Category Archives: drugs

Echoes from the past (May-9-2013)

I am getting updated with a rather long backlog, so I will speed things up placing here in nearly telegraphic style the informative snippets that require less work. This does not mean that they are less interesting, not at all, just that I have to adapt to that elusive quality of time…

Middle Paleolithic

Toba supervolcano only had short-term climate effectBBC.
Research on Lake Malawi’s sediments shows that the climate-change effect of the catastrophic eruption was limited. Droughts previously believed to be from that period have been revised to be from at least 10,000 years before, corresponding to the end of the Abbassia Pluvial rather than to Toba super-eruption.

Upper Paleolithic

Altai rock art and early astronomy from 16,000 BPSiberian Times, Daily Mail.
Sunduki (Khakassia), here there are what are surely the oldest rock art of Northern Asia, representing people hunting or interacting among them, which are from just centuries ago, however other petroglyphs are apparently much older like this horse:

Prof. Vitaly Larichev (Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Russian Academy of Sciences) has detected a whole astronomical structure implemented in the landscape.

He claims to have found ‘numerous ancient solar and lunar observatories around Sunduki’.

‘This square pattern of stones on the ground shows you the place’, he
told visiting author Kira Van Deusen. ‘I knew there would be an
orientation point, but we had to search through the grass for a long
time to find it.

‘Now look up to the top of that ridge. You see a place where there is
a crack between the rocks? If you were here on the summer solstice, you
would see the sun rise right there. Or you would if you were here 2,000
years so. Now the timing is slightly differen’.

High on one cliff wall is a rock engraving showing dragon heads in one direction, and snake heads in the other.

‘If the sun were shining, we could tell the time,’ he said. ‘In the
morning the shadow moves along the snake’s body from his head to his
tail, and in the afternoon it comes from the other direction along the

‘From the same observation point you can determine true north and south by sighting along the mountains’.


Vietnam: early cemetery dug in Thahn HoaAustralian National University.
Some 140 human remains of all ages have been unearthed at the site of Con Co Ngua, estimated to be 6-4000 years old. Cemeteries of this size and age were previously unknown in the region. The site has also revealed a dearth of artifacts. 
The people were buried in fetal position with meat cuts of buffalo or deer.


India: 4000 y.o. stone tools unearthed in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh, Narmada river)India Today.
  • Some of them are decorated with aquatic animals.
  • 150×200 m. mound in Birjakhedi
  • Terracotta game pieces
  • Pottery (incl. jars, pots, dishes)
  • Stone and ivory beads
Bell Beaker rich lady’s burial unearthed in Berkshire (England)Wessex Archaeology.
The middle-aged woman wore a necklace of tubular golden beads, amber buttons on her clothes and a possible lignite bracelet. She was accompanied by a bell-shaped beaker of the “corded” type (oldest and roughest variant, of likely Central European inception).
The chemical signature of the gold beads is coherent with deposits from Southern Britain and SE Ireland. 

Giza pyramid construction’s logistics revealed Live Science.

Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?

Bertolt Brecht (A Worker reads History)

Now we know that at the very least the famed early pharaohs Khafra, Khufu and Menkaure, who ordered the massive pyramids of Giza to be built as their tombs did have some cooks in charge of feeding the many workers who actually built them, stone by stone. 
These workers were housed in a village some 400 meters south of the Sphinx, known as Heit el-Ghurab. In this place archaeologists have found a cemetery, a corral with apparent slaughter areas and piles of animal bones. Based on these, researchers estimate that more than 2,000 kilograms of meat were eaten every day during the construction of Menkaure’s pyramid, the last and smallest one of the three geometric mounds. 
The figures estimated for such a logistic operation border disbelief: 22,000 cows, 55,000 sheep and goats, 1200 km² of grazing land (roughly the size of Los Angeles or 5% of the Nile Delta), some 3500 herders (adding up to almost 20,000 people if we include their families). 
A curious detail is that most of the beef was destined to the building of the overseers, while the common workers were mostly fed sheep or goat instead. Another settlement to the East of apparently local farmers ate most of the pork. There were also temporary tent camps closer to the pyramids.

Iron Age

Late Indus Valley Civilization was overcome by violenceNational Geographic.

