Monthly Archives: April 2008

The Minoans, DNA and all.

Starting with the breaking DNA news, and this rather sinks the ‘Black Athena’ theory from Bernal…

DNA sheds light on Minoans

Crete’s fabled Minoan civilization was built by people from Anatolia, according to a new study by Greek and foreign scientists that disputes an earlier theory that said the Minoans’ forefathers had come from Africa.

The new study – a collaboration by experts in Greece, the USA, Canada, Russia and Turkey – drew its conclusions from the DNA analysis of 193 men from Crete and another 171 from former neolithic colonies in central and northern Greece.

The results show that the country’s neolithic population came to Greece by sea from Anatolia – modern-day Iran, Iraq and Syria – and not from Africa as maintained by US scholar Martin Bernal.

The DNA analysis indicates that the arrival of neolithic man in Greece from Anatolia coincided with the social and cultural upsurge that led to the birth of the Minoan civilization, Constantinos Triantafyllidis of Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University told Kathimerini.

“Until now we only had the archaeological evidence – now we have genetic data too and we can date the DNA,” he said.

Archeological dates for the colonisation of Crete are about 7,000 BC.

In more detail

The most frequent haplogroups among the current population on Crete were: R1b3-M269 (17%), G2-P15 (11%), J2a1-DYS413 (9.0%), and J2a1h-M319 (9.0%). They identified J2a parent haplogroup J2a-M410 (Crete: 25.9%) with the first ancient residents of Crete during the Neolithic (8500 BCE – 4300 BCE) suggesting Crete was founded by a Neolithic population expansion from ancient Turkey/Anatolia. Specifically, the researchers connected the source population of ancient Crete to well known Neolithic sites of ancient Anatolia: Asıklı Höyük, Çatalhöyük, Hacılar, Mersin/Yumuktepe, and Tarsus. Haplogroup J2b-M12 (Crete: 3.1%; Greece: 5.9%) was associated with Neolithic Greece. Haplogroups J2a1h-M319 (8.8%) and J2a1b1-M92 (2.6%) were associated with the Minoan culture linked to a late Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age migration to Crete ca. 3100 BCE from North-Western/Western Anatolia and Syro-Palestine (ancient Canaan, Levant, and pre-Akkadian Anatolia); Aegean prehistorians link the date 3100 BCE to the origins of the Minoan culture on Crete. Haplogroup E3b1a2-V13 (Crete: 6.7%; Greece: 28%) was suggested to reflect a migration to Crete from the mainland Greece Mycenaean population during the late Bronze Age (1600 BCE – 1100 BCE). Haplogroup J1 was also reported to be found in both Crete and Greece (Crete: 8.3%; Greece: 5.2%), as well as haplogroups E3b3, I1, I2, I2a, I21b, K2, L, and R1a1. No ancient DNA was included in this study of YDNA from the Mediterranean region.

So far the only information I can find on Cretan mitochondrial DNA places them overwhelmingly with the European and Near Eastern populations.


The first settlers introduced cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and dogs, as well as domesticated cereals (wheat and barley) and legumes. The first settlers seem to be aceramic, the first ceramics appeared about a thousand years later. Quite possibly the technology was imported, as it appears in a fairly sophisticated form.

The plain chalice is an example of Pyrgos ware, one of the earliest forms of Cretan pottery. Minoan sites are commonly dated by the style of their pottery.

Minoan ceramics became increasingly ornate. After the Thera explosion and tsunami, marine creatures were frequently used to decorate the pottery.



The Minoans traded extensively with just about everyone in the Mediterranean, and Minoan pottery is often found in Egypt, Cyprus, the Cylades, and Mycenae. 

The Minoan palaces

The palace of Knossos, exterior.

And interior, other images here.

The inside of the palaces also had a flushing toilet and a primitive sort of shower. They were very advanced for the time. The same kind of indoor plumbing was found in Santorini, a Minoan colony

The first Palace was built around 2000 BC and destroyed 300 years later.

On the same site a new Palace was built, more elaborate than the previous, only to be severely damaged from an earthquake one hundred years latter.

During this period we see the development of a series of satellite buildings like the “Little Palace”, the “Royal Villa” and the “South House”. Knossos has now developed into a large city whose population – judged by the adjacent cemeteries – must have not been less than 100 000 inhabitants.

