Category Archives: EUROPE

Traces of Siberian Genes Detected in Some Northern Europeans

Traces of Siberian Genes Detected in Some Northern Europeans

Stone cist graves from the Bronze Age in Northern Estonia
Stone cist graves from the Bronze Age in Northern Estonia

According to a fascinating new study combining genetics, archeology, and linguistics, Northern Europeans who speak Uralic languages such as Estonian and Finnish can thank ancient migrating Siberian populations for their dialects.

The majority of Europeans can trace their origins back to several ancestral populations, namely indigenous European hunter-gathers, early farmers from Anatolia (now Turkey), and Eurasian Steppe herders. European speakers of Uralic languages, such as Estonians and Finns, have DNA from ancient Siberians, which is unique among European populations.

The commingling of migrating Siberians with northern Europeans likely happened as some point within the last 5,000 years, but scientists have struggled to put a more precise date on it.

In the journal Current Biology, a research team led by archaeogeneticist Lehti Saag from the University of Tartu in Estonia has published new research that appears to finally answer this unresolved question.

By combining genetics with archaeology and linguistics, the team has shown that Uralic language speakers reached the Baltic at the beginning of the Iron Age some 2,500 years ago. What’s more, the migrating Siberians brought more than just their language with them—they also brought their DNA, the traces of which can still be seen in northern European populations.

For the study, Saag and her colleagues extracted ancient DNA from the teeth of 56 individuals who lived between 3,200 to 400 years ago, of which 33 provided samples robust enough for a DNA analysis.

The remains were pulled from Estonian Late Bronze Age graves dating to about 1200 to 400 BC and pre-Roman Iron Age graves dating back to between 800 BC and 50 BC.

“Studying ancient DNA makes it possible to pinpoint the moment in time when the genetic components that we see in modern populations reached the area since, instead of predicting past events based on modern genomes, we are analyzing the DNA of individuals who actually lived in a particular time in the past,” explained Saag in a press release.

Results of the analysis showed that Siberians reached the eastern Baltic no later than around 2,500 years ago.“We show that a component of possibly Siberian ancestry was added to the gene pool of the Eastern Baltic during the Bronze to Iron Age transition at the latest,” wrote the authors in the study. “Notably, the Bronze to Iron Age transition period also coincides with the hypothesized arrival of westernmost Uralic (Finnic) languages in the Eastern Baltic, supporting the idea that the spread of these languages was mediated by… migrants from the east.”

The transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age coincides with the diversification and arrival time of Finnic languages in the Eastern Baltic proposed by linguists, so it’s “possible that the people who brought Siberian ancestry to the region also brought Uralic languages with them,” said Saag in the press release. Archaeological evidence suggests the Siberians took a southwestern route to the Baltics, traveling through the Volga-Ural region.

Intriguingly, and consistent with other research, the analysis found that migrating Siberians introduced the genetic variants for light eyes, hair, and skin, along with an intolerance to lactose—characteristics that are still present in modern northern Europeans.

These traits can now be traced back to the Bronze Age in the eastern Baltic. As the authors noted in the study, the finding is “in line with previous suggestions that light skin pigmentation alleles [genetic variants] reached high frequencies in Europe only recently.”

Saag said her team’s research is significant because it’s a great example of where the field of studying the human past is moving. Insights from different fields, in this case archaeology, linguistics, and genetics, is “put together to gain as clear of a picture of the past as possible,” she said.

The paper is also significant in that the researchers “pinpoint the arrival of a 4th ancestry component in the Eastern Baltic,” one that’s “on top of European hunter-gatherer, Anatolian farmer, and Steppe pastoralist ancestry present all over Europe” which now separates most of the Uralic speakers in Europe from most of the other European populations, Saag said.

Looking ahead, Saag would like to study Iron Age migrations in more detail and conduct genetic analyses of individuals living during the medieval time period.

