Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Romanian Cave May Boast Central Europe's Oldest Cave Art

More than 30,000 years ago, prehistoric humans in Europe began drawing animals and the occasional human on cave walls, along with handprints stenciled in red ochre. More than 300 cave art sites are known in Western Europe, such as Chauvet and Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain. But only a few have been found in Central Europe. Now a team of French researchers and Romanian spelunkers has announced finding a new painted cave in Romania that could be more than 30,000 years old. The discovery suggests that prehistoric societies across Europe were linked by a common artistic culture.

"We have known almost nothing about cave art in Central Europe," says Jean Clottes, France's leading cave art expert and a cave art adviser to UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites. "This ties Central Europe" with the rest of the continent.

Previously, Romania could boast only one example of cave art, Cuciulat Cave, which was discovered about 30 years ago and featured drawings of only two animals. Two other painted caves in the Ural Mountains of Russia are also known, the only other examples of cave art this far east. And none of these three caves are thought to be much older than 15,000 years. The new cave, Coliboaia, was also found about 30 years ago in the Apuseni Nature Park in northwestern Romania. But its original discoverers did not see any animal drawings. Indeed, the cave is very difficult to explore because an underground river keeps many of its galleries flooded.

Last September, a group of spelunkers from several Romanian caver clubs, including Tudor Rus, Mihai Besesek, and Roxana Laura Toiciu, were exploring Coliboaia using diving equipment and finally spotted the cave art. Some of the drawings could be reached only by lying in the water with one's head poking just above the surface. About half a dozen images have been found, including a bison, a horse, two bear heads, and two rhinoceros heads, very similar to animal motifs found in Western European caves. Last month, a team of French experts, led by Clottes, visited the cave and verified that the images were indeed examples of prehistoric art. Water probably has destroyed other drawings, Clottes says, but these are above the water line.

From the style of the drawings, Clottes estimates that the images are between 23,000 and 35,000 years old. "If these were found in France or Spain, we would say that they were either Aurignacian or Gravettian," Clottes says, referring to two prehistoric cultures that span this period of time. But until more research is carried out, including attempts to radiocarbon date the drawings—a difficult and controversial procedure—this is just a guess, Clottes adds. A rough idea of their age might be gleaned by radiocarbon dating the numerous bear bones found on the floor of the cave.

Romanian authorities have put the cave under a conservation protection order, and plans are now being hatched to begin a research program at Coliboaia, which will be co-led by Clottes and the president of the Romanian Federation of Speleology, Viorel Traian Lascu. Clottes says the 9˚C temperature and the high waters will make this challenging: "It is very cold and wet in that cave."

Balter, Michael. 2010. "Romanian Cave May Boast Central Europe's Oldest Cave Art". Science. Posted: June 21, 2010. Available online:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Oldest Skeleton of Lucy's Species Unveiled

Researchers have unveiled the second oldest skeleton of a possible human ancestor, a 3.6-million-year-old male of the species Australopithecus afarensis. The roughly 40% complete skeleton has been nicknamed Kadanuumuu, which means "big man" in the Afar language of the Afar Depression of Ethiopia where it was found. "It was huge—a big man, with long legs," says lead author Yohannes Haile-Selassie, a paleoanthropologist at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Ohio.

The new skeleton is almost half a million years older than Lucy, the famous A. afarensis specimen discovered in 1974. It had long legs and a torso and a pelvis more like a modern human than an African ape, showing that fully upright walking was in place at this early date, Haile-Selassie says. Although headless, the skeleton also preserves parts not found before in Lucy's species. "It is important because it provides the ribs and scapula," or shoulder blade, says paleoanthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri, Columbia.

In 2005, a sharp-eyed member of Haile-Selassie's team, Alemayehu Asfaw, spotted a fragment of a lower arm bone on the ground at Woranso-Mille, about 48 kilometers north of Lucy's grave at Hadar. Over the next 4 years, the team unearthed the shoulder blade, collarbone, ribs, and neck vertebra, the first time those bones were found together from one adult individual of A. afarensis. The team also found a pelvis, an arm, and leg bones.

When the bones were laid out, Haile-Selassie found that the robust male stood between 1.5 and 1.7 meters tall, about 30% larger than Lucy. The shoulder blade looks more like that of a gorilla and a modern human than that of a chimpanzee. The curvature of the second rib suggests a wide rib cage at the top and a barrel shape overall, similar to that of modern humans and distinct from the more funnel-shaped rib cage of a chimpanzee, the authors report online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Co-author Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University in Ohio argues that these nonchimpanzee-like features support a hypothesis he has championed that the last common ancestor shared between hominins and other chimpanzees didn't look much like chimpanzees, as many had once thought. He says this skeleton also gives a leg up to researchers who had proposed that Lucy's legs were proportionately longer compared with her arms than a chimpanzee's.

Paleoanthropologist Terry Harrison of New York University agrees that the new skeleton "tells you it's not apelike in limb proportions." But paleoanthropologist William Jungers of Stony Brook University in New York state is skeptical of claims that the common ancestor of chimps and humans didn't look like a chimpanzee. He points out that the ribs are damaged and the limb proportions depend primarily on just one complete leg bone; thus, the skeleton can't say much new about leg length. Expect more data—and more debate—from this newest member of Lucy's family.

Gibbons, Ann. 2010. "Oldest Skeleton of Lucy's Species Unveiled". Science. Posted: June 22, 2010. Available online:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Disaster Archaeology: The socio-cultural profile of hazards. Disaster Archaeology and the risk assessment of past catastrophic events

Natural and man-induced hazards play an active role in the morphology and evolution of past, present and.. future ecosystems, both natural and human. They happen in periodical or chaotic patterns, varying in frequency, magnitude and functional structure. They may have also several impacts on the evolution of human civilization (biological, ecological, environmental, socio-economic, political, technological, geographical, ideological and cultural results) that are not always clearly defined, even by the victims or the generations following the event. These effects could be hidden in the 'archaeological landscapes', due to diverse parameters. Furthermore, many 'entities', for example the vulnerability of ancient societies to environmental or human-made risks, and their adaptation process to the 'unfamiliar landscapes' formed after natural disasters are not measurable as other proxy data can be be (e.g. palaeoclimatic, hydrogeological, palaeoanthropological) .

Considering the above-mentioned parameters, this paper deals with : a) the definition of a methodological framework consistent with the needs and scope of Disaster Archaeology, b) the application of risk analysis on hazardous phenomena and case studies from Pleistocene to 19th cent. A.C.E, c) the adoption of pivotal axes by contemporary mitigation plans and risk management policies (e.g. landscape evolution, human behavioral patterns, investment choices and proactive planning of past societies) and d) the deep understanding of collective shock response, its mechanism and dynamics via Psychopathology.

This attempt could result in various methodological tools and analytical parameters. The formation of disaster sequences can highlight the temporal and spatial distribution of past hazards, the elaboration of a d-base with this kind of information can enrich the flexibility of adopted scenarios and the categorization of affected targets (e.g. human lives, ecosystems' equilibrium, economic losses, products and services, artifacts, cultural identity, demographical stability, aesthetic values) can differentiate the risk assessment efforts. Finally, the analysis of the socio-cultural profile of hazardous phenomena can increase the potential power of human collaboration and good will towards serving common goals.


1.1 General approach
Disaster Archaeology, an upcoming interdisciplinary science, emerges and establishes itself as a uniquely significant part of the fields that deal with hazards, risk management, prevention policies and mitigation plans all over the world. Increasing possibilities of multifarious and costly natural and human-induced disasters force both civil and private sectors to move deeply and heavily into broader approaches of such events.

Considering that the functions and the results of disasters, the human response to hazards and the carrying capacity of natural and human ecosystems do not vary considerably in space and time, as several constants exist in Nature and Society, modern scientists can detect the spatial and temporal distribution of hazards. But firstly, we must define clearly the aims, the scope, the methodology and the applications of this discipline, which can provide modern researchers with a huge spectrum of information concerning hazards and disasters of the past.

Generally speaking, Archaeology of Natural Disasters (Torrence & Grattan, 2002 ; World, 2002; Byrne, 1997; Blaikie et al., 1994): a) defines the identity, the impact and the dynamics of natural hazards into the evolution of human civilization, b) tries to find and analyze the kinds, frequency and magnitude of natural hazards that are hidden in the 'archaeological landscapes', c) searches for the adaptation process in past human societies and the 'unfamiliar landscapes' formed after natural disasters.

The 'reconstruction' of the natural and cultural landscapes of the past that were 'used' and modified by humans, is a vital priority. By studying the natural, built and socio-economic environments of the past within the integrated approach of human ecosystems, we can distinguish three main categories (resources, processes , effects), three pivotal axes (A: flora, fauna, human beings, minerals, water, land, air, etc.; B: buildings, housing, communication system, water supply, etc.; C: human activities, education, health, arts and culture, economic activities, heritage, lifestyles in general) and three groups of archaeological information (ecofacts, artefacts, mentifacts).

