Monday, July 25, 2016

'Badass Librarians' Foil al Qaeda, Save Ancient Manuscripts

Scholars used donkey carts, boats, and teenage couriers to smuggle a priceless collection out of Timbuktu.

In 2012, jihadists—armed to the teeth with weapons seized in Libya after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi—overran northern Mali and established a brutal, sharia regime in Timbuktu. Once a center of learning and culture, the city housed a priceless collection of manuscripts: volumes of poetry, encyclopedias, and even sexual manuals that invoked the name of Allah. Threatened with destruction, the manuscripts were spirited out of the city to safety in a thrilling, cloak-and-dagger operation.  

Speaking from his home in Berlin, Joshua Hammer, a former Newsweek bureau chief in Africa, recounts the tale of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts—and explains how the Timbuktu manuscripts disprove the myth that Africa had no literary or historical culture, why Henry Louis Gates had an epiphany when he saw them, and why the jihadists found them so threatening.

Timbuktu has become a byword for the farthest corner of the earth. But it was once an important cultural and artistic center. Put us on the ground during its golden age. 

Several of the great travelers of the Renaissance, in the 15th-16th centuries, passed through Timbuktu and described it as a thriving commercial center with camel caravans and traders on boats on the Niger River bearing everything from linens and teapots from England to slaves and gold out of the rain forests of Central Africa. At the same time, you had this academic tradition. So you had a thriving commercial center side by side with a Cambridge/Oxford-like atmosphere of fervent scholastic activity.  

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb swept to power in Mali. Talk about its rise—and its fanatical leader, Abou Zeid. 

Abou Zeid was one of a triumvirate of jihadists, probably the most brutal of them, who took over northern Mali between January and April in 2012. Another leader was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian jihadist who had been hardened fighting in Afghanistan and fallen in with some of the most notorious international jihadists. He was also a cigarette smuggler, who made millions by dominating the cigarette trade across the Sahara up into North Africa. This earned him the nickname “Mister Marlboro.” 

In the chaos of the uprising against Qaddafi, the jihadists raided the armories of Libya, took the weapons into Mali, and quickly swept across the northern part of the country, occupying all of the major towns in the north, including Timbuktu. They imposed sharia law and began to destroy every symbol of moderate Sufi Islam that almost all residents of modern Timbuktu subscribe to. Shrines to Sufi saints were destroyed; whippings and amputations were carried out in the public squares of the city; and, of course, the manuscripts were threatened. 

The manuscripts were not kept in an archive, but by individual families. Explain this unusual provenance—and how it helped preserve them.

Timbuktu was a university town during its golden age. Many of the universities were operated out of mosques, so you had a lot of books and manuscripts being created for the scholars. At the same time, you had these wealthy families that valued learning. Because it had this long scholastic tradition, Timbuktu also had a great literary tradition: powerful Timbuktu families measuring their importance by the books they accumulated on Greek philosophy, poetry, love stories, guides to better sex, astronomy, traditional medicine, as well as the religious books. They would be copied by scribes and accumulated both in the universities and in private homes. So huge libraries were created, numbering in the thousands of volumes. Nobody knows how many manuscripts were in the city at its peak but it was almost certainly in the hundreds of thousands. 

The hero of your book is a man named Abdel Kader Haidara. Give us a character sketch and describe his extraordinary efforts to collect the manuscripts together. 

Abdel Kader Haidara is the son of a scholar from Timbuktu. His father ran an Islamic school in the oldest quarter of Timbuktu. So Abdel Kader grew up around these manuscripts. When he was 17, his father died. He had a dozen brothers and sisters but in the will his father made him the heir to the family book collection, which numbered in the thousands at that time. His father appreciated Abdel Kader’s scholarship and studiousness. He was also fluent in Arabic, which was essential if you were going to be in charge of these manuscripts as they were almost all written in Arabic.  

A few years later, the curator for the national library in Timbuktu called on Abdel Kader and asked him if he would take on a job, traveling around the countryside visiting villages and nomadic encampments, trying to track down some of the ancient manuscripts that had been disbursed into the desert. Timbuktu was conquered by the Moroccans in the 1590s and a lot of the books were spirited out of the city. Abdel Kader reluctantly took on the job—he wanted to be a businessman rather than a scholar working in a library—and began trudging around the countryside in camel caravans or taking boats along the Niger, trying to persuade these villagers to give up their precious family heirlooms and turn them all over to this national library in Timbuktu.  

