Category Archives: ASIA

14,000-Year-Old Ancestor of Native Americans Identified in Russia

14,000-Year-Old Ancestor of Native Americans Identified in Russia

Since the Upper Paleolithic, modern humans have lived near Baikal Lake, and left a rich archeological record behind.

Russian archaeologists in 1976 excavating the Ust’-Kyakhta-3 site on the banks of the Selenga River

The region’s ancient genomes also uncovered multiple genetic turnovers and admixture events, indicating that the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age was facilitated by human mobility and complex cultural interactions. The nature and timing of these interactions, however, remains largely unknown.

The reports of 19 newly sequenced human genomes, including one of the oldest ones recorded by the area of Lake Baikal, are presently in a new study published in the journal Cell.

Led by the Department of Archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the study illuminates the population history of the region, revealing deep connections with the First Peoples of the Americas, dating as far back as the Upper Paleolithic period, as well as connectivity across Eurasia during the Early Bronze Age.

The deepest link between peoples

“This study reveals the deepest link between Upper Paleolithic Siberians and First Americans,” says He Yu, the first author of the study. “We believe this could shed light on future studies about Native American population history.”

Past studies have indicated a connection between Siberian and American populations, but a 14,000-year-old individual analyzed in this study is the oldest to carry the mixed ancestry present in Native Americans.

Using an extremely fragmented tooth excavated in 1976 at the Ust-Kyahta-3 site, researchers generated a shotgun-sequenced genome enabled by cutting edge techniques in molecular biology.

A fragmented tooth belonging to a close cousin of today’s Native Americans

This individual from southern Siberia, along with a younger Mesolithic one from northeastern Siberia, shares the same genetic mixture of Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) and Northeast Asian (NEA) ancestry found in Native Americans and suggests that the ancestry which later gave rise to Native Americans in North- and South America was much more widely distributed than previously assumed.

Evidence suggests that this population experienced frequent genetic contacts with NEA populations, resulting in varying admixture proportions across time and space.

“The Upper Paleolithic genome will provide a legacy to study human genetic history in the future,” says Cosimo Posth, a senior author of the paper. Further genetic evidence from Upper Paleolithic Siberian groups is necessary to determine when and where the ancestral gene pool of Native Americans came together.

A web of prehistoric connections

In addition to this transcontinental connection, the study presents connectivity within Eurasia as evidenced in both human and pathogen genomes as well as stable isotope analysis.

Combining these lines of evidence, the researchers were able to produce a detailed description of the population history in the Lake Baikal region.

The presence of Eastern European steppe-related ancestry is evidence of contact between southern Siberian and western Eurasian steppe populations in the preamble to the Early Bronze Age, an era characterized by increasing social and technological complexity. The surprising presence of Yersinia pestis, the plague-causing pathogen, points to further wide-ranging contacts.

Recent view on the Selenga River close to the archeological site Ust-Kyakhta-3

Although spreading of Y. pestis was postulated to be facilitated by migrations from the steppe, the two individuals here identified with the pathogen were genetically northeastern Asian-like. Isotope analysis of one of the infected individuals revealed a non-local signal, suggesting origins outside the region of discovery.

In addition, the strains of Y. pestis the pair carried is most closely related to a contemporaneous strain identified in an individual from the Baltic region of northeastern Europe, further supporting the high mobility of those Bronze age pathogens and likely also people.

“This easternmost appearance of ancient Y. pestis strains is likely suggestive of long-range mobility during the Bronze Age,” says Maria Spyrou, one of the study’s co-authors.

“In the future, with the generation of additional data we hope to delineate the spreading patterns of plague in more detail,” concludes Johannes Krause, senior author of the study.   

Researchers Find 1,400-Year-Old Rooms Under Jerusalem’s Western Wall

Researchers Find 1,400-Year-Old Rooms Under Jerusalem’s Western Wall

Previously, archeologists discovered three ancient subterranean chambers located in the bedrock under the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem. 

The excavation was part of a larger project to create an underground expanse showcasing various eras.

Two thousand years ago, the chambers were consisting of an open courtyard and two rooms, were carved on top of one another and connected by hewn staircases.

According to a statement from the Israel Ancientities Authority, inside the chambers, archaeologists discovered clay-cooking pots, cores of oil lamps, a stone mug, and a qalal or a large stone basin that was used to hold water for rituals.

The archeologists also found a long carving at the entrance to the chambers for shelves and depressions for door hinges and bolts, as well as round, square and triangular niches carved into the walls, some of which could have been used to place oil-lamps in.

