Ancient Siberian dogs relied on humans for seafood diets

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A new study has shed light on the dietary transitions that allowed early Siberian dog populations to increase as people put them to work in roles such as sledding.

As early as 7,400 years ago, Siberian dogs had evolved to be far smaller than wolves, making them more dependent on humans for food including sea mammals and fish trapped below the ice, a new study showed Friday.

Robert Losey of the University of Alberta, who led the research published in Science Advances, said the findings helped explain the growth in the early dog population, as people put them to work for hunting, herding and sledding.

“The long term changes in dog diet have really been oversimplified,” he told AFP, explaining that prior work had focused only on two main ideas to explain how transitioned from wolves, a process that began some 40,000 years ago.

The first of these was that friendlier wolves approached camps during the Ice Age to scavenge for meat, eventually became isolated from their wild counterparts, and were then intentionally bred into dogs.

The second was that some dogs evolved a better capacity to digest starches following the , which is why some modern dog breeds have more copies of the AMY2B gene that creates pancreatic amylase.

To study ancient dog diets in more depth, Losey and colleagues analyzed the remains of around 200 ancient dogs from the past 11,000 years, and a similar number of ancient wolves.

“We had to go to collections all over Siberia, we analyzed those bones, took samples of the collagen, and analyzed the protein in labs,” he said.

Based on the remains, the team made statistical estimates for body sizes.

They also used a technique called to generate dietary estimates.

They discovered that dogs of 7,000-8,000 years ago “were already quite small, meaning that they just couldn’t do the things that most wolves were doing,” said Losey.

This in turn led to greater dependence on humans for food, and reliance on small prey and scavenging, rather than prey bigger than themselves, which hunt.

“We see that dogs have marine diets, meaning they’re eating fish, shellfish, seals and sea lions, which they can’t easily get themselves,” he said.

Ancient dogs were found to be eating fish “in areas of Siberia where the lakes and rivers are frozen over for seven to eight months of the year.”

Wolves of the time, and today, were hunting in packs and mainly eating various species of deer.

Benefits and challenges

These new diets brought dogs both benefits and challenges.

“Beneficial because they could access stuff from humans, and those are oftentimes easy meals, but it came with the costs of all these new diseases and problems, like not enough nutrition,” said Losey.

While the new bacteria and parasites they were exposed to could have helped some adapt, some dog populations might not have survived.

Most of the first dogs of the Americas died out, for unclear reasons, and were replaced by European dogs—though it’s not thought colonization was to blame.

Those dogs that did survive acquired more diverse gut microbiomes, helping them further in digesting more carbohydrates associated with life with humans.

More information:
Robert J. Losey et al, The evolution of dog diet and foraging: Insights from archaeological canids in Siberia, Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abo6493

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Ancient hand grenades: Explosive weapons in medieval Jerusalem during Crusades

A fragment of the sphero-conical vessel that was identified as containing a possibly explosive material from Jerusalem. Credit: Robert Mason, Royal Ontario Museum

New analysis into the residue inside ancient ceramic vessels from 11th–12th century Jerusalem has found that they were potentially used as hand grenades.

Previous research into the diverse sphero-conical containers, which are within museums around the world, had identified that they were used for a variety of purposes, including beer drinking vessels, mercury containers, containers for oil and containers for medicines.

This latest research, led by Griffith University’s Associate Professor Carney Matheson, confirmed that some vessels did indeed contain oils and medicines, and some contained scented , consistent with other recent research into the use of the vessels.

However, his findings also revealed that some of the vessels contained a flammable and probably that indicated they may have been used as ancient hand grenades.

Associate Professor Matheson, from Griffith’s Car, said the explosive material he analyzed within the vessels suggested that there may have been a locally developed ancient explosive.

“This research has shown the diverse use of these unique ceramic vessels which include ancient explosive devices,” he said.

“These vessels have been reported during the time of the Crusades as grenades thrown against Crusader strongholds producing loud noises and bright flashes of light.