He proved to be incredibly successful at this and also found that he loved the job. He built the national library into a great institution and turned his own family’s collection into a library in Timbuktu, raised money, and got other librarians involved. By the year 2000, Timbuktu had become a cultural boomtown that had recaptured some of the glory of its heyday in the 16th century, when it was the scholastic center of North Africa. He found manuscripts stashed away in dark storage rooms or caves in the desert. By the time of the jihadi invasion of 2012, he had assembled a collection of 377,000 manuscripts.  

You call the manuscripts “monumentally subversive.” Explain.

Because they posited a worldview that was anathema to the jihadists. There were celebrations of music, which the Salafist fundamentalists do not tolerate, and books about sex in which the reader was asked to invoke the name of Allah as a way of heightening his sexual prowess. Abdel Kader especially valued these things because they showed a more tolerant side of Islam.  

Henry Louis Gates came to Timbuktu to see the manuscripts in 1996. Why was the experience such an epiphany for him? 

Henry Louis Gates came to Timbuktu when he was a professor at Harvard and also making documentaries about African civilization. He’d grown up with the idea that Africans were savages. He recalled a Ripley’s Believe It or Not cartoon he’d seen as a small boy, which said that there had been libraries and universities in Timbuktu. When he finally got to Harvard and began making documentaries, one of the first things he wanted to do was go up to Timbuktu and tell the story of these universities to try to refute the cliché that Africans had no history or intellectual traditions. The argument was that blacks were inferior to Europeans because they had no written language. In Timbuktu, Gates went to see Abdel Kader Haidara, fell in love with the manuscripts, and ended up going back to the U.S. and raising almost $100,000 for Haidara to open the first private library in the city.  

The final rescue of the manuscripts by river to the capital, Bamako, was an amazing cloak-and-dagger operation. Set the scene for us. 

There were three stages of the operation. The first was after Abdel Kader became concerned that the jihadists might target the manuscripts. So they moved them out of the big libraries of Timbuktu into safe houses around the city. They did it at night, putting the manuscripts in boxes and moving them by donkey cart to people’s basements and storage rooms. In the second phase, a couple of months later, they moved them out of the city by vehicle: one vehicle after another, in constant motion, often escorted by teenage couriers, over 600 miles of desert, passing through checkpoints and bluffing their way all the way to Bamako, the capital in the south.  

The third phase, after the French Army invaded and it became too dangerous to move the books by road, involved taking them by boat up the Niger River toward Bamako, then offloading them from the boats and putting them into taxis. It was an elaborate and dangerous process that went on for months, right under the noses of the jihadists. 

The French were called “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” by proponents of the Iraq War. But their prompt and decisive military action in Mali rather disproved that moniker, didn’t it? 

There was no way the U.S. was going to go to war in Mali. There was no oil [laughs], and it was Francophone territory. So Obama was delighted when President Hollande announced he was going to send troops in, after the jihadists overreached and tried to take over the rest of the country.  

The showdown came at a place called Ametettai. A Foreign Legion officer, Captain Oudot de Danville, led a group of hardened paratroopers into battle. They traveled over many miles in the high desert of Mali to Ametettai, where they fought a fight to the finish against the jihadists, who were hunkered down inside caves in this very rocky, arid, brutally hot valley. There were also regular French and Chadian forces, who are really hardened badasses, as well. And they were able to pretty much wipe out the jihadists in one week of fighting.

You end the story in 2014, with the manuscripts still stored in Bamako. What's the current situation? And will they ever go back to Timbuktu?

Who knows? The manuscripts have all been collected in one large storage facility in Bamako, so they have been brought together under one roof. They are being digitized and those that were damaged in the course of the smuggling operation are being carefully restored. Meanwhile, Abdel Kader is keeping an eye on the situation in Timbuktu. He would love to take them back but he doesn’t think the time is right. I’m not really sure when that time will be. It’s already been three years, and I don’t think there’s any end in sight to this purgatory. Last November, there was an attack on the Radisson Hotel in Bamako, so the jihadists are infiltrating the southern part of the country, which they were never able to do at the height of their occupation in the north. I don’t think they will ever again be able to mount a major operation to seize territory. But they’re still out there.
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Reference:

Worrall, Simon. 2016. “'Badass Librarians' Foil al Qaeda, Save Ancient Manuscripts”. National Geographic News. Posted: June 12, 2016. Available online: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/06/badass-librarians-joshua-hammer-timbuktu-manuscript-al-qaeda/

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Decade of labor reveals philosopher's guide to the galaxy (Update)

When you're trying to fathom a mangled relic of very old hi-tech, it helps to have the manufacturer's instructions.

