Wednesday, December 16, 2015
The December 24 print issue of Nature magazine will feature a second article this year on research conducted by Hartwick College Professor of Anthropology Dr. David Anthony, and his spouse and research partner Dorcas Brown, on discoveries within ancient human DNA. The article, “Genome-wide patterns of selection in 230 ancient Eurasians,” was posted online in late November.
Anthony and Brown were members of a team of almost 40 scholars from diverse fields of study led by Dr. David Reich, head of the genomics laboratory at Harvard Medical School. The pair directed archaeological excavations in the Russian steppes from 1995 to 2002, during which they recovered samples of human bone, assisted by Hartwick students who participated in the digs.
The team’s first Nature article, published in June, featured analysis of the genes of 69 prehistoric individuals (genomes) from the Russian steppes and western and central Europe, dated between about 6000-2500 BCE. The results showed there was a huge migration from the steppes into central and western Europe between 3000-2500 BCE that significantly changed the genetic structure of Europe. In other words, all Europeans who lived after this event had some steppe ancestry. Among the results of this migration was the introduction of the Indo-European languages from their steppe homeland into Europe. One of these languages was a precursor to English.
“Our initial Nature article proved what I had suggested back in 2007, that people – not just languages – migrated from the steppes into Europe,” said Anthony. “Now, we have further genetic proof, and can pinpoint specific traits and characteristics. This research has helped the field take two important steps forward.”
The new Nature article expands on the original data, analyzing a larger sample of genomes from additional regions over wider time period (6,000 years). This provided a virtual real-time analysis of genetic evolution, and the specific traits developed in Europeans. The research looks at traits including white skin (prehistoric Europeans were darker), blue and other eye colors, lactose tolerance in adults, and several other genetically adaptive defenses against disease and bad health.
These new discoveries further support theories Anthony brought forth in his award-winning 2007 book, The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World (Princeton University Press).
Anthony says the new research solves the problem of identifying kin, which archaeology traditionally tried to approximate through similarities in human skeletons or artifacts. DNA provides the clearest indicators of shared ancestry.
As for what this new development means to the future of archeology, Anthony says it will “lead to a resurgence of interest in migrations and why they happened, as well as in linking migrations and genetic history to language history. And we will also see an increase in using comparative mythology within specific language families to understand what ancient people believed and thought about the ancient world.”
The full text of the new paper can be found within Nature.
For more on the first Nature article, visit the news story.
Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,500 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick’s expansive curriculum emphasizes an experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a distinctive January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for not just their first jobs, but for the world ahead. A Three-Year Bachelor’s Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable.
Contact: David Lubell