Cache of Roman Coins Found in Eastern England

Cache of Roman Coins Found in Eastern England

The largest haul of Roman coins from the early 4th Century AD ever found in Britain has been unearthed near Sleaford by 2 metal detector enthusiasts.

The discovery was made near Rauceby village after years of painfully searching the area by the detectors.

Archaeologists found the coin hoard had been buried in a stone lined hole in what is suggested to have been a ritual burial.
Archaeologists found the coin hoard had been buried in a stone lined hole in what is suggested to have been a ritual burial.

The hoard, which consists of more than 3,000 copper alloy coins, many of which are historically unique, is now being considered by the British Museum and is considered to be of major international importance.

The coins have today (Friday) officially been declared treasure under the Treasure Act 1996 at Lincoln Coroner’s Court. Finder Rob Jones, a 59 year old engineering teacher from Lincoln, and his friend Craig Paul, a 32 year old planner from Woodhall Spa, were speechless when they made the discovery in July 2017.

Rob said: “Our metal detectors started making signal noises, prompting us to dig down and have a look.” “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I’ve found a few things before, but absolutely nothing on this scale. I was totally amazed.

Finding the coins was the ultimate experience that we will never forget.”It’s an incredibly humbling experience knowing that when you discover something like this, the last time someone touched it was nearly 2,000 years ago! I was completely flabbergasted!

Experts from the British Museum are now examining the hugely significant hoard of Roman coins.
Experts from the British Museum are now examining the hugely significant hoard of Roman coins.

“A full investigation of the site was then undertaken by Craig, Dr Adam Daubney, archaeologist at Lincolnshire County Council and Sam Bromage from the University of Sheffield. During the excavation another hoard of 10 coins was found.

Craig commented: “It was fantastic to join the excavation to see Adam and Sam in action. To be there and see the pot appear out of the ground was really something. I never expected that there would be a second smaller hoard – that was just a bonus and really got us asking questions!”Dr Daubney said: “The coins were found in a ceramic pot, which was buried in the centre of a large oval pit – lined with quarried limestone.

What we found during the excavation suggests to me that the hoard was not put in the ground in secret, but rather was perhaps a ceremonial or votive offering. The Rauceby hoard is giving us further evidence for so-called ‘ritual’ hoarding in Roman Britain.”

Dr Eleanor Ghey, Curator of Iron Age and Roman Coin Hoards at the British Museum, added: “At the time of the burial of the hoard around AD 307, the Roman Empire was increasingly decentralised and Britain was once again in the spotlight following the death of the emperor Constantius in York.

Roman coins had begun to be minted in London for the first time. As the largest fully recorded find of this date from Britain, it has great importance for the study of this coinage and the archaeology of Lincolnshire.”

Paul Cope-Faulkner Archaeology Senior Manager at Heritage Lincolnshire added: “It is an exciting discovery and furthers our understanding of how important the area around Sleaford was in the closing days of the Roman empire.

Although we may never know why such a huge number of coins were collected together, it is possible that they were some form of offering to a temple, as many of the coins were not overly valuable in themselves.”I must also congratulate the two detectorists for reporting the hoard and allowing archaeologists to examine it so that the story of Roman Rauceby and Sleaford can be told.”

The Roman ‘Brexit’: how life in Britain changed after 409AD

The Roman ‘Brexit’: how life in Britain changed after 409AD

For Mainland Britain, leaving a major political body is nothing new. The island slipped from the control of the Roman Empire in 409AD, more than 350 years after the Roman conquest of 43AD.

Like the present Brexit, the process of this secession and its practical impacts in the early years of the 5th century on the population of Britain remain undefined.

As with the UK and Brussels, Britain had always been a mixed blessing for Rome. In around 415AD, St Jerome called the island “fertile in tyrants” (meaning usurpers) and late Roman writers portrayed a succession of rebellions in Britain, usually instigated by the army – many of whom would have been born in the province.