Harappa (CC by Shephali11011)
The Late Indus Valley Civilization (Cemetery H cultural layer, usually attributed to the Indoeuropean invasions) was, unlike in previous periods, quite violent, new evidence highlights. 
The evidence from the bones also highlights the arrival of many non-local men, who apparently married local women. But the most shocking element is the striking evidence of widespread violence:

The skull of a child between four and six years old was
cracked and crushed by blows from a club-like weapon. An adult woman was
beaten so badly—with extreme force, according to researchers—that her
skull caved in. A middle-aged man had a broken nose as well as damage
to his forehead inflicted by a sharp-edged, heavy implement.
Of the 18 skulls examined from this time period, nearly half showed serious injuries from violence …

Gaming pieces of Melton Mowbray (England)Science Daily.

Excavation of a hillfort at Burrough Hill revealed ancient gaming pieces, among other materials. 

Funerary chamber found near the original location of the Lady of Baza (Andalusia)Paleorama[es].

(CC by P.A. Salguero Quiles)
The tomb has an access gate and is estimated to be from the 5th or 4th centuries BCE (Iberian culture) and, unlike most burials of the time, the corpse was not incinerated. 
The finding highlights the need for further archaeological work in all the hill but the severe budgetary cuts threaten this development. 
Baza (Granada) hosts a dedicated archaeological museum inaugurated in 2011. 

Tocharian mummy buried with marijuana hoardPaleorama[es].

Some 800 grams of the psychedelic plant, including seeds, were found at the burial place of a Tocharian man, presumably a shaman, at Yanghai (Uyghuristan), belonging to the Gushi culture and dated to at least 2700 years ago. The plant belongs to a cultivated variety.
Some of the oldest cannabis evidence are also from that area (Pazyrk culture c. 2500 years ago) and also from Nepal (Mustang, similar dates). Later in Southern Central Asia it was used in combination with opium and ephedra, from where soon migrated to South Asia and many other parts of Eurasia.


New device radically reduces costs and time in DNA extractionScience Daily.
Researchers from the University of Washington and NanoFacture Inc. have developed a device, which looks like a kitchen appliance, able to extract DNA from tissues (like saliva or blood) in minutes at low cost and without using the toxic chemicals habitual in the field.
The prototype is designed for four samples but can be scaled for the lab standard of 96 samples at once.


Latest genetic news (links)

Anthropological and genetic news have been piling up in this strike journey. I’m not sure if I will be able to address all as they may deserve so I’m listing them here in very quick review.
My apologies because I meant that the “links” format would be over but if people overseas (and in some cases also in Europe) insist on working in the general strike journey and publishing things all around, all I can do is this (or risking not even doing anything at all).

Chimpanzee enterotype variation is just like ours. 

Even if our genomes have diverged the microscopic environments we host in our guts are almost exactly the same, with three different types depending exclusively on diet.
Andrew H. Moeller et al., Chimpanzees and humans harbour compositionally similar gut enterotypes. Nature Communications, 2012. Pay per view ··> LINK [doi:10.1038/ncomms2159]


Microbes inhabiting the human gastrointestinal tract tend to adopt one of three characteristic community structures, called ‘enterotypes’, each of which is overrepresented by a distinct set of bacterial genera. Here we report that the gut microbiotae of chimpanzees also assort into enterotypes and that these chimpanzee enterotypes are compositionally analogous to those of humans. Through the analysis of longitudinal samples, we show that the microbial signatures of the enterotypes are stable over time, but that individual hosts switch between enterotypes over periods longer than a year. These results support the hypothesis that enterotypic variation was present in populations of great apes before the divergence of humans and chimpanzees.

A more detailed review can be found at John Hawks’ Weblog.

