The 19th European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) annual meeting is being held in Pilsen, Czech Republic, next month and the program includes a wide variety of presentations on ancient DNA (see here). Below are a few of the presentation abstracts that I found interesting.
A34.06: The megalithic past of the Bronze Age kurgans of the North Pontic Region Alexey Nikitin (Grand Valley State University, USA), Svetlana Ivanova (Institute of Archaeology, Ukrainian Academy of Science, Ukraine) The Early Bronze Age (EBA) burial mounds (kurgans) in the western part of the North Pontic Region (NPR) display a tendency to be erected over earlier megalithic ritual constructions. The initial purpose of these megalithic structures might have been cosmology-related. In succeeding time periods the initial astronomic purpose could have been forgotten and these megalithic sites became designated at sacred places suited for distinguished burials. Megalithic elements comprising the initial constructions became incorporated into the subsequent burials. The Revova kurgan from western NPR is one such construction. It was erected over a megalithic structure in a shape of a tortoise with the stone elements of the construction being astronomically aligned. An assembly of disarticulated human remains deposited in the center of the construction dated to the Eneolithic (4200 BC). On the other hand, the layout of stones comprising the “Tortoise” appears to most accurately line up with the movement of celestial objects as they appeared on the sky around 6300 BC. Mitochondrial DNA lineage extracted from the remains was characteristic to the Mesolithic/Neolithic hunter-gatherer populations from northern Europe as well as Bronze Age groups from south Siberia. ... F01.03: 6–5th millennium BC cultural changes in Western Hungary tested by ancient DNA Anna Szécsényi-Nagy (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany), János Jakucs (Research Center for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungary), Eszter Bánffy (Research Center for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungary), Kurt W. Alt (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany) Western Hungary (Transdanubia) was one of the key regions at the process of Neolithisation in Central Europe. The Starčevo culture, representing the earliest farmers on this region, settled down at latest 5750 cal BC south of the Lake Balaton. It had a major role in the formation of the Linearbandkeramik culture in Transdanubia. The following Sopot, Lengyel cultures of the late Neolithic and Early Copper Age Transdanubia show repeated cultural influences from the Balkan, besides local extant cultural traditions. The focus of our study is the process of these cultural changes in Transdanubia, in the view of ancient DNA, investigating mitochondrial and Y chromosomal lineages and markers. A total of 292 skeletons were sampled and processed, with an overall success rate of 89% for mitochondrial DNA. Comparing the mitochondrial and Y chromosomal results with other published data and evaluating them with population genetic analyses, we gained a peerless insight into the population history of Western Hungary. Our study may give an additional help to prehistoric archaeology, for a better understanding of the nature of cultural changes, supporting it with a new type of evidence, in order to see Transdanubia as a mediating area between South East and Central Europe. ... F03.01: Neolithic Iberia – what ancient DNA can tell us Christina Roth (Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany), Manuel A. Rojo Guerra (University of Valladolid, Spain), Rafael Garrido Pena (Autónoma University, Spain), Iñigo García Martínez de Lagrán (Basque Government, Spain), Cristina Tejedor Rodriguez (University of Valladolid, Spain), Kurt W. Alt (Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany) The Neolithic lifestyle developed in the Near East about 12,000 years ago and spread in the following millennia into Central Europe and the Iberian Peninsula via different routes. A recurring question in archaeology and anthropology remains whether the Neolithisation was a transfer of ideas without genetic influence or was accompanied by population shifts. Ancient DNA studies provide an essential tool for understanding past human population movements by opening a genetic window directly into the past. Previous studies have revealed a replacement of most of the pre-Neolithic maternal gene pool in Central Europe by substantial genetic influx of early farmers of the Linear Pottery Culture. Contemporaneous ancient DNA data from the Iberian Peninsula suggest that a considerable amount of characteristic Linear Pottery Culture lineages also spread through the Mediterranean region, although at least in Spain and Portugal a larger fraction of hunter-gatherer lineages was retained. Here, we present an enlarged mitochondrial dataset of the Early and Later Iberian Neolithic to reveal a more detailed picture of the spatial and temporal distribution of Neolithic farmers across the Iberian Peninsula. ... F03.02: Ancient DNA discloses multiple migrations into Central Europe during the Neolithic Guido Brandt (Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, Germany), Wolfgang Haak (University of Adelaide, Australia), Robert Ganslmeier (State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt, Germany), Susanne Friederich (State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt, Germany), Christina Adler (University of Sydney, Australia), Christina Roth (Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, Germany), Anna Szecsenyi-Nagy (Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, Germany), Alan Cooper (University of Adelaide, Australia), Harald Meller (State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt, Germany), Kurt W. Alt (Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, Germany) The Central European Neolithic is characterised by a succession of differentiated archaeological cultures indicating a period of fundamental cultural change. A recurrent question in archaeology and anthropology is whether cultural change in prehistory was accompanied by variation in the gene pool of associated populations. Ancient DNA studies based on mitochondrial DNA revealed a discontinuity between Central Europe’s autochthonous hunter-gatherers and their early farmers and between the latter and the present-day population, suggesting further migration events after the initial Neolithisation. However, to date little attention has been drawn to cultural and potentially population changes in subsequent Neolithic periods. To investigate this issue, we conducted a large chronological study including a succession of nine cultures from the Mittelelbe-Saale region, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany to reconstruct a detailed temporal profile of cultural and genetic diversity in Central Europe. The presented diachronic study spans overall 3,950 years from the beginning of the Neolithic period and the introduction of producing subsistence strategies ~5,500 BC to the appearance of structured chiefdoms in the Early Bronze Age ~2,200–1,550 BC. This transect through time identified multiple population dynamic events during the Neolithic, which involved genetic influx from various regions in Europe. [The paper is now out. See here.] ... F03.10: Tragic life story from the Bronze Age: isotope evidence from the Eurasian steppes Natalia Shishlina (State Historical museum, Russian Federation), Yulia Larionova (IGEM RAS, Russian Federation) A mass grave at the Peschany contained skeletons of a male and children. We performed analysis of 13C, 15N and 14C and from seven human bone samples as well as identified 87Sr/86Sr values in human enamel. The isotope analyses of humans show very high values of 13C and 15N. We assume that some of humans consumed marine food. 87Sr/86Sr ratios in human enamel vary from 0.7092 to 0.7094 and differ from the 87Sr/86Sr value obtained from local snails, soil and water (0.7085–0.7089). Data obtained are used as to substantiate a hypothesis stating that a group of children accompanied by an adult male “mentor” was brought to the steppe. All of them were born outside the Rostov steppe. It is possible that they spent some time near the Black Sea coastline. When on the steppe, they must have met some strangers who carried weapons. The man was killed. The type of the bone arrowhead indicates that the strangers apparently came from the Volga region. All children were also killed. Therefore, isotope data prove a high mobility of the population and contain stories about individuals.Source: 19th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, Pilsen, Czech Republic, 2013 Update 02/09/2013: Here's an article from the Hungarian Archeology e-journal which describes in more detail the efforts outlined in the Anna Szécsényi-Nagy et al. abstract above. It includes a couple of pie charts of mtDNA results, but unfortunately doesn't give any details about the Y-chromosome haplogrups found in the Neolithic remains. I guess we'll just have to wait until the formal paper comes out. But it's interesting to note the fairly high frequency of mtDNA H in the extensive LBK sample, which wasn't the case with more limited LBK samples in the past. So perhaps we're in for some surprises when the Y-chromosome results are revealed?
No earlier European archaeogenetic project has worked with samples from such a high number of skeletons. A part of the 700 (!) skeletons from which samples were taken can be assigned to the Körös and Starčevo cultures, two major Early Neolithic complexes flourishing in the earlier 6th millennium BC. We also collected samples from their successors, the populations of the Transdanubian (Central European) Linear Pottery culture and the Alföld Linear Pottery culture. Some of the sites in question had been excavated earlier, but we also collected samples from recently investigated sites and a few rare, extramural (independent) burial grounds. The largest number of samples from the 5th millennium BC came from the burials of the Late Neolithic Lengyel culture, many of which were taken from the graves of the Alsónyék cemetery, one of the most significant prehistoric sites in Europe.
Eszter Banffy, German-Hungarian bioarchaeological research project in the Archaeological Institute of the Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungarian Archeology, 2013 summer.