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Journal: American journal of physical anthropology


The objective of this study has been to confirm the sex and the affinity of an individual buried in a well-furnished warrior grave (Bj 581) in the Viking Age town of Birka, Sweden. Previously, based on the material and historical records, the male sex has been associated with the gender of the warrior and such was the case with Bj 581. An earlier osteological classification of the individual as female was considered controversial in a historical and archaeological context. A genomic confirmation of the biological sex of the individual was considered necessary to solve the issue.

Concepts: Genetics, Sexual dimorphism, Hermaphrodite, Gamete, Gender, Female, Sex, Male


High quality Altai Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes are revealing which regions of archaic hominin DNA have persisted in the modern human genome. A number of these regions are associated with response to infection and immunity, with a suggestion that derived Neanderthal alleles found in modern Europeans and East Asians may be associated with autoimmunity. As such Neanderthal genomes are an independent line of evidence of which infectious diseases Neanderthals were genetically adapted to. Sympathetically, human genome adaptive introgression is an independent line of evidence of which infectious diseases were important for AMH coming in to Eurasia and interacting with Neanderthals. The Neanderthals and Denisovans present interesting cases of hominin hunter-gatherers adapted to a Eurasian rather than African infectious disease package. Independent sources of DNA-based evidence allow a re-evaluation of the first epidemiologic transition and how infectious disease affected Pleistocene hominins. By combining skeletal, archaeological and genetic evidence from modern humans and extinct Eurasian hominins, we question whether the first epidemiologic transition in Eurasia featured a new package of infectious diseases or a change in the impact of existing pathogens. Coupled with pathogen genomics, this approach supports the view that many infectious diseases are pre-Neolithic, and the list continues to expand. The transfer of pathogens between hominin populations, including the expansion of pathogens from Africa, may also have played a role in the extinction of the Neanderthals and offers an important mechanism to understand hominin-hominin interactions well back beyond the current limits for aDNA extraction from fossils alone. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Pleistocene, Disease, Gene, Neanderthal, Infectious disease, Genetics, Human evolution, Human


In 1965, Ciur-Izbuc Cave in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania was discovered to contain about 400 ancient human footprints. At that time, researchers interpreted the footprints to be those of a man, woman and child who entered the cave by an opening which is now blocked but which was usable in antiquity. The age of the prints (≈10-15 ka BP) was based partly on their association with cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) footprints and bones, and the belief that cave bears became extinct near the end of the last ice age. Since their discovery, the human and bear evidence and the cave itself have attracted spelunkers and other tourists, with the result that the ancient footprints are in danger of destruction by modern humans. In an effort to conserve the footprints and information about them and to reanalyze them with modern techiques, Ciur-Izbuc Cave was restudied in summer of 2012. Modern results are based on fewer than 25% of the originally described human footprints, the rest having been destroyed. It is impossible to confirm some of the original conclusions. The footprints do not cluster about three different sizes, and the number of individuals is estimated to be six or seven. Two cases of bears apparently overprinting humans help establish antiquity, and C-14 dates suggest a much greater age than originally thought. Unfortunately, insufficient footprints remain to measure movement variables such as stride length. However, detailed three-dimensional mapping of the footprints does allow a more precise description of human movements within the cave. Am J Phys Anthropol 155:128-135, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Thought, Science, Human, Bears, Cave bear, Megafauna of Eurasia, Brown Bear, Pleistocene


This study investigated the influence of body size and composition on maintaining hand temperature during severe cold exposure. The hand’s high surface area-to-volume ratio predisposes the hand to heat loss, increasing the risk of cold injury and even hypothermia, which are major selective pressures in cold environments. While vasoregulation may reduce heat loss from the hand, the effect of body form, tissue thermogenesis, and body insulation on heat loss is unknown.

Concepts: Heat, Hand, Thermodynamics, Specific surface area, Temperature, Surface-area-to-volume ratio, Heat transfer, Physiology


The Himalayan mountain range is strategically located at the crossroads of the major cultural centers in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Although previous Y-chromosome studies indicate that the Himalayas served as a natural barrier for gene flow from the south to the Tibetan plateau, this region is believed to have played an important role as a corridor for human migrations between East and West Eurasia along the ancient Silk Road. To evaluate the effects of the Himalayan mountain range in shaping the maternal lineages of populations residing on either side of the cordillera, we analyzed mitochondrial DNA variation in 344 samples from three Nepalese collections (Newar, Kathmandu and Tamang) and a general population of Tibet. Our results revealed a predominantly East Asian-specific component in Tibet and Tamang, whereas Newar and Kathmandu are both characterized by a combination of East and South Central Asian lineages. Interestingly, Newar and Kathmandu harbor several deep-rooted Indian lineages, including M2, R5, and U2, whose coalescent times from this study (U2, >40 kya) and previous reports (M2 and R5, >50 kya) suggest that Nepal was inhabited during the initial peopling of South Central Asia. Comparisons with our previous Y-chromosome data indicate sex-biased migrations in Tamang and a founder effect and/or genetic drift in Tamang and Newar. Altogether, our results confirm that while the Himalayas acted as a geographic barrier for human movement from the Indian subcontinent to the Tibetan highland, it also served as a conduit for gene flow between Central and East Asia. Am J Phys Anthropol 000:000-000, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Nepal, Eurasia, Tibet, Himalayas, South Asia, Middle East, Asia, Central Asia