The Minoan civilisation was dealt a serious blow by the explosion of Santorini in 1645 BC. A major Tsunami about 15m high destroyed their fleet and coastal towns, and left them starving and vulnerable to invasion.

The Minoan society itself seemed to matriarchal and not particularly interested in warfare, although they did possess swords and other weapons. Mostly, the worship was of goddesses, carried out by priestesses. There was also the famous bull leaping ritual, depicted in it’s art repeatedly.

The Minoans developed their own writing system, known as linear A (as yet only partially deciphered) and Linear B. The Phaistos disc below is of an unknown script similar to Anatolian Heiroglyphs and Linear A, as yet undeciphered.


Red hair, skin pigmentation and the MC1R variants.

Just a collection of ginger-related articles .

Melanocortin 1 Receptor Variants in an Irish Population

Received 11 November 1997; Revised 25 February 1998; Accepted 13 March 1998.

The identification of an association between variants in the human melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) gene and red hair and fair skin, as well as the relation between variants of this gene and coat color in animals, suggests that the MC1R is an integral control point in the normal pigmentation phenotype. In order to further define the contribution of MC1R variants to pigmentation in a normal population, we have looked for alterations in this gene in series of individuals from a general Irish population, in whom there is a preponderance of individuals with fair skin type. Seventy-five per cent contained a variant in the MC1R gene, with 30% containing two variants. The Arg151Cys, Arg160Trp, and Asp294His variants were significantly associated with red hair (p = 0.0015, p < 0.001, and p < 0.005, respectively). Importantly, no individuals harboring two of these three variants did not have red hair, although some red-haired individuals only showed one alteration. The same three variants were also over-represented in individuals with light skin type as assessed using a modified Fitzpatrick scale. Despite these associations many subjects with dark hair/darker skin type harbored MC1R variants, but there was no evidence of any particular association of variants with the darker phenotype. The Asp294His variant was similarly associated with red hair in a Dutch population, but was infrequent in red-headed subjects from Sweden. The Asp294His variant was also significantly associated with nonmelanoma skin cancer in a U.K. population. The results show that the Arg151Cys, Arg160Trp, and Asp294His variants are of key significance in determining the pigmentary phenotype and response to ultraviolet radiation, and suggest that in many cases the red-haired component and in some cases fair skin type are inherited as a Mendelian recessive.


Effect of Val92Met and Arg163Gln variants of the MC1R gene on freckles and solar lentigines in Japanese.

Short Communication

Pigment Cell Research. 20(2):140-143, April 2007.
Motokawa, Tomonori 1,*; Kato, Tomomi 1; Hashimoto, Yuki 2; Katagiri, Takayuki 1

Summary: Melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) is a highly polymorphic gene. The variety of the variants is dependent on the ethnic background of the individual. In Caucasians, specific variants, such as Arg151Cys, Arg160Trp, and Asp294His, are strongly associated with red hair, skin cancer and pigmented lesions. In Asians, there is no report so far indicating an association such as that observed in Caucasians. Here, we performed an association study on melanogenic phenotypes in 245 Japanese individuals. We focused on freckles and solar lentigines as melanogenic phenotypes. The 92Met allele and the 163Arg allele were positively associated with freckles and severe solar lentigines; the 163Gln allele showed a negative association. Those subjects who were homozygous for both the 92Met and 163Arg alleles had a highly elevated risk of developing freckles (OR: 7.92; 95% CI: 1.52-39.6) and severe solar lentigines (OR: 4.08; 95% CI: 1.34-13.1). Our study is the first report to show a clear association of MC1R variants on melanogenic phenotypes in Asians and also indicates the importance of Arg163Gln. In vitro studies by other groups demonstrated that Val92Met impaired MC1R function but Arg163Gln did not. Based on these in vitro studies, we believe that the result we observed for Val92Met could be attributed to impaired MC1R function, while, for Arg163Gln, other factors, e.g. effect of other loci, need to be considered.

Copyright (C) 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


The melanocortin-1-receptor gene is the major freckle gene

Maarten Bastiaens, Jeanette ter Huurne, Nelleke Gruis, Wilma Bergman, Rudi Westendorp1, Bert-Jan Vermeer and Jan-Nico Bouwes Bavinck+

Department of Dermatology and 1Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Leiden University Medical Centre, PO Box 9600, 2300 RC Leiden, The Netherlands

Received April 17, 2001; Revised and Accepted June 12, 2001.