Around 407AD, the latest usurper, Constantine III, left Britain, taking the remaining elements of the army with him. The late Roman writer, Zosimus, then wrote that the pressure of Barbarian invaders obliged the British to throw off Roman rule and live “no longer subject to Roman laws but as they themselves pleased”, a phrase guaranteed to warm the heart of any Brexiteer.

This episode, around 409AD, seems to have been the end of the Roman government in Britain. No “Romans” left, beyond the small number of soldiers who went to the continent to fight with Constantine III. Instead, the end of Roman Britain was, like the proposed present Brexit, a change in a relationship with a distant administration. But how did this change actually affect the people who lived in the island? And what were the consequences?

Roman life disappearing

One of the remarkable things about the first decades of the 5th century was the apparent speed with which the things we associate with Roman life disappeared.

The use of coins seems to have been an early casualty. Coins were always supplied by Rome to do the things that the Roman government cared about, such as pay the army. The latest coins to be sent to Britain in any number stopped in 402AD.

Coin use may have continued in places for some years after, using older coins, but there was no real attempt to introduce local copies or substitutes (as sometimes happened elsewhere). This suggests there was no demand for small change or faith in the value of base metal coinage.

Industrial pottery manufacture (widespread in the 4th century) also vanished by about 420AD, while villas, some of which had achieved a peak of grandeur in the 4th century, were abandoned as luxury residences. Towns had already undergone dramatic changes, with monumental public buildings often abandoned from the 3rd century onwards, but signs of urban life vanish almost entirely after about 420AD.

The forts of Hadrian’s Wall, beset by what the 6th-century writer Gildas termed“loathsome hordes of Scots and Picts”, seemingly turned from Roman garrisons into bases of local leaders and militias.

Many archaeologists have argued that the change was more drawn out and less dramatic than I’ve described. Equally, our own views of what is and isn’t “Roman” may not coincide with those held by people living during the 5th century.

The notion of what was “Roman” was as complicated as “Britishness” is today. It’s also clear that many aspects of Mediterranean Roman life such as towns and monumental building never really took off in Britain to the extent that they did elsewhere in the empire and much of what we consider to be “Roman” never saw much enthusiasm across large parts of Britain. Nonetheless, we can be fairly certain that people quickly lost interest in things like coins, mosaics, villas, towns, and tableware.

Hadrian’s wall.

What came next

Although external forces such as Barbarian invasion are often blamed for the end of Roman Britain, part of the answer may lie in changes to the way that people living in Britain viewed themselves. During the 5th century once Britain was no longer part of the Roman Empire, new forms of dress, buildings, pottery and burial rapidly appeared, particularly in the east of Britain.

This may be partly associated with the coming of the “Germanic” immigrants from across the North Sea whose impacts are so bemoaned by writers such as Gildas. However, the change was so widespread that the existing population must also have adopted such novelties as well.

Paradoxically, in western Britain, at places like Tintagel, people who had never shown much interest in Mediterranean life began in the 5th and 6th centuries to behave in ways that were more “Roman”. They used inscriptions on stone and imported wine, tablewares (and presumably perishable goods like silk) from the eastern Mediterranean. For these people, “being Roman” (perhaps associated with Christianity) assumed a new importance, as a way of expressing their difference from those in the east who they associated with “Germanic” incomers.

Archaeology suggests that late Roman Britain saw the same challenges to personal and group identities that the current Brexit debate stirs today. There can surely be little doubt that, had they lived in the 5th century, those who now identify as Leavers and Remainers would have debated the impact of foreign immigration and the merits of staying in the Roman Empire with equal passion. We must hope that some of the more dramatic changes of the 5th century, such as the disappearance of urban life and a monetary economy, do not find their 21st-century equivalents.

A 5,000-year-old barley grain discovered in Finland changes understanding of livelihoods

A 5,000-year-old barley grain discovered in Finland changes the understanding of livelihoods

Researchers determined the age of millennia-old barley grains using radiocarbon dating.

Researchers determined the age of millennia-old barley grains using radiocarbon dating.

