Audio News for December 28th, 2008 to January 3rd, 2009
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news December 28th, 2008 to January 3rd, 2009.
Ancient Alaskan mariner’s descendants moved as far south as Chile
Our first story is from Alaska, where results from DNA research on an ancient mariner who lived and died 10,000 years ago shows that some of his descendants can be found today in coastal Native American populations in California, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina.
Scientists examined the DNA of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians in Southeast Alaska and interviewed more than 200 Native Alaskans collecting samples of their mitochondrial DNA. Preliminary results indicate that none of the participants possessed DNA similar to that extracted from On Your Knees Cave man, the 10,300-year-old Alaskan whose remains were discovered 12 years ago. But it is also shows that some participants appear to be closely linked genetically to coastal Indian tribes in British Columbia and Washington State, in spite of anthropological studies that claim Tlingits were originally an Interior people.
According to Washington State University Assistant Professor Brian Kemp, the molecular anthropologist who led the research, only long-distance connections have been found. It appears that On Your Knees Cave man only has long-distance relatives too.
Bones of the ancient Alaskan were first discovered in 1996 by paleontologist Tim Heaton during an archaeological survey on the northern tip of Prince of Wales Island. They are the oldest human remains ever found in Alaska and among the oldest human remains ever found in North America. Heaton's team recovered a male pelvis, three ribs, a few vertebrae and a toothy, broken jaw, along with some ancient tools. The skeleton’s teeth indicate he died in his prime. His bones revealed that his primary food source came from the sea. The nearby stone tools, made of materials not found on the island, suggest a long-distance traveler, a mariner. After two years, mitochondrial DNA was extracted from one of the caveman's teeth, resulting in the oldest DNA sample ever recovered in the Americas at the time.
Population geneticists trace all humans alive today back to common ancestors who lived in Africa about 60,000 years ago. As they migrated north and east out of Africa, the common DNA they carried with them would occasionally mutate. Different populations that migrated to different destinations carried different sets of mutations, which scientists have categorized into haplogroups.
The first people to migrate to the Americas all belonged to one of five primary haplogroups: A, B, C, D, or X. Results clearly placed On Your Knees Cave man in the "D" branch of the human family tree. Knowing that On Your Knees Cave man was a D reduced the chances that he would have any close relatives still living among present-day Native Alaskans. Previous DNA sampling of Eskimos, Athabaskans and Southeast Alaska Indians had traced nearly all of them to haplogroup A, and a few of Bs.
Scientists believe the D mutation appeared for the first time about 50,000 years ago in Asia. On closer inspection, Kemp found that On Your Knees Cave man belonged more specifically to a genetic sub-group, which may have shown up as recently as 20,000 years ago. According to the research, some of the caveman's relatives decided to head south from Alaska. Members of his specific genetic lineage have been found among the Chumash people of Southern California, the Cayapa of Ecuador and the Yaghan of Tierra del Fuego. The fact that most of them landed at seaside destinations lends more credibility to scientists who believe the Lower 48 states and South America were populated first by coastal mariners. According to this scenario, these Ice Age migrants from Asia skirted around land-blocking glaciers in Alaska as early as 20,000 years ago and a question still exists whether some of those first Alaskans remain behind in the North. In terms of present-day Native Alaskans who might share the same specific genetic marker as On Your Knees Cave man, the jury is still out because genetic genealogy is still new. Very few Native Americans have been checked so far.
The DNA testing of 234 Southeast Alaska Indians was one of the largest samples ever collected in the Americas and it's possible the right person with the right match simply hasn't been tested yet. It's also possible that the Tlingits and Haidas arrived in Southeast Alaska after the cave man's people had already passed through. Research suggests that the Tlingits of today used to be two separate populations. Tlingit society has long been divided between two groups, called "moieties," known as the Eagles and the Ravens based on the mother's ancestry. It's possible that one group preceded the other. Oral traditions talk of the presence of an older population being here when they arrived.
Celtic village explored in Poland
Now we shift to Krakow, Poland, where a 3rd to 2nd century BC Celtic village is in the spotlight. Archaeologists from the Krakow Highway Exploration Team have been exploring it during a preliminary survey done ahead of future highway construction. They’ve unearthed coins, jewelry and everyday articles, which will help to reconstruct the life and fate of the Celts in the Malopolska district.