Nevertheless, the natural hazards could happen in chaotic patterns, varying in frequency, magnitude or functional structure. They may also have several impacts on the evolution of human civilization (biological, ecological, environmental, socio-economic, political, technological, geographical and cultural results) that are not always clearly defined, even by the victims or the generations following the event. Moreover, these effects could be hidden in the 'archaeological landscapes', due to diverse parameters (e.g. natural phenomena that constantly change the landscape and falsify the evidence, applied techniques and methods concerning the retrieval of information). Finally, many 'entities', for example the vulnerability of ancient societies to environmental or human-made risks, and their adaptation process to the 'unfamiliar landscapes' formed after natural disasters are not measurable as other proxy data can be (paleoclimatic, hydrogeological, paleoantrhopological e.t.c.) ..

On the other hand, when archaeologists strike a destruction level during their excavational work, they may be dealing with global environmental events and cultural fractures, economic instabilities and movement of peoples, religious revival and suppression or revolutionary regimes, despair and major death (de Grazia 1984). But this is a rather rare coincidence. What about local events or other forms of information, such as the artistic representations, written sources of past events, indirect testimonies derived from different communicative subsystems (e.g. language, technology, warfare, conflicts) and the huge pool of beliefs (oral traditions, religious rituals, mystical knowledge, ceremonies and daily practices)?

Continue reading at:

Laoupi, Amanda. 2010. "The socio-cultural profile of hazards. Disaster Archaeology
and the risk assessment of past catastrophic events". Disaster Archaeology. Posted: Available online:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

3,500-year-old underground town found in Egypt

CAIRO: Archaeologists have found a 3,500-year-old Egyptian town buried under the earth in the country's northeastern region of the Nile delta.

The city, discovered by a team of Austrian archaeologists in Tell El-Dab'a, is likely to be Avaris, the capital of Hyksos rulers who ruled Egypt from 1664 B.C. to 1569 B.C., Egyptian Cultural Minister Farouk Hosni was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Meanwhile, Zahi Hawaas, an eminent Egyptian archaeologist and secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) said radar imaging showed the outlines of streets, houses and temples of the underground town and a whole view of its urban planning.

Irene Mueller, head of the Austrian team said a Nile river tributary that was passing through the city as well as two buried islands, a port and some wells of different sizes were also found.

IANS. 2010. "3,500-year-old underground town found in Egypt". Times of India. Posted: June 21, 2010. Available online:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Terracotta army grows

An archaeologist unearths the feet of a terracotta warrior yesterday at the excavation site inside the No.1 pit of the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses, on the outskirts of Xi'an, Shaanxi Province. Archaeologists have unearthed about 120 more clay figures in their latest round of excavations at the terracotta army site that surrounds the tomb of the nation's first emperor.

Shanghai Daily. 2010. "Terracotta army grows". Shanghai Daily. Posted: June 22, 2010. Available online:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Russians restore face to 30,000+ year-old Kostenki cave man

There are lots of interesting links embedded in this story. To follow them go to the original story.

According to a Jan. 1, 2010 BBC news article, by BBC News science reporter, Paul Rincon, "DNA analyzed from early European," scientists have studied and extracted DNA from the remains of a 30,000 year old European cave man who hunted wild mammoths in the region of Kostenki, Russia about five to ten thousand years before the last ice age began, at a time when Russia was warmer than it is today. Also, in another study, scientists found that about 4 percent (from 2% to 5%) of Europeans, East Asians, Papua-New Guineans, but not any Africans, have inherited Neanderthal genes, at least traces of them. The prehistoric man is known as the Markina Gora skeleton.

These genes may have been acquired thousands of years ago when bands of roaming Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens possibly mated in the Middle East/Levant or Central Asia area. Homo Sapiens mixed with a few Neanderthals then migrated throughout Asia all the way to China and Papua-New Guinea, then attached to mainland Asia, and then turned West and expanded from Central Asia and India into Europe, carrying traces of Neanderthal genes. At one time, about 60,000 years ago Neanderthals lived in the Levant/Middle East, with Neanderthals and humans eventually retreating back into Europe when the Levant opened up during a warmer interstatial period between two ice ages. By 50,000 years ago, both humans and Neaderthals lived in Europe, but their territories didn't overlap too much.

Neanderthals lived in Western Europe, and Homo Sapiens lived mainly in Eastern Europe, until another ice age forced Homo Sapiens further west into Europe, the Cro-Magnons, who settled in refuges during the ice age in Spain, France, Italy, and the Balkans, gradually overtaking the Neaderthal's territory. The last refuge of the Neanderthals was in Western Portugal and Spain. But for a time, Neanderthals and humans shared living spaces or territories in what today is Croatia and Romania.

After 50-000 to 45,000 years ago Homo Sapiens moved into Eastern Europe moving in a Northwestern direction from areas Southeast as the Neanderthals who had lived all over Europe for the past 200,000 years retreated back to their familiar Western European homeland. For those 200,000 years, Homo Sapiens lived in Eastern Africa, gradually moving east through Asia, and then turning west from Asia into Eastern Europe.

By 40,000 years ago, humans from Central Asia again met Neanderthals on their way to Eastern Europe as the both groups moved toward Western Europe. Since Neanderthals mated in small numbers with humans, they shouldn't be called a different species. Usually different species can't breed fertile offspring. But since 2% to 4% of Neanderthal genes are found in humans, just traces, but still it shows they did have offspring together on a small scale.

Neanderthals lived mostly in Western Europe and the Levant, whereas early Homo Sapiens before the last ice age lived in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, before later moving into Western Europe, where the Neanderthals retreated by 28,000 years ago to Western Portugal and Spain. Basically, in another study, scientists found there was mating between the two with children resulting in that 2% to 5% of the population of humans today, of traces of Neanderthal genes. For further information on how this study was done, check out the article, "Neanderthal Genes Found in Some Modern Humans." Also see, "Neanderthal Gene Found in Human DNA of People Living Out of Africa."

The facial restoration reported in the Jan. 1, 2010 BBC News article, DNA analyzed from early European, of the 30,000 year old man in Russia, depicts an ancient Homo Sapien man in Europe who perhaps still retains his undifferentiated features before the last ice age. After the latest ice age, the features on ancient skulls appear to change in Europe, possibly due to thousands of years of diminished sun light and extreme cold. In fact, all over the world, people were undifferentiated from their original African features from the time humans left Africa about 80,000 years ago to populate the world.

Features also began to change when humans migrated out of India to Central Asia, remaining there thousands of years, until they began to enter Eastern Europe from Central Asia and the steppes thousands of more years later, arriving in Russia, about 40,000 years ago for the Gravettian age. Before that time, people also entered Europe from the Levant, about 44,000 years ago, taking refuge in Spain and S. France. But again, scientists are still researching these theories.

Not only have the scientists extracted DNA to trace the origins and migrations of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which points to where his mother came from theoretically, artists also restored his face on the preserved skull to show what he looked like before Europeans began to change whatever facial features they had to look like most do today. Basically, he still retained his robust, but modern features.

He's a homo sapien whose so-called 'race' had not been yet changed by the cold of the last ice age climate that began in Europe about 20,000 to 25,000 years ago. At 30,000 to 32,000 years ago, his estimated age, cave paintings show rhinos in France, and lions as well as mammoths and other prehistoric animals throughout Europe.

Where'd he come from before reaching Russia? Probably, Central Asia, and before that? Possibly, NW India or where Pakistan is located today. After 13,000 years ago, you'd also find more diversity in the Kostenki, Russia region as people expanded from France and Spain into that area. But at 30,000 years ago, the Gravettian culture coming out of the steppes and Central Asia walked through Russia, living in caves and building houses outside of them with mammoth bones from the Ukraine to Siberia.

Studying the DNA of long-dead humans can open up a window into the evolution of our species (Homo sapiens). Scientists had to work with efficacy to distinguish between the ancient human DNA and modern contamination. In Current Biology journal, a German-Russian team details how it was possible to overcome this hurdle.

According to the BBC article, Svante Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues used the latest DNA sequencing techniques to study genetic information from human remains unearthed in 1954 at Kostenki, Russia.

Excavations at Kostenki, on the banks of the river Don in southern Russia, have yielded large concentrations of archaeological finds from the Palaeolithic (roughly 40,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago). Some of the finds date back as far as 45,000 years.

So who was the man? The tall, athletic 20-25 year old handsome 'hunk' (when his face was restored by sculptors) had been buried with meticulous attention to detail in an oval grave or pit. Obviously, he was well-liked by his companions or family. In comparison, you see Neanderthal womens' skeletons dumped on the garbage heaps, whereas the men were buried with flowers.

But various mainstream media as well as numerous science publications report that Homo sapien men, and homo sapien female skeletons also, were buried carefully with compassion and elaborate positions. Some nearby skeletons in Russia from the period 25,000 years ago and before, were buried with hundreds of ivory beads, fur hats, jewelry made from perforated fox teeth, and other signs of being buried with food, clothing, and possessions to take with them in the next world.

It's a sign of how the society values its moms when you find them tossed onto the garbage heap while the men are buried with their hunting tools, as the Neaderthals had done, at least in one finding, compared to the Homo sapiens that showed dignity and respect to all members of the family, at least in how they were buried and what tools and garments they took with them.

