Friday, January 7, 2011

Gazelle Hunters

Byzantine era mosaic of gazelle in Caesarea, Israel (Link)

I've been deep in thought over the last day or so, wondering about HG E and the driving force behind their movement northward [blog note (11/1/2015) Based on autosomal DNA analysis of the last five years, I no longer assume that population movements are unidirectional.  This applied here as well.] 

I will also confess to recalling, from living in Ghana as a child, an almost mythical association that West Africans have for the gazelle and the antelope.

The gazelle is now extinct in Ghana, but survives in other parts of the African Sahel.

Getting back to the discussion from yesterday's post, Cruciani notes that the E HG seems to have first entered West Asia 20,000 years ago.  It is likely not a coincidence that the earliest Kebaran archaeological dates in the Levant are from approximately 21,500BC.   In previous posts, (here, here and here), I've touched upon the specific house building techniques found in these Kebaran and Natufian sites.  Another distinction of these early sites is that they abound in gazelle bones.  It's quite evident that part of their lifestyle revolved around gazelle hunting.  Many of the sites seem to have been inhabited part time as would be consistent with a nomadic gazelle hunting lifestyle.  The Kebaran dates are well before the advent of farming or pastoralism anywhere in the world, so it would have to be a combination of hunting and gathering that sustained these people.

For clarity, it's worth showing two of the earliest Kebaran archaeological date maps:

Kebaran 21,500-16,000 calBC C14 Radiocarbon Context Database Maps (Link)

Kebaran 16,000-12,500 calBC C14 Radiocarbon Context Database Maps (Link)

The Cruciani 2007 paper states that men carrying the E y-chromosome appear in West Asia beginning 20,000ya.   The distribution maps for E-M78 (Cruciani et al 2007, and El Sibai 2009) both show highest concentration along the Mediterranean coast and in parts of the Arabian peninsula.  It suggests that the current distribution of E-M78 fits with the Kebaran/Ramonian/Mushabian archaeological geography, but has been swept onto the Arabian peninsula and Mediterranean coast and away from the inland Levant.

The strong association of Kabaran sites with the gazelle is also indicative of a link with hunters of Africa origin.  The current range of gazelle today are confined to the African Sahel, and to west and southwest Asia.

Digging further back on the phylogeny of haplogroup E (Figure 1 of Semino et al, 2004), we can see the spatial association of the E HG with the African Sahel, approximating the distribution of African gazelles and antelopes:

Figure 1 (Semino et al)
Phylogeny and frequency distributions of Hg E and its main subclades (panels A-G.)  The numbering of mutations is according to the Y Chromosome Consortium (YCC) (YCC 2002, Jobling and Tyler-Smith 2003). To the left of the phylogeny, the ages (in 1,000 years) of the boxed mutations are reported with their SEs (Zhivotovsky et al. 2004).  [See the paper for the author's further comments on this figure.] 

The association of the Kebaran period with the entry of the E haplogroup into the Levant is conjectural, as is the association with gazelle and antelope hunting.  However, the confluence of the timing of archaeological remains with the distribution and dating of the E haplogroup, along with the distribution of gazelle habitat seems unlikely to be a pure coincidence. 

References:

Origin, Diffusion and Differentiation of Y-Chromosome Haplogroups E and J:  Inferences on the Neolithization of Europe and Later Migratory Events in the Mediterranean Area
Semino et al
(Link)

Tracing Past Human Male Movements in Northern/Eastern Africa and West Eurasia:  New Clues from Y-Chromosomal Haplogroup E-M78 and J-M12
Cruciani et al
(Link)

Gazelle exploitation in the early Neolithic site of Motza, Israel:  the last of the gazelle hunters of the southern Levant
Sapir-Hen et al
(Link)

The Natufian Culture of the Levant, Threshold to the Origin of Agriculture
Bar-Yosef, Ofer
(Link)

Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin:  Origins, diffusion, and impact
Zeder, M
(Link

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