“Some researchers had proposed the vessels were used as grenades and held black powder, an explosive invented in ancient China and known to have been introduced into the Middle East and Europe by the 13th century. It has been proposed that black powder may have been introduced to the Middle East earlier, as early as these vessels from the ninth to 11th century.

“However, this research has shown that it is not black powder and likely a locally invented explosive material.”

Associate Professor Matheson said the research also revealed that some of these vessels had been sealed using resin.

“More research on these vessels and their explosive content will allow us to understand ancient explosive technology of the medieval period, and the history of explosive weapons in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said.

The study, “Composition of Trace Residues from the contents of 11th–12th century sphero-conical from Jerusalem,” has been published in PLOS ONE.

More information:
Carney D. Matheson et al, Composition of trace residues from the contents of 11th–12th century sphero-conical vessels from Jerusalem, PLOS ONE (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0267350

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Ancient DNA study reveals large-scale migrations into Bronze Age Britain

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Previous finds at Cliffs End Farm. Credit: Wessex Archaeology

A major new study of ancient DNA has traced the movement of people into southern Britain during the Bronze Age. In the largest such analysis published to date, scientists examined the DNA of nearly 800 ancient individuals.

The new study, led by the University of York, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Vienna, shows that people moving into southern Britain around 1300‒800 BC were responsible for around half the genetic ancestry of subsequent populations.

The combined DNA and suggests that, rather than a violent invasion or a single migratory event, the genetic structure of the population changed through sustained contacts between mainland Britain and Europe over several centuries, such as the movement of traders, intermarriage, and small scale movements of family groups.

The study finds evidence that the new migrants became thoroughly mixed in to the Southern British population in the period 1000‒875 BC.


The researchers say the origin of these migrants cannot yet be established with certainty, but they are most likely to have come from communities in and around present-day France.

The Middle to Late Bronze Age was a time when settled farming communities expanded across the landscapes of southern Britain, and extensive trade routes developed to allow the movement of metal ores for the production of bronze.

These new networks linked wide-ranging regions across Europe, as seen from the spread of objects and raw materials.


The study’s lead archaeologist Professor Ian Armit, from the University of York, said: “We have long suspected, based on patterns of trade and shared ideologies, that the Middle to Late Bronze Age was a time of intense contacts between communities in Britain and Europe.

“While we may once have thought that long-distance mobility was restricted to a few individuals, such as traders or small bands of warriors, this new DNA evidence shows that considerable numbers of people were moving, across the whole spectrum of society.”

Some of the earliest genetic outliers have been found in Kent, suggesting that the south-east may have been a focus for movement into Britain. This resonates with previously published isotope evidence from archaeological sites like Cliffs End Farm, where some individuals were shown to have spent their childhoods on the Continent.

Celtic languages

The new DNA evidence may also shed light on the long-standing question of when early Celtic languages arrived in Britain.

Since population movement often drives linguistic change, the new DNA evidence significantly strengthens the case for the appearance of Celtic languages in Britain in the Bronze Age. Conversely, the study shows little evidence for large-scale movements of people into Britain during the subsequent Iron Age, which has previously been thought of as the period during which Celtic languages may have spread.

Professor David Reich, from Harvard Medical School, said: “These findings do not settle the question of the origin of Celtic languages into Britain. However, any reasonable scholar needs to adjust their best guesses about what occurred based on these findings.

“Our results militate against an Iron Age spread of Celtic languages into Britain—the popular “Celtic from the East’ hypothesis—and increase the likelihood of a Late Bronze Age arrival from France, a rarely discussed scenario called “Celtic from the Centre.'”

Lactase persistence

A further unexpected finding of the study is a large increase in the frequency of the allele for lactase persistence (a genetic adaptation that allowed people to digest dairy products) in Bronze Age populations in Britain relative to the Continent.

Co-senior author of the study Professor Ron Pinhasi, a physical anthropologist and ancient DNA specialist from the University of Vienna, said “This study increases the amount of ancient DNA data we have from the Late Bronze and Iron Age in Britain by twelvefold, and Western and Central Europe by 3.5-fold.

