formation of the first civilizations in the region. Later migrations and invasions into the region have been assimilated differentially among the ethnic groups, increasing inter-population genetic differences, and giving the Afghans a unique genetic diversity in Central Asia.

Fig. 1 – PCA derived from Y-chromosomal haplogroup frequencies
In my understanding the really interesting stuff is in the supplemental table 4, which lists all the tested haplogroups for the Afghan samples.
Large and medium samples (n>10) simplified (only largest haplogroups):
  • Hazara (n=60): 20 C3 (33%), 10 J2a* (17%), 6 J2a5 (10%), 4 R1a1a (7%), 3 B (5%), 3 E1b1b1c1 (5%),
  • Tajik (n=56): 17 R1a1a (30%) 9 J2a (14%), 5 O (9%), 3 H1a (5%)
  • Pashtun (n=49): 25 R1a1a (51%), 9 Q (18%), 6 L1c (12%), 3 G2c(6%)
  • Uzbek (n=17): 7 C3 (41%), 3 R1a1a (18%), 2 R1b1a2 (12%)
  • Baluch (n=13): 8 L1a (61%), 2 R2a (15%)
Small and tiny samples (n<10):
  • Norestani (n=5): 3 R1a1a, 1 R2a, 1 J2a*
  • Arab (n=3): 2 L1a, 1 R2a
  • Turkmen (n=1): 1 R1a1a
Hazara Y-DNA oddities (B and M1)
The Hazara Country (source) is the center of Afghanistan
I must say that what stroke me the most were the three Y-DNA B Hazaras. This is a lineage almost unreported in Eurasia and much less in a population that shows no other signs of African admixture. 
Supplementary table 1 lists all haplotypes and the three Y-DNA B Hazaras (two from Bamiyan and one from Ghor) have some differences: they are not recent relatives by patrilineage. Whenever the African lineage arrived to the area, it had since then some time to evolve and diverge locally.
Are we before yet another puzzling Out-of-Africa remnant like the East Asian Y-DNA DE (mostly D)? Or is something more recently arrived? If so, how did it reach such high frequencies among the Hazara (and only them)?
The Hazara sample also includes an individual with Y-DNA M1, which is in principle a Melanesian lineage, i.e. another haplogroup which should not be there, but this one from the opposite corner of the Old World.
Dominant lineages
Otherwise it seems evident that Y-DNA R1a1a dominates among Indoeuropean speakers (Pashtun, Tajik and Noristani), C3 among the Uzbek and Hazara and L1a among the Baluch and “Arab” (who seem identical to the Baluch).
J2a (maybe a Neolithic layer) is also important among Tayik and Hazaras, while Q is very important among Pashtuns (Q is most basally diverse in West Asia, in case you do not know, even if it is most frequent among Native Americans).

Aurignacian jaws are modern (Homo sapiens)

The adscription of the Aurignacian techno-culture in Europe to Homo sapiens (alias ‘anatomically modern humans’, or ‘AMH’ or ‘modern humans’ for short) was only indirectly supported, mostly by remains from Palestine (Ahmarian or Ahmiran culture, part of the wider ‘Aurignacoid’ complex of West Eurasia). 
Recently a jaw from England and some teeth from Italy were also alleged to support very early presence of our species in Europe. However the conclusions were controversial and the findings had, like Oase 1, no direct relation with Aurignacian or other Aurignacoid cultures (in fact the Italian teeth belonged to the Uluzzian, what is a very different debate).
Now however a couple of lower jaws from France seem to finally settle the matter regarding the authorship of Aurignacian:
There is a dearth of diagnostic human remains securely associated with the Early Aurignacian of western Europe, despite the presence of similarly aged early modern human remains from further east. One small and fragmentary sample of such remains consists of the two partial immature mandibles plus teeth from the Early Aurignacian of La Quina-Aval, Charente, France. The La Quina-Aval 4 mandible exhibits a prominent anterior symphyseal tuber symphyseos on a vertical symphysis and a narrow anterior dental arcade, both features of early modern humans. The dental remains from La Quina-Aval 1 to 4 (a dm1, 2 dm2, a P4 and a P4) are unexceptional in size and present occlusal configurations that combine early modern human features with a few retained ancestral ones. Securely dated to ∼33 ka 14C BP (∼38 ka cal BP), these remains serve to confirm the association of early modern humans with the Early Aurignacian in western Europe.

Found via Neanderfollia[cat].