For over a century since its discovery in an ancient shipwreck, the exact function of the Antikythera Mechanism—named after the southern Greek island off which it was found—was a tantalizing puzzle.

From a few words deciphered on the twisted, corroded fragments of bronze gears and plates, experts guessed it was an astronomical instrument. But much more remained hidden out of sight.

After more than a decade's efforts using cutting-edge scanning equipment, an international team of scientists has now read about 3,500 characters of explanatory text—a quarter of the original—in the innards of the 2,100-year-old remains. They say it was a kind of philosopher's guide to the galaxy, and perhaps the world's oldest mechanical computer.

"Now we have texts that you can actually read as ancient Greek, what we had before was like something on the radio with a lot of static," said team member Alexander Jones, a professor of the history of ancient science at New York University.

"It's a lot of detail for us because it comes from a period from which we know very little about Greek astronomy and essentially nothing about the technology, except what we gather from here," he said. "So these very small texts are a very big thing for us."

The team says the mechanism was a calendar of the sun and the moon that showed the phases of the moon, the position of the sun and the moon in the zodiac, the position of the planets, and predicted eclipses. Nothing of the sort was known to be made for well over 1,000 years.

"It was not a research tool, something that an astronomer would use to do computations, or even an astrologer to do prognostications, but something that you would use to teach about the cosmos and our place in the cosmos," Jones said. "It's like a textbook of astronomy as it was understood then, which connected the movements of the sky and the planets with the lives of the ancient Greeks and their environment."

"I would see it as more something that might be a philosopher's instructional device."

The letters—some just 1.2 millimeters (1/20 of an inch) tall—were engraved on the inside covers and visible front and back sections of the mechanism, which originally had the rough dimensions of an office box-file, was encased in wood and operated with a hand-crank.

It wasn't quite a manual, more like a long label you would get on a museum to describe a display, according to another team member, Mike Edmunds, who is an emeritus professor of astrophysics at Cardiff University.

"It's not telling you how to use it, it says 'what you see is such and such,' rather than 'turn this knob and it shows you something,'" he said Thursday, during a presentation of the team's findings in Athens.

The mechanism's fragments were raised in 1901 from a mid-1st century B.C. shipwreck, and at first seemed like a scruffy footnote to a magnificent body of finds that included bronze and marble statues, luxury glassware and ceramics.

But the sediment-encrusted, compacted lumps soon attracted scientific attention, and were studied by successive teams over the next decades. While hypotheses were made as to the functioning of the gears and the use of the machine, it was for long impossible to read more than a few hundred characters of the texts buried on the inside of a multi-layered mechanism a bit like a big clock.

About 12 years ago, Jones' and Edmunds' team started to use x-ray scanning and imaging technology to analyze the 82 surviving fragments.

"The original investigation was intended to see how the mechanism works, and that was very successful," Edmunds said.

"What we hadn't realized was that the modern techniques that were being used would allow us to read the texts much better both on the outside of the mechanism and on the inside than was done before."

It was a painstaking process, as to read each of the tiny letters, researchers had to look at dozens of scans.

Edmunds said the style of the text—formal and detailed—implied that it was designed to be much more than a rich collector's plaything.

"It takes it to me out of the realm of executive toys—an executive wouldn't pay all that money to have all that waffle—it's more serious than a toy," he said.

It was probably made in Greece between 200 and 70 B.C., although no maker's signature has been found.

The team says they have read practically all the text on the surviving fragments. Their greatest hope is that archaeologists currently revisiting the shipwreck will uncover pieces overlooked by the sponge divers who found it a century ago—or even another similar mechanism.

The commercial vessel was a giant of the ancient world—at least 40 meters (130 feet) long—and broke into two as it sank, settling on a steep underwater slope about 50 meters (164 feet) deep.

