Monthly Archives: July 2012

IV Meeting of the European Studies Group at Rennes

St. Denec menhirs
The IVth meeting of an international workgroup will gather together, in Rennes, from 10 to 12 May 2012, several of the leading European specialists on the theme of megalithic monuments (about twenty speakers from some ten different nationalities). Following the international colloquium at Bougon (Deux-Sèvres) which was held in 2002 (Joussaume, Laporte, Scarre, 2006), meetings of the European Megalithic Studies Group took place in Göteborg in Sweden ( 2004 ), in Seville in Spain ( 2008 ) and in Kiel in Germany ( 2010 ). This will be the first time for more than thirty years that the city of Rennes will welcome a high-level scientific meeting specifically dedicated to the study of megalithic monuments. It is organized within the framework of a program entitled ” Megalithic monuments of the Atlantic zone and beyond ” which is supported in particular by the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme de Bretagne. It will comprise two days of oral communications, open to the general public, in the Auditorium of the Museum of Brittany, in Rennes. They will be accompanied by the presentation of posters about current work on megalithic monuments in France, in Europe and in the World.
The program is as follows:
Thursday 10/05
8h30 – Introduction – Chris Scarre.
9h – Mégalithes au centre de la Péninsule Ibérique – Primitiva Bueno Ramirez.
9h30 – Building forever or just for the time being? A perspective from NW Iberian mounds – Ramón Fábregas Valcarce.
10h – Megalithic architectures of the dolmenic groups of the oriental andévalo (Huelva, spain). Typology, constructive systems and technical traditions – Jose Antonio Linares Catela,
10h30 – Coffee Break
11h00 – Menga: Biography of an outstanding megalithic monument – Leonardo Garcia Sanjuan, José Antonio Lozano Rodríguez.
11h30 – Megalithic Monuments of Northern and Central Portugal. A broad discussion concerning their construction and decoration programs – María de Jesús Sanches, Domingos de Jesus da Cruz.
12h00 – Megalithic hollows: rock-cut tombs between the Tagus and the Guadiana – Leonor Rocha, Pedro Alvim.
12h30 – Lunch time
14h00 – Structural functions and architectural projects within the elongated monuments of Western France – Luc Laporte.
14h30 – Traces d’exploitation du schiste de quelques cairns néolithiques du Massif armoricain – Eric Gaumé,
15h00 – Poster cession
15h30 – Coffee Break
16h00 – Megalithic building archaeology in the north-western part of France – Florian Cousseau,
16h30 – La file de pierres dressées de Groah Dehn à Hoëdic (Morbihan) : un exemple d’architecture évolutive au 5e-4e millénaire av. J.-C. – Jean-Marc Large, Emmanuel Mens.
17h00 – Accident or design? Chambers, cairns and funerary practices in the Neolithic chambered tombs of western Europe – Chris Scarre.
17h30/18h00 – A northern point of view: synthesis and debate – Chairman – Gabriel Cooney, Torben Dehn,
Friday 11/05
9h00 – Economic Impact of the Megalithic Constructions: the Oceanic Case – Nicolas Cauwe.
9h30 – Beyond the individual monument: New Results from the Priority Program “Early Monumentality and Social Differentiation” – Martin Hinz.
10h00 – A monumental task: building the Neolithic megaliths of Britain and Ireland – Vicki Cummings, Colin Richards.
10h30 – Coffee Break
11h00 – Making megalithic monuments: the role of small things – Gabriel Cooney,
11h30 – Building Boom to Bust: A proposed sequence of construction for the Knowth passage tomb cemetery – Kerri Cleary.
12h00 – Going through the motions: using phenomenology and 3-D modelling techniques to explore the reality of construction at Knowth , Co. Meath – Eimear Meegan.
12h30 – Lunch time
14h00 – 25 years among Neolithic builders – Torben Dehn.
14h30 – The clustering of megalithic monuments around the causewayed enclosures at Sarup on Funen, Denmark – Niels H. Andersen.
15h00 – Dolmens without mounds in Denmark – Jørgen Westphal.
15h30 – Coffee Break
16h00 – In the Eye of the Beholder – Palle Eriksen.
16h30 – Lønt: Two types of megaliths and one oddball – Anne Birgitte Gebauer.
17h00 – A southern point of view: synthesis and debate – Chairman – Primitiva Bueno Ramirez, Luc Laporte.
17h30/ 18h00 – Conclusion of the meeting
Saturday 12/05
Excursion reserved to the communicators
Monument of Carn
More information at the official site
See also the many ESMG videos, specially if you are interested but can’t go.
Hat tip to Pileta.