Mobility and migration patterns of groups and individuals have long been a topic of interest to archaeologists, used for broad explanatory models of cultural change as well as illustrations of historical particularism. The 14th century AD was a tumultuous period of history in Britain, with severely erratic weather patterns, the Great Famine of 1315-1322, the Scottish Wars of Independence, and the Hundred Years' War providing additional migration pressures to the ordinary economic issues drawing individuals to their capital under more stable conditions. East Smithfield Black Death Cemetery (Royal Mint) had a documented use period of only 2 years (AD 1348-1350), providing a precise historical context (∼50 years) for data. Adults (n = 30) from the East Smithfield site were sampled for strontium and oxygen stable isotope analyses of tooth enamel. Five individuals were demonstrated to be statistical outliers through the combined strontium and oxygen isotope data. Potential origins for migrants ranged from London’s surrounding hinterlands to distant portions of northern and western Britain. Historic food sourcing practices for London were found to be an important factor for consideration in a broader than expected (87) Sr/(86) Sr range reflected in a comparison of enamel samples from three London datasets. The pooled dataset demonstrated a high level of consistency between site data, divergent from the geologically predicted range. We argue that this supports the premise that isotope data in human populations must be approached as a complex interaction between behavior and environment and thus should be interpreted cautiously with the aid of alternate lines of evidence. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Late Middle Ages, Population, Medieval demography, Great Famine of 1315–1317, Black Death, Famine, 14th century, Middle Ages


Pitheciines (Pithecia, Chiropotes, and Cacajao) are a specialized clade of Neotropical seed predators that exhibit postcanine teeth with low and rounded cusps and highly crenulated occlusal surface enamel. Data on feeding ecology show that Pithecia consumes proportionally more leaves than other pitheciine species, and comparative studies demonstrate its greater molar relief and relative shearing potential. However, data on pitheciine food mechanics show that Pithecia masticates seeds with greater crushing resistance than those preferred by Chiropotes. This variation predicts an opposing morphology characterized by low and more rounded occlusal surfaces in Pithecia. We build on previous research using new methods for molar surface shape quantification by examining pitheciine second molar shearing crest length, occlusal relief, surface complexity, and surface curvature relative to nonseed specializing platyrrhines and within the context of the observed interspecific variation in pitheciine feeding ecology. Consistent with the previous analyses, our findings demonstrate that pitheciine molars exhibit low shearing, relief, and curvature compared with nonseed predators, independent of phylogeny. Pitheciines also exhibit highly “complex” occlusal topography that promotes the efficient breakdown of tough seed tissues. Overall, Pithecia, Chiropotes, and Cacajao share a similar topographic pattern, suggesting adaptation to foods with similar structural and/or mechanical properties. However, Cacajao differs in surface complexity, which reflects some variation in its feeding ecology. Contrary to the predictions, Pithecia and Chiropotes do not differ in any of the topographic variables examined. The range of demands imposed on the postcanine teeth of Pithecia might therefore select for an average topography, one that converges on that of Chiropotes. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Saki monkey, Pitheciinae, Molar, Pitheciidae, Teeth


The Irish Travellers are an itinerant group in Ireland that has been socially isolated. Two hypotheses have been proposed concerning the genetic origin of the Travellers: (1) they are genetically related to Roma populations in Europe that share a nomadic lifestyle or (2) they are of Irish origin, and genetic differences from the rest of Ireland reflect genetic drift. These hypotheses were tested using data on 33 alleles from 12 red blood cell polymorphism loci. Comparison with other European, Roma, and Indian populations shows that the Travellers are genetically distinct from the Roma and Indian populations and most genetically similar to Ireland, in agreement with earlier genetic analyses of the Travellers. However, the Travellers are still genetically distinct from other Irish populations, which could reflect some external gene flow and/or the action of genetic drift in a small group that was descended from a small number of founders. In order to test the drift hypothesis, we analyzed genetic distances comparing the Travellers to four geographic regions in Ireland. These distances were then compared with adjusted distances that account for differential genetic drift using a method developed by Relethford (Hum Biol 68 (1996) 29-44). The unadjusted distances show the genetic distinctiveness of the Travellers. After adjustment for the expected effects of genetic drift, the Travellers are equidistant from the other Irish samples, showing their Irish origins and population history. The observed genetic differences are thus a reflection of genetic drift, and there is no evidence of any external gene flow. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: DNA, Irish Traveller, Population genetics, Allele, Evolution, Genetics, Biology, Gene


A nearly complete hominin fossil cranium from Dali in Shaanxi Province, China was excavated in 1978. We update and expand on previous research by providing a multivariate analysis of the specimen relative to a large sample of Middle and Late Pleistocene hominins.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Human evolution, Human, Henan, Japan, Asia, East Asia


We describe a new computer reconstruction to obtain complete anatomical information of the ecto- and endocranium from the imperfectly preserved skull of the Neanderthal Amud 1.

Concepts: Animal anatomy, Craniometry, Skull, Anatomical terms of location, Skull roof, Occipital bone