According to the lead archaeologist, the most valuable achievement from an archaeological point of view is being able to explore the whole village, which covered a 10 acre area. The team was able to identify the layout of 17 huts, as well as their structure and chronological order. Some glass objects found were of great significance, because styles of fragile glass jewelry changed over time. When a bracelet broke, a Celtic woman would get a new one, according to the latest fashion. Now, when the team finds pieces of bracelets, they can track changing styles and so more precisely date the place it was found in.
The Celts originally occupied much of western Europe, living in today's southern Germany, France, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria, and they were well known for their technical accomplishments, in particular processing metal and pottery. In 280-277 BC they invaded the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula, but had to pull back to the north. According to the archaeologists' theory, some of them went through the Moravian lands, now part of the Czech Republic, to Malopolska in the 3rd century BC, before any Slavic tribe got there.
Malopolska was at that time a largely depopulated area and the Celts could settle there and keep their customs and culture. It was this community that introduced the first money to what is now Poland. Most likely, they traded furs, amber, forest goods, and honey. The Celts migrated out of the Krakow area probably around the 2nd to the 1st century BC, possibly in response to the great Germanic migration that took place at that time. They left behind pieces of bracelets and glass beads imported from other Celtic tribes living in the south, as well as iron tools, among which was one of the oldest pair of scissors yet found. It is due to the accumulation of found items at the site that the scientists can specify the chronology of the Malopolska Celts.
Microscopic diamonds lend clues to 13,000-year-old catastrophe
In a new report, the discovery of microscopic diamonds a few feet beneath the surface of North America suggests that a comet caused a catastrophe of fire, flood and devastation nearly 13,000 years ago. The catastrophe extinguished mammoths, mastodons and dealt a blow to early American human populations.
Copious tiny particles of diamond dust exist in sediments dating to 12,900 years ago at six North American sites, adding strong evidence for Earth's impact with a rare swarm of carbon-and-water-rich comets. These nanodiamonds, produced under high-temperature, high-pressure, conditions created by cosmic impacts, are found concentrated in the same aged sediments layers at Murray Springs, Ariz., Bull Creek, Okla., Gainey, Mich., and Topper, S.C., as well as Lake Hind, Manitoba, and Chobot, Alberta, in Canada.
Nanodiamonds can be produced on Earth only through high-explosive blasts or chemical vaporization. Last year a 26-member team from 16 institutions proposed that a cosmic impact event, possibly by multiple comets, set off a 1,300-year-long cold spell known as the Younger Dryas (Dry ass). This event fragmented the prehistoric Clovis culture and led to the extinction of a large range of animals, including mammoths.
Reporting in the current issue of the journal Science, a team led by the University of Oregon archaeologist Douglas J. Kennett details the finding billions of nanometer-sized diamonds concentrated in sediments in the six locations. According to Kennett, the nanodiamonds found at all six locations exist only in sediments associated with the Younger Dryas Boundary layers, not above it or below it.
This discovery provides strong evidence for a cosmic impact event at approximately 12,900 years ago that would have had enormous environmental consequences for plants, animals and humans across North America. The Clovis culture of hunters and gatherers is associated with distinctive hunting tools referred to as Clovis points, first discovered in a mammoth's skeleton in 1926 near Clovis, N.M. Clovis sites later were identified across the United States, Mexico and as far south as Central America. The Clovis era is considered to have run from 13,200 to 12,900 years ago and ended abruptly in a mysterious fashion that now may have an explanation.
Parts of the Great Wall of China disappearing
Our final story is from China, where research is showing that about a fifth of the Great Wall in Inner Mongolia has disappeared. According to the head of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Regional Institute of Cultural and Historical Relics and Archaeology, the vanished sections measure almost 100 miles long.
The Great Wall was China's line of defense during much of its long history. Different sections wind over thousands of miles, passing through many provinces and autonomous regions. The first phase of construction dates to 475-221 BC, when sections were built in scattered strategic areas. The most visually outstanding component is generally considered to be a well-preserved 3,800 mile section from the Ming Dynasty of AD 1368-1644. This is the one often referred to when talking about the Great Wall. However, all the walls built in different dynasties around China have a total length exceeding 30,000 miles. In some areas, two walls built in two different dynasties can be seen running side by side.
In recent centuries, the Great Wall has been damaged by weather and human activities, leading to the disappearance of certain sections. Inner Mongolia has 9,000 miles of Great Wall sections built in different dynasties, accounting for one third of the country's total. Authorities in the region launched a preservation project earlier this year to protect the Wall's original architecture, including some reinforcement work. The Wall was listed as a United Nations World Heritage Site in 1987.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!