Sudden major rise of sea levels after last Ice Age

I cannot find the paper right now (the CEREGE research center’s website is down?) but several news sites echo that in only 350 years, beginning 14,600 years ago, sea levels rose as much as 14 meters, judging from coral formations near Tahiti (Polynesia).
That means on average 1 meter each 25 years. The actual impact of this kind of change varies depending on the relief of the coast but nowadays one such change of just one meter would swallow about 1/3 of the Netherlands, for example.

Sources: CNRS, Pileta[es].

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Posted by on July 27, 2012 in climate, Ice Age, sea, Upper Paleolithic


Ancient DNA… of chickens

Sure, why not?
Alice A. Storey, Investigating the Global Dispersal of Chickens in Prehistory Using Ancient Mitochondrial DNA Signatures. PLoS ONE, 2012. Open access ··> LINK [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039171]
The authors managed to produce more or less reliable mtDNA haplotypes for 48 remains of historical and prehistorical chickens from Thailand, Pacific Islands, Latin America (a pre-Columbian site in Chile but post-Columbian sites elsewhere) and (medieval) Spain.
Excepting the oldest Thai haplotype, all them belonged to haplogroups D and E, as follows:

Fig. 1
In spite of the authors burying most of the relevant data in the supplemental material, I was able to conclude that the ancient haplotypes (ah) above mean in terms of samples:
  • Haplogroup E:
    • cluster 1:
      • ah1 Pacific Is. (n=1)
      • ah2 Pacific Is. (n=4), Thailand (n=1), Chile (n=1)
      • ah6 Peru (n=1)
    • cluster 2:
      • ah3 Pacific Is. (n=10), Chile (n=2), Spain (n=3), Haiti (n=1), Florida (n=1)
      • ah4 Spain (n=1)
      • ah5 Bolivia (n=3)
      • ah7 Spain (n=1)
  • Haplogroup D:
      • ah9 Pacific Is. (n=1), Peru (n=1)
    • cluster 3:
      • ah10 Pacific Is. (n=14)
      • ah11 Pacific Is. (n=1)
  • Haplogroup B (not shown):
      • ah12 Thailand (n=1)
There is no ah8 apparently. 
It must be noted that the ah9 haplotype from Peru is very early post-Columbian, from before 1600 CE, making it another likely evidence of Polynesian introduction of chicken in South America, along with the Chilean sites (which allow for no other explanation). However the Peruvian haplotype is more related to Micronesia than to Hawaii or Rapa Nui.
Other 17th century samples from Bolivia and Peru (ah5 and ah6) have no obvious connection with either plausible origin. Instead Caribbean sites are probably related to Spain.
A simplified geographical distribution is also offered (oddly enough on a pre-WWI map):

Fig. 2

The authors conclude:
As a result of the careful analysis of archaeologically associated, and
in some cases directly dated, ancient DNA samples an early global
distribution of haplogroup E chickens has been revealed. This dispersal
out of Asia began before 3000 years ago and involved the movement of
chickens both westwards to Europe and eastwards into the Pacific. The
distribution of haplogroup D likely represents a separate dispersal into
the Pacific from a distinct Asian domestication centre. The eventual
identification of these centers will greatly enrich our understanding of
chicken domestication and the history of dispersals from multiple
locations. While unambiguous data does not yet exist to trace any of the
detected mtDNA signatures back to specific domestication centers, the
analysis of ancient DNA sequences presented here is an important first
step towards it. Future research needs to focus on markers identified,
from both full mtDNA genomes and nuclear genes which are subsequently
targeted in ancient specimens, examined within their historical and/or
archaeological context.

Posted by on July 26, 2012 in aDNA, America, chicken DNA, mtDNA, Neolithic, Oceania, SE Asia


Khoisan autosomal genetics

There is a new major paper at arXiv on Southern African autosomal genetics, with emphasis on pre-Bantu aboriginal peoples (usually known as Khoisan, even if the phylogenetic unity of their languages is not anymore accepted).
Joseph K. Pickrell et al., The genetic prehistory of southern Africa. arXiv 2012. Open access ··> LINK.

The hunter-gatherer populations of southern and eastern Africa are known to harbor some of the most ancient human lineages, but their historical relationships are poorly understood. We report data from 22 populations analyzed at over half a million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), using a genome-wide array designed for studies of history. The southern Africans-here called Khoisan-fall into two groups, loosely corresponding to the northwestern and southeastern Kalahari, which we show separated within the last 30,000 years. All individuals derive at least a few percent of their genomes from admixture with non-Khoisan populations that began 1,200 years ago. In addition, the Hadza, an east African hunter-gatherer population that speaks a language with click consonants, derive about a quarter of their ancestry from admixture with a population related to the Khoisan, implying an ancient genetic link between southern and eastern Africa.  

Unlike most other African (or global) genetic studies, here the Southern African natives are not undersampled and that way a more realistic genetic structure, with Khoisan peoples occupying their distinct position in the overall human structure, is more evident.

