Friday, November 29, 2013

Being Caribou

  Being Caribou is a 2005 documentary film that chronicles the travels of husband and wife Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison following the migration of the Porcupine Caribou herd to explore the Arctic Refuge drilling controversy. The journey lasted 5 months, starting from the community of Old Crow, Yukon on April 8, 2003 and ending September 8. The film is produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

From the Yenisei to the Yukon:

Interpreting Lithic Assemblage Variability in Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene Beringia

Ted Goebel, Ian Buvit

Chapter 1:  Introducing the Archaeological Record of Beringia

"The reasons for choosing Siberia over other areas of northeast Asia are twofold.  First, Beringia and Siberia shared very similar late Pleistocene environments, both being important components of the mammoth steppe during full glacial times and shrub tundra during late glacial times.  Humans in Siberia and Beringia had similar experiences - facing some of the same environmental challenges during the last glacial cycle of the Pleistocene, 23,000-10,000 C14 BP (27,000-12,000 cal BP) and solving these problems with similar technological repertoires.  Second, studies in molecular genetics have recently identified the greater Lake Baikal region of south Siberia as the "genetic homeland" of the first Beringians and Americans (Derenko et al. 2001; Starikovskaya et al. 2004; Zegura et al. 2004), so there is reason to predict that a strong historical connection existed between the early peoples of the Yenisei and Yukon basins.  This connection has not been lost on archaeologists.  Their experiences with Paleolithic collections from across greater northeast Asia have repeatedly pointed to the greater Baikal area of south Siberia as a likely source of Alaska's earliest cultural complexes (Dikov 1979; Dumond 1977; Graf 2008; Holmes 2001; Mochanov 1977; Powers 1990).

"Certainly other areas of northeast Asia are critical to our understanding of the dispersal of humans to Beringia and the Americas.  Some early Beringians may very well have come from the maritime regions of temperate Asia-Japan or the Russian maritime provinces of Primorye, Khabarovsk, or Sakhalin.  Craniometric studies of Pacific Rim populations imply such an event (Brace et al, 2001), the enigmatic early Ushki assemblage from Kamchatka could have had its roots in the Upper Paleolithic of the Japanese Archipelago (Dikov 1979; Goebel and Slobodin 1999), and similarities in microblade core technologies imply connections between Alaska and temperate east Asia (Chen 2007)."

Mitochondrial DNA analysis of Hokkaido Jomon skeletons:

Remnants of archaic maternal lineages at the southwestern edge of former Beringia

Noboru Adachi, Ken-ichi Shinoda, Kazuo Umetsu, Takashi Kitano, Hirofumi Matsumura, Ryuzo Fujiyama, Junmei Sawada, Masashi Tanaka

American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume 146, Issue 3, pages 346–360, November 2011

To clarify the colonizing process of East/Northeast Asia as well as the peopling of the Americas, identifying the genetic characteristics of Paleolithic Siberians is indispensable. However, no genetic information on the Paleolithic Siberians has hitherto been reported. In the present study, we analyzed ancient DNA recovered from Jomon skeletons excavated from the northernmost island of Japan, Hokkaido, which was connected with southern Siberia in the Paleolithic period. Both the control and coding regions of their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) were analyzed in detail, and we confidently assigned 54 mtDNAs to relevant haplogroups. Haplogroups N9b, D4h2, G1b, and M7a were observed in these individuals, with N9b being the predominant one. The fact that all these haplogroups, except M7a, were observed with relatively high frequencies in the southeastern Siberians, but were absent in southeastern Asian populations, implies that most of the Hokkaido Jomon people were direct descendants of Paleolithic Siberians. The coalescence time of N9b (ca. 22,000 years) was before or during the last glacial maximum, implying that the initial trigger for the Jomon migration in Hokkaido was increased glaciations during this period. Interestingly, Hokkaido Jomons lack specific haplogroups that are prevailing in present-day native Siberians, implying that diffusion of these haplogroups in Siberia might have been after the beginning of the Jomon era, about 15,000 years before present.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Loss of Genetic Diversity Means Loss of Geological Information

The Endangered Japanese Crayfish Exhibits Remarkable Historical Footprints

Current lands of Japan and the neighboring countries (greenish area with black contour).Presumed past land boundaries are indicated by brown-white area (white denotes 120–140 m) when sea levels decreased by 140 m during the last glacial maximum estimated from a bathymetric map (A). Top right and bottom right panels are magnified maps around the Tsugaru Strait (B) and Tsushima Strait (C), respectively, which are about the threshold levels for the existence of land bridges.

