Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Millennium Canary Islander DNA (Ordenez et al, 2016)

Bernard Sécher comments on a genetic study of Canary Islanders prior to Modern European contact.  "ADN ancien d'une population aborigène de l'île de El Hierro dans les Canaries"

He lays out the details, which you'll need since the paper is pay-per-view.

Ferdinand and Isabella receive captive Guanches

These results present a bit of a dilemma for conventional wisdom.  Not only are these 61 individuals before the Spanish missions, the Punta Azul individuals are nearly maternally fixed H1-16260.  It also appears that haplogroup R1b is native to El Hierro, or at least predates Hispanization.  Of course there are also the expected, typical Berber haplogroups. (once again we see a strong relationship between R1b and H1)

No evidence yet suggests habitation before the European Early Bronze Age and the last major immigration event would have been pre-historic Berbers.  Between the Berber influx and the Colonial Period, the islands were sometimes visited by maritime powers, but the islands were home to people with relatively little contact between each other or the outside world.

So this leaves several possibilities as to how and when the ancestry of the cave people of El Heirro formed.  One is that Punic, Greek or Roman settlers or merchants left a paternal mark on the natives and that this was specifically the introduction of R1b-M269 in the largest part.  There could also be unrecorded contact between Medieval Spain and the islands. That's a difficult case to make.

A second possibility is that the presence of R1b among North African Atlas Berbers was at one time much more pronounced than it is now and is reflected in the founding Berber population of the islands.  That's a good possibility.

More conservative potteries with geometries and solar motifs [via Gevic]

A third possibility, and in keeping with the autosomal results and diversity of male lines, is that the islands were already inhabited before the Berber influx and was also genetically monolithic and Atlantic-like, something like if Ireland was invaded by Berbers.  It's important to remember the time-frame in which the islands were first populated in a meaningful way (sometime in the 2nd millennium) and also where they are in relation to Western Morocco. 

Pintaderas Canarias (Gobierno de Canarias)
These three possibilities are not exclusive.  The really big news is that this has implications for how modern uni-parental markers of the contemporary inhabitants are viewed.  Maybe this will encourage Canary men to get the full y-chromosome tested.

Genetic studies on the prehispanic population buried in Punta Azul cave (El Hierro, Canary Islands)


A total of 61 samples from Punta Azul were analyzed for ancient DNA.
Success rate: molecular sexing 88.5%, uniparental markers 90.16%, STR 45.9%.
There is a complete fixation of the H1-16260 mtDNA lineage.
Y-chromosome results show the presence of three lineages: E-M81, R-M269, and E-M33.
Matrilineality could explain the behaviors in maternal and paternal lineages.


The aim of this study was to establish the genetic studies of the population from one of the most important known aboriginal funerary spaces of the island of El Hierro (Canary Islands), the Punta Azul cave, which harbors remains of 127 individuals. Sixty-one adult tibiae were examined, 32 left and 29 right. Radiocarbon dating yields an antiquity of 1015–1210 AD. We have obtained an overall success rate of 88.5% for the molecular sexing, and of 90.16% for the uniparental markers. Short tandem repeats (STR) profiles were also possible for 45.9% of the samples. This performance is a consequence of the good conservation of the bones in their archaeological context. The mtDNA composition of the sample is characterized by the complete fixation of the H1-16260 lineage. These results can be explained by a mixture of consecutive founding events, a bottleneck episode at the beginning of the colonization and/or as a consequence of genetic drift. Paternal lineages were also affected by these processes but in a less acute way. These differences lead us to propose social behaviors as an explanation for this difference. The maternal transmission of the lineages, mentioned in ethnohistorical sources of the Archipelago, could be an explanation. These results could be in agreement with endogamous practices, but the autosomal STR results indicate a relative high diversity. These results have allowed us to characterize the Punta Azul cave population and see the way in which geographical isolation, the process of adaptation and specific social behaviors affected the aboriginal population of the Island.

See also "The Sahara and the Canary Islands: reflections within archaeology, politics and rupestrian manifestations" Farrujia de la Rosa, 2008

"The Guanches of the Canary Islands"  Matilda

Thursday, November 24, 2016

New Perspectives on Mont Bego (Thomas Huet, 2016)

Mont Bego is a mountain pass in Southern France where thousands of petroglyphs are documented.  Almost all of them are daggers or cows.  See previous [Link]

He makes the case that these petroglyphs are not the result of a narrow group of artists but the accumulation of art over a vast period of time.  Some daggers overlay old ones.

Nicoletta Bianchi (<2009) via rockartscandinavia

So here's a question.  Why only daggers and cow heads?  A similar phenomenon at Stonehenge; hundreds of engraved daggers, that's it.

