Friday, November 20, 2015

Europe's Complex Heritage

I stopped using the term "Caucasian" several years ago. I've discussed the "Anglo-Teutonic" race, Neanderthals, and getting a grip, before. (September 25, 2015; October 31, 2014)

Turns out, folks from the Caucasus moved into Europe at least once — along with many other folks.
  1. Georgian DNA, Homebodies, and Wanderers
  2. Basque Background
We're still learning more about humanity's family history. It's a lot more complicated than we thought. (July 11, 2014)

Thinking is Not a Sin

If you've read my 'science' posts before, you know why I think the universe is billions, not thousands, of years old; Earth isn't flat; Adam and Eve weren't German; poetry isn't science; and thinking is not a sin.

Briefly, I think the universe follows knowable rules: which means we can learn how it works. This is okay. We're supposed to study this universe, and use what we learn. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 32; 339, 2292, 2295)

Scientific discoveries invite us "to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator."(Catechism, 283)

I also think that this world is changing, in a state of journeying — in statu viae — toward an ultimate perfection. (Catechism, 302-305)

Humility is accepting reality — including scientific discoveries — also remembering that God's God, I'm not.1 (Catechism, 283, 2540, 2559)

1. Georgian DNA, Homebodies, and Wanderers

(From Eppie Jones, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("DNA was retrieved from this 10,000-year-old skeleton in Western Georgia"
(BBC News))
"Europe's fourth ancestral 'tribe' uncovered"
(November 16, 2015)

"Geneticists have detected a fourth ancestral 'tribe' which contributed to the modern European gene pool.

"Research shows Europeans are a mixture of three major ancestral populations - indigenous hunters, Middle Eastern farmers and a population that arrived from the east in the Bronze Age.

"DNA from ancient remains in the Caucasus has now revealed a fourth population that fed into the mix...."
The photo's caption says "Western Georgia," which could mean somewhere near the Apalachicola River — but doesn't.

This Georgia is on the east side of the Black Sea, north of where Urartu used to be. "Georgia" is my culture's name for the country. Folks who live there call their land საქართველო, Sakartvelo — I think.

Greeks and Romans called the folks living there Colchians and Iberians, depending on whether they were in the western or eastern part. I'll stick with "Georgia," and figure that you know what area I'm talking about.

Anyway, Eppie Jones and other scientists have been studying DNA from two men who lived in western Georgia 13,300 and 9,700 years back, three centuries shy of "10,000 years;" and another man who died about 13,700 years ago, where Switzerland is now.

Comparing their DNA with folks living in western Eurasia, the scientists found that today's Georgian DNA is a lot like the samples they have from a dozen millennia back.

They also discovered that folks living throughout Europe — particularly northern Europe — are genetically similar to the early Georgians.

My fairly-recent ancestors are from southern Norway and the northern British Isles: so it looks like I'm related to the Georgian subjects of this study.

DNA: Still Learning

(From Eppie Jones, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("A view from the Satsurblia cave in Western Georgia, where a human bone dating from over 13,000 years ago was discovered."
(BBC News))

We've learned a lot since 1928, when Frederick Griffith's experiment suggested that DNA carried genetic information; and 1944, when the Avery-MacLeod-McCarty experiment showed that DNA, not proteins, carries genetic information in bacteria.

More recently, research like the Human Genome Project has mapped the human genome. We've mapped the billions of DNA base pairs in our chromosomes — but we don't know what many of them do.

Not yet.

Scientists have developed new ways to recover DNA from increasingly old burials. Back in the 1990s, it looked like we could extract DNA from insects caught in amber: and an 80,000,000-year-old dinosaur.

Scientists double-check results: with disappointing results in this case. Early research hadn't taken environmental contamination and DNA's chemical stability into account. The "dinosaur DNA," for example, was from a human Y chromosome.

These days, it's rare for researchers to identify DNA that's more than several hundred thousand years old. (Wikipedia)

Quite a bit's happened in the last 200,000 years, though. That's when anatomically modern humans showed up. That's what scientists call folks who look pretty much like us.

For one thing, we're learning that today's genetic patterns aren't much like they were in the past. That's hardly surprising. As I've said before, humans travel. (July 11, 2014)

In a way, I'm a bit surprised that so many of the folks who lived in the Caucasus a dozen millennia back stayed where they were.

More recently, about 5,000 years ago, another group — herders we call the Yamna or Yamnaya — formed when hunter-gatherers from the Caucasus and eastern Europe moved into land north of the Caucasus: joining folks from the Mal'ta-Buret' culture.

