Recently I had a DNA analysis done and most of the ethnic results I expected except for one. I was surprised to learn that 5% of my ethnic DNA comes from the Caucasus region located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Traditionally, the Caucasus Mountains are the dividing line between Asia and Europe. This is a today a very diverse region in terms of religion, linguistics, culture, and ecologically and looking at some of the history of this region it has apparently always been such. Today it is home to over 50 ethnic groups and is one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, that is, this region is home to a large number of diverse plants and animals which are threatened by human encroachment. The region also has a lot of history ranging from the Mongols to the Huns to Cyrus the Great and a host of other notable historical people and cultures.
Location of Dmanisi site in Georgia Republic
The Caucasus region is also home to the wonderful Dmanisi skulls and that is what fascinates me and, now, my personal connection to this area!! Around 45,000 years ago modern humans (Homo sapiens) entered into the Caucasus region and the surrounding area from somewhere in the Middle East. Farming was introduced and it spread throughout the region during the Neolithic Period. Evidence suggests that around 800 years ago the Mongols invaded the region and left behind descendants such as the Nogay people. Ironically, the Caucasus region seems to have rarely been the source of migrations out of the area. In other words, human populations came to the region and stayed. Continue Reading
Chinampa was a type of Mesoamerican agriculture that involved using small rectangular areas of fertile and arable land to grow crops on shallow lake beds. In the Valley of Mexico chinampas were made by the shoreline of the northern part of the central lake system by the Aztecs. The central lake also contained their capital, Tenochtitlan, which is Mexico City today. Continue Reading
“Snaketown and Other Sites”
Authors: Dr Roberto Peron, Barb Benson, Rob L.
photo of Snaketown from 1960s during excavations
Snaketown appears to have been the northern capital of the Hohokam (northern Toltec). It is located near San Tan, Arizona in side the Hohokam Pima National Monument. This is just south of modern-day Phoenix. Researchers estimate that this site may have once been home to over 2000 people! The site was excavated in the 1930s and 1960s and those excavations revealed that Snaketown was inhabited from approximately 300 BC until around 1200 AD. After the excavation in the 1960s the site was completely buried again by archaeologists so nothing is visible above ground any longer. Continue Reading
The Basque in Northern Spain and Southern France have puzzled researchers for decades now. They do not speak Spanish nor French but have their own language and culture. One theory proposed is that these people were an unmixed isolated pocket of indigenous hunter-gatherers but that theory has been an ongoing debate.
Recently, research has revealed that suggests that the Basque came from early farmers who interbred with local hunters in the Pyrenees before becoming isolated. One of the mysteries surrounding the Basque is their language which is known as “Euskera” and it is unrelated to any other language spoken in Europe or the entire world for that matter! Their customs are also unique. But there is also the mystery of their DNA. The DNA of the Basque people show distinct genetic patterns when compared to people in France or Spain! Continue Reading
One of the earliest foods to be cultivated by early farmers is called Millet. Basically, millet is a group of about 50 different species of small seed grasses. If you’ve ever bought bird seed then you’ve bought millet as it is mostly composed of this food.
In Asia, India, and Africa millet is s food stable still today but in the western world not so much so. However, if you’ve eaten at some of the top rated restaurants in the west you might find your mashed potatoes topped with a sprinkle of millet and it is also a part of some baby foods on western store shelves too!
Back in 2015 a study was conducted on millet by Archaeology Professor Martin Jones at Cambridge which focused on the origin and spread of millet. Professor Jones won a 2015 Research Award from the Shanghai Archaeological Forum and his research brought some light on millet and its use in the earliest days of agriculture in China. Continue Reading
There’s a rather interesting article appearing today in New Scientists pertaining to desert people having evolved to be able to drink water poisoned with deadly arsenic without harm. Some of those people live in the South American deserts and it is now believed they evolved with an ability to detoxify arsenic laced water often found in desert regions.
Atacama Desert, South America
About 7 kya settlers living in Chile’s Atacama desert were living in one of the planet’s driest non-polar deserts and many of their water sources had high levels of arsenic. Somehow people have survived in that and other desert areas drinking arsenic laced water.
Research shows that a single gene is responsible for this unique trait. In fact previous studies have also found similar mutations in the DNA of desert dwellers. Some scientists believe this to be an example of modern evolution in some humans and it might well be so. Another phenomena believed by some scientists to be yet another example of contemporary human evolution is lactose tolerance. It’s believe a mutation 7 kya also gave some humans the ability to digest milk and dairy products. Not all humans, however, are tolerant of lactose and many are in fact lactose intolerant. On average only about 35% of humans are lactose tolerant while the remaining 65% are not. As you can see MOST humans are lactose intolerant! It’s believe the mutation that brought about tolerance developed alongside dairy farming. So if you are lactose tolerant does that mean you come from dairy farmer stock 7 kya? Maybe 🙂
Arsenic at varied levels is a common poison found in desert water all over the world.
New research from Trinity College in Dublin using ancient DNA suggests that hunter-gatherers in the Baltic region began farming without the influence of migration! Ancient DNA analysis has revealed that unlike central and western Europe farmers from the Near East did NOT overtake hunter-gatherer populations in the Baltic region and this is significant because this research indicates that the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family originated in the steppe grasslands of the East.
It’s believed that farmers from the Levant contributed greatly to farming in Central and Western Europe but this apparently was not the case in the Baltic region. Thus, people in the Baltic are were not overrun by migrant farmers from the Levant (Middle East). It may be that the Baltic people likely gained knowledge of farming and ceramic making by sharing cultures, ideas, and interbreeding with people of other areas and began farming on their own. This new research is based on ancient DNA collected in Latvia and the Ukraine dated between 5-8 kyr.
The Neolithic period saw the dawn of agriculture in Europe and people moved from being hunter-gatherer-nomads to settled agriculturalists. Past research has shown that large numbers of early farmers came into Europe from the Levant. But in the case of the Baltic region people learned farming and ceramic making from cultural exchange and interaction with other people.
So apparently migration from the Levant was NOT a “universal driver” across all of Europe but only PARTS of Europe! This new evidence also shows that there was NO REPLACEMENT OF HUNTER-GATHERERS IN THE BALTIC REGION as is believed to have happened in Central and Western Europe. The ancient DNA from Baltic hunter-gathers matches Baltic farmers and that blows the replacement theory out of the water in northern Europe!!
Rather than migration and replacement it was trade and contact with Levant farmers in other parts of Europe that brought about farming and ceramic making in northern Europe. Thus migrations are NOT the only way that ancient people gained new technology during prehistoric times!
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