Here's one possibility put forth by Michael Bott [here], that is that the daggers are indicative of the activity that took place in this location, perhaps dueling in this location, maybe religious combat sport or venationes.  Since this place is kind of a hassle to get to, maybe the activity was sanctioned in the backdrop of a holy mountain.  Whatever score settling, trial by combat, dueling or contention was settled once and for all?  Anyhow, that seems to jive with Huet's accumulation theory.

Unless you can think of another reason?

New Perspectives on the Chronology and Meaning of Mont Bégo Rock Art (Alpes-Maritimes, France)

Thomas Huet, 2016.  Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

In 1994, H. de Lumley's teams of researchers finished the colossal task—initiated more than 20 years earlier—of recording every pecked rock engraving of Mont Bégo's rock art. The following year, in the book Le grandiose et le sacré, Lumley defined the site as a sacred mountain and attributed rock engravings, considered as ex-votos, to the Early Bronze Age and the Bell Beaker period. However, it is hard to recognize what interpretations can be directly drawn from the data: some exceptional rock engravings are considered as representative of the whole corpus of rock engravings and the most numerous ones are considered as a ‘bruit de fond’ [background noise]. Furthermore, recognition of associations—where rock engravings are contemporaneous and significantly grouped—had been criticised, and the hypothesis that all the rock engravings can be considered as a single archaeological event seems also to be contradicted by studies of superimpositions. We developed a GIS and a comprehensive database, with statistics, to identify specific spatial configurations, seriation effects and, finally, the evolution of the rock art. By going further in the periodization, our aim is to propose some provisional hypotheses about the meaning of Mont Bégo's rock engravings.

See also [Link] 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Beaker Cemetery in Cefn Graianog Quarry

A well preserved Bell Beaker cemetery has been discovered in Northern Wales.

Gwynedd Archaeological Planning Services is conducting the excavation of the quarry near Caernarfon, Wales.

The larger bell beaker was discovered completely intact.

Found this in the Aggregate Industry newsletter Agg-Net

Via Daily Post
 See also the article by the Daily Post.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Differences in Early Neolithic Dairy (Spiteri et al, 2016)

If the conclusion of this research were to hold, then it would appear that dairying was widely practiced in some areas of the Northern Mediterranean but not others, particularly Northern Greece.

The safe consensus view would be that this is a period of subsistence experimentation and nothing more.  That explains the variability of farming and husbandry practices, move on.  I'm not so sure.  Another wretched pay-per-obscurity.

Seen in Popular Archaeology

Cynthianne Debono Spiteri, Rosalind E. Gillis, Mélanie Roffet-Salque, Laura Castells Navarro, Jean Guilaine, Claire Manen, Italo M. Muntoni, Maria Saña Segui, Dushka Urem-Kotsou, Helen L. Whelton, Oliver E. Craig, Jean-Denis Vigne, and Richard P. Evershed "Regional asynchronicity in dairy production and processing in early farming communities of the northern Mediterranean" PNAS 2016 ; published ahead of print November 14, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1607810113 [Link]


In the absence of any direct evidence, the relative importance of meat and dairy productions to Neolithic prehistoric Mediterranean communities has been extensively debated. Here, we combine lipid residue analysis of ceramic vessels with osteo-archaeological age-at-death analysis from 82 northern Mediterranean and Near Eastern sites dating from the seventh to fifth millennia BC to address this question. The findings show variable intensities in dairy and nondairy activities in the Mediterranean region with the slaughter profiles of domesticated ruminants mirroring the results of the organic residue analyses. The finding of milk residues in very early Neolithic pottery (seventh millennium BC) from both the east and west of the region contrasts with much lower intensities in sites of northern Greece, where pig bones are present in higher frequencies compared with other locations. In this region, the slaughter profiles of all domesticated ruminants suggest meat production predominated. Overall, it appears that milk or the by-products of milk was an important foodstuff, which may have contributed significantly to the spread of these cultural groups by providing a nourishing and sustainable product for early farming communities.

This builds on previous analysis of sieve sherds... via the Wall Street Journal, 2013>

See also Salque et al, 2013 "Earliest Evidence of Cheese Making in the Sixth Millennium..."

Monday, November 14, 2016

Iron Age Braggot Beer

Another beer recreation story.  This beer was buried with an Iron Age Celtic warrior and appears to have been similar to Medieval braggot.

The story from NPR

via NPR
Apparently the recreated braggot sucked, which makes sense given the honey content.  Mead tastes like cough syrup, so if you took equal parts of NyQuil, an amber ale, a couple squirts of almond air freshener and a couple of peppermints, then you might be close.