Claim that some African matrilineages in Europe are pre-Neolithic

A new paper estimates that some 35% or the L(xM,N) lineages of Europe are prehistorical and even pre-Neolithic:


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages of macro-haplogroup L (excluding the derived L3 branches M and N) represent the majority of the typical sub-Saharan mtDNA variability. In Europe, these mtDNAs account for <1% of the total but, when analyzed at the level of control region, they show no signals of having evolved within the European continent, an observation that is compatible with a recent arrival from the African continent. To further evaluate this issue, we analyzed 69 mitochondrial genomes belonging to various L sublineages from a wide range of European populations. Phylogeographic analyses showed that ∼65% of the European L lineages most likely arrived in rather recent historical times, including the Romanization period, the Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily, and during the period of the Atlantic slave trade. However, the remaining 35% of L mtDNAs form European-specific subclades, revealing that there was gene flow from sub-Saharan Africa toward Europe as early as 11,000 yr ago.

See also the press release at Eureka Alert.
I do not have access but it seems obvious that the authors are using molecular-clock-o-logy, which is not really reliable, depending on too many assumptions. However they tend to fail towards too recent, so maybe their estimates of 11 Ka can be in fact something like 22 Ka and therefore consistent with the more than likely interactions between SW Europe and NW Africa at the genesis of Oranian culture, which is probably the origin of SW European-derived mtDNA in North Africa.


I got a copy and some stuff is indeed informative:

Fig. 1 spread of (a) paragroup L(xM,N) and (b) L1 (crosses mark sampling sites)

Fig. 3 apportion of the L(xM,N) lineages and of the probable origin regions

The most common lineages are L1b and L2a.

Most European L1b appears to have spread from the Iberian peninsula where it is most concentrated in the area of Salamanca, being loosely consistent with other North African genetic presence in the peninsula, generally concentrated in the Western third (and with some even greater frequency in the mountain areas of the old Kingdom of León. Some of these lineages have not been found among a sample of 73 L1b mitogenomes from Africans and African Americans (fig. 2), what brings the authors to consider them potentially local European (or in some cases NW African) developments. These are:

  • L1b1a11 (Slovenia, Switzerland and Ireland), its sister lineages are found one in Jordan (unnamed) and another (L1b1a3) among Nigerians, Gabonese, African-Americans and some Portuguese.
  • L1b1a6a (Portugal, Spain and Britain): just one branch of several, all the others in L1b1a6 are West African
  • L1b1a9 (Spain, Italy, France and Morocco): either European or NW African
  • L1b1a13 (Tunisia and Italy): surely Tunisian originally
  • L1b1a12 (Tunisia, Spain and Portugal): again surely original from Tunisia
  • L1b1a14 (Italy and France)
  • L1b1a8 (Spain and Russia)

Another very characteristic and also arguably European-specific lineage is L3d1b1a, which is found only in Italy.

While the authors do not mention it, I think that Chandler 2005 spotted an L3d2 in Epipaleolithic Portugal (originally reported as “N”). However, using only the HVS region, the exact adscription is always somewhat dubious.

Also they performed an Structure analysis (fig. 4) and found that the carriers of the allegedly autochthonous European L lineages displayed very low to zero African affinity (and also near zero East Asian one) while those with the probably recent L lineages had more African and East Asian admixture (East Asian in this case is proxy for Native American most likely, indicating creole origin from America), although the apportions varied from individual to individual. The strength of this test can only be valid for very recent arrivals anyhow, otherwise the African autosomal genetics would be diluted beyond detection in a couple of centuries or so.


Western Great Rift is 15 Ma. older than believed

This is potentially an important discovery that may affect the chronological frame of the simians (what ultimately include us also).

The Western section of the Great Rift (or East African Rift) is not a lot younger than the Eastern section, as was believed until now, but of the same age (c. 25 million years).


The East African Rift System transects the anomalously high-elevation Ethiopian and East African plateaux that together form part of the 6,000-km-long African superswell structure. Rifting putatively developed as a result of mantle plume activity that initiated under eastern Africa. The mantle activity has caused topographic uplift that has been connected to African Cenozoic climate change and faunal evolution. The rift is traditionally interpreted to be composed of two distinct segments: an older, volcanically active eastern branch and a younger, less volcanic western branch. Here, we show that initiation of rifting in the western branch began more than 14 million years earlier than previously thought, contemporaneously with the eastern branch. We use a combination of detrital zircon geochronology, tephro- and magnetostratigraphy, along with analyses of past river flow recorded in sedimentary rocks from the Rukwa Rift Basin, Tanzania, to constrain the timing of rifting, magmatism and drainage development in this part of the western branch. We find that rift-related volcanism and lake development had begun by about 25million years ago. These events were preceded by pediment development and a fluvial drainage reversal that we suggest records the onset of topographic uplift caused by the African superswell. We conclude that uplift of eastern Africa was more widespread and synchronous than previously recognized.