The 30,000 year old skeleton of Kostenki is known as the Markina Gora skeleton. Archaeologists found him lying in a crouched position with fists reaching upwards and a face orientated down towards the dirt. The bones were painted with a pigment called red ochre, thought to have been used in prehistoric funeral rites. Interestingly, red ochre resembles blood, which is way most babies look when they're first born.

The ochre seemed to symbolize preparing the body for a birth in reverse, a journey back to where he came from, Mother Earth, so to speak. Why else would he be painted in a red pigment as opposed to yellow ochre which was a common pigment also used then for skin decor?

The type of DNA extracted and analyzed is that stored in mitochondria - the "powerhouses" of cells. This mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down from a mother to her offspring, providing a unique record of maternal inheritance. When archaeologists and other scientist test the 30,000 year old bones for DNA, they can separate Neanderthal mtDNA from Homo Sapien because there are at least 27 differences in the genes between Neanderthal and Homo Sapien DNA.

The new technology prevents looking at contamination from modern DNA and mistaking it for ancient types. That new technology has been pioneered in the study of DNA from Neanderthal bones. Actually there are three features that distinguish modern DNA from ancient DNA, which prevents contamination, using this new technology. For more information on it, check out the BBC article, DNA analyzed from early European.

One example would be that fragments of ancient DNA are often shorter than those from modern sources. You need the new technology because researchers found many fragments of ancient DNA were too small to be amplified by older method. Another example that's characteristic of ancient DNA is its tendency to show particular changes, or mutations, in the genetic sequence at the ends of DNA molecules.

And worse yet, the third feature was a characteristic breakage of molecules at particular positions in the DNA strand. That's why the new technique of analysis has been developed to distinguish between all three issues when looking at ancient DNA.

The biggest problem when looking at ancient bones is that modern DNA can infiltrate ancient remains. Scientists even find that ancient bones of animals are so contaminated by modern human DNA that researchers usually find modern human DNA on old animal bones that have been handled so much just digging them out.

Now, the new technique allowed researchers to sequence a full mtDNA genome--that is the full mitochondrial DNA that looks at what the ancient man inherited from his mother as far as mtDNA. He was found at the Markina Gorahave area in Kostenki, Russia, a home to many ancient cave people from before the last ice age. The question is why were relatively so many Europeans living in Russia 30,000 years ago?

Scientists have been trying to find out whether those people living in Europe 30,000 years ago are the direct ancestors of the modern populations living there today, or whether they were replaced by immigrants from elsewhere who arrived only a few thousand years ago from the Balkans and the Middle East to introduce farming to Europe.

That's what local and national media keeps reporting. But this is the first time that mainstream science news publications have published articles from more advanced technical research reporting that modern people do have some Neanderthal genes, but not Africans from Africa (not mixed with Europeans or East Asians). So how many Sacramentans are concerned that they have traces of Neanderthal genes? Not many. But what are they physical characteristics of Neanderthals compared to Homo Sapiens?

Neanderthals were more muscular with more body fat, a wide waist, and also had a wide rib cage, short limbs, stocky, short bodies, and didn't run very fast. The circular bones in their inner ears that helped to control gait, kept them from moving fast on foot. In contrast, homo sapiens had larger circular bones in their ears, allowing them to run fast. They were tall and thin.

Basically, homo sapiens were perfectly suited to African climate. Neanderthals were suited to very cold weather, for example, the climate in ice age Europe. Neanderthals had larger brains and heads, but were shorter in height and had short life spans. But both had similar hyoid bones, allowing for at least basic speech. Neanderthal women had larger pelvic inlet depths making childbirth easy, but the babies were larger. But the fact that they could inter-breed and produce fertile offspring might signal they were not different species.

The modern European gene pool contains a wide variety of mtDNA lineages that includes descendants of the Huns and other Central Asians, N. Europeans, S. Europeans, Middle Eastern peoples, and East Asians as well as any one else arriving in Europe in the last 5,000 to 10,000 years. What happened to those who arrived in Europe 30,000 to 50,000 years ago? And did they come from Central Asia, the Middle East, or anywhere else?

Studying these maternal lineages provides scientists with clues to the origins and histories of human populations. Scientists look for genetic signatures in order to classify an individual's mtDNA into different types, or "haplogroups". These haplogroups represent major branches on the family tree of Homo sapiens. The 30,000-year old Russian cave man had U2 mtDNA. And people in Europe today have U2 DNA as well as people living in India.

You have numerous people with U2e, the European version of U2 living in Europe, especially in Italy today, and Germany as well as other places in Europe. It's widely distributed throughout all of Europe in current times. And you have Indian-specific U2i mtDNA living primarily in India, especially N.W. India and Kashmir.

So was Europe populated by people from India, Kashmir, and Pakistan as well as the rest of Central Asia? Yes. And after that migration, around 40,000 years ago moving West into Russia and then into the rest of Europe came another migration from the Middle East, when climate allowed it to open up, around 45,000 years ago. A lot of those cave people were mammoth hunters or followed the animal herds before the last ice age began. But U2 in Europe is still pretty rare in modern populations, although it does exist.

According to the BBC news article, "U2 appears to be scattered at low frequencies in populations from South and Western Asia, Europe and North Africa."

Actually, you have U6 mtDNA living in North Africa today, U5 in Europe, U7 in the Middle East, U3 in Europe and the Middle East, U4 in the Caucasus, and U1 in Europe as well as K, which is a branch of U, throughout Europe and especially in the Alpine mountain areas, N. Italy, and Austria. But H is the most common mtDNA in Europe today.

Even though the cave man's U2 is a bit rare, it's still found in numerous Europeans today scattered in almost any country of Europe. That means the Paleolithic hunters had direct descendants alive today still living in Europe, including Russia, where they were found 30,000 years ago when tigers, lions, and rhinos roamed Europe before the last ice age.

You have to separate the ancient U2, from the more common U5 in Europe today, but realize, people with U2 are still in Europe and perhaps are the great grand children thousands of generations forward, of that cave man. So the ancient U2 probably arrived in Europe during Paleolithic times, 30,000 or 40,000 years ago, and has a link back in time with the U2 found in India. In fact the U branch of mtDNA is the oldest in Europe.

According to the BBC article, scientists found that there were a very high percentage of U types in the skeletal remains of ancient hunter-gatherers from Central Europe compared with later farming immigrants and modern people from the region. H mtDNA is the most common in Europe today also, especially in Western Europe. But H also lived 20,000 years ago in Spain and Southern France, using the Pyrenees as a refuge from the ice age. At that time, penguins roamed in the Mediterranean, and winters during the ice age were similar to modern winters in Alaska.

In 2009, an analysis of mtDNA from 28,000-year-old remains unearthed at Paglicci Cave in Italy showed this individual belonged to haplogroup "H" - the most common type found in modern Europeans. Basically scientists surmise that about 80 percent of Europeans are descended from these early hunters that entered Europe about 50,000 years ago from Central Asia, about 45,000 years ago from the Levant.

And about 20 percent of farmers entered Europe between 10,000 years ago and 3,000 years ago from the Middle East, Turkey (Anatolia), and the Balkans, with farming arriving about 7,000 years ago, more or less, depending upon how far north the ideas of farming traveled to the fishing villages to introduce cheese making and planting vegetables instead of picking wild berries and roots. For futher information see the BBC News article, DNA analyzed from early European. Or browse the paperback book, How to Interpret Family History and Ancestry DNA Test Results for Beginners - Google Books.

If you want to have your own DNA tested to see whether you're related to this ancient hunter-gatherer or any other type, Family Tree DNA tests DNA for ancestry, including deep ancestry. There's also the Family Finder Test to see what other people are related to you back about seven generations from anywhere in the world. That tests your autosomal DNA. Or you could test your Y chromosome for male ancestors or mtDNA to see where in time or possibly geography your mother's side might have come from. That's one way to cover your own culture from prehistory to present in the media or for your private viewing.

The UC Davis Anthropology Department is distinctive in its respect for multiple pathways through the discipline. The majors there specialize in Evolution or Socioculture. The major is organized into two Wings, a Sociocultural Wing including Linguistic Anthropology, and an Evolutionary Wing including Archaeology and Biological Anthropology.

So when news of genetic testing of Neanderthals from Europe, Croatia, for example and modern humans from around the world are compared, it's the scholarly magazines and news services from Europe rather than the local daily papers that made national news media with the announcement that about four percent, (ranging from two to five percent) of all modern humans not of African descent have Neanderthal genes left over from matings between the two peoples in prehistoric times.

The latest finding last month was not reported in the local media, but would have interested Sacramentans to find out that many of them have traces of Neanderthal genes from human-Neanderthal matings that happened more than 30,000 years ago. In fact, Sacramentans who are not of African descent, that means those with European, East Asian, and certain Pacific Islands ancestry (Papua-New Guinea) were surprised to find out from mass media science magazines and mainstream news publications that they carry an average of 4% (with a range of 2% to 4%) of Neanderthal genes, according to the latest genomic studies reported in the mass media, according to the May 7, 2010 article in Cosmos Magazine, "Neanderthal genes found in some modern humans."