Selected images (from the supplementary material):

Locator map and legend for all PCA graphs:

Color code is as follows:

  • Dark grey: non-Khoisan Africans (incl. Hadza)
  • Blue: Khoe-Kwadi
  • Green: Kx’a
  • Red: Tuu
  • Light grey: Eurasians

Global PCA (SF 2):

The PC1 sets apart Khoisan (specially the Kx’a and the Tuu) from Eurasians, while the PC2 defines the non-Khoisan African dimension (including some Khoisan, specially the Damara).

Africa-only PCA (PC1-2) (SF 3):

Excluded Eurasians, the PC1 is taken by the Khoisan-other African dialectics, while the PC2 contrasts the Ju|’hoan versus the Nama specially. 

Africa-only PCA (PC2-3 with the inclusion of the ǂKhomani) (SF 17):

+ ǂKhomani samples (excluded in previous graphs)

Interestingly enough, here the Damara and the Himba contrasting with other Africans, specially the Dinka, take over PC2. Meanwhile PC3 is monopolized by the contrast between Ju|’hoan and the ǂHoan.

Admixture clustering (SF 7):

Click to expand

As in most previous PC analysis (excepted African PCA 2-3) the most neatly distinct Khoisan populations are the Kx’a (green cluster) and Tuu (purple one). At K=6, two other clusters are taken by the two distinct Pygmy populations, while the fifth one describes Eurasians (or West Eurasians). The remainder indistinct African is shown as blue component but it seems to hide important substructure in fact.

Arguably K=5 may be a better description, or at last one we are more familiar with: differentiating between Khoisans (green), Pygmies (orange), Hadza (purple), other Africans (blue) and Eurasians (red). But something of the order of K=13 or 16 is probably a better description in any case for such a varied bunch.

Special thanks to Millán.


Paleolithic ceramic animal figurines of Croatia

One of the ceramic figurine fragments (C1)
While utilitarian pottery wares are now quite clearly determined to be a Chinese invention first of all (c. 20 Ka. ago), Europeans were toying with clay and cooking it even earlier, with terracotta art known to have existed in Dolní Věstonice and other places since the Gravettian period.
The site discussed in this new research is not as old but nevertheless it is interesting to mention because, as the authors say, it is becoming more and more clear that pottery was not a single punctual invention but that it was invented and maybe forgotten once and again in the course of human prehistory.
Rebecca Farbstein et al., First Epigravettian Ceramic Figurines from Europe (Vela Spila, Croatia). PLoS ONE 2012. Open access ··> LINK [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041437]
Vela Spila is just one of several Paleolithic sites with ceramic scattered through the geography of Europe and North Africa, as reflected in fig. 1:

The Croatian site’s ceramics begin only c. 17,350 years ago (cal.), even if the occupation of the site is some two millennia older, and continues until some 14,400 years ago, when a tephra layer from the second Campanian Ignibrite eruption seems to mark a major hiatus in human habitation (the cave was later repopulated in the Epipaleolithic, c. 7400 BCE).
The authors think that the Vela Spina figurines are similar to those from Pavlov and Dolní Věstonice in the creation process and most conceptual notions. However there are also some differences like stylized foots, lack of anthropomorphic figures and no direct correlation with hearths, as happens in Gravettian Moravia.

See also: University of Cambridge press release. Hat tip to Pileta.


Amateur revision of the R1b1a2a1a1 (L11) phylogeny suggests Northern origins (?)

Both peer reviewed and 100% online work… maybe more interesting than even the conclusions of this paper is the working method, with authors who have never met each other in person or even talked on the phone and who do not even have in most cases any academic credentials.
Richard A. Rocca et al., Discovery of Western European R1b1a2 Y Chromosome Variants in 1000 Genomes Project Data: An Online Community Approach. PLoS ONE 2012. Open access ··> LINK.
The authors used the data available in the 1000 Genomes project (and FTDNA samples) to refine the phylogeny of the most important Western and Central European patrilineage: haplogroup R1b1a2a1a1 (L11/S127).
The main (validated) result is figure 5:

For the nomenclature, please check ISOGG.