Ephelides and solar lentigines are different types of pigmented skin lesions. Ephelides appear early in childhood and are associated with fair skin type and red hair. Solar lentigines appear with increasing age and are a sign of photodamage. Both lesions are strong risk indicators for melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Melanocortin-1-receptor (MC1R) gene variants are also associated with fair skin, red hair and melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between MC1R gene variants, ephelides and solar lentigines. In a large case-control study, patients with melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer and subjects without a history of skin cancer were studied. In all participants, the presence of ephelides in childhood and solar lentigines by physical examination was assessed according to strict definitions. The entire coding sequence of the MC1R gene was analyzed by single-strand conformation polymorphism analysis followed by sequence analyses. Carriers of one or two MC1R gene variants had a 3- and 11-fold increased risk of developing ephelides, respectively (both P < 0.0001), whereas the risk of developing severe solar lentigines was increased 1.5- and 2-fold (P = 0.035 and P < 0.0001), respectively. These associations were independent of skin type and hair color, and were comparable in patients with and without a history of skin cancer. The population attributable risk for ephelides to MC1R gene variants was 60%, i.e. 60% of the ephelides in the population was caused by MC1R gene variants. A dosage effect was found between the degree of ephelides and the number of MC1R gene variants. As nearly all individuals with ephelides were carriers of at least one MC1R gene variant, our data suggest that MC1R gene variants are necessary to develop ephelides. The results of the study also suggest that MC1R gene variants play a role, although less important, in the development of solar lentigines.


Human melanocortin 1 receptor variants, receptor function and melanocyte response to UV radiation

M. Cathy Scott1, Kazumasa Wakamatsu2, Shosuke Ito2, Ana Luisa Kadekaro1, Nobuhiko Kobayashi3, Joanna Groden4, Renny Kavanagh1, Takako Takakuwa5, Victoria Virador6, Vincent J. Hearing6 and Zalfa A. Abdel-Malek1,*

Accepted 6 March 2002

Cutaneous pigmentation is determined by the amounts of eumelanin and pheomelanin synthesized by epidermal melanocytes and is known to protect against sun-induced DNA damage. The synthesis of eumelanin is stimulated by the binding of -melanotropin (-melanocyte-stimulating hormone) to the functional melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) expressed on melanocytes. The human MC1R gene is highly polymorphic and certain allelic variants of the gene are associated with red hair phenotype, melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. The importance of the MC1R gene in determining skin cancer risk led us to examine the impact of specific polymorphisms in this gene on the responses of human melanocytes to -melanotropin and UV radiation. We compared the ability of human melanocyte cultures, each derived from a single donor, to respond to -melanotropin with dose-dependent stimulation of cAMP formation, tyrosinase activity and proliferation. In each of those cultures the MC1R gene was sequenced, and the eumelanin and pheomelanin contents were determined. Human melanocytes homozygous for Arg160Trp, heterozygous for Arg160Trp and Asp294His, or for Arg151Cys and Asp294His substitutions, but not melanocytes homozygous for Val92Met substitution, in the MC1R demonstrated a significantly reduced response to -melanotropin. Additionally, melanocytes with a non-functional MC1R demonstrated a pronounced increase in their sensitivity to the cytotoxic effect of UV radiation compared with melanocytes expressing functional MC1R. We conclude that loss-of-function mutations in the MC1R gene sensitize human melanocytes to the DNA damaging effects of UV radiation, which may increase skin cancer risk.


Evidence for Variable Selective Pressures at MC1R
References AbstractIt is widely assumed that genes that influence variation in skin and hair pigmentation are under selection. To date, the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) is the only gene identified that explains substantial phenotypic variance in human pigmentation. Here we investigate MC1R polymorphism in several populations, for evidence of selection. We conclude that MC1R is under strong functional constraint in Africa, where any diversion from eumelanin production (black pigmentation) appears to be evolutionarily deleterious. Although many of the MC1R amino acid variants observed in non-African populations do affect MC1R function and contribute to high levels of MC1R diversity in Europeans, we found no evidence, in either the magnitude or the patterns of diversity, for its enhancement by selection; rather, our analyses show that levels of MC1R polymorphism simply reflect neutral expectations under relaxation of strong functional constraint outside Africa.