Mainstream media in Sacramento doesn't report too often scientific breakthroughs unless they have to do with healthcare or recalled food rather than ancient history and genomics, except for the few articles coming out of UC Davis. British magazines report more archaeology findings than daily newspapers and magazines that focus on local news. But Sacramentans do have two universities locally both offering majors in special areas of anthropology and archaeology.

Hart, Anne. 2010. "Russians restore face to 30,000+ year-old Kostenki cave man". All Voices. Posted: June 19, 2010. Available online:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The 'bumpy ride' of linguistic change

A recent study of an ancient language provides new insights into the nature of linguistic evolution, with potential applications for today's world. The study, "Dvandvas, Blocking, and the Associative: The Bumpy Ride from Phrase to Word," to be published in the June 2010 issue of the scholarly journal Language, is authored by Paul Kiparsky of Stanford University. A preprint version is available on line at:

Dr. Kiparsky's research focuses on the reasons why languages change over time, and the mechanisms by which this change occurs. Linguistic change differs from biological evolution and socio-cultural change because of the way language is organized and learned. Languages are passed on by example, but each is governed by a coherent set of rules that conform to a common set of organizing principles. Linguistic change is typically initiated by children as they make "intelligent" errors in seeking the simplest way of navigating the languages they are learning. By studying linguistic change, we gain new insights into how language is organized and how children learn language.

Dr. Kiparsky observed that linguistic change does not follow a straightforward path toward a simpler system. Instead, it takes a "bumpy ride" to its destination. A language is like an enormous house that has to be reconstructed by each new occupant, who has to discover its design as the work is in progress, and while the previous occupants are still living in it. Construction is always going on, now and then a room is finished, but only after centuries can an outside observer see that a fundamental renovation has taken place. Dr. Kiparsky's new study shows how the stepwise progress of innovations through a language follows an orderly course predicted by principles that appear to be shared by all languages.

This new insight into the nature of how language change occurs will help linguists and those who rely on their research to gain a greater understanding of language and the mind.

EurekAlert. 2010. "The 'bumpy ride' of linguistic change". EurekAlert. Posted: June 21, 2010. Available online:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Understanding genetic mixing through migration

A tool for clinicians as well as geneaologists

Gothenburg, Sweden: Understanding the genetic ancestry of mixed populations, such as those found in North America, can not only help to detect their origins but also to understand the genetic basis of complex diseases, a scientist will tell the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics today (Saturday June 11). It is the first time that the genomes of individuals of admixed ancestry have been sequenced in such detail, says Dr. Francisco De La Vega of Life Technologies, Foster City, California, USA.

Working with Professor Carlos Bustamante and his team in the Department of Genetics at Stanford University, the scientists analysed the genomes of two people – one of African-American and one of Hispanic-Latino origin. The majority of the personal genomes sequenced to date come from individuals of either European, African, or Asian descent, because it is in these groups that most genetic disease association studies are being carried out. However, populations where genetic mixing through migration has taken place relatively recently make up a sizable proportion of the world's population, and have been not been well studied to date because of the complexity of dealing with the contributions of genes from different ancestries in disease.

"We set out to provide a better understanding of the genome structure in admixed populations by sequencing one African-American and one Mexican sample", said Dr. De La Vega. "By analysing genetic variants in mixed people whose frequency differs in the ancestral populations, we can work out the ancestry of different chromosomal segments in an individual. This has already been done in a number of different ways. The difference with our work is that, by using whole genome sequencing using the SOLiD™ System, we can greatly increase the resolution of our analyses and achieve a very much clearer picture of the ancestry of genome sequences for the individuals studied.

"We already know that present-day African-Americans trace their ancestry to a rich mosaic of migrants from the mainly West African and Northern European populations who settled in North America and the Caribbean. Mexicans, on the other hand, are descendants of Meso-American indigenous populations – themselves derived from population migrations from Asia (through the Bering straits) - and largely Southern European (mainly Spanish) settlers", said Dr. De La Vega. "But the added value of our research is that we can show the approximate number of generations at which the genetic mixing occurred, estimate the rate at which admixture occurred, and understand better the genetic diversity in the ancestral populations."

To date there are few comprehensive studies of genetic diversity in native populations in the Americas, and by analysing them scientists can begin to piece together the population history of both the admixed and indigenous populations. They can also begin to analyse the contribution of native American genetic variants to the disease burden in the Americas of today, something which at present is relatively unknown.

"We believe that our work will help move forward genetic disease association studies in these admixed populations", said Dr. De La Vega. "This would not only provide valuable information on the genetic component of disease in these people, but would also help refine genetic association findings in other populations by replicating the findings in admixed samples. And the high resolution admixture maps we can generate can help in studies to map variants of disease whose prevalence is very different in the ancestral populations of admixed groups."

The scientists intend to follow up their work by sequencing many more genomes of different populations in the Americas in order to understand further differentiation within the continent and the frequency of the genetic variants. "The decreasing costs of sequencing genomes through new sequencing instruments such as those developed by Life Technologies, is making possible for the first time to compare at large scale genetic variants among and within populations" said Dr. De La Vega.

The scientists are also participants in the 1000 Genomes Project, an international research effort to sequence the genomes of at least 1000 subjects from a number of different ethic groups, and thus establish the most detailed catalogue of human genetic variation to date.

"The Project will sequence the genomes of around 500 admixed individuals from diverse populations including African-Americans from the South West and South East US, Afro-Caribbeans from Barbados, Mexicans from Los Angeles, Peruvians from Lima, Colombians from Medellin, and Puerto Ricans from Puerto Rico. We are incredibly excited about the inclusion of these populations in the Project, since we hope that the genomic resources developed by it will encourage the development of genetic studies in under-represented communities in the US and Latin America", said Professor. Bustamante, co-director of the study. "In the long run, the information obtained from such studies could become the basis of personalised genomic therapies for individuals of admixed origins."


EurekAlert. 2010. "Understanding genetic mixing through migration". EurekAlert. Posted: June 11, 2010. Available online:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Alphabet Makers: China

Chinese is the oldest system in the world today, hardly changed in 4000 years. It is used by the world's largest nation--over a billion people.

Emperor Fu-Hsi (2852-2738 B.C.) was the legendary inventor of the Chinese script. His prewriting device, called the Eight Trigrams, was a combination of straight and broken lines, apparently taken from marks on a turtle shell. This may have replaced knotted cords which were used for record keeping.

About 2000 B.C., Chinese writing began as pictures. The earliest characters known (about 1400 B.C.) were on oracle bones. Some that were found still resembled the things they represented. But even then it was a full writing system, including representation of the spoken language.

There are reasons why the Chinese have not adopted an alphabet.

1. The difference between the dialects, or regionalects, is great. For instance, the word for man is pronounced ren, yen, nene, nyin, and len in different parts of China, but everywhere it is written . With an alphabet, Chinese would need to be written differently for each area. The single nonalphabetic writing system unites speakers of all Chinese dialects, and shows their common heritage.
2. The language is loaded with homophones. Like to, too, and two in English, most Chinese words sound like several, or even dozens, of other words. Since alphabets represent words by their sounds only, it is hard to distinguish words that sound alike. But the Chinese system is ideally suited to handle homophones, as the writing distinguishes both meaning and sound. Moreover, most spoken and written words are paired with others, further distinguishing homophones.
3. While an alphabet is ideal for writing words that have small changeable parts, like: write, wrote, unwritten, and writer's, Chinese words do not have changeable parts. The grammar works by adding and rearranging whole words, rather than parts.

Therefore, the logographic system, with unchanging symbols for whole words, fits Chinese well.

For the Chinese, calligraphy serves as a display of a person's moral and spiritual worth. In 3000 years, different materials and uses have created a variety of styles. The following are for the word fish (yú):

Sea script, drawn or engraved on bone, cast in bronze, stamped in clay, etc.

Standard brush script, used since the fourth century, is the regular script of today.

Running script, a cursive style for fast writing.

Grass script, a shorthand style allowing for personal expression.
Writing has traditionally been from top to bottom, the columns proceeding from right to left. But in China today the favored direction is horizontal, from left to right.

Movable type was invented in China in 1045 A.D., well ahead of Gutenberg -- however, due to the many symbols needed to write Chinese, it was impractical.

JAARS. 2009. "Alphabet Makers". JAARS. Posted: n/d. Available online:

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The life of an Anglo-Saxon princess

I like the way this article is written. It brings archaeology, history and humanity together. This is exactly why we do archaeology.

The unearthing of Eadgyth, the Anglo-Saxon princess, was an emotional moment for historian Michael Wood. She was the Diana of the dark ages – charismatic, with the common touch.

For anyone interested in the kings and queens of England it was a touching moment last year to see the heavy tomb cover lifted in Magdeburg Cathedral. The inscription said the occupant was Eadgyth, queen of the Germans, the Anglo-Saxon granddaughter of Alfred the Great, sister of Athelstan the first king of a united England. But was it really her? Now the results of the scientific examination are through: isotopes from her tooth enamel confirm that this early medieval woman, a regular horse rider who died in her mid-30s, had indeed spent her first years in southern England. It is her, after all.