Fig. 1 (a) Left chimpanzee enterotypes, right human ones

High altitude adaptions in Ethiopia

Research on Ethiopian genetic nuances with a Basque name as lead researcher:
Gorka Alkorta Aranburu et al., The genetic architecture of adaptations (sic) to high altitude in Ethiopia. Pre-pub at arXiv, 2012. Freely accessible ··> LINK [ref. code:
arXiv:1211.3053 [q-bio.PE]]


Although hypoxia is a major stress on physiological processes, several human
populations have survived for millennia at high altitudes, suggesting that they
have adapted to hypoxic conditions. This hypothesis was recently corroborated
by studies of Tibetan highlanders, which showed that polymorphisms in candidate
genes show signatures of natural selection as well as well-replicated
association signals for variation in hemoglobin levels. We extended genomic
analysis to two Ethiopian ethnic groups: Amhara and Oromo. For each ethnic
group, we sampled low and high altitude residents, thus allowing genetic and
phenotypic comparisons across altitudes and across ethnic groups. Genome-wide
SNP genotype data were collected in these samples by using Illumina arrays. We
find that variants associated with hemoglobin variation among Tibetans or other
variants at the same loci do not influence the trait in Ethiopians. However, in
the Amhara, SNP rs10803083 is associated with hemoglobin levels at genome-wide
levels of significance. No significant genotype association was observed for
oxygen saturation levels in either ethnic group. Approaches based on allele
frequency divergence did not detect outliers in candidate hypoxia genes, but
the most differentiated variants between high- and lowlanders have a clear role
in pathogen defense. Interestingly, a significant excess of allele frequency
divergence was consistently detected for genes involved in cell cycle control,
DNA damage and repair, thus pointing to new pathways for high altitude
adaptations. Finally, a comparison of CpG methylation levels between high- and
lowlanders found several significant signals at individual genes in the Oromo. 

An extensive review can be found at Ethio Helix (where else?)

Pig and boar genomes and evolutionary history

Martien A.M. Groenen et al., Analyses of pig genomes provide insight into porcine demography and evolution. Nature 2012. Open access ··> LINK [doi:10.1038/nature11622]


For 10,000years pigs and humans have shared a close and complex relationship. From domestication to modern breeding practices, humans have shaped the genomes of domestic pigs. Here we present the assembly and analysis of the genome sequence of a female domestic Duroc pig (Sus scrofa) and a comparison with the genomes of wild and domestic pigs from Europe and Asia. Wild pigs emerged in South East Asia and subsequently spread across Eurasia. Our results reveal a deep phylogenetic split between European and Asian wild boars ~1 million years ago, and a selective sweep analysis indicates selection on genes involved in RNA processing and regulation. Genes associated with immune response and olfaction exhibit fast evolution. Pigs have the largest repertoire of functional olfactory receptor genes, reflecting the importance of smell in this scavenging animal. The pig genome sequence provides an important resource for further improvements of this important livestock species, and our identification of many putative disease-causing variants extends the potential of the pig as a biomedical model.

Fig. 3 – reconstructed/estimated demographic history of boars

Less obvious strategies in long term evolutionary co-adaption

Interesting read on how competition can cause the formation of deep evolutionary valleys or gorges from which it is most difficult to exit and are therefore evolutionarily stable.
Eric Chastain et al., Defensive complexity and the phylogenetic conservation of immune control. Pre-pub at arXiv, 2012. Freely accessible ··> LINK [ref code: arXiv:1211.2878 [q-bio.PE]]


One strategy for winning a coevolutionary struggle is to evolve rapidly. Most of the literature on host-pathogen coevolution focuses on this phenomenon, and looks for consequent evidence of coevolutionary arms races. An alternative strategy, less often considered in the literature, is to deter rapid evolutionary change by the opponent. To study how this can be done, we construct an evolutionary game between a controller that must process information, and an adversary that can tamper with this information processing. In this game, a species can foil its antagonist by processing information in a way that is hard for the antagonist to manipulate. We show that the structure of the information processing system induces a fitness landscape on which the adversary population evolves. Complex processing logic can carve long, deep fitness valleys that slow adaptive evolution in the adversary population. We suggest that this type of defensive complexity on the part of the vertebrate adaptive immune system may be an important element of coevolutionary dynamics between pathogens and their vertebrate hosts. Furthermore, we cite evidence that the immune control logic is phylogenetically conserved in mammalian lineages. Thus our model of defensive complexity suggests a new hypothesis for the lower rates of evolution for immune control logic compared to other immune structures. 