High polymorphism at the MC1R gene makes a major contribution to phenotypic diversity in Eurasian populations

Melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R), the receptor for alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone, is polymorphic and plays an important role in producing two types of melanin, pheomelanin (red) and eumelanin (black), which are present in human skin and hair. In this study we examined the distribution of MC1R gene polymorphisms in several Eurasian populations. A total of 2591 subjects from 49 populations were included in the present investigation. The subjects were not selected for skin and hair colour and were collected randomly. 5 variants of the MC1R gene (Val60Leu, Val92Met, Arg151Cys, Arg160Trp and Arg163Gln) were tested using ARMS-PCR. Arg151Cys and Arg160Trp alleles, which are common in individuals with red hair and fair skin, were found at highest frequencies in British (AF=0.128 and 0.069, respectively) and Orkadian populations (AF=0.106 and 0.099, respectively), with a decreasing gradient in the populations of European Russia to Central Asia. Previously reported to be common in European populations with light fair skin and light brown hair, allele Val60Leu was identified with high frequency in some populations of the Middle East, Europe and Caucasus. Central Asian populations showed middle range frequencies. The Val92Met variant was found to have an allele frequency from 0.194 to 0.01 in the middle meridian of Eurasia, with a maximum in Central and South East Asian populations. Our data suggest an increasing gradient of Arg163Gln frequency from Europe (0.039) to South East Asia (0.66). As anticipated, our data showed low frequencies of all investigated variants in the populations of South India with dark skin and dark hair. These results indicate that polymorphisms of the MC1R contribute to determining skin and hair colour is one of the significant factor in the phenotypic diversity found in different Eurasian populations and are consistent with the widely held assumption that genes influencing phenotypic variation in human skin and hair pigmentation are probably subject to selection associated with latitude and sunlight.

Are personality traits inherited?

Heritability of cooperative behavior in the trust game

David Cesarini*, Christopher T. Dawes, James H. Fowler,, Magnus Johannesson, Paul Lichtenstein, and Björn Wallace

*Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02142; Political Science Department, University of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive 0521, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521; Department of Economics, Stockholm School of Economics, Box 6501, SE-113 83 Stockholm, Sweden; and Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Box 281, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden

Edited by Elinor Ostrom, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, and approved January 15, 2008 (received for review October 23, 2007)


Although laboratory experiments document cooperative behavior in humans, little is known about the extent to which individual differences in cooperativeness result from genetic and environmental variation. In this article, we report the results of two independently conceived and executed studies of monozygotic and dizygotic twins, one in Sweden and one in the United States. The results from these studies suggest that humans are endowed with genetic variation that influences the decision to invest, and to reciprocate investment, in the classic trust game. Based on these findings, we urge social scientists to take seriously the idea that differences in peer and parental socialization are not the only forces that influence variation in cooperative behavior.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for social scientists to believe that. It always mystifies me that people seem perfectly happy to admit character traits are inherited in dogs, but not in humans.

I wonder if an increase in co-operative behaviour could be linked to lower criminality?

Cro Magnon clothing.

Woven cloth dates back 27,000 years

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Woven clothing was being produced on looms 27,000 years ago, far earlier than had been thought, scientists say.

It had been thought that the first farmers developed weaving 5,000 to 10,000 years ago.

But Professor Olga Soffer, of the University of Illinois, is about to publish details in the journal Current Anthropology of 90 fragments of clay that have impressions from woven fibres.

Professor Soffer revealed some her findings recently when she said that a 25,000-year-old figurine was wearing a woven hat.

If confirmed, her work could change our understanding of distant ancestors, the so-called Ice Age hunters of the Upper Palaeolithic Stone Age.

Accidental imprint

The evidence was obtained from a number of sites in the Czech Republic.

They were the sporadic homes of the Gravettian people who roamed between Southern Russia and Spain between 22,000 and 29,000 years ago scratching out a living on a semi-frozen landscape.
Close-up, the impression left by the fibres is clearly visible

Some of the fibre impressions may have been made accidentally, such as by sitting on a fresh clay floor or when wet clay was carried in woven bags.

“Other impressions may have been caused by deliberate action, such as lining a basket with clay to make it watertight,” said Professor Soffer.