Genes, Norwegians, and Steppe Pastoralists

(From Joostik, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
"...The Yamnaya transformed the gene pools of northern and central Europe, such that some populations, like Norwegians, owe around 50% of their ancestry to these Steppe pastoralists.

"But the Yamnaya were themselves a mixed population. Around half of their ancestry came from a sister group to the hunter-gatherers who inhabited Europe before farming, while the other half appears to be from a population related to - but noticeably different from - the Middle Eastern migrants who introduced farming.

"Researchers have now analysed genomes from two hunter-gatherers from Georgia that are 13,300 and 9,700 years old. The results show that these Caucasus hunters were probably the source of the farmer-like DNA in the Yamnaya...."
(BBC News)
It looks like Yamnaya brought the early version of most European languages with them when they moved west into my ancestral homelands, about 5,000 years ago. Wikipedia has a pretty good write-up on Proto-Indo-European language.

They also brought horses, metal-working tech, and plague. We've found plague DNA in Yamnaya burials: and Europe's population dropped after they arrived. (BBC News (October 23, 2015))

We recovered, though.

People may be "allergic to change," but for the last 2,000,000 or so years, humans have been coping with a changing world. And that's another topic. (February 20, 2015; July 11, 2014)

Humanity on the Move

(From Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Map of Georgia, Abkhazia, Ajara, and South Ossetia; showing Dmanisi, a townlet and archaeological site in the Kvemo Kartli region.)

Folks have been living in cities like Faiyum and Jericho for millennia. Sorting out exactly how long isn't easy, since inhabited cities keep getting rebuilt. Excavations for an embassy in Londinium, for example, unearthed 10,000-year-old tools. (June 6, 2014; April 4, 2014)

Getting back to the Caucasus region, the Homo erectus version of humanity was living there 1,800,000 years ago. We look different now, but folks still move around.

I'm an anatomically modern human, descended from folks who left Africa more than six dozen millennia back. My ancestors reached central North America recently.

I'm prone to sunburn, thanks to an ancestral stopover in northwestern Europe, I'm related by marriage to folks who came here after heading east across Asia — and that's yet more topics.

Maybe you've seen enough about Dmanisi, Upper Palaeolithic genomes, and all that. if not, there's more at the end of this post.2

2. Basque Background

(From AFP/Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("Two men saw a tree trunk with a 'tronza' (traditional Basque saw) during a rural sports championship"
(BBC News))
"Ancient DNA cracks puzzle of Basque origins"
(September 7, 2015)

"DNA from ancient remains seems to have solved the puzzle of one of Europe's most enigmatic people: the Basques.

"The distinct language and genetic make-up of the Basque people in northern Spain and southern France has puzzled anthropologists for decades.

"One theory proposed that they were an unmixed pocket of indigenous hunters...."
Basque Country is between Spain, France, and Andorra.2 It's a mountainous place, tucked into the southeast corner of Europe's Bay of Biscay. Quite a bit of traffic goes through the Port of Bilbao, but Basque valleys aren't particularly on the way to anywhere.

Folks have been living there for at least 32,000 years. Today's Basques have a unique language, Euskera, and unique customs.

The BBC News article says Euskera "is unrelated to any other spoken in Europe, or indeed the world."

That's possible, although Basques may have picked up bits and pieces of Iberian and other Indo-European languages as the millennia rolled by.2

Torsten Günther and other scientists filled in a few pages of the Basque story recently: showing that ancestors of today's Basques were local hunters, plus farmers who moved in between 3,500 and 5,500 back. The farmers had been living in around the Atapuerca Mountains.2

Folks have been living in the Atapuerca region for 430,000 years, give or take. We haven't changed much, sadly. (June 5, 2015)

More from me, accepting reality:

1 More about humility and thinking:
"CONSCIENCE: The interior voice of a human being, within whose heart the inner law of God is inscribed. Moral conscience is a judgment of practical reason about the moral quality of a human action. It moves a person at the appropriate moment to do good and to avoid evil (17771778). An examination of conscience is recommended as a preparation for the reception of the Sacrament of Penance (1454)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, C)

"HUMILITY: The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer (2559). Voluntary humility can be described as 'poverty of spirit' (2546)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, H)

"SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, S)
2 More than you may wan to know about:


Brigid said...

Stutter: "living in cities like like Faiyum and Jericho for millennia."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Right right! Thanks, Brigid. ;)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.