Wednesday, June 26, 2013

700,000 Year Old Horse's DNA Sequenced

A horse is still recognized as a horse, from DNA 700,000 years old.

From Scientific American Online:

Horse Fossil Yields Astonishingly Old Genome—Are Similarly Ancient Human Genomes Next?
Researchers have recovered DNA from a nearly 700,000-year-old horse fossil and assembled a draft of the animal’s genome from it. It is the oldest complete genome to date by a long shot–hundreds of thousands of years older than the previous record holder, which came from an archaic human that lived around 80,000 years ago. The genome elucidates the evolution of modern horses and their relatives, and raises the question of whether scientists might someday be able to obtain similarly ancient genomes of human ancestors.

Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues extracted the DNA from a foot bone found at the site of Thistle Creek in Canada’s Yukon Territory in permafrost dating to between 560,000 and 780,000 years ago, which falls within the so-called early Middle Pleistocene time period. They then mapped the fragments of DNA they obtained against the genome of a modern horse to piece together a draft of the ancient horse’s genome.

Comparing that sequence to the genomes of a 43,000-year-old horse, a donkey, five modern domestic horses and a modern Przewalski’s horse (a type of wild horse native to Mongolia), the researchers were able to gain insights into some key aspects of horse evolution. Their findings indicate that the last common ancestor of the members of the genus Equus—which includes modern horses, donkeys, asses and zebras, along with their extinct relatives–lived some 4 million to 4.5 million years ago, double the estimate suggested by the oldest unequivocal Equus fossils. The results also allowed the team to chart the demographic history of horses over the past two million years, revealing how the population waxed and waned as climate shifted and grasslands expanded and contracted. In addition, the researchers identified several genome regions in modern horses that seem to have been targeted by natural selection acting to promote advantageous gene variants related to immunity and olfaction, as well as a number of genome regions that may have undergone selection related to domestication. A report detailing the study will be published in the June 27 Nature. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

This is a pretty exciting development (so exciting, in fact, that I’m interrupting my vacation to write about it). And I can’t help but think back, as I do whenever a new ancient DNA story breaks, to the first time I ever reported on DNA from deep time. The year was 1997. Researchers had just announced that they had sequenced DNA from a 40,000-year-old Neandertal fossil. Specifically they had sequenced DNA from mitochondria—the cell’s energy-producing organelles, which contain their own DNA that is passed on along the maternal line.

The Neandertal mitochondrial genome was a huge breakthrough—and it seemed to settle a long-running debate over Neandertals and the origin of anatomically modern Homo sapiens. But mitochondrial DNA represents only a tiny fraction of an individual’s genetic information; the real action is in the DNA that resides in the cell’s nucleus—the nuclear genome. The scientists I spoke to back then—geneticists and paleontologists—longed for a nuclear genome from a Neandertal. But they were quite certain that they would never ever get one. Mitochondrial