Genetics and psychology in relation to heroin use and abuse

Ting Li et al., Pathways to Age of Onset of Heroin Use: A Structural Model Approach Exploring the Relationship of the COMT Gene, Impulsivity and Childhood Trauma. PLoS ONE, 2012. Open access ··> LINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048735] 



The interaction of the association of dopamine genes, impulsivity and childhood trauma with substance abuse remains unclear.


clarify the impacts and the interactions of the Catechol
-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene, impulsivity and childhood trauma on
the age of onset of heroin use among heroin dependent patients in China.


male and 248 female inpatients who meet DSM-IV criteria of heroin
dependence were enrolled. Impulsivity and childhood trauma were measured
using BIS-11 (Barratt Impulsiveness Scale-11) and ETISR-SF (Early
Trauma Inventory Self Report-Short Form). The single nucleotide
polymorphism (SNP) rs737866 on the COMT gene-which has previously been
associated with heroin abuse, was genotyped using a DNA sequence
detection system. Structural equations model was used to assess the
interaction paths between these factors and the age of onset of heroin

Principal Findings

test indicated the individuals with TT allele have earlier age of onset
of heroin use than those with CT or CC allele. In the correlation
analysis, the severity of childhood trauma was positively correlated to
impulsive score, but both of them were negatively related to the age of
onset of heroin use. In structure equation model, both the COMT gene and
childhood trauma had impacts on the age of onset of heroin use directly
or via impulsive personality.


findings indicated that the COMT gene, impulsive personality traits and
childhood trauma experience were interacted to impact the age of onset
of heroin use, which play a critical role in the development of heroin
dependence. The impact of environmental factor was greater than the COMT
gene in the development of heroin dependence.


Echoes from the past (Aug 29) – various interesting news

Follow here a series of links and comments on issues that are of some prehistoric or genetic interest (plus a well fed section of astronomy news this time), which I have got no time to deal with so far… or do not come with enough info to merit a separate entry… or are not of great interest to me.
Neanderthal trowel at Abric Romaní (Catalonia)

Print and reconstruction of the trowel
The almost hollow print of what once was a trowel (or similar) has been found at the important Paleolithic cave of Abric Romaní (Capellanes, Catalonia). The print came with some residues which indicate that the instrument was left at the fire when it was already off, so it did only burn superficially, later being deprived of oxygen by water and moss. 
The artifact’s length is of 32 cm, with a maximum width of 8 cm and may have been used to manage the fire. It is dated to 56,000 years ago.
··> El Mundo[es], Neanderfollia[cat].
More mammoth petroglyphs in North America
I recently mentioned a mammoth engraving from Florida, which should be from c. 13,000 BP. Another place where such engravings seem to exist is San Juan River, near Bluff (Utah).
That is what Ekkehart Malotki and Henry D. Wallace argue in a paper published at Stone Pages, which includes many images of petroglyphs, only a few of which look like mammoths, one of them very clearly so.

The mammoth (left, eroded) has a bison partially superimposed (right)

Opium ritual and medicinal use in Iberian Neolithic

Ritual use was some times associated to these idols
The opium poppy grows spontaneously in most of Europe, specially in the Mediterranean. I was knowledgeable that Western Danubian farmers had grown and used this narcotic in Germany and nearby areas but this is the first explicit reference I know of its use in the Mediterranean basin or the Iberian peninsula.
Sadly this material is in Spanish language and I don’t have room nor time here to deal with it properly. Hopefully later on.
The evidence of use of this drug is analyzed in several sites, most of them in Andalusia but also from Catalonia…
Paleolithic findings from Triacastela, Galicia
Pileta de Prehistoria[es] also tells us of research in a relatively ill-documented region: Galicia. The findings at Triacastela are from the Middle Paleolithic (Neanderthals) and Upper Paleolithic (H. sapiens). From this last period a decorated dart has been found:

Documentary on destroyed archaeological site

The last bit I want to highlight from Pileta is a documentary (in Spanish) on the destruction by private businesspeople of the archaeological patrimony of the cave of Chaves (Aragon). I already mentioned this crime against humankind in 2010 at my old blog.
··> Chaves la Memoria expoliada (video at Pileta de Prehistoria, in Spanish, 55 mins).
Archaic immune introgression?
I mentioned in June some speculation on HLA (immune system) introgression from Neanderthals or other archaic Homo in Asia. The corresponding paper has been published with more data but is pay per view (supp. material is accessible however). Back in the day I thought it looked at least partly unlikely (as the corresponding haplotypes are in some cases found in Africa).
Przewalski horses at the origin of domesticated horse Y-DNA