Representatives of the Stone Age Pitted Ware Culture was known as hard-core sealers or even Baltic Sea Inuit. based on prior research.

Now, researchers have discovered barley and wheat grains in areas previously inhabited by this culture, leading to the conclusion that the Pitted Ware Culture adopted agriculture on a small scale.

A study carried out in cooperation with parties representing the discipline of archaeology and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Helsinki, as well as Swedish operators in the field of archaeology (The Archaeologists, a governmental consultant agency, and Arkeologikonsult, a business), found grains of barley and wheat in Pitted Ware settlements on Finland’s Aland Islands and in the region of modern Stockholm.

The age of the grains was ascertained using radiocarbon dating. Based on the results, the grains originated in the period of the Pitted Ware culture, thus being approximately 4,300-5,300 years old. In addition to the cereal grains, the plant remnants found in the sites included hazelnut shells, apple seeds, tuberous roots of lesser celandine and rose hips.

The study suggests that small-scale farming was adopted by the Pitted Ware Culture by learning the trade from farmers of the Funnel Beaker Culture, the latter having expanded from continental Europe to Scandinavia. Other archaeological artifacts are also evidence of close contact between these two cultures.

“The grains found on Aland are proof that the Pitted Ware Culture introduced cultivation to places where it had not yet been practiced,” says Santeri Vanhanen, a doctoral student of archaeology at the University of Helsinki.

Cereal perhaps used to brew beer?

The 5,000-year-old barley grain found on Aland is the oldest grain of cereal ever found in Finland.

The researchers also found a handful of barley and wheat grains a few hundred years younger, representing either common wheat or club wheat.“We also dated one barley grain found in Raseborg, southern Finland.

This grain and the other earliest grains found in mainland Finland date back some 3,500 years, some 1,500 years behind Aland according to current knowledge,” Vanhanen explains.

In prior studies, it has been extremely difficult to demonstrate that the hunter-gatherer population would have adopted farming during recorded history, let alone in the Stone Age. Research on ancient DNA has in recent years proven that the spread of agriculture in Europe was almost exclusively down to migrants.

“We find it possible that this population, which was primarily specialized in marine hunting, continued to grow plants as the practice provided the community with social significance.”From time to time, an abundance of pig bones is found at Pitted Ware sites, even though pigs were not an important part of their daily nourishment.

For instance, the bones of more than 30 pigs were found in a grave located on the island of Gotland.“Members of the Pitted Ware culture may have held ritual feasts where pigs and cereal products were consumed. It’s not inconceivable that grains might even have been used to brew beer, but the evidence is yet to be found,” Vanhanen continues.

Grain-age determined through radiocarbon dating

The research relies primarily on archaeobotanical methodology, which helps examine plant remains preserved in archaeological sites.

In this study, soil samples were collected from the sites, from which plant remains were extracted using a flotation method. The plant remains are charred; in other words, the grains and seeds have turned into carbon after having come to contact with fire.

Plant remains can be identified by examining them through a microscope and comparing them to modern plant parts. The age of individual grains can be determined with radiocarbon dating, based on the fractionation of the radioactive carbon-14 isotope. This way, the age of a grain aged several millennia can be determined with a precision of a few centuries.

Archaeologists re-excavate hidden Roman bath after 130 years

Archaeologists have begun re-excavating a hidden Roman bath which was first discovered 130 years ago.

It is one of eight baths known at the Roman Baths site, measuring 4 meters x 5 meters, and is located under York Street next to the main bath suite.

Stephen Clews, manager of the Roman Baths, said: “The excavation of this bath is part of the most important archeological research that has been going on at the Roman Baths for over 30 years.

It is helping us to build a picture of what was happening on the south side of the site, where it has been very difficult to gain access in the past.”

The excavation of the bath is part of a wider programme of investigation taking place as part of the National Lottery funded Archway Project, which is creating a new Clore Learning Centre for the Roman Baths and a World Heritage Centre for the city.