Mentions: The Japanese archipelago exhibits a high endemism in fauna and flora in which speciation has occurred in isolation after colonization from the eastern Eurasian mainland [18]–[20]. Because of the lack of freshwater fishes and considerable topological changes due to volcanic activities, past environments of Japanese archipelago and the colonization patterns of animals and plants are less well-known compared to Europe and North America. Land bridges are particularly important for understanding the mode and pace of species divergence in Japan; the Tsushima Strait (130–140 m in depth), Tsugaru Strait (130–140 m in depth) and Soya Strait (50–60 m) would have been land bridges during lower sea levels and the main colonization routes to the archipelago (Figure 1). Fauna and flora in Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku islands have probably been colonized via the Korean Peninsula through the Tsushima Strait, whereas those in Hokkaido arrived from Sakhalin Island through the Soya Strait [18]–[20]. The Tsugaru Strait has acted as a significant barrier, creating the two Japanese bioregions (i.e. Hokkaido and the other main islands).

Koizumi I, Usio N, Kawai T, Azuma N, Masuda R
PLoS ONE (2012)

Bottom Line
"Over the native range, most populations consisted of unique 16S mtDNA haplotypes, resulting in significant genetic divergence (overall F(ST) = 0.96).This study provides one of the best examples of how phylogeographic analysis can unravel a detailed evolutionary history of a species and how this history contributes to the understanding of the past environment in the region.Ongoing local extinctions of the crayfish lead not only to loss of biodiversity but also to the loss of a significant information regarding past geological and climatic events."

"Intra-specific genetic diversity is important not only because it influences population persistence and evolutionary potential, but also because it contains past geological, climatic and environmental information. In this paper, we show unusually clear genetic structure of the endangered Japanese crayfish that, as a sedentary species, provides many insights into lesser-known past environments in northern Japan. Over the native range, most populations consisted of unique 16S mtDNA haplotypes, resulting in significant genetic divergence (overall F(ST) = 0.96). Owing to the simple and clear structure, a new graphic approach unraveled a detailed evolutionary history; regional crayfish populations were comprised of two distinct lineages that had experienced contrasting demographic processes (i.e. rapid expansion vs. slow stepwise range expansion) following differential drainage topologies and past climate events. Nuclear DNA sequences also showed deep separation between the lineages. Current ocean barriers to dispersal did not significantly affect the genetic structure of the freshwater crayfish, indicating the formation of relatively recent land bridges. This study provides one of the best examples of how phylogeographic analysis can unravel a detailed evolutionary history of a species and how this history contributes to the understanding of the past environment in the region. Ongoing local extinctions of the crayfish lead not only to loss of biodiversity but also to the loss of a significant information regarding past geological and climatic events."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Beringia: Life's Ancient Island in the Ice

Aaron L. Grostal

"During the last ice age, massive glaciers covered much of our planet. However, a region of Alaska, Siberia and the Canadian Yukon remained ice-free. This region, known as Beringia, supported unique organisms and was an important haven for evolution. Now, scientists may have uncovered how Beringia supported such diversity at a time when conditions for life were harsh."

Upper Palaeolithic Siberian genome reveals dual ancestry of Native Americans

Maanasa Raghavan, Pontus Skoglund et al.

There has been a lot of discussion on this recently announced paper.  First, I will say that I think the title is a little unfortunate and I am surprised that Nature let this one get by them.  We don't really know how many migrations into the Americans there were.  We also don't have a good understanding of back migrations from Beringia into Eurasia.  Many hunter gatherers were migratory and highly mobile groups, so I really disagree with the "dual ancestry of Native Americans" phrase in the title.

Beringia was a huge area, now submerged, 20,000 thousand years ago.  It would have supported animal and human diversity.  The paper I posted a few days ago on The Black Dog at the River of Tears myth well illustrates that migrations in Siberia, Beringia and into the Americans were comprised of people of different backgrounds and cultures.