While horse mtDNA is most diverse and suggests many origins, all known Y-DNA comes from a single lineage… which happens to be related to that of the Przewalski wild horses of Mongolia via an ancient intermediate lineage located at Tuva Republic.
Ancient wild horses from Siberia and Alaska however had much greater Y-DNA diversity.
··> Science Daily, Nature (PPV).
Tunisian lineages
Dienekes mentions two new papers on Tunisian Y-DNA (and one of them also on mtDNA), yet they are both pay per view and the announced results seem not really novel. Anyhow, for the reference, they are:
Snow White and the red apple

Artistic rendering of Snow White
Unnamed Dwarf Planet (Snow White 2007 OR10) gives us some new information on itself and the Kuiper Belt. To begin with Snow White happens to be red in fact, what requires some explanation. 
Mike Brown, the man who demoted Pluto and discovered Eris, Sedna and a host of other Transneptunian objects, explains it in detail in three successive entries at his blog: The redemption of Snow White (part 1, part 2 and part 3).
Also news story at Science Daily.

Panspermia? Yes but from Earth outwards

Panspermia is the theory that proposes that life (in its primitive forms) may have arrived to Earth from outer space. Modeling of meteorite impacts however suggest that the opposite may also be true. These impacts could well have ejected materials with terrestrial life such as bacteria or even those hardy water bugs known as tardigrades, which can withstand almost anything.
So ‘earthling’ life may already exist on Mars, Venus or other planets, moons or asteroids of the Solar System… and there was no need for human-made spacecrafts for them to make such journeys. 
Direct evidence will have to wait however: it is just a model.
··> BBC.
    Diamond planet
    Extremely compressed carbon seems to be what a planet, once a white dwarf star, is made of. That is like saying that the whole planet is the largest known diamond ever. 
    Sadly for those thinking about mining it, it lays at 4000 light-years of distance, 1/8 of the path from here to the Galactic Center.
    ··> SD.


    ArchaeoNews April 23

    A quick review to some of the most interesting archaeological news from the Stone Pagesnews bulletin:

    Oldest (c. 6000 years ago) European depiction of magic mushrooms (Psylocibe sp.) is in Central Spain (left). An even older one is known from Algeria (c. 9000 years ago). (New Scientist).
    A very interesting research article by George Nash et al. on the Llwydiarth Esgob stone can be found at Past Horizons.
    Neolithic houses found under modern ones in Saxony (Germany) (Google – Canadian Press).

    South Asia
    Dolmen burials discovered in Central India. The newly found megalithic sites near Nagpur are among the northernmost ones of this Iron Age cultural and spiritual phenomenon (Times of India).
    East Asia

    Before the outrigger?
    Bamboo knives excellent for meat but awful for hides, and they dull quickly. Practical research by O. Bar Yosef, M.I. Eren and others sheds light on the bamboo knife speculations regarding Eastern Asian Paleolithic (SMU Research Blog). This is so fascinating that I’ll write a separate entry later on.
    Rising Seas transformed rice farmers into fishermen at Fuzhou (SE China), what might have triggered the Austronesian expansion (New Scientist)


    Oldest cloth from Peru (left) is 12,000 years old (Past Horizons, Eureka Alert)
    7000 years old human remains found in Iowa during sanitation works (Fox News)

    Alexander Shulgin, 85, hospitalized with a stroke. Donations and volunteers asked to preserve his work

    Ann and Alexander Shulgin
    I just learned via Psychedelic Research that one of the greatest researchers in psychoactive drugs, Alexander Shulgin, 85, has been hospitalized with a stroke. He was surgically intervened two years ago to replace a defective aortic valve and, given his age, he may leave us at any moment. 
    Shulgin, a Ph. D. Biochemist, has made extensive research in synthesis drugs such the widely known ecstasy, which he intended to use for the treatment of depression and other psychological disorders.
    In 1994 he saw his laboratory raided by the DEA after he published PHiKAL, a chemical love story
    The drug knowledge vault, Erowid, is now asking for volunteers (for transcriptions and image enhancement) and donations in order to help preserve his legacy. You can donate here (either to Erowid or directly to the Shulgins) and you can volunteer your services here.
    Leave a comment

    Posted by on November 18, 2010 in chemistry, drugs, mind, psychology