The position of the bath means that it cannot be seen by visitors on a normal visit to the Roman Baths. The excavation is being carried out for the Roman Baths by Cotswold Archaeology.

The Archway Project is run by Bath & North East Somerset Council, which owns and operates the Roman Baths, with the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Clore Duffield Foundation, The Roman Baths Foundation, the Garfield Weston Foundation and hundreds of other supporters and donors.

Baths and temple complex

Aquae Sulis was a small town in the Roman province of Britannia that is now modern day Bath. The Romans had probably arrived in the area shortly after their arrival in Britain in AD 43 and there is evidence that their military road, the Fosse Way, crossed the river Avon at Bath.

Not far from the crossing point of their road, they would have been attracted by the large natural hot spring which had been a shrine of the Celtic Brythons, dedicated to their goddess Sulis.

This spring is a natural mineral spring found in the valley of the Avon River in Southwest England, it is the only spring in Britain officially designated as hot.

The name is Latin for “the waters of Sulis.”The Romans identified the goddess with their goddess Minerva and encouraged her worship that helped the native populations adapt to Roman culture.

The spring was built up into a major Roman Baths complex associated with an adjoining temple. About 130 messages to Sulis scratched onto lead curse tablets (defixiones) have so far been recovered from the Sacred Spring by archaeologists

Here’s What Scotland’s Dogs Looked Like 4,500 Years Ago

Here’s What Scotland’s Dogs Looked Like 4,500 Years Ago

We’re pretty sure dogs aren’t obsessed with ancestry, despite the proliferation of canine DNA testing services. That seems to be more of a human thing.

However, with very little digging, nearly every dog on earth could claim to be descended from a handsome specimen such as the one above.

This news must be gratifying to all those lapdogs who fancy themselves to be something more wolfish than their exteriors suggest.

This beast is no 21st-century pet, but rather, a reconstruction, forensic science’s best guess as to what the owner of a Neolithic skull discovered during a 1901 excavation of the 5,000-year-old Cuween Hill chambered cairnon Orkney, Scotland would have looked like in life.

About the size of a large collie, the “Cuween dog” has the face of a European grey wolf and the reasonable gaze of a family pet. (Kudos to the project’s organizers for resisting the urge to bestow a nickname on their creation, or if they have, to resist sharing it publicly.)Whether or not this good boy or girl had a name, it would’ve earned its keep, guarding a farm in the tomb’s vicinity.

Steve Farrar, Interpretation Manager at Historic Environment Scotland, the conservation organization that commissioned the reconstruction, believes that the farmers’ esteem for their dogs went beyond mere utilitarian appreciation: Maybe dogs were their symbol or totem, perhaps they thought of themselves as the ‘dog people’.

Radiocarbon dating of this dog’s skull and 23 others found on the site point to ritual burial—the animals were placed within more than 500 years after the passage to the tomb was built.

Historic Environment Scotland posits that the canine remains’ placement next to those of humans attest to the community’s belief in an afterlife for both species.

The model is presumably more relatable than the naked skull, which was scanned by Edinburgh University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, enabling Historic Environment Scotland to make the 3D print that forensic artist Amy Thornton fleshed out with muscle, skin, and hair.

What a human genealogist wouldn’t give to trace their lineage back to 2000 BC, let alone have such a fetching picture.

The Cuween Hill chambered cairn. (A cairn is a stone mound that serves as a memorial or landmark.)
The Cuween Hill chambered cairn. (A cairn is a stone mound that serves as a memorial or landmark.)

Rare Bone Disease Detected in Medieval Skeletons

Medieval skeletons reveal an ancient and unusual form of bone disease that caused people to die as young as 35 Uncovered at Nottingham, England

Paget's disease of bone is a common disorder that interferes with the body's natural bone recycling process. It causes new bone to be generated faster than normal — but such is softer and weaker than it should be (Pictured: a collarbone showing visible signs of the condition)
Paget’s disease of bone is a common disorder that interferes with the body’s natural bone recycling process. It causes new bone to be generated faster than normal — but such is softer and weaker than it should be (Pictured: a collarbone showing visible signs of the condition)

According to a new archeological study, skeletons excavated from Norton Priory in England contain a rare and unusually aggressive form of bone disease similar to the disease of Paget.