That being said, I think the result is interesting in that it shows that people carrying both Y-chromosome R and mtDNA U were present in Beringia during the last Ice Age.  It's likely that the boy from which the main sample was taken, had freckles. 

The link with this sample and paleo Amerindian populations is also interesting, but it should be said that many more ancient DNA samples of Ameridian, Beringian, and Eurasian populations would be needed to understand the timing and dynamic of these population movements.

One further effect of having only one reliable ancient DNA sample is that the sample in this paper is likely subject to genotyping error.  That's according to Joe Pickrell who developed the software package Treemix, as shown in this Twitter exchange:

The comment refers to the long arm of the Siberian sample in the Treemix diagram in the paper.

When I hear geneticists who are expert in the field discussing the source of error in a paper, and they are clearly unsure of the source of error, it's a concern that the conclusions of the paper title are overstated.

There is probably additional error because the sample is old.

I don't have much to say except that I wish the genetics community would do a more considered job conveying the limitations of these results to the curious public.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Black Dog at the River of Tears

Some Amerindian Representations of the Passage to the Land of the Dead and their Eurasian Roots

Yuri Berezkin
No. 2 Forum for Anthropology and Culture
Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences/European University at St Petersburg
(Link (PDF))

"The New World was peopled at a late date.  While there is an abundance of sites dating back to 10,000-11,500 (and even possibly 12,000) BP, reports of earlier finds have invariably turned out to be either manifestly inauthentic, or at the very least unreliable.  10,000-12,000 BP is the Terminal Pleistocene, when in the Far East people had begun manufacturing ceramics, while in the upper reaches of the Euphrates they were erecting stone stelae with images.  Among peoples who took part in the initial colonization of the New World were groups that not only possessed different cultures, but also had a varied physical appearance.  Craniological and ontological studies carried out in the past decade point to the fact that the first humans to have reached the New World were protomorphic groups resembling less the modern Amerindians, and more the Upper Paleolithic populations of Eastern Asia, and even the modern Melanesian and Australian aborigines.  In the Holocene era these populations started to be displaced and supplanted by other, more pronouncedly Mongoloid groups.  The racial type does not determine culture, but racial and cultural boundaries often coincide:  these were distinct populations with few outside contacts. One can assume that already in the early stages of the peopling of the New World, complexes of folkloric motifs, which the settlers brought with them, also varied to a considerable degree.

"The folkloric traditions of the peoples of the New and the Old World have many mutual parallels.  Some motifs common to both traditions could have emerged independently; others could have been brought over to the American continent across the Atlantic in the last five hundred years; many motifs were introduced from Siberia via Alaska at different stages in the colonization of the Americas.  Separating these distinct groups of motifs is not simple, but if one uses a substantial amount of ethnographic material and processes this data by modern statistical methods, the task becomes achievable.  Once these results are correlated with those reached by other disciplines, one should eventually be able to trace the pattern of colonization of the New World and determine in which parts of Eurasia this resettlement began.

"This article is devoted specifically to representations of the passage to the realm of the dead in the folklore of the peoples of America and Eurasia.  Much in these representations is universal and is determined by the factual irreversibility of death and by the obvious differences between living and dead matter.  This is what the idea of the dichotomy between our own world and the world (or worlds) of the dead is based upon - a dichotomy that entails representations of mirror-like reversals between the two, of a diametrical opposition between some of their key traits, of parallelisms in the way these worlds are sub-sectioned, and finally, the idea that one needs to go down a certain path in order to pass from one world to the other.  Alongside this general idea of the world beyond the grave, there are local and regional idiosyncracies, which are precisely the ones that are the most interesting.

"The format of this paper does not allow detailed discussion of why a historic approach to the study of folklore and mythology is preferred. Le me simply state here that the common flaw of all universalist approaches (structuralist and psychological) is that they cannot explain the profound and systemic differences in the distribution of large sets of folklore motifs across the world.  Commentators either ignore the very existence of such global patterns, or are not aware of them in the first place.  The functional approach to myth has a sounder basis, but its concern is the interpretation of tales in a given culture, not their content as such.