A detailed examination of the impressions reveals a large variety of weaving techniques. There are open and closed twines, plain weave and nets. Professor Soffer told BBC News Online that twining can be done by hand but plain weave needed a loom.

It may be that many stone artifacts found in settlements may not be objects of art as had been supposed but parts of an ancient loom, which should now be considered as the first machine to be made after the wheel and aids such as the axe, club, and flint knife.

Women’s work

This research could force a re-evaluation of our view of ancient man, who lived tens of thousands of years ago, before the last Ice Age had ended and before the invention of agriculture.

The traditional view is of the male Ice Age hunters working in groups to kill large prey such as mammoths. But this may be a distorted and incomplete view of their lives.

This imprint in clay may have been left by a woven basket
All that scientists have from these ancient times are mostly solid remains such as stone, ivory and bone. Now they have evidence of textiles.

The discovery that they developed weaving as early as 27,000 years ago means that we must consider the role that women and children may have played more carefully.

The possibility that they made nets has fascinating implications according to Professor Soffer. It may be that nets were used by women and children to catch small prey such as hares and foxes.

By catching food this way, women and children could have made all the difference to their communities’ food budgets, allowing a surplus to be generated that permitted society to grow.

Further revelations are to be expected in this area of research. There are recent reports that fragments of burnt textiles have been found adhering to pieces of flint.


Bone needles such as these have been found dating back to over 25,000 years old. As one specialist in this field, Olga Soffer, pointed out, they are in no way strong enough to punch their way through hide or leather, but they will go through cloth. The standard explanation to this before was that the hole must have been made by a stone tool and the needle only used to guide the thread. However, the existence of loomed cloth would now make it more likely that they were used in the conventional way. At least one buried body was covered with tiny beads, suggesting they were sewn onto fabric that disintegrated, leaving only the beads, as beads were often found sewn onto hide clothing in graves, sometimes in their thousands. The most likely source for the plant fiber is nettle, that was use into the medieval times in Europe to make clothing.

As you can see from this collection of paleolithic Venus figurines from Kostenki in Russia, some form of woven band around the neck and waist seemed to be common. The rear view of the first lady clearly shows a hat with hair beneath.The partial figure in limestone at the end seems to be wearing a pair of woven handcuffs. These clothes wouldn’t have had any functional value, they were probably more social signals.

This is an illustration of how the the Venus of Willendorf’s hat might of looked. It’s a crop from this site . There’s a common misconception that these people were wandering around in crude furs using clubs, but the evidence shows they were more like they were like the plains Indians in America, but slightly more advanced in cloth technology.


For example, string skirts, as can be seen very clearly under the huge buttocks of this Venus (Lespugue), have been worn until relatively recently in Europe. This picture is a replica of one dated 6,000 BC. The woven top section could have been made on a simple tablet loom, like the one shown next to it. They were worn until the bronze age for ceremonial gymnastics in Denmark, as seen in the burial of Egtved girl.


Up until recently in a few places in Eastern Europe, girls were expected to start wearing string skirts at puberty, and they weren’t allowed to wear them before. So it’s probably more a social or ritual signal of sexual maturity and fertility in these stone age art pieces.



Old news, the world’s first known ceremonial burial.

Evidence of earliest human burial
By Paul Rincon, BBC news archive. 

Scientists claim they have found the oldest evidence of human creativity: a 350,000-year-old pink stone axe.

The handaxe, which was discovered at an archaeological site in northern Spain, may represent the first funeral rite by human beings.

It suggests humans were capable of symbolic thought at a far earlier date than previously thought.

Spanish researchers found the axe among the fossilised bones of 27 ancient humans that were clumped together at the bottom of a 14-metre- (45 feet) deep pit inside a network of limestone caves at Atapuerca, near Burgos.

It is the only man-made implement found in the pit.

It may confirm the team’s belief that other humans deposited bodies in the pit deliberately.

 Special colour

Professor Eudald Carbonell, of the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain, and a key member of the team that unearthed the axe, was jubilant about the find.

“It’s a great discovery. This is an interpretation, but in my opinion and the opinion of my team, the axe could be the first evidence of ritual behaviour and symbolism in a human species,” Professor Carbonell said.

 “We conclude it could be from a funeral rite,” he added.

The axe is skilfully crafted from quartzite rock, which is abundant in the region.