These findings likely mean that these chambers were used daily, according to the statement. But it’s not clear what they were actually used for.

“Perhaps, it served as a pantry for an overhead structure that didn’t survive, or as a hewn space” for living underground, Mordechai Eliav, the director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, said in the statement.

Oil candles were among the items discovered in the underground chambers.

“We’re asking ourselves what was the function of this very complex rock-cut system?” co-director of the excavation Barak Monnickendam-Givon said in an accompanying video.

People could have lived in these underground chambers or stored food or groceries there for possibly another long-gone building above it.

“Another possibility is that this system was used for hiding during the siege on Jerusalem 2000 years ago when the Roman legions conquered the city,” he said.

The subterranean chambers were hidden beneath the white mosaic floor of a public building that was created around 1,400 years ago during the Byzantine period.

The building was renovated about 1,250 years ago, during the Abbasid period, according to the statement. In the 11th century, the building was destroyed and the subterranean chambers, along with other finds, were buried and stayed hidden for centuries.

These chambers were found in the “Beit Strauss” complex, beneath the entrance lobby to the Western Wall Tunnels, which helped the builders of the wall support its massive weight. (The tunnels also contained channels that supplied water to the Second Temple, according to Atlas Obscura).

Archeologists discovered this measuring cup in the chambers.

The complex was likely used by residents of the city during the early Roman period, before Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, according to a statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Western Wall is the only remaining part of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, which the Romans destroyed along with the rest of the city, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Dental Tartar Yields Food Data from Japan’s Edo Period

Dental Tartar Yields Food Data from Japan’s Edo Period

Rikai Sawafuji of the University of the Ryukyus, Shintaroh Ueda of the University of Tokyo, and their colleagues analyzed samples of tartar from the teeth of 13 people who were buried in what is now eastern Tokyo in the latter half of the Edo Period, from A.D. 1603 to 1867. DNA from the rice was identified in the tartar of eight of the individuals. The DNA of other foods, including daikon radish, the minty herb “shiso” perilla, green onion, Japanese chestnut, carrot, and the pumpkin was also identified. 

A tartar formation found on teeth (Provided by Rikai Sawafuji)

However, the scientists from the University of the Ryukyus, the University of Tokyo, and elsewhere identified even the families and genera of plants eaten at the time by surveying calculus on the teeth of human remains.

The findings, expected to shed light on the dietary and other habits of people of the time, were published in the academic journal Plos One. The team of scientists sampled the DNA from teeth on the bones of 13 people unearthed in Tokyo’s Koto Ward that date to the latter half of the Edo Period.

The researchers studied what plant the samples are from, as recent research has revealed tartar contains the DNA of what was consumed by the individuals. According to the team’s findings, rice-derived DNA was detected from calculus specimens of eight people, while DNA highly likely connected to such plants as the daikon radish, “shiso” perilla, Welsh onion, Japanese chestnut, carrot and pumpkin from nine genera in seven families were also discovered.

Those plants are, according to the scientists, described as foods in records from the period. Meanwhile, DNA from the tobacco genus was identified as well, reinforcing the theory that smoking had already become a popular practice by that time.

A Dipterocarpaceae-linked DNA sample, which is typically found in the tropics, indicates that the resin of the plant was used as an ingredient for tooth powder in the Edo Period, the scientists said.

Team members included Rikai Sawafuji from the University of the Ryukyus, a research fellow affiliated with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science who now belongs to the Graduate University for Advanced Studies; and Shintaro Ueda, a professor emeritus of bioscience at the University of Tokyo. 

Sawafuji expressed high expectations for the possibility of the DNA analysis allowing researchers in the future to determine even people’s personal favorites based on the remnants left behind on their teeth.

“The technique will make it possible to survey what each individual ate,” said Sawafuji.

Another anticipated benefit of the method is that how plants were used, including the staple foods of each era, which can be determined, because “plants detected from the teeth of many people’s remains were likely widely consumed.”

Tartar as Research Specimen

In the past, calculus formations remaining in human skulls were often simply removed, since their presence made it difficult to examine the shapes of teeth and other factors.

But DNA, starch particles, proteins, and other substances contained in tartar can currently be surveyed in detail, adding to calculus’ significance for research purposes.

Among other ways to take advantage of tartar, the DNA analysis was introduced 10 or so years ago, although more than 99 percent of DNA detected from the object come from bacilli and the method was first adopted to research changing bacterial floras in the oral cavity.