"Among 1200 motifs whose area of distribution and linguistic links have been examined by me thus far, the majority are independent from economic activity, social organization, and environmental factors.  Therefore it is not likely that they emerged recently.  The emergence of some other motifs may very well have been favoured by environmental and economic conditions;  I have attempted to record any such correlations that seem to be of importance.

Folkloric Material

"In 1991, Elizabeth Benson published an article in which she surveyed data concerning the role of the dog in representations of the other world among Amerindians.  The article was clearly influenced by Roe - the principal proponent of structuralism among the US ethnographers studying the native people of South America.  Benson strove to show the general association of the dog with the other world in the ethnography of Amerindians as it was realized in different, yet homologous, forms among different groups.  Intentionally or not, Benson demonstrated an uneven regional distribution of such representations.  For example, the dog did not appear as a guide to the other world throughout the American continent, but only in the area between Mexico and Peru, while in the east and far south of the South American continent this motif could not be found.  This absence cannot be explained by the poverty of ethnographic material in these regions, because we do, in fact, possess detailed descriptions, reconstructed from testimonies of Amazonian shamans, of the realm of the dead and of the path that is meant to lead to it."

(Read more)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wolf Worship and the Ainu

The Lost Wolves of Japan
Brett L. Walker

pages 83-85

"Wolf worship was not confined to ethnic Japanese but occurred in certain Ainu communities as well.  The Ainu, the native inhabitants of northeastern Honshu and Hokkaido, knew the wolf as the high-ranking god Horkew Kamuy (literally, the "howling god").  No doubt it was as part of their ethno-biological understanding of the world that Ainu realized that their hunting habits resembled those of the Hokkaido wolf, and such recognition fostered reverence for the animal.  Over time, Ainu chiefdoms came to feature the Hokkaido wolf in regional creation myths, place-names, epic poetry, folklore, and selected ceremonial events.  Ainu hailed the wolf as a deity, or kamuy (much as Japanese hailed the wolf as a kami or a divine messenger of the Daimyojin), and Ainu sacrificed wolves, as they did bears and owls, in "sending-away" ceremonies called iomante.

"In certain Ainu communities, particularly those in the Tokachi and Hidaka regions, there flourished alternative versions of the origin myth about a white wolf that mated with a goddess; the offspring from this union became the ancestors of the Ainu people.  Sarashina Genzo and Sarashina Ko, who collected stories of the plants and animals connected to Ainu village life, pointed out that several regional versions of this origin myth exist and that some feature a white dog rather than a white wolf.  This difference appears to have been unimportant to the Ainu because both dogs and wolves inhabited much the same space in their classifying imagination.  One version of this myth, from Shizunai, in the Hidaka region of southeastern Hokkaido, explains that Retaruseta Kamuy (White Wolf God), the god of Poroshiridake Mountain, could not find a suitable mate, even though he searched the entire island.  So Retaruseta Kamuy summoned his divine powers to peer all the way to lands across the sea, and in time he spotted a mate in a distant country.  Again drawing on his divine powers, he coerced the woman to get into a small boat and cross the sea; once on the island, she became his wife.  From this union the Ainu people were born."

"In Ainu folklore, not only do male wolves take human brides, but sometimes female wolves become the wives or concubines of Ainu chiefs."

"With so many wolf gods inhabiting the mountains, it is not surprising that legend had it that if Ainu hunters left behind portions of their kill, wolves came and ate the leftovers".

"Interestingly, in Ainu lore, wolves usually were friendly toward people, as in one story from Tokachi in which a wolf saved an elderly Ainu woman from an evil bear god while she picked wild plants."

"Rarely did Ainu prioritize distinctions between wolves and dogs when making natural identifications or classifications; nor did they prioritize distinctions between artifice and nature when crafting identities for themselves."

"Ainu see the two kinds of canines as similar and their distinction, when one was needed, as largely situational.  When in the village aiding people the canines were dogs; when in the mountains hunting deer they were wolves."