Handaxes of this type are usually used for butchering animal carcasses for their meat. But the researchers claim the striking colour is crucial to its importance.

“It’s a very special colour,” said Juan Luis Arsuaga, director of the Atapuerca excavation. “They would have needed to search it out. I think this colour had some significance for [these humans],” he added.

The human remains belong to the species Homo heidelbergensis, which dominated Europe around 600,000-200,000 years ago and is thought to have given rise to both the Neanderthals and modern humans (Homo sapiens).

But some researchers, such as Peter Andrews, of the Natural History Museum in London, have proposed that the skeletons were lying elsewhere in the caves and sludged into the pit by a mudflow.

Abstract thinking

“I’m cautious about its significance,” said Professor Chris Stringer, also of the Natural History Museum. “The association of the handaxe and the skeletons in this pit of bones is a very interesting one,” adding that it was possible there was some sort of symbolic association.

“But one has to put some caution into [this announcement] because it has been suggested that this is a secondary deposit and therefore could be accidental,” he noted.

 But Arsuaga thinks it unlikely that so many human remains could have appeared in the pit in the absence of bones from other animals.

Previously, the earliest funeral rituals were thought to be associated with Neanderthal remains dated 100,000 years ago. But some researchers dispute the significance of these sites, preferring to believe that abstract thinking began around 50,000 years ago in modern humans.

Arsuaga and his colleagues found the handaxe in 1998, but decided to search for other stone tools in the pit before announcing the find. They have found none so far.

The research is published in the French journal L’Anthropologie.

The ‘humans began abstract thinking 50,000 years ago’ is ridiculous, as they’ve found jewellery made from ostrich egg shell at Lake Fezzan in Libya about 200,000 years old.

The Jarawa, Onge and Sentinelese of the Andaman islands.

Picture by Salome.

Two women from the Jarawa people.

These near pygmy sized ‘Negrito’ people live on the Andaman and Nicobar islands south of Myanmar. there are thought to be less then 300 of them now, and possibly even fewer, as a recent measles epidemic devasted their population. No-one has ever been able to get enough to the Sentinelese for a photo, as they tend to shoot at helicopters and careless fishermen with arrows, which is very sensible of them. This was how the outside world realised the Sentinelese had survived the tsunami, they were still being fired upon.

They live in groups of about 40 to 50 people, in a hunter gatherer lifestyle, eating berries, pig, monitor lizard, fish and other wild foods.

They look very out of place in the Indian ocean, physically they look a lot like pygmies, with jet black black skin, peppercorn hair and ocassionally steatopygous buttocks on the women. But as far as DNA goes they are definitely Asian. they occasionaly show an epicanthic eye fold. The average height for the men is about 4’10″.

They are thought to have been living in more or less isolation from the rest of the world on their islands for about 60,000 years. The Europeans recoreded them as being the only group of people in the world, other than Tasmanian Aborigines, that didn’t know how to create fire, the depended on lightening strikes and preserving the embers from previous fires.

They seem to live their lives at a faster pace than the rest of us, the women hiting menopause in their thirties. Currently, they are being wiped out by outside diseases and exploitation. The Indian gov needs to put armed guards around their territory to protect them, or in another fifty years they’ll just be a memory .

This site on the Andamanese is well worth a look. It has a lot of very old photos and descriptions of tribal customs, I recommend going there right now.



There have been some DNA studies involving the Jarawa and Onge. No-ones been able to get close enough to the Sentinlese to see them, let alone swab them. This wobbly footage is the closest anyone’s ever got to the Sentinelese, they seem to be very fond of coconuts and will tolerate outsiders on boats while collecting them. I’d just like to comment that handholding between the men and women seems very common from this vid.

Filed: 12/11/2002, 12:23:50 AM
Source: The New York Times

Inhabitants of the Andaman Islands, a remote archipelago east of India, are direct descendants of the first modern humans to have inhabited Asia, geneticists conclude in a new study.

But the islanders lack a distinctive genetic feature found among Australian aborigines, another early group to leave Africa, suggesting they were part of a separate exodus.

The Andaman Islanders are “arguably the most enigmatic people on our planet,” a team of geneticists led by Dr. Erika Hagelberg of the University of Oslo write in the journal Current Biology.