Highlights within R1b1a2a1a1b (P312/S116)

This lineage, the largest subclade of R1b, has, as we know, a Southwestern European distribution mostly with extension to Northwest Europe, specially Ireland and Great Britain.
  • R1b1a2a1a1b1  (DF27): mostly (71%) Iberian and Latin American. The authors think that this clade should account for the majority of
    previously unclassified S116(xU152,L21) reported in Iberia and some
    areas of France
    . 42/49 samples that would previously have been classified as R1b-S116(xU152,L21) fell in this category. Basque-specific M153 and generally sub-Pyrenean SRY2627 have been subsumed in this “Iberian” haplogroup.
  • R1b1a2a1a1b2  (S28/U152) is a sub-Alpine clade found mostly in Eastern France,
    Northern Italy, Corsica and Swizterland, sometimes confusingly dubbed
    the “Celtic” clade, although it looks more Ligurian-like to me if
  • R1b1a2a1a1b3  (L21/M529/S145, L459) is found specially in Ireland, Great Britain and Brittany. 
  • R1b1a2a1a1b4 (L238/S182) would be a small Nordic haplogroup, found in Scandinavia and one British individual.
  • R1b1a2a1a1b5 (DF19) would be a small British haplogroup, also previously undescribed.
If this structure is to be confirmed, the most parsimonious origin of R1b1a2a1a1b would be possibly around Belgium. We’ll see if more academic data can confirm this because over-reliance on commercial testing tends to bias results toward the North, where people seems much more eager to pay for a DNA test. 
It would be however consistent with the other major subclade R1b1a2a1a1a (U106) being totally concentrated in Northern and Central Europe. No major novelties are reported in relation to this other super-lineage.
However I still require that the most important region of Europe: the French state is properly sampled and studied before jumping to any conclusions.  At the very least almost every single subclade of R1b1a2a1a1b (P312/S116) is found in the French geography, allowing for a Franco-Cantabrian refugium origin of this haplogroup. The “asterisk” category should also be revised with due care because it should hold untapped diversity.

"Mostly harmless": the Campanian Ignimbrite supervolcano that could not kill Neanderthals

Or mostly not. Neither Neanderthals nor Homo sapiens in fact: in most affected archaeological sites there is continuity between under and above the tephra layer. The main exception being the Aurignacian site of Serino, just outside the supervolcano.
John Lowe et al., Volcanic ash layers illuminate the resilience of Neanderthals and early modern humans to natural hazards. PNAS 2012. Pay per view (for six months or depending on continent of reader) ··> EP link [DOI:

From Fig. 2
Curved line: area where the tephra layer is preserved
CF: eruption site (Campi Flegrei)
Archaeological and paleolclimatic sites: Fr, Franchthi; GP, Golema Pesht; HF, Haua Fteah; Kl, Klissoura; Ko, Kozarnika; LC-21, EC-MAST2 PALAEO-FLUX cruise 1995, “Long Core 21”; TP, Tenaghi Philippon; TT, Tabula Traiana; 1, Serino; 2, Castelcivita; 3, Cavallo; 4, Uluzzo; 5, Uluzzo C; 6, Bernardini; 7, Crvena Stijina; 8, Oase; 9, Kostenki 14.

The authors argue that the colonization of Europe by Homo sapiens was already clearly under way when the CI eruption happened c. 40 Ka. BP (C14). Many sites surely attributable to Homo sapiens (Aurignacoid industries, which are associated to our species in Palestine since c. 55 Ka. ago) existed in many parts of Europe already, as well as in Libya (Haua Fteah) where the related Dabban industries also pre-date the CI layer.
But regarding any possible direct impact of the supervolcano on human populations of either species, the impact was very limited, at least directly:

With respect to the impacts on humans of the CI eruption, there must have been different outcomes in areas proximal or distal to the volcanic source. Proximal sites such as Serino, for example, located only ∼50 km east of the Campi Flegrei would have felt the full impact, and it is, therefore, likely that populations here were devastated; the early Aurignacian at Serino is capped by a thick CI ash layer, with no evidence of subsequent site reoccupation. Most of our newly identified CI records, however, are from sites considerably more distal from Campania, where the effects are likely to have been less severe; here, we see no evidence of continental-scale, long-term impact on hominin species.

But for Neanderthals, we were much more of a threat than any natural catastrophe, it seems:

Our results indicate that Neanderthal extinction in Europe was not associated with the CI eruption. Furthermore, in view of the continuous records of human occupation over the MP to UP transition preserved at Klissoura, Kozarnika, Tabula Traiana, and Golema Pesht, we also question the posited scale of the impact of HE4 cooling on Neanderthal demise. AMHs also seem to have been widespread throughout much of Europe before the CI eruption; thus, Neanderthal and AMH population interactions must have occurred before 40 ka B.P. Given the spatially complex nature of the Neanderthal and AMH evidence listed here, there may have been considerable variability in the timing of such encounters across Eastern Europe and Italy. Our evidence indicates that, on a continental scale, modern humans were a greater competitive threat to indigenous populations than the largest known volcanic eruption in Europe, even if combined with the deleterious effects of climatic cooling. We propose that small population numbers and high mobility may have initially saved the Neanderthals but that they were ultimately outperformed in this capacity by AMHs.

Special thanks to Eurlologist.
Craters apparent in this satellite image of the Campi Flegrei, near Naples