Most of the inscriptions, and at least 20 gears that worked to display the planets, are still there.
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Reference:

Paphitis, Nicholas. 2016. “Decade of labor reveals philosopher's guide to the galaxy (Update)”. Phys.org. Posted: June 9, 2016. Available online: http://phys.org/news/2016-06-decade-labor-reveals-philosopher-galaxy.html

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A circular prehistoric monument built by early Welsh farmers for ritual performance has been found in Wales

A circular prehistoric monument built by some of the earliest farmers in Wales has been discovered by archaeologists near a series of pits containing pottery and flint used by Neolithic people around 5,000 years ago.

Experts say people would have used the monument, spanning seven metres in diameter and defined by a shallow, flat-bottomed ditch dug into underlying limestone rock, as a place of ritual performance in the Vale of Glamorgan.

“The site is providing a remarkable opportunity to gain access to a large amount of data across a spread of prehistoric time periods,” said Dr Neil Phillips, the Director of the archaeological group APAC Ltd.

“Such an opportunity rarely happens and the surviving archaeology is rarely appreciated before it disappears.”

Housing developers have pledged artefacts from the grounds to National Museum Wales, whose Principal Curator for Prehistory, Adam Gwilt, called the discovery “important new evidence” of the early farming communities in the region.
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Reference:

Culture24. 2016. “A circular prehistoric monument built by early Welsh farmers for ritual performance has been found in Wales”. Culture24. Posted: June 9, 2016. Available online: http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/archaeology/art556440-vale-glamorgan-circular-monument-ritual-farmers

Friday, July 22, 2016

Surprising global origins for regional food favourites

Italy's tomatoes and Thailand's potent chillies, although closely associated with these nations, originate from elsewhere, a study shows.

The assessment of more that 150 key food crops shows how agriculture and diets rely on crops from other regions.

The authors say the results highlight the interdependence of food systems and the need for a united effort to ensure its resilience to future threats.

The findings appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The research by an international team of scientists assessed the diet and crop production of 177 counties, which accounted for 98% of the world's population.

Growing understanding

"For probably a hundred years or so, scientists have been bringing together information to know where crops came from, where they were domesticated by diverse agricultural cultures," said co-author Colin Khoury, a crop diversity specialist from the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

"It has taken a lot of information to come together, including linguistics, genetics and archaeological data, in order to reach this level of understanding."

Dr Khoury said a major figure in the understanding of where our food came from was a Russian scientist called Nikolai Vavilov, "a character that would make Indiana Jones look like a bit of a wimp". He was jailed on numerous occasions by warlords during his expeditions across five continents.

The information Vavilov gathered during his travels allowed him to record the diversity of a wide range of crops, and where the plants were growing alongside their wild relatives.

This led to him proposing "centres of origin" for food crops, which included Central America, South America, the Mediterranean and the Near East, explained Dr Khoury.

Since then, scientists have debated and built upon this body of work, with "centres of diversity" replacing Vavilov's "centres of origin" hypothesis.

"A century later, people are still arguing about where exactly the crops come from but we know pretty well the regions where the diversity is richest," he added.

"This is important now for agriculture because that diversity is still used to breed pest and disease resistance, climate change tolerance and all kinds of other things."

Food web

Dr Khoury said his team's study was the first to look at where all the crops came from and to ask which areas where important in terms of modern food systems.

The team identified 23 food-producing regions, all of which were deemed to be important, highlighting the global interdependence of the food crops.

"The connections between where people grow and eat food and where they come from are incredibly extensive, nations generally connect to so many different regions around the world."

Dr Khoury said the findings - as well as confirming the importance of regions, such as the Near East, which were long believed to be key hubs for the origins of food crops - also highlighted that other regions were equally important, such as North America and West Africa.

Another main finding was that no country's diet consisted wholly of native food crops.

As the global food system is projected to come under increasing pressure from a rising human population and climate change, the findings also pointed to the need for an interconnected effort to ensure food production's resilience to future threats.

"It is very clear in science that genetic diversity is the biological base for being able to survive and adapt," Dr Khoury observed.

"So if I am a plant breeder and I want potatoes to be resistant to a new pest in Europe, where do I find that diversity? The quick answer is where the diversity is most diverse, where there is the most variation.

"The argument is that where the potatoes have been the longest, where they have spent hundreds or thousands of years being in contact with different pests, diseases and climates - they are going to be the most diverse.

"These are areas we call primary regions of diversity. It is not just the crops; it is also their wild and weedy cousins.

