Friday, June 25, 2010

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

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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:

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