"In an earlier Ainu world, a world yet to be disrupted by the Japanese intrusion from the south, the landscape was alive with wolves, busily hunting deer, raising their young, and, at magical times, aiding people and descending from the heavens to inhabit sacred moutains and forests, much as wolves did in the tradition of some Japanese villages."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Legend of the Wolf of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation

The following story of the wolf is told by Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh
(Link) (page 3)

“When the Chief [of Tum-ta-mayh-tun] died, his wife — knowing she was doomed — wrapped her little boy in a cedar blanket and took him as far as she could from the death-place and placed him in the bush. A mother wolf roaming with her cubs picked up the little bundle and took it to her lair. She dropped it down and went to nurse her cubs and the little boy wiggled out and crawled over to feed with them. From then on, he grew-up as a wolf.  As he grew, he learned by instinct to make a bow and arrow and the wolves had great respect for him. So they became companions in the hunt.  When he was sixteen, he sought a mate of his own kind. Traveling up the Indian River, over the mountains to the canyon of the Fraser River, he found a bride among the people there. They came back to the Inlet and started to build a tribe. Our people have respected the wolves always. My great-great-grandfather Watsukl always walked with a wolf.” – Dan George

Myths and Traditional Beliefs about the Wolf and the Crow in Central Asia

Examples from the Turkic Wu-Sun and the Mongols

Namu Jila
Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 65, 2006: 161–177

"In the Chinese chronicles Shi ji and Han shu there is a story about Kun-mo, the ruler of the Wu-sun, who was abandoned as a child but survived by being fed by a wolf and a crow. This story can be found among peoples of the Altaic language group, but it also clearly resembles the story of Romulus and Remus in ancient Rome who were said to have been taken care of by a wolf and a woodpecker. There is a possibility that the motif of a child fed by an wolf and a bird may have traveled from the Near East via Rome to Central Asia to the Wu-sun, although this may not be the case for modern versions of the story among the Mongols. However, the special aspect of the Central Asian tradition is that it always features the wolf and the crow as one set. It is, therefore, suggested that this may be due not only to cooperation between the two animals as is observable in nature, but also to religious beliefs related to these animals."

Friday, November 15, 2013

National Geographic on the Latest Dog Domestication Paper

Carpathian Shepherd Dog, Carpathian Mountains, Romania

Lapphund, Finland
Dutch Shepherd Dog, Netherlands
Border Collie, Borders, Scotland
Aidi, Morocco

National Geographic covers the ancient mitochondrial DNA dog domestication paper which was published yesterday.  (Link)

There have been other papers indicating that dogs originated in East Asia, Southeast Asia and possibly, even Africa.  It's been a matter of contention for several years now and will likely not be entirely resolved by this paper.

In any case, it's fun to look at various European dog breeds that retain some of their wolf like characteristics.  Among European breeds, the tendency to retain these characteristics is especially noticeable in shepherd dogs.  Perhaps it's those dogs, most left to their own, not bred for tracking, appearance, docility, or fighting, that retain their wolf intelligence, sociability, tenacity, and bravery.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Today is Remembrance Day in countries of the British Commonwealth.
"Return to the Front:  Victoria Railway Station" by Richard Jack, 1916

Robert Austin Cunningham, great uncle
        Métier before the war:  plasterer
        73rd Battalion, Royal Highland Regiment (Infantry)
        Born:  Huntingdon, Quebec, Canada
        Volunteered in 1915
        Date of Death:  March 21st, 1917
        Age at Death:  23
        Buried:  Etaples Military Cemetery, France
Wilfred Grant Dunsmore, grandfather
        Métier before the war:  student, graduated McGill Agriculture, 1917
        66th Field Battery, 14th Brigade, 5th Divisional Artillery, RCA (Montreal)
        (Heavy Artillery)
        Born:  Huntingdon, Quebec, Canada
        Volunteered in 1916
        Survived the war
Gordon Clark Bradley, great uncle
        Métier before the war:  administrator, life of the party
        103 Royal Air Force Squadron
        Warrant Officer First Class (Air Gunner)
        Born:  Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
        Volunteered in 1939
        Date of Death:  August 3rd, 1943
        Age at Death:  36
        Buried:  Commonwealth Cemetery, Ohlsdorf, Hamburg, Germany

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Minds of Stone Age Toolmakers

How did Stone Age toolmakers make the leap from stone flakes to a sophisticated hand axe?  Emory archeologist Dietrich Stout recreates prehistoric stone tool making techniques to study the evolution of the human brain and mind.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

If All the Ice Melted

National Geographic has a new interactive exhibit showing what the coastlines would look like if all of the glaciers melted.  (Link)