Research area: Rukwa Rift

You can also read the press release at Michigan State University (fragment follows):

This study provides new evidence that the two rift segments developed at about the same time, nearly doubling the initiation age of the western branch and the timing of uplift in this region of East Africa. 

“A key piece of evidence in this study is the discovery of approximately 25 million-year-old lake and river deposits in the Rukwa Rift that preserve abundant volcanic ash and vertebrate fossils,” Roberts said.

These deposits include some of the earliest anthropoid primates yet found in the rift, added Nancy Stevens of Ohio University.

The findings imply that around 25 to 30 million years ago, the broad uplift of East Africa occurred and re-arranged the flow of large rivers such as the Congo and the Nile to create the distinct landscapes and climates that mark Africa today.

Hat tip to Pileta.

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Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Africa, geology, human evolution


Mitochondrial DNA survey of some Altaic peoples in the broader context

The authors of this open-access paper surveyed Kazakhs from Altai and Barguts from Inner Mongolia, comparing them with previous data of other nearby peoples and even the distant Iranians.
The really novel data is of course in the list of mtDNA haplogroups found among these two populations, which is listed in table 1. While Kazakhs have 40% of Western lineages (H, U, J and others), the Barguts only display some 8% (exclusively U and HV clades).
In addition they perform a somewhat interesting comparison with other populations, mostly other Altaic-speakers:

Fig. 1 – PC analysis, color-coded for languages

The two clusters marked in the PC1-2 graph also appear in the PC2-3 graph, what means that they are very homogeneous in fact. Maybe the Sojots were once Mongol speakers and the Turkic speakers grouped with Evenks and Todjins were once Tungusic speakers, I guess.
Also the paper provides what they claim to be a complete tree of haplogroup B4’5:

Fig. 3 – click to expand

Red: East Asian, Orange and Yellow: SE Asian, Blue: North Asian, Purple: Native American

See original for full legend

The also provide some potentially very useful information on haplogroups R9c (including F), N9a, M9, M10, M11 and M13’46’61 (found as singletons in the sampled populations), for which they provide phylogenetic trees in the supplementary materials.
Very brief notes on these:
  • R9c1 (the sibling of F) is most common in Philippines (3.3–5.7%) and Abor (11%). Frequencies decay as we move northwards.
  • F2 is most common in Thailand (2.4–5.4%) and then in China (1.9–3.3%). The Bargut singleton branch is apparently a new clade (F2e proposed)
  • N9a is most common in Japan (4.6%), Korea (3.9%), China (2.8%) and Mongolia (2.1%), with less important presence in Island SE Asia and Eastern Europe.
  • M10 is a rare East Asian clade with very rare cases in East Europe.
  • M11 is also a rare East Asian clade found from Altai to Japan.
  • M13 has two branches, one (M13a) most diverse in Tibet (and often found in East Asia) while the other one (M13b) is restricted to Malaysian aboriginal peoples.
  • M9 also has two branches: E is found essentially in Island SE Asia and Taiwan aborigines, while M9a’b is apparently also centered in Tibet and scattered through East Asia and Hymalayan parts of South Asia. They propose that M9a1a1 spread to North Asia from South China after the LGM (note: I do not necessarily subscribe this age estimate).

Update (May 23):

In order to illustrate the discussion (see comments) I made this map of the “Evenk cluster” which I suspect was first Evenk-speaker or otherwise ethnically homogeneous before the Turkic expansion (since less than 2000 years ago):

The most notable feature is that it seems to be more northernly or oriented to Central Siberia than the other populations. It’s a Siberian-Taiga specific cluster, while most of the other Altaic populations are steppe dwellers instead. Compare with this map of the taiga:

They overlap very well, right?

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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in China, East Asia, mtDNA, Siberia


40,000 years old site found in Henan, China

I can’t say much more by the moment: the People’s Daily article is too short to discern any further implications. By the age however it is very probable, in my opinion, that it is a former camp of our species, Homo sapiens. 
The site of Laonainaimiao is at what is described as a scenic spot in the outskirts of the city of Zhengzhou (Henan, China). The findings are described as stone artifacts, bone wares, all kinds of animal bones and more than 20 fire relics.

Bronze Age temple of Tel Haror, Palestine

The Archaeology Network mentions the finding of a pre-Jewish temple at Tel Haror, near Beersheba, dated to c. 1800-1550.
The finding is interesting because of the many sacrificial burials of young dogs and corvids. Puppies were ritually slaughtered in some West Asian religious rituals, the use of corvids is not documented however. It is also known that the Jewish mythological text declared both animals impure and that it banished the ritual of slaughtering dog cubs by breaking their necks. 