“With this massive amount of data, we have for the first time the ability to carry out studies of adaptation with enough resolution in both time and space to allow us to discern that natural selection occurred in different ways in different parts of Europe.

“Our results show that dairy products must have been used in qualitatively different ways from an economic or cultural perspective in Britain than they were on the European continent in the Iron Age, as this was a time when lactase persistence was rising rapidly in frequency in Britain but not on the Continent.”

Although the new DNA evidence sheds most light on Britain, the data also indicate population movements between different parts of continental Europe, confirming what archaeologists have long suspected—that the Late Bronze Age was a period of intense and sustained contacts between many diverse communities.

The study, “Large-scale migration into Britain during the Middle to Late Bronze Age,” is published in Nature.

More information:
Nick Patterson et al, Large-scale migration into Britain during the Middle to Late Bronze Age, Nature (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04287-4

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Missing ancient Mesopotamian artifacts seized in Norway thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Missing ancient Mesopotamian artifacts seized in Norway

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Nearly 100 missing tablets and other archaeological objects from ancient Mesopotamia have been found in Norway and seized, police said Friday.

Authorities said they would now be examined to determine their authenticity and establish their provenance if possible.

The Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime said they were “objects of significance to the global cultural heritage.”

The agency said it had “assisted the (asterisk)Norwegian) Ministry of Culture in a matter in which Iraqi authorities have reported a large number of ancient artifacts missing which they suspect have been smuggled out of the country.”

“A large number of objects were seized during the search, and a number of witnesses interviewed,” the agency known as Oekokrim said. “Our assistance is not an ordinary investigation, but is limited to locating the missing objects.”

The police didn’t say how or when the objects ended up in Norway. No further details were immediately available.

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Ancient skeleton find in Germany offers clues on prehistoric era thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Ancient skeleton find in Germany offers clues on prehistoric era

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The “Lady of Bietikow,” as she has been named, was found in northeastern Germany and died more than 5,000 years ago

German researchers are piecing together the life of a prehistoric woman who died more than 5,000 years ago in the Neolithic period, after her skeleton was found during excavation works for wind turbines.

The “Lady of Bietikow,” as she has been named, was found near a village of the same name in northeastern Germany’s Uckermark region.

The skeleton had been buried in a settlement in a squatting position, one of the oldest known forms of burial, according to local media.

Investigations have shown that she was between 30 and 45 years old and died more than 5,000 years ago.

That means that she lived during the same period as Oetzi the Iceman, the stunningly preserved corpse found by tourists in the Alps in the 1990s.

“You can compare Oetzi and the Lady of Bietikow in terms of age,” said Philipp Roskoschinski, one of the two archaeologists who made the discovery in the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin.

Oetzi was found by two hikers in 1991 in the Oetztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy.

His body was extremely well preserved, with organs, skin and other still intact—researchers were even able to see what he had eaten hours before he died.

“The discovery of Oetzi was much more spectacular due to the conditions of preservation,” Roskoschinski said.

Archaeologist Philipp Roskoschinski (L) and anthropologist Bettina Jungklaus look at the skeletal remains of the so-called “Lady of Bietikow”

All that is left of Lady Bietikow are bones and some fragments of clothing, but researchers have still managed to piece together some details about her life.

It was during the Neolithic period that humans first introduced grains into their diet, since they could be stored more easily than meat and could also be used as a means of payment, according to anthropologist Bettina Jungklaus.

However, this led to a deterioration in people’s general health.

This can be seen in the state of the Lady of Bietikow’s , which are severely eroded and missing completely in some places, Jungklaus said.

“Normally there is enamel on the surface of the teeth. But here it is heavily worn, chewed off,” she said.

“This allows us to draw conclusions about her diet: it was probably very rich in fibre, very hard. There are certain grains that cause the teeth to wear out easily.”

It remains unclear whether the condition of Lady Bietikow’s teeth indicates an illness or even the cause of her death.

Researchers are now hoping to find out more about her life, including whether she came from the Uckermark region or had immigrated there from elsewhere.

© 2020 AFP

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