As a long-time Athelstan watcher (I'm writing a book on him), I confess I almost felt my eyes prickle when I saw the startling image of the open lead coffin: an ivory silk shroud covering (or at least so I imagined with narrowed eyes) an almost discernible human shape. Under the crumpled folds was a small slim frame slightly bent at the knees, like a child asleep. Buried first in July 946, she had been reburied in this tomb in 1510. As blue bloods go, she was second to none: her grandfather, her father Edward and her brother were three of the greatest rulers in British history (well, why not the greatest?). I must say I was glad not to see the forensic close-ups of her bones and skull: the respect afforded by the antique silk shroud had the strange effect of giving her back something of her life.

She was aged, perhaps, 35 or 36, the same as a famous modern English princess, and, needless to say, Diana comparisons have been made in the last few months. In German sources, our only real clues to her life, it seems she was just as charismatic. She was in her late teens in autumn 929, when an embassy came to England from Germany seeking a bride for Otto, son of Henry I, the founder of the medieval German empire, the First Reich. Unlike the Third Reich, English relations with the First were close and often warm: Germany had been Christianised by English missionaries such as Boniface and they still liked to say they were "of one blood", their languages still close enough to understand each other.

Her brother Athelstan received the German ambassador at Canterbury and, "extremely enthusiastic" about the proposed union, according to one German account, "took Eadgyth aside and spoke in a loving voice to her, pouring into her heart an affectionate portrait of the young Otto", then a 17-year-old toughie bred to war and already experienced in the Saxons' savage campaign against Slavs and the Hungarians. In the event, Athelstan sent her to Germany with her younger sister Eadgifu, "so that Otto could choose which he liked best". They were unsentimental about their daughters in the middle ages, marrying them off for diplomatic advantage, as dynastic bargaining counters, or just to get rid of a possible source of rival children of the royal blood. But then, as the match made by Lady Di was to show, royals were not so sentimental even in the late 20th century.

The English chronicles tell us nothing about Eadgyth's later life in Germany. But German sources suggest she was quite a hit: brave, capable and strong-minded. The famous nun and poet Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, who was perhaps too young to have known Eadgyth personally (she was 15 when the queen died), says she was highly esteemed for her personal qualities. Hrotsvit makes much of her calm demeanour and especially her "remarkable sincerity": she simply "glowed" with charm. Eadgyth also had the common touch. "In fact," says Hrotsvit, "she was so very highly regarded in her own country that public opinion unanimously rated her the best woman who existed at that time in England."

Of course these are all stock attributes for admirable women in a patriarchal society, and perhaps that is just what the Germans were told, the hard sell by the English royal family also apparent in the story that Eadgyth was "descended from sainted ancestors", namely the line of the Northumbrian martyr Oswald, killed nearly 300 years before. But, in fact, Eadgyth had no need of a fake family tree: her family were the oldest royals in Europe whose pedigree, they claimed, went back to a 5th-century adventurer called Cerdic (as, too, incidentally, does that of our present queen).

So Eadgyth sailed to Germany with her sister. And though Athelstan had offered Otto a choice, it was, we are told, "love at first sight". The couple married at Quedlinburg in Saxony, and soon celebrated the births of a son and daughter. The German public was as fascinated by the young prince as we would be today: though in a world threatened by Vikings, Magyars and Saracens, much more was at stake in the birth of an heir.

In 936 Henry died, and Otto was crowned, with Eadgyth at his side as queen of the Germans. Together they survived a civil war and, for 10 years, ran the kingdom in partnership, with Eadgyth administering her part of the royal household as strong women did. When she died in 946 "the whole of the German nation mourned her with an intense grief . . . a foreign race that she had come to cherish with kindness. Their dearly beloved mistress was thus entrusted to the earth . . . to lie in the tomb until she could rise again."

And now, though surely not in the way a devout 10th-century woman would have wished, she has. So to Eadgyth, one of the many forgotten women of early English history, welcome back to the light.

Wood, Michael. 2010. "The life of an Anglo-Saxon princess". Guardian. Posted: June 17, 2010. Available online:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Was the New World Settled Twice?

Were the primary ancestors of today's Native Americans really the first people to set foot in the New World? Genetic evidence suggests so, but ancient skeletons tell a different story. Now, the most detailed analysis yet of ancient American skulls concludes that there were two distinct waves of colonizers from Asia, suggesting that another group got here first.

A team of paloeanthropologists compared the skulls of several dozen Paleoamericans, which date back to the early days of migration 11,000 years ago, with those of more than 300 Amerindians, which date to 1000 years ago. The Paleoamerican remains came from four sites in South and Central America, and the researchers also compared them with more than 500 skulls from East Asia. In all, the team found clear differences in the shapes and sizes of the Paleoamerican and Amerindian samples. That suggests that more than one group of individuals migrated to the Americas from Asia, the team reports online today in PLoS ONE. And due to the age of the skeletons, the researchers say, this other group of individuals arrived before the primary ancestors of today's Native Americans.

Team member Katerina Harvati of Germany's Tübingen University says that although the study does not rule out a single migration, it demonstrates "that the story of the peopling of the New World was most likely more complex than is commonly thought."

The work is "solid" and "perhaps the most sophisticated analysis of craniofacial traits undertaken to date," says Theodore Schurr, a molecular anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Schurr's own recent work on DNA in living people has led him to favor a single migration, but he says he is "willing to accept that there were pulses of migration into the Americas from Northeast Asia at different times."

Nevertheless, Schurr warns that the lack of large numbers of Paleoamerican skulls makes progress difficult and that the small sample sizes may not show the true morphological and genetic diversity of early American populations. The field, he notes, continues to be hampered by the lack of ancient DNA data because of poor bone preservation. Genetic studies of modern populations, by contrast, can draw on large numbers of samples. Dennis Stanford, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., adds that the authors could have benefited from additional samples from North America as well as more Asian skulls. He believes that there likely were three or four major migrations.

Harvati hopes that further studies will include more samples and agrees that "ancient DNA would be extremely helpful." But so far, she notes, such studies have not had much success.

Lawler, Andrew. 2010. "Was the New World Settled Twice?" Science. Posted: June 14, 2010. Available online:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Guy Deutscher: Language alters how we think

The linguist argues that in our haste to explain language in terms of genetics we've underestimated the power of culture

Guy Deutscher is that rare beast, an academic who talks good sense about linguistics, his chosen field. In his new book, Through the Language Glass (Heinemann), he fearlessly contradicts the fashionable consensus, espoused by the likes of Steven Pinker, that language is wholly a product of nature, that it does not take colour and value from culture and society. Deutscher argues, in a playful and provocative way, that our mother tongue does indeed affect how we think and, just as important, how we perceive the world.

An honorary research fellow at the University of Manchester, the 40-year-old linguist draws on a range of sources in the book to show language reflecting the society in which it is spoken. In the process, he explains why Russian water (a "she") becomes a "he" once you have dipped a teabag into her, and why, in German, a young lady has no sex, though a turnip has.

What's your new book about in a nutshell?

It's about why the world can look different in other languages. I try to explain why in the race to ascribe to our genes all the fundamental aspects of language and thought, the immense power of culture and nurture has been grossly underestimated.

How has it been underestimated?

For example, I argue that the mother tongue has considerable influence on the way we think and perceive the world. But there's a great deal of historical baggage attached to this question and so most respectable psychologists and linguists won't touch it with a bargepole.

It's like being a historian and talking about national character, isn't it?

Exactly. But I think we are grown up enough now to look at this question in a scientific way.

Can you give me an example of what you mean?

The most striking example involves what I call the language of space – how we describe the arrangement of objects around us. Take a sentence such as: "The child is standing behind the tree" – you'd imagine all languages would behave in the same way when describing something so simple. It's almost inconceivable that there would be languages that don't use such concepts at all. For centuries, philosophers and psychologists have had us believe that such egocentric concepts of space such as "in front of", "behind", "left" or "right" are the universal building blocks of language and cognition.

And aren't they universal?

Well, this remote aboriginal tongue turned up – called Guugu Yimithirr, from north Queensland. These people have a way of speaking about space that is incredibly odd, because they don't use any such concepts at all. So they would never say: "The child is behind the tree." Instead, they would say: "The child is north of the tree."

It also happens to be the language that gave us the word kangaroo.

Yes, it's famous for that, but it should be doubly famous. These people say things such as: "There's an ant on your northern foot", or: "I left the pen on the southern edge of the western table in your northern room in the house." You might think that their weird way of speaking about space must be a one-off. But the discovery of this language inspired a great deal of research and we learned of other peoples around the globe, from Mexico to Indonesia, who speak in a similar way.

What consequences does such a language have for your perception of space?

Growing up with such a language essentially develops in your brain a sort of GPS system, an unfailing sense of orientation, and the reason is fairly straightforward: if from the age at which you start talking, you have to be aware of the cardinal directions every waking second of your life in order to understand the most trivial things that people say around you, then your language trains you to pay constant attention to your orientation at all times. Because of this intense drilling, the sense of directions becomes second nature. If you ask the Guugu Yimithirr how they know where north is or where south is, they look at you in amazement, just as you would be flummoxed if I asked you how you know where in front of you is and where behind is.

Is your dominant interest to do with neurology or linguistics?