Their physical features short stature, dark skin, peppercorn hair and large buttocks  are characteristic of African Pygmies. “They look like they belong in Africa, but here they are sitting in this island chain in the middle of the Indian Ocean,” said Dr. Peter Underhill of Stanford University, a co-author of the new report.

Adding to the puzzle is that their language, according to Joseph Greenberg, who, before his death in 2001, classified the world’s languages, belongs to a family that includes those of Tasmania, Papua New Guinea and Melanesia.

Dr. Hagelberg has undertaken the first genetic analysis of the Andamanese with the help of two Indian colleagues who took blood samples and by analyzing hair gathered almost a century ago by a British anthropologist, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown. The islands were isolated from the outside world until the British set up a penal colony there after the Indian mutiny of 1857.

Only four of the dozen tribes that once inhabited the island survive, with a total population of about 500 people. These include the Jarawa, who still live in the forest, and the Onge, who have been settled by the Indian government.

Genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA, a genetic element passed down only through women, shows that the Onge and Jarawa people belong to a lineage, known as M, that is common throughout Asia, the geneticists say. This establishes them as Asians, not Africans, among whom a different mitochondrial lineage, called L, is dominant.

The geneticists then looked at the Y chromosome, which is passed down only through men and often gives a more detailed picture of genetic history than the mitochondrial DNA. The Onge and Jarawa men turned out to carry a special change or mutation in the DNA of their Y chromosome that is thought to be indicative of the Paleolithic population of Asia, the hunters and gatherers who preceded the first human settlements.

The mutation, known as Marker 174, occurs among ethnic groups at the periphery of Asia who avoided being swamped by the populations that spread after the agricultural revolution that occurred about 8,000 years ago. It is found in many Japanese, in the Tibetans of the Himalayas and among isolated people of Southeast Asia, like the Hmong.

The discovery of Marker 174 among the Andamanese suggests that they too are part of this relict  paleolithic population, descended from the first modern humans to leave Africa.

Dr. Underhill, an expert on the genetic history of the Y chromosome, said the Paleolithic population of Asia might well have looked as African as the Onge and Jarawa do now, and that people with the appearance of present-day Asians might have emerged only later. It is also possible, he said, that their resemblance to African Pygmies is a human adaptation to living in forests that the two populations developed independently.

A finding of particular interest is that the Andamanese do not carry another Y chromosome signature, known as Marker RPS4Y, that is common among Australian aborigines. This suggests that there were at least two separate emigrations of modern humans from Africa, Dr. Underhill said. Both probably left  Northeast Africa by boat 40,000 or 50,000 years ago and pushed slowly along the coastlines of the Arabian Peninsula and India. No archaeological record of these epic journeys has been found, perhaps because the world’s oceans were 120 meters lower during the last ice age and the evidence of early human passage is under water.

One group of emigrants that acquired the Marker 174 mutation reached Southeast Asia, including the Andaman islands, and then moved inland and north to Japan, in Dr. Underhill’s reconstruction. A second group, carrying the Marker RPS4Y, took a different fork in Southeast Asia, continuing south toward Australia.

I’d just to point out what a steaming heap of crap the 40,000 year date for modern humans is. It’s at least 80, 000, and probably over 100,000. I keep seeing 40,000 years on published news items. Do these journalists not bother to read up on the latest dates?

The mummies of the Tarim basin.

Tocharian donors

A comment on my blog recently reminded me of the Tocharians, a Caucasian people that expaneded out into the Western parts of China. They were an Indo-European people, with the standard fair skin and light hair. the oldest mummy, called the beauty of Loulan dates at about 4,000 years old. It’s not impossible that thay brought copper working into China, although that’s up for debate. Their texiles have a  ‘celtic tartan’ look to them,

The Beauty of Loulan, with artists reconstruction, age 4000 years old. She was about 40 years old at her death, and was buried with a basket of grain.

This is Yingpin man. He was buried with a gold foil death mask, and very ornately embroidered clothes. This , together with his height being a very well fed 6’6″, means he was probably from a rich ruling family. He died about 2,000 years ago, and had a blond beard and hair.

DNA sequence data shows that the mummies happened to have haplotype characteristic of western Eurasia in the area of south Russia.