Paget’s bone disease is a chronic disorder that gradually replaces old bone tissue with new bone tissue. The new replacement tissue, however, is weak, making some bones easy to fracture, break, and damage.

The earliest reports of Paget’s disease were found in ancient Roman remains, but little is known about the history, origin, and evolution of the disease.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham and a team of collaborators analyzed excavated remains from the priory dating back to the Medieval period. Six out of the 130 skeletons excavated contained a strange form of Paget’s.

As much as 75 percent of the skeletons of some individuals were affected by the disease.

The researchers also calculated an age of death as low as 35 for some of the individuals directly due to the disease.“We identify an ancient and atypical form of Paget’s disease of bone (PDB) in a collection of medieval skeletons exhibiting unusually extensive pathological changes, high disease prevalence, and low age-at-death estimations,” the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team sequenced DNA from the preserved remains and used RNA and protein analysis to identify an ancient protein similar to one called p62, which plays a fundamental role in Paget’s disease today.“

Detection of ancient p62 as one of the few noncollagenous proteins in skeletal samples (bones and teeth) based on a combination of peptide sequencing and Western blotting is strongly indicative of a diagnosis of PDB…,” the researchers wrote.

Paget’s disease is believed to have originated in Western Europe and the UK.

Viking sword discovery: Hunter finds a 1,100-year-old weapon on Norwegian mountain

Viking sword discovery: Hunter finds a 1,100-year-old weapon on Norwegian mountain

Viking sword discovery: Hunter finds a 1,100-year-old weapon on Norwegian mountain

Researchers were able to determine that the sword dates back to 850-950 AD, and was likely owned by a Viking swordsman.

Reindeer hunters in Norway were surprised to find an amazingly well-preserved Viking sword while they were hunting in a high altitude area.

Secrets of The Ice, a Norwegian glacial archaeology organization, reports that a 1,200-year-old Viking sword was discovered by reindeer hunters in Norway.

Reindeer hunter Einar Åmbakk and 2 friends were hunting in the high mountains of Oppland County, Norway, when they stumbled across this ancient sword. The sword was wedged between two rocks on a plain filled with the small rocks that pepper the Norwegian countryside, known as scree.

Researchers accompanied hunter Einar Ambakk, who found the sword, back to the site with a metal detector, but were unable to find any other artifacts nearby.
Researchers accompanied hunter Einar Ambakk, who found the sword, back to the site with a metal detector, but were unable to find any other artifacts nearby.

Though the blade was rusted, and any organic material that was attached to it like leather straps or bone and wood adornments had rotted away years ago, it was remarkably well preserved. The extreme cold and low pressure may have prevented further rusting or degradation from occurring.

The Viking sword.

He then posted a picture of this sword on social media, which spurred researchers to further investigate the sword, as well as the site of the find. Researchers were able to determine that the sword dates back to 850-950 AD, and was likely owned by a Viking swordsman.

Researchers also returned to the scree-covered mountains with the reindeer hunters, a local metal detectorist and a local archaeologist. This team investigated the site, but were unable to find any further artifacts.

However, they were able to determine that the blade had not been covered by any permafrost or had been buried under the rocks. Rather, they realized that the sword must have been simply left on the surface of the mountain thousands of years ago.

Why the Viking was traveling in this desolate countryside, and how the sword, an incredibly valuable tool, and commodity at the time, came to be left there, we will never know, but researchers theorize that it may have been left there after a Viking got lost during a particularly horrible blizzard.

Though we’ll never know exactly what happened, this sword provides us with a glimpse into the past, capturing a moment when a sword was abandoned on a barren hill over a thousand years ago.