"The reality is that the diversity is out there in the wild but it is not very well collected, especially when it comes to the wild relatives."

As for the origins of Italy's tomatoes and Thailand's chilli's? "Both of those crops are from the new world, from the Americas. It was only after what is called the Columbian exchange," Dr Khoury explained.

This was the period following Christopher Columbus's 1492 arrival in South America that saw the transfer of animals, plants, culture and technology between Europe and southern America.

"They saw these crops and brought them back to Europe. It is surprising how quickly new foods were accepted and adopted as their own by cultures."
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Reference:

Kinver, Mark. 2016. “Surprising global origins for regional food favourites”. BBC News. Posted: June 8, 2016. Available online: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-36471362

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Research proves Aboriginal Australians were first inhabitants

Conflicting theories of Mungo Man debunked

Griffith University researchers have found evidence that demonstrates Aboriginal people were the first to inhabit Australia, as reported in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal this week.

The work refutes an earlier landmark study that claimed to recover DNA sequences from the oldest known Australian, Mungo Man.

This earlier study was interpreted as evidence that Aboriginal people were not the first Australians, and that Mungo Man represented an extinct lineage of modern humans that occupied the continent before Aboriginal Australians.

Scientists from Griffith University's Research Centre for Human Evolution (RCHE), recently used new DNA sequencing methods to re-analyse the remains of Mungo Man from the World Heritage listed landscape of the Willandra Lakes region, in far western New South Wales.

Professor Lambert, from RCHE, said it was clear that incorrect conclusions had been drawn in relation to Mungo Man in the original study.

"The sample from Mungo Man which we retested contained sequences from five different European people suggesting that these all represent contamination," he said.

"At the same time we re-analysed more than 20 of the other ancient people from Willandra. We were successful in recovering the genomic sequence of one of the early inhabitants of Lake Mungo, a man buried very close to the location where Mungo Man was originally interred.

"By going back and reanalysing the samples with more advanced technology, we have found compelling support for the argument that Aboriginal Australians were the first inhabitants of Australia."

Professor Lambert explained that the results proved that the more advanced genomic technology was capable of unlocking further secrets from Australia's human past.

"We now know that meaningful genetic information can be recovered from ancient Aboriginal Australian remains," he said.

"This represents the first time researchers have recovered an ancient mitochondrial genome sequence from an Aboriginal person who lived before the arrival of the Europeans."

The research, which has just been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, was planned and conducted with the support of the Barkindjii, Ngiyampaa and Muthi Muthi indigenous people.

There has been considerable debate in Australia and around the world about the origins of the first Australians since the publication in 1863 of Thomas Henry Huxley's Man's Place in Nature.
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Reference:

EurekAlert. 2016. “Research proves Aboriginal Australians were first inhabitants”. EurekAlert. Posted: June 6, 2016. Available online: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-06/gu-rpa060516.php

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Romans ate porridge, pasta and bread, imported opium poppy and had fleas at a fort near Glasgow

Romans ate porridge and fruit and suffered from worm and flea invasions a few miles from the centre of Glasgow, according to archaeologists studying building remnants, insect remains and sewage at a former fort along the Antonine Wall.

The army occupied Bearsden for a generation, creating “complex” trade networks and a long-term infrastructure in the East Dunbartonshire town. Professor David Breeze, the author of a new book revealing decades of excavations and scientific analysis, says the plan and history of the fort were originally uncovered during the 1970s.

“The bath-house and latrine discovered at that time are now on public display and are an important part of the Antonine Wall World Heritage Site,” he says, discussing the 40-mile most northerly frontier of the once-mighty Roman Empire.

“We were very fortunate to discover sewage in a ditch which was analysed by scientists at Glasgow University and demonstrated that the soldiers used wheat for porridge and to bake bread, and possibly to make pasta.

“It also told us that they ate local wild fruits, nuts and celery as well as importing figs, coriander and opium poppy from abroad, and that they suffered from whipworm, roundworm and had fleas.”

The frontier was built as a physical barrier on the orders of the Emperor Antoninus Pius in the years following AD 140. “Despite their distance from Rome, the soldiers at Bearsden seem to have been far from detached from the rest of the empire,” says Dr Rebecca Jones, of research co-funders Historic Environment Scotland.