A team of Chinese and American researchers working in Sweden tested DNA from 52 separate mummies, including the mummy denoted “Beauty of Loulan.” By genetically mapping the mummies’ origins, the researchers confirmed the theory that these mummies were of West EuroAsian descent. Victor Mair, a University of Pennsylvania professor and project leader for the team that did the genetic mapping, commented that these studies were:

…extremely important because they link up eastern and western Eurasia at a formative stage of civilization (Bronze Age and early Iron Age) in a much closer way than has ever been done before.
The textiles found with the mummies with early European textile and weave types and the observation that the mummies seemed to have blond and red hair. An earlier study by Jilin University had found a mtDNA haplotype characteristic of Western Eurasian populations.

In trying to trace the origins of these peoples Victor Mair’s team suggested that these peoples may have arrived in the region by way of the forbidding Pamir Mountains about 5000 years ago.

Needless to say this evidence is considered controversial. It refutes the contemporary nationalist claims of the regional Uighur peoples who claimed to be the indigenous peoples of the Xinjiang, rather than the Chinese Hans. In comparing the DNA to the modern day Uighur peoples, they found some genetic similarities with the mummies, but “no direct links”.

About the controversy Mair has stated that:

The new finds are also forcing a re-examination of old Chinese books that describe historical or legendary figures of great height, with deep-set blue or green eyes, long noses, full beards, and red or blond hair. Scholars have traditionally scoffed at these accounts, but it now seems that they may be accurate.
Chinese scientists were initially hesitant to give up the DNA samples because they were sensitive about the nationalist Uighur claims, and to prevent a pillaging of national monuments by foreigners.

This lady has red hair, and wears a kind of tartan cloth.

As it can be seen from this map, the Tarim basin is virtually inside the ‘stan’ countries, so having Caucasians there isn’t that bizarre. As I understand, you still get the odd green eyed and fair haired peron there, so they probably melted in with the other groups after a while

The preservation of some of these mummies is amazing.

So what did the first Europeans look like?

Were they all red haired? 

It’s claimed the mutation on the  SLC24A5 gene that gives Europeans very pale skin dates to between 6,000 and 12,000 years old. This would give the first immigrants into Europe an Asian tan colour skin. However, the dating of at least two variants of the European red hair gene go back to about 80,000 years.

 “Both African and non-African data suggest that the time to the most recent common ancestor is ~1 million years and that the age of the global 314 variant is 650,00 years. On this time scale, ages for the Eurasian-distributed Val60Leu, Val92Met, and Arg163Gln variants are 250,000-100,000 years; the ages for African silent variants—Leu106Leu, Cys273Cys, and Phe300Phe—are 100,000-40,000 years.  For the European red hair-associated Arg151cys and Arg160Trp variants, we estimate an age of ~80,000 years; for Asp294His, and Ser316Ser, we estimate an age of <= 30,000 years. “ (Harding et al, 2000, p. 1357 )

The red hair genes generally produce a somewhat lighter skin tone, even if you aren’t homogeneous for ginger hair genes (ie, red haired). I should know, I have one pale ginger gene from Granny, and I’m porcelain skinned and burn very easily, even with the dark hair. Red haired individuals are a lot lighter skinned and don’t tan, and prone to sunburn. Alos, genes that cause lighter eye colours also lighten skin colour.

Leaving aside the Neanderthal date of this gene, this would make the first Europeans pretty much the same skin tone wise as modern ones, as the red hair MC1R mutations affect skin as well as hair colour, almost like a mild form of albinism. This would have meant there probably wasn’t much difference between Cro Magnon and Modern European skin tone.

My hypothesis is, that the recent light skin colour mutation is a recent improvement on the mutations to the MC1R that cause ginger hair, as they allow skin light enough to allow vitamin D synthesis, but it also allows the carrier to tan to a limited degree, giving some UV protection as well. This could mean that the MC1R ginger hair genes are slowly being replaced by the light skin gene, and ‘gingerness’ was probably carried by the majority of early Europeans.  The red hair mutation is fine if the base skin colour is an Asian tan, but add it to European pale skin and you’ve got a recipe for sunburn. I expect the frequency of red heads has been decreasing ever since the skin lightening mutation came along.

So different gene, similar effect on skin tone.

As an after thought, I’ve found a picture of an Indian boy with Caucasian features and light coloured eyes. He’s probably a good approximation of what the first Europeans looked like, about 35,000 years ago. Not including the shirt.