My focus is on the effects of language on thought, but I try to concentrate on those effects that can be demonstrated scientifically. Neurology may be an exciting subject, but we are still profoundly ignorant about its subject matter – we know little about how the brain works. So to show any influence of language on thought, we need to find examples where this influence has practical and measurable consequences in actual behaviour.

If we were having this conversation in 50 years' time, it would be much easier to talk about real neurology, because we would be able to scan the brain and find out exactly how each different language influences different aspects of thought. Our current ruminations about the subject would then look pitifully primitive. But progress can only come through trying and failing and failing better.

McCrum, Robert. 2010. "Guy Deutscher: Language alters how we think". Guardian. Posted: June 13, 2010. Available online:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Arabic and Book Publishing

I love listening to PRI's The World in Words podcasts. I find the tidbits enlightening. However, the podcast this time talked about a disturbing trend among Arabic readers. Based on a UN survey report less than 2% of native Arabic speakers reads even one book a year. This impacts the publishing industry, but happily there are those who are still insist on publishing.

The podcast discusses this fact, and indicates that the majority of Arabic readers, particularly Muslims, read religious books only. It is ironic that the Arabs, particularly the Muslims, have an enormous legacy of literature produced over the centuries. After all the Thousand and One Arabian Nights have endured over the centuries and translated into various languages. (The picture to the left is a 13th century manuscript of the book.) While there is nothing wrong with reading religious texts, reading literature is very important.

Literature awakens, enlarges, enhances and refines our humanity in a way that almost nothing else can. Dana Gioia

Literature is also important for language development. It opens the imagination and develops creativity.

Another issue affecting Arabic readers is the introduction of Modern Standard Arabic. This form of Arabic is treated as a second language, so that the development of literature in it, is ponderous. The Arabic speaking world is divided between reading the classical Arabic literature and developing a body of literature in its "second language".

Hopefully, the decline in reading can be turned around.

اقرابسم ربك الذي خلق
ويجري تجاهل الوصية الأولى للمسلمين ، والكثير على حساب مستقبلهم الأدبية

[Read! In the Name of your Lord who Created. (surah 96:1)
The first commandment to Muslims is being ignored, much to the detriment of their literary futures.]

Listen to the podcast.


Cox, Patrick. 2010. "Arabic and Book Publishing". PRI. Posted: June 1, 2010. Available online:

Gioia, Dana. 2006. "On the Importance of Reading". The Commonwealth. Available online:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Culture of Andorra

Culture Name

Alternative Names
Principality of Andorra; Andorranos


Identification. The first reference to Andorra appears in the writings of the Greek historian Polybius (c.200–118B.C.E.), who tells of the military encounter between Andorrans and Carthaginian troops as Hannibal (247–183B.C.E.) passed through the Pyrenees Mountains en route to Rome. Andorra, historically, was a rural microstate whose population oscillated between four thousand and six thousand inhabitants. In the second half of the twentieth century, as it became a large international commercial center, the nation received larger migratory populations and developed into a multicultural society.

Location and Geography. Andorra has a total land surface of 181 square miles (468 square kilometers) making it slightly less than five times the size of the city of Barcelona. It is situated in the Pyrenees Mountains, bordered by Spain and France. The capital of the nation, Andorra la Vella (Old Andorra), lies in the geographic center of the country, where the two tributaries of the Valira River merge.

Demography. According to the 1998 census, the population stands at 65,877 of whom only 21.7 percent have Andorran citizenship. The rest of the inhabitants are Spanish (42.9 percent), Portuguese (10.7 percent), French (6.7 percent) or other nationalities (6.5 percent). Moreover, more than 7,589 persons, generally children or youth of immigrant families, have no formal citizenship. According to current legislation, foreigners can acquire citizenship after twenty years of residence in the country. Their children, born in Andorra, acquire citizenship at age eighteen.

Linguistic Affiliation. Catalan is the official language of Andorra. It is used throughout public administration, is taught in all schools, and is the language of all road signs. It is also the dominant language in communications media and is the language spoken by the national elites. In commercial signage, Catalan alternates with Spanish and French. Nevertheless, the dominant language of the street is Spanish. The Spanish population represents the largest immigrant community in Andorra and, in addition, the majority of visitors and merchants who come to Andorra are also Spanish. The use of French is limited to populations in the extreme southwest of the country. Portuguese and other languages are limited to private settings.

Symbolism. The Sanctuary of the Virgin of Meritxell, patron of the nation, constitutes the most important religious symbol for Andorrans and is also an attractive spot for tourist visits in the summer. Its thirty Romanesque churches and other treasures of medieval art serve as historical referents as well as emblems of identity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The origins of Andorra can be situated between the Mesolithic and the Neolithic periods. The archaeological site of Balma Margineda dates back eight thousand years, although full territorial occupation was not achieved until 2000 B.C.E. During the Roman era, Andorra had a stable population. Until the epoch of Arab occupation in the eighth century, Iberian populations mixed with peoples arriving from central Europe. At the beginning of the ninth century, the area was repopulated. The first document that refers to Andorra is the Act of Consecration of the Cathedral of Urgel (839 C.E.). In the eighth and ninth centuries, Andorra belonged to the County of Barcelona, which ceded sovereignty over the valleys of Andorra in 988 to the Episcopal see of Urgel (Spain)

At the end of the thirteenth century, after conflicts between the bishop of Urgel and the count of Foix, a Judicial Decision (Pareatge) was signed in 1278 that established the regime of coprinces that remains today. Currently, the two coprinces of Andorra are the president of the French Republic and the bishop of Urgel. Medieval rights over Andorra passed from the count of Foix to the king of Navarre in the fifteenth century, and then to the king of France in the sixteenth century; in the nineteenth century, they passed to the president of the republic.

National Identity. Historically, Andorra has been a protectorate of France and Spain. This is manifest in several ways: (1) the currencies of the nation are the franc and the peseta; (2) the two systems of public education were, until 1982, the French and the Spanish; and (3) the two languages most commonly spoken are French and Spanish, in addition to Catalan. This dualism has been expressed in multiple ways in recent centuries; Andorran factionalism also always has a pro-Spanish front and a pro-French front.

Today, however, both state political powers and Andorran civil society have endeavored to consolidate a national identity that takes as its symbolic referents its medieval past, mythologizing the political peculiarity of the Pareatges. Andorrans also identify themselves as a mountain society and have a special interest in leading sociopolitical and economic movements of the Pyrenean regions. The third pillar of identity is "Catalanness" ( catalanitat ), which it shares with 11 million persons in the northeast of Spain and the southeast of France.

Ethnic Relations. As a culture shaped by transhumant (seasonally transient) shepherds in the past and international merchants in the present, Andorrans are open in character and interethnic relations are not conflictive. Moreover, almost all immigrants come from European nations; hence, cultural differences are not strident.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The diet in Andorra is based on consumption of meat, garden vegetables, and some fish. The most common winter dish, in rural and urban zones, is escudella, a soup of veal, chicken, potatoes, and vegetables. Some immigrant communities have different customs: Portuguese eat more cod and Indians, more vegetarian food. Normally, the midday meal is eaten near the workplace in a restaurant.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Many Catholic families still avoid eating meat on Fridays. At the feast of the Virgin of Meritxell, Andorran families often eat outdoors after the solemn midday mass: they consume cold cuts, chicken, and rabbit. The Christmas cycle is also an occasion for the organization of family meals.

Basic Economy. Until about the middle of the twentieth century, the Andorran economy was based on transhumant shepherding and the breeding of cattle and horses. Andorrans also grew some tobacco, while agriculture was oriented to the production of cereals, potatoes, and garden vegetables. Because of the climate, the rocky relief, and the small size of its territory, the country always ran a deficit in agricultural production. Today, due to the commercial orientation of its economy, agriculture has disappeared. Only tobacco survives, with its production tripling since the early 1970s. Coupled with enormous quantities of imported tobacco, this production feeds a strong tobacco industry serving visitors to the country (as well as smuggling). Almost all that Andorrans consume and sell to millions of visitors comes from importation, principally from Spain and France but also from Japan and other countries of the Far East. Yet another extremely important economic activity for the Andorran economy is the banking sector, because of the nation's condition as a "fiscal paradise."

Land Tenure and Property. Most Andorran land is of communal ownership, including the woods and alpine meadows that occupy more than 80 percent of the territory. This situation recurs throughout the Pyrenees, originating in medieval local codes. Private property is found near villages, constituted by homes, rural structures, cultivated fields, and gardens. The exploitation of goods is managed by local administrations ( comuns ) which, in addition, also exercise many functions typical of city halls. The benefits of the exploitation of these goods revert to citizens in the form of infrastructure, equipment, creation of work, scholarships for students, and social service endeavors. Today, four of the seven municipal units ( parroquies ) that form the country have one or more winter resorts, from which they also gain great benefits. The only properties of the state are the courses and banks of the rivers, and roads and highways.

Commercial Activities. Andorra has always had fluid commercial relations with France and Spain, including smuggling. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) and the World War II (1939–1945), the volume of exchanges increased, since Andorra was a platform through which to supply belligerent nations. In addition, the economic isolation of Spain during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, from 1939 to 1975, favored the commercial activity of Andorra, which supplied equipment, machine parts, vehicles, and other consumer goods. The foundation of the new Andorran economy, however, is retail commerce in major consumer goods, oriented toward buyers in nearby regions of Spain and France.