Escaping Christian persecution: Norway’s Pagan temple buried before the religious fanatics could destroy it. Now urban developers may flatten it

Artist rendering (credit: Credit: Preben Rønne, Science Museum/NTNU)
I seldom write on Iron Age, never mind the Middle Ages, but this finding has really touched me: a Pagan temple was unearthed in Ranheim, not far from Trondheim (Norway). Its last community run away from Christian intolerance, as is attested by the sagas, but first buried their holy precinct so the theists could not destroy and profane it with their crosses and exotic rituals.
The temple which may have been built c. 400 CE, was used for many centuries and consisted of:

… a stone-set “sacrificial altar” and also traces of a “pole building” that probably housed idols in the form of sticks with carved faces of Thor, Odin, Frey and Freya. Deceased relatives of high rank were also portrayed in this way and attended. Nearby, the archaeologists also uncovered a procession route.

At first researchers thought it could be some sort of burial mound but they eventually recognized it as a temple.

The members of this community, as attested by historical sources, were probably among the many to flee to Iceland, where there was initially more tolerance. It was in Iceland in fact where many of these sagas were written.

The temple was probably buried under the reign of the first recorded King of Norway, Harald Fairhair (872-930).

The temple may now be destroyed by urban development if something does not stop it quick. Archaeologist Prebben Rønne said:

The location of the [planned] housing could easily be adapted to this unique cultural heritage [site], without anyone losing their residential lots. It could be an attraction for new residents, telling them much about the history of the facility over 1000 years ago. Unfortunately, housing construction is now underway.

It would be indeed a pity and a crime against heritage if the construction is not stopped immediately. 

Sources and further reading: The Archaeology News Network, Yahoo! News.


Brown eyed Neanderthals of Croatia

Since years ago, when one Neanderthal individual from Gibraltar was identified as having reddish hair color (but not via the Homo sapiens alleles but a different one of their own), some authors have idealized Neanderthals as hyper-white. For example the Gibraltar kid whose reconstruction is pictured at the right, whose skin looks unhealthily way too pale to be living in Andalusia (the Ice Age would not affect solar radiation in principle, only temperature).
Now other researchers have inferred that the Neanderthals from Vindija cave (Croatia) probably had brown eyes, hair and even skin, which is described as tawny, a light brown/orange shade.
The paper is widely discussed at a free article in Science magazine, titled: Were some Neanderthals blue eyed girls?, where the likes of Lalueza-Fox and John Hawks ponder the conclusions, rather critically. 
Of course, the conclusions are far from straightforward:

One complication is that traits such as hair color are controlled by multiple genes. To determine the cumulative impact of multiple genes on one trait, the authors assumed they could simply add together the impact of individual genes. The female Neandertal known as Vi33.26, for example, had seven genes for brown eyes, one for “not-brown” eyes, three for blue eyes, and four for “not-blue eyes.” By the researchers’ reckoning, that means a six-gene balance in favor of brown and a negative balance for blue, so Vi33.26’s eyes were probably brown. According to this method, all three Neandertals had a dark complexion and brown eyes, and although one was red-haired, two sported brown locks. 

They may well be right in regards to the eyes, although we really know way too little on human pigmentation as of now, never mind Neanderthal peculiarities, to be certain at all. In any case, considering that modern Europeans also display variety of eye and hair colors, I see no reason not to imagine that Neanderthals also had dark eyes and hair.

Those traits are after all non-adaptive or mostly so. Instead skin color is key for survival. So I am reluctant to accept tawny as a valid answer for skin color, at least in most of the shades suggested. Very few people if any have tawny skin color today at 45 degrees North, roughly the latitude of Vindija. And that is because of an adaptive reason: the human need to synthesize normally vitamin D using solar energy at the skin (it can also be ingested from fish mostly but it’s not as reliable in the long run).
Surely Neanderthals were also biological conditioned in that same way. Although now that I think of it I have never seen a paper stating it, just the same that I have never seen a paper that conclusively argues that Neanderthals lacked fur as we do, being our nearest cousins it is logical to think that they were a lot like ourselves. 
But regardless of the thornier issue of skin color, it’s probable that at least many Neanderthals had brown eyes and dark hair and also a less hyper-pale skin shade than often misrepresented. In this sense I welcome the news because painting Neanderthals as ultra-Nordics, when they lived largely in Southern Europe and even West Asia was really overdoing it towards the side of pseudoscience.