In the early stage of the development, a study was carried out in 2014 to collect DNA from pork and wheat ingested by Germans in the medieval period.

In 2017, the results of the analysis of calculus from Neanderthal men dating to 50,000 years ago were released, showing they ate different foodstuffs in different regions because DNA from mutton and other kinds of meat, as well as moss and mushrooms, were found.

As the poplar-derived DNA was also discovered, speculation swirled that the plant, currently used for making aspirin, “could be used to ease the pain.”

Hiroki Ota, a bioscience professor at the University of Tokyo, noted, however, that the DNA-based method should be combined with various other techniques for improved research.

“Tartar DNA no doubt reflects what the person ate, so use of the substance will spread further,” said Ota. “But calculus could be formed differently in differing dietary cultures. So the research accuracy needs to be improved by conducting a variety of methods using coprolites (fossilized feces) and other objects to uncover all details.”

Text Found on Supposedly Blank Dead Sea Scroll Fragments

Text Found on Supposedly Blank Dead Sea Scroll Fragments

Four fragments of the manuscript Dead Sea Scroll, located in the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester, which were previously thought to be blank, do in fact contain text.

The Hebrew word “Shabbat” is visible in the upper right-hand corner. A lamed (the letter “L” in Hebrew) is written on the left side of the fragment.

The finding reveals that Manchester University is the only UK institution with authenticated textual fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The research was carried out as part of a Leverhulme-funded study conducted at King’s College London and was conducted jointly by Professor Joan Taylor (King’s College London), Professor Marcello Fidanzio (Lugano Theology Faculty) and Dr. Dennis Mizzi (Malta University).

Joan Taylor examining the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments in the John Rylands Library Reading Room (DQCAAS)

Unlike the recent cases of forgeries assumed to be Dead Sea Scrolls fragments, all of these small pieces were unearthed in the official excavations of the Qumran caves and were never passed through the antiquities market.

In the 1950s, the fragments were gifted by the Jordanian government to Ronald Reed, a leather expert at the University of Leeds, so he could study their physical and chemical composition.

It was assumed that the pieces were ideal for scientific tests, as they were blank and relatively worthless. These were studied and published by Reed and his student John Poole, and then stored safely away.

In 1997 the Reed Collection was donated to The University of Manchester through the initiative of Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis, George Brooke. These fragments have been stored in Reed’s own labeled boxes in The John Rylands Library, and have been relatively untouched since then.

When examining the fragments for the new study, Professor Taylor thought it possible that one of them did actually contain a letter, and therefore decided to photograph all of the existing fragments over 1 cm that appears blank to the naked eye, using multispectral imaging.

51 fragments were imaged front and back. Six were identified for further detailed investigation—of these, it was established that four have readable Hebrew/Aramaic text written in carbon-based ink. The study has also revealed ruled lines and small vestiges of letters on other fragments.

The most substantial fragment has the remains of four lines of text with 15-16 letters, most of which are only partially preserved, but the word Shabbat (Sabbath) can be clearly read. This text (pictured) may be related to the biblical book of Ezekiel (46:1-3). One-piece with text is the edge of a parchment scroll section, with sewn thread, and the first letters of two lines of text may be seen to the left of this binding.

“Looking at one of the fragments with a magnifying glass, I thought I saw a small, faded letter—a lamed, the Hebrew letter “L,'” said Professor Taylor. “Frankly, since all these fragments were supposed to be blank and had even been cut into for leather studies, I also thought I might be imagining things. But then it seemed maybe other fragments could have very faded letters too.”

“With new techniques for revealing ancient texts now available, I felt we had to know if these letters could be exposed. There are only a few on each fragment, but they are like missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle you find under a sofa.”

The research team is currently undertaking further investigations of these fragments in consultation with The John Rylands Library and Professor Brooke, as part of a larger project studying the various Qumran artifacts at the John Rylands Library. The results will be published in a forthcoming report.

“I am hugely grateful to Professor Joan Taylor and her colleagues, and to the brilliant work of our imaging specialists, for bringing this astonishing discovery to light.

Our University is now the only institution in the United Kingdom to hold authenticated textual fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Close-up of Dead Sea Scrolls fragment (DQCAAS)

It is particularly fitting that these fragments are held here at The John Rylands Library, one of the world’s greatest repositories of Judaeo-Christian texts,” says Professor Christopher Pressler, John Rylands University Librarian and Director of the University of Manchester Library.