Of course, it's easy to screw a recipe up when you have the directions, probably a lot harder when you don't.  Mead still sucks.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Beer Brought Back to Life (Live Science)

Unlike most multi-celled animals who disintegrate after death, single-cell organisms can go dormant under the right conditions.  See "Amber Ale: Brewing Beer from 45-Million-Year-Old Yeast"

Sydney Cove Shipwreck Beer Bottle (via

Just released today is the announcement of the recreation of 200 year old beer aboard the wrecked H.M.S Sydney Cove.  See "Oldest Beer Brewed from Shipwreck's 200-Year-Old Yeast Microbes" from LiveScience.

Theoretically, Saccharomyces could very well be suspended in the interior wax coating of Neolithic and Bronze Age beakers.  Even if the wax is not visible to the naked eye, small globules may be present under microscopic examination. If wax is present, Saccharomyces is probably present as well.  The real work would be attempting to isolate and reanimate the organisms.  

There's several things we could learn about five thousand year old beer.  The first is the sophistication level of brewing.  One way to know this is by actually tasting the beer.  The other is through genetic analysis.  If multiple strains are present, we might learn about the alcohol content %, the time of year certain strains were used, and what they were used for (mead, barley beer, etc)

Chemical analysis will also do one other thing that I've suspected, the presence of oak lactones would mostly prove that log barrels (as I've hypothesized) were used to ferment and store beer instead of clay pottery.  (See here)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tips and Tricks #1

Want to find flint?  Here's two places to look if it isn't common in your area.

Flint and a chuck of quartz-something

Anytime you go to the bank, hospital, college, botanical garden or city park, always be on the lookout for decorative rock beds or landscaping that incorporates rocks.  Attractive river rocks are often trucked in from other places.  If rounded limestone or quartzite are present, you might get lucky.  I found thousands of enormous, dagger-worthy nodules among other rocks outside a doctor's office. 

The easiest way to identify flint is to strike it, and then smell it.  If you roll the wheel on a cigarette lighter, that's the smell.  Do you get edges when you break it?  If you strike it in the dark, you'll get a few sparks.  The outside should be 'nodular' and semi-smooth for flint.

Often railroad tracks and highways are ballasted with some variation of limestone and quartzite.  Technically speaking, depending on one's interpretation, this would more likely be chert, although is basically the same thing since no one definition separates the two.

If I can get past amateur hour, maybe I'll have some stone arrows worth posting.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Arrowhead Shapes in Central Europe (Petřík, Sosna, Prokeš, 2016)

I'll have to rely on a few sentences of a pay-per-view abstract, but one point of interest is highlighted below.  If I'm reading correctly, this suggests that a large percentage of arrowheads (probably those from burial) had not been used or retouched. 

If this was true, then it might also follow that more perishable parts of the burial also followed this pattern.  In other words, there could have been a specific 'burial dress' that included items made for the occasion.  Given the work effort in constructing burial monuments and similar findings from daggers, we might imagine that the burial clothing, belts, hats and footwear were both costly in terms of time and resources.

OTOH, it could be these guys walked around displaying daggers and arrows they never used.  I doubt it, but who knows.

Curious Grave 8 from Kněževes (modified from Turek, 2012)

Shape matters: assessing regional variation of Bell Beaker projectile points in Central Europe using geometric morphometrics

Petřík, J., Sosna, D., Prokeš, L. et al. Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2016). doi:10.1007/s12520-016-0423-z


Despite the large-scale expansion of Bell Beaker phenomenon, there is a tension between the normative Bell Beaker material culture categories and their local objectification in the form of real artefacts. Stone projectile points provide an opportunity to evaluate how much was the general category of such a point influenced by regional and local factors. The aim of this paper is to explore shape and size variation of Central European Bell Beaker projectile points from Moravia (Czech Republic) to elucidate factors responsible for this variation. The sample consists of 194 projectile points from 54 Central European Bell Beaker sites (2500–2300/2200 BC) distributed in Morava River catchment. The size and shape of projectile points were studied by landmark-based geometric morphometrics and expressed as shape groups, which have been assessed in terms of their spatial distribution, raw material, and reutilization. Although several shape categories of points were identified, there is a strong degree of uniformity in the research sample. The dominant shape category (75.4 % of points) was pervasive across geographic space and was not significantly affected either by raw material or reutilization. A lower degree of reutilization of points is interpreted as a consequence of a non-utilitarian role of projectile points, which represented a critical component of Bell Beaker mortuary practices.

See also [here]