Major Industries. Andorra's industrial development is extremely limited. Apart from tobacco, the most important industry is construction along with its derivative industries, hospitality industries, and semi-artisanal activities such as jewelry.

Trade. Commerce and tourism are based on the importation of all goods and services from third countries. There are sixty import-export companies handling such goods as gasoline, automobiles, beverages, tobacco, machinery, optical and electronic products, food, clothing, and shoes. Electronic goods come from Japan and other Asian sources, while the rest come from Europe.

Division of Labor. Large Andorran firms belong almost exclusively to Andorran citizens, although there are also some enterprises founded by Spaniards and Frenchmen who have acquired citizenship through their years of residence. Foreigners, Spanish and French, dominated professional positions until recently; high enrollments of university students have fostered a process of nationalization in this occupational level. Employment in construction, transport, commerce, and public services (police and sanitation), like work in hotels, tend to employ resident alien workers depending on their ability and level of instruction.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Class differences in Andorra are quite clear and possess marked characteristics, such as residence. Practically all the original Andorran population belongs to the high or medium-high stratum of society as the first group to arrive in the nation. The rest of the Spanish population is basically salaried, although there are executive groups and small entrepreneurs among them. Most Portuguese are found in less-skilled labor positions, especially in hostelry and construction. The French population comprises bureaucrats and small-scale entrepreneurs in hostelry or commerce.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Apart from evocative differences of residence, other indicators of class difference include fashion. The Andorran elite sport well-known international brands, which contrast with the sobriety of the rest of the society. Automobiles are also a highly visible indicator of consumption. Even though the entire society is motorized, only a minority has access to such luxury cars as Rolls-Royce, Mercedes, Audi, and BMW.

Gender Roles and Statuses

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Andorran society, with its strong rural origins, maintained a marked segregation on the basis of gender roles until the late twentieth century. All public activity was exercised by men, representing the family. Rapid urbanization, changes in lifestyle, and the commercial orientation of the economy have forced a rapid modification in the economic and work roles of women. Today, their public visibility is total, even if their presence in political spheres remains inferior to that of men, despite consistent progress.

Marriage, Family and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is not controlled by any limits except class (and not always by that). Marriages between Andorrans and Spaniards or French are normal.

Domestic Unit. The family remains the basic social unit, more important than the individual, despite the accelerated evolution of Andorran society. Most enterprises and business are organized through the family, distributing functions according to capacities and the level of study of each member. These family groups, following the institution of the familia troncal (stem family), incorporate a married pair and their children.

Inheritance. Formerly, the inheritance system passed nearly all the patrimony to one of the sons: the hereu (heir). Today, this tendency is maintained only at a symbolic level through the transmission of the family home. In the case of rural holdings, only the inheriting son can marry and reside with his wife and children on the family land; however, current family businesses are different. Any child can remain tied to the family business after marriage, although there remains a tendency towards an heir who will follow the father in the operation of the business.

Kin Groups. Networks of kinship are only activated through rituals of sociability for reasons of alliance or political patronage.


Religious Beliefs. Even though Andorra lacks a formal religion, Roman Catholicism is hegemonic. One fundamental element of this presence rests on the role of the bishop of Urgel as coprince and, at the same time, head of the Andorran Church. Apart from the Jehovah's Witnesses, there are no public religious alternatives in Andorra.

Rituals and Holy Places. All public ceremonies, including some sessions of the parliament, are accompanied by a Catholic mass. The Andorran festive calendar adapts to the Catholic liturgical calendar, and the nation, like every parroquia, has a patron saint and a collection of religious and lay celebrations.

Secular Celebrations

In addition to the national festival of the Virgin of Meritxell (8 September), each parroquia has its own patronal festival. Given the commercial orientation of the nation (which remains open for business especially when neighboring nations have holidays), the only formal holidays are Christmas and New Year's Day.

Read more; Urbanism, Architecture and Use of Space, Political Life, Social Welfare and Change Programs, Non-Governmental Organizations and other Associations, Socialization, Medicine and Health Care, and The Arts & Humanities. Visit the site to read more.

Every 2010. "Culture of Andorra". Every Posted: n/d. Available online:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ethnicity & Nationalism: Anthropological Perspectives

The following is part of chapter one from Thomas Eriksen's book. To read the rest of the chapter and learn more about the book, visit the site.

1. What is ethnicity?

It takes at least two somethings to create a difference. (...) Clearly each alone is - for the mind and perception - a non-entity, a non-being. Not different from being, and not different from non-being. An unknowable, a Ding an sich, a sound from one hand clapping. Gregory Bateson (1979: 78)

Words like "ethnic groups", "ethnicity" and "ethnic conflict" have become quite common terms in the English language, and they keep cropping up in the press, in TV news, in political programmes and in casual conversations. The same can be said for "nation" and "nationalism", and many of us have to admit that the meaning of these terms frequently seems ambiguous and vague.

There has been a parallel development in the social sciences. During the 1980s and early 1990s, we have witnessed an explosion in the growth of scholarly publications on ethnicity and nationalism, particularly in the fields of political science, history, sociology and social anthropology.

In the case of social anthropology, ethnicity has been a main preoccupation since the late 1960s, and it remains a central focus for research in the 1990s. In this book, the importance of anthropological approaches to the study of ethnicity will be emphasised. Through its dependence on long-term fieldwork, anthropology has the advantage of generating first-hand knowledge of social life at the level of everyday interaction. To a great extent, this is the locus where ethnicity is created and re-created. Ethnicity emerges and is made relevant through ongoing social situations and encounters, and through people's ways of coping with the demands and challenges of life. From its vantage-point right at the centre of local life, social anthropology is in a unique position to investigate these processes. Anthropological approaches also enable us to explore the ways in which ethnic relations are being defined and perceived by people; how they talk and think about their own group as well as other groups, and how particular world-views are being maintained or contested. The significance of ethnic membership to people can best be investigated through that detailed on-the-ground research which is the hallmark of anthropology. Finally, social anthropology, being a comparative discipline, studies both differences and similarities between ethnic phenomena. It thereby provides a nuanced and complex vision of ethnicity in the contemporary world.

An important reason for the current academic interest in ethnicity and nationalism is the fact that such phenomena have become so visible in many societies that it has become impossible to ignore them. In the early twentieth century, many social theorists held that ethnicity and nationalism would decrease in importance and eventually vanish as a result of modernisation, industrialisation and individualism. This never came about. On the contrary, ethnicity and nationalism have grown in political importance in the world, particularly since the Second World War.

Thirty-five of the thirty-seven major armed conflicts in the world in 1991 were internal conflicts, and most of them - from Sri Lanka to Northern Ireland - could plausibly be described as ethnic conflicts. In addition to violent ethnic movements, there are also many important non-violent ethnic movements, such as the Québecois independence movement in Canada. In many parts of the world, further, nation-building - the creation of political cohesion and national identity in former colonies - is high on the political agenda. Ethnic and national identities also become strongly pertinent following the continuous influx of labour migrants and refugees to Europe and North America, which has led to the establishment of new, permanent ethnic minorities in these areas. During the same period, indigenous populations such as Inuits ("Eskimos") and Sami ("Lapps") have organised themselves politically, and demand that their ethnic identities and territorial entitlements should be recognised by the State. Finally, the political turbulence in Europe has moved issues of ethnic and national identities to the forefront of political life. At one extreme of the continent, the erstwhile Soviet Union has split into over a dozen ethnically based states. With the disappearance of the strong Socialist state in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, issues of nationhood and minority problems are emerging with unprecedented force. On the other extreme of the continent, the situation seems to be the opposite, as the nation-states of Western Europe are moving towards a closer economic, political and possibly cultural integration. But here, too, national and ethnic identities have become important issues in recent years. Many people fear the loss of their national or ethnic identity as a result of a tight European integration, whereas others consider the possibilities for a pan-European identity to replace the ethnic and national ones. During the electoral campaign preceding the Danish referendum on European Union in June 1992, a main anti-EU slogan was: "I want a country to be European in". This slogan suggests that personal identities are intimately linked with political processes and that social identities, e.g. as Danes or Europeans, are not given once and for all, but are negotiated over. Both of these insights are crucial to the study of ethnicity.
This book will show how social anthropology can shed light on concrete issues of ethnicity; which questions social anthropologists ask in relation to ethnic phenomena, and how they proceed to answer them. In this way, the book will offer a set of conceptual tools which go far beyond the immediate interpretation of day-to-day politics in their applicability. Some of the questions which will be discussed are:

· How do ethnic groups remain distinctive under different social conditions?
· Under which circumstances does ethnicity become important?
· What is the relationship between ethnic identity and ethnic political organisation?
· Is nationalism always a form of ethnicity?
· What is the relationship between ethnicity and other types of identity, social classification and political organisation, such as class and gender?
· What happens to ethnic relations when societies are industrialised?
· In which ways can history be important in the creation of ethnicity?
· What is the relationship between ethnicity and culture?