“Evidence shows they regularly received commodities like wine, figs, and wheat from England, Gaul and Southern Spain – as well as some locally gathered food.

“I’m sure that when the excavations were first taking place in the 1970s and 80s, nobody foresaw that the fort would become part of a World Heritage Site.”

Dr Jones describes the book as “essential reading for anybody interested in the Roman occupation of Scotland.” Its chapters also contain expert analysis of pottery, plant remains, soils and glass found in the trenches.
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Reference:

Culture24. 2016. “Romans ate porridge, pasta and bread, imported opium poppy and had fleas at a fort near Glasgow”. Culture24. Posted: June 6, 2016. Available online: http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/archaeology/art556223-porridge-pasta-worms-fleas-dumbartonshire-glasgow

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ice age bison fossils shed light on early human migrations

Scientists using evidence from bison fossils have determined when an ice-free corridor opened up along the Rocky Mountains during the late Pleistocene. The corridor has been considered a potential route for human and animal migrations between the far north (Alaska and Yukon) and the rest of North America, but when and how it was used has long been uncertain.

The researchers combined radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis to track the movements of bison into the corridor, showing that it was fully open by about 13,000 years ago. Their findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate that the corridor could not account for the initial dispersal of humans south of the ice sheets, but could have been used for later movements of people and animals, both northward and southward.

Rocky Mountains corridor

In the 1970s, geological studies suggested that the corridor might have been the pathway for the first movement of humans southward from Alaska to colonize the rest of the Americas. More recent evidence, however, indicated that the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets coalesced at the height of the last ice age, around 21,000 years ago, closing the corridor much earlier than any evidence of humans south of the ice sheets. The initial southward movement of people into the Americas more than 15,000 years ago now seems likely to have been via a Pacific coastal route, but the Rocky Mountains corridor has remained of interest as a potential route for later migrations.

“The opening of the corridor provided new opportunities for migration and the exchange of ideas between people living north and south of the ice sheets,” said first author Peter Heintzman, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Cruz who led the DNA analysis.

Previous work by coauthor Beth Shapiro, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, had shown that the bison populations north and south of the ice sheets were genetically distinct by the time the corridor opened. By analyzing bison fossils from within the corridor region, the researchers were able track the movement of northern bison southward into the corridor and southern bison northward.

Genetic analysis key

“The radiocarbon dates told us how old the fossils were, but the key thing was the genetic analysis, because that told us when bison from the northern and southern populations were able to meet within the corridor,” Heintzman said. The results showed that the southern part of the corridor opened first, allowing southern bison to start moving northward as early as 13,400 years ago, before the corridor fully opened. Later, there was some movement of northern bison southward, with the two populations overlapping in the corridor by 13,000 years ago.

“Bison fossils are the most widespread Quaternary mammal in western North America and of interest because they survived the extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene, unlike most other North American large mammals,” said coauthor Duane Froese of the University of Alberta. “We were able to sample bison fossils, largely from museum collections, including critical ones from central Alberta that dated to the initial opening of the corridor.”

According to Shapiro, archeological evidence suggests that human migration within the corridor was mostly from south to north. Sites associated with the Clovis hunting culture and its distinctive fluted point technology were widespread south of the corridor around 13,000 years ago and decline in abundance from south to north within the corridor region. A Clovis site in Alaska has been dated to no earlier than 12,400 years ago.

“When the corridor opened, people were already living south of there. And because those people were bison hunters, we can assume they would have followed the bison as they moved north into the corridor,” Shapiro said.

The steppe bison of the Pleistocene (Bison priscus) were much bigger than modern bison (Bison bison), she said. Before the corridor closed, prior to the last glacial maximum, they moved freely up and down between the ice-free regions in the north and grasslands south of the ice sheets. After the ice sheets coalesced, the population that was cut off to the south contracted, leaving one genetically distinct southern lineage.

The DNA analysis used in this study focused on mitochondrial DNA, which is easier to recover from fossils than the DNA in chromosomes, because each cell has thousands of copies of the relatively short mitochondrial DNA sequence. While Shapiro’s lab led the DNA analyses, Froese’s lab led the radiocarbon dating work.
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Reference:

Past Horizons. 2016. “Ice age bison fossils shed light on early human migrations”. Past Horizons. Posted: June 6, 2016. Available online: http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/06/2016/ice-age-bison-fossils-shed-light-on-early-human-migrations