This introductory chapter will present the main concepts to be used throughout the book. It also explores their ambiguities and in this way introduces some main theoretical issues.

Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. Ethnicity & Nationalism: Anthropological Perspectives. London: Pluto Press 1993 (second, expanded edition 2002). Available online:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Georgian Script

Mxedruli, the script for Modern Georgian, consists of 33 letters and is written from left to right. As is common in many other scripts, spaces are used to separate words. Words are emphasized by increasing their intracharacter spacing. While all letters of the Georgian alphabet sit on a baseline, some also have ascenders, descenders or both. Georgian has no feature corresponding to the distinction of upper and lower case. In a special 'headline' style, all parts of each letter are made to sit on the baseline, in some cases resulting in a change of proportions in the letterform. Even though the basic order of Georgian characters is based on the Greek alphabet, the order differs wherever there is a need for a Georgian symbol with no equivalent in Greek. Since the phonologies of Greek and Georgian differ greatly, there are more than 10 such differences.

The first attested form of Georgian script (Asomtavruli) dates back to the 5th century AD. After the 9th century, a new, more angular style called 'Kutxovani' gradually replaced 'Asomtavruli'. By the 10th century, the first variants of the current, more rounded style, Mxedruli, began to appear. In the 13th century, Mxedruli became an established style which was used in secular writing only. In 1669, Mxedruli was first set in print. Since its inception, Georgian script has undergone some changes in two main stages. In the 18th century, Anton I introduced some minor changes, while in the 1860s Ilia Chavchavadze dropped 5 symbols which were no longer needed for the phonology of Georgian. Since the independence of the Republic of Georgia in 1990, new efforts are underway to standardize the script to support the needs of the various factions of Georgian society.

Taking its entire history into consideration, the Georgian alphabet has changed very little. This stability is in large part due to the good design of the alphabet: each letter corresponds to a unique phoneme and each phoneme is written by one letter only. Besides the various dialects of the Georgian language, Georgian script was at one time used to write Abkhaz and other languages of the Caucasus.

This site has a great font repertoire for many languages around the world. I recommend a visit.

2010. "Font: Georgian". Monotype by Monotype. Posted: n/d. Available online:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Out to unearth skull’s secrets

Amid the documents and paintings and photos, the detritus of centuries, is a reminder of a harder, violent time.

Is this evidence of one of the early struggles between Europeans and the indigenous people of the New World? The earthly remains of a possible saint?

Was it jammed on a stake to rot in the coastal sun?

For more than 50 years, the skull has resisted efforts to answer these questions. Scientists, government officials and educators have wondered: Whose skull is in the locked box in a state historic lab in suburban Atlanta?

Now, thanks to painstaking measurements and breakthroughs in DNA forensics, they may be closer to an answer.

Clash of cultures

Four centuries ago, the low-lying tract we now call Darien, at the mouth of the Altamaha River midway between Savannah and Jacksonville, was at the center of a brewing conflict. It was the land of the Guale, Native Americans who had lived there for centuries. But newcomers wanted it.

Soldier, missionary, explorer: They came from Spain, ready to claim new land for an empire. Among them: Pedro de Corpa, a Franciscan friar. He came to the New World to convert natives to Christianity and spent about a decade in Florida before heading north to an outpost near Darien. He joined at least four other Spanish missionaries working at missions in that remote, wild place. None ever left.

In 1597, de Corpa spoke against the marriage of the nephew of a Guale chieftan. The groom already had a wife, said the friar; taking a second was an affront to God.

That declaration was his doom. On Sept. 14, 1597, Guale warriors attacked de Corpa as he prepared for Mass. According to reports compiled afterward, the warriors, wielding stone axes, chopped off his head. They jammed it onto a stake.

Indians then rampaged along the coast, killing other unwanted newcomers. On their list of victims: Friars Miguel de Anon, Antonio de Badajoz, Blas Rodriguez and Francisco de Verascola. In time, they became known as the Georgia Martyrs — participants in a violent history dimmed by the passage of centuries.

A discovery in a Darien marsh more than 50 years ago brought them back to the present.

Treasure in the trash

Sheila Caldwell had her orders: Search the area for anything historically significant. An archaeologist, she was among the first to assess the site where the state would build Fort King George State Park in Darien.

The park was to take shape on the site where Great Britain established an 18th-century outpost. The fort, like the Spanish missions that preceded it, had vanished under vine and earth, water and bog.

Some time between 1952 and 1954 — records aren’t clear — Caldwell made a discovery. It came to light in a midden, a trash heap where the Guale centuries earlier had discarded refuse.

A skull. It wasn’t particularly impressive. Mud-stained, it had lost its lower jaw. The facial area was particularly battered.

Turning it over, Caldwell made another discovery. The round hole at the base of the skull, where the spinal cord entered the cranium, had been destroyed. The bone there was jagged, broken. It was as if something had been rammed forcibly into the skull.

Something like a wooden stake, perhaps.

State officials kept the skull at Fort King George State Park. Officially, it was listed as item No. FKG-121.

Everyone called it Father de Corpa.

Back into the light

The skull might still be at the park but for Debbie Wallsmith. In 2000, she joined the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as a parks curator and asked that the skull be sent to a lab at Panola Mountain State Park.

It was a logical move. The building houses a Chinese menu of items from Georgia’s past. Wallsmith, now a DNR cultural resources manager, placed the skull in a locked box, occasionally bringing it out on request.

In 2004, she opened it for Christopher Stojanowski, an anthropology professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and an expert in skulls. He came to Georgia at the request of the Rev. Conrad Harkins, an educator at Franciscan University and a leading proponent to have the slain friars declared saints.

Harkins thought the skull would turn out to be a historical red herring — a cranium of a Native American, most likely. But he had to know.

So did Stojanowski. “I was fully expecting to see this [skull] and say, ‘Ah, this is silly,’ ” said Stojanowski, who now teaches forensic anthropology at Arizona State. “I was quite taken aback.”

For two days, Stojanowski measured the skull from all angles with calipers, recording his findings. He returned to Illinois; the skull returned to its case.

Tantalizing findings

In February 2005, Stojanowski produced a report. Its conclusions:

● The skull had been that of a middle-aged man; de Corpa was in his thirties when he was killed.

● The broken edges indicated the skull had been treated harshly; impalement certainly qualifies.

● It was that of a European; de Corpa came from Spain.

Stojanowski’s not sure if the skull is that of de Corpa. De Verascola, he noted, also was killed in the area, and was scalped — the skull shows evidence of a scalping.

“The truth is, we don’t know what happened to the skull,” he said. Learning whose skull it was, he said, could be just as difficult.

Stojanowski also discovered evidence of lice in the tiny holes where ears had been. If those lice were alive when the man was killed, perhaps they have some trace evidence of the victim’s DNA that could be matched.

Until then, the skull remains in a box, its secrets, and a 400-year-old legend, still locked away.

Davis, Mark. 2010. "Out to unearth skull’s secrets" Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Posted: March 19, 2010. Available online:

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Biology of the Language Faculty: Its Perfection, Past and Future

About the Lecture

Noam Chomsky, around whose work much of the Syntax series revolves, gives listeners a glimpse into the evolution of his own thinking, with an emphasis on areas of linguistics where computational considerations play a major role.

Chomsky briefly outlines the key components of a biologically based linguistics that began to emerge 50 years ago: first, a genetic language endowment (Universal Grammar), which interacts with the external environment, and second, the individual’s development and learning strategies. While UG has been called “controversial,” says Chomsky, the “alternative is magic,” since something has to account for the fact that “my granddaughter picked out part of her environment as language related, and almost reflexively developed a language while her pet kitten, a chimp or songbird, exposed to exactly the same data, didn’t take the first step and couldn’t conceivably take the second.”

Chomsky links a third factor of language involving architecture and the principles underlying data acquisition to natural laws that may apply generally in biology, and not specifically to language. Research suggests that between 50 and 100 thousand years ago, humans made an abrupt evolutionary leap forward in cognitive capacity. Language seems to have emerged at this time. While long-term evolution can lead to great complexity, a sudden leap like this, says Chomsky, tends to yield something “simple, almost perfect -- a perfect solution to design problems imposed by circumstances and conditions prevailing at the time of emergence...” This proposal has been dubbed the Strong Minimalist Theory (SMT), and offers a plausible approach to studying the complexity of language, believes Chomsky. It might prove profitable to “examine the range of phenomena that fall under what’s loosely called language,” and try to “disentangle them so some parts of them conform more or less to SMT.” And here, says Chomsky, issues of computational efficiency play perhaps an overwhelming role.

Chomsky links SMT to transformational grammar, a long-standing component of his linguistic theory. He states that “a simple form of transformational grammar is just the optimal system, and if you don’t have it, you’d have to have an argument as to why you don’t.” Well-designed systems should have simple, sensible properties. He recommends “chipping away at the stipulated properties of Universal Grammar, and technologies proposed to deal with particular problems to see how closely you can show that language does approximate to the perfect design that would be a natural expectation in light of what appears to be evolutionary history.”

Chomsky, Noam. 2007. "The Biology of the Language Faculty: Its Perfection, Past and Future". MIT World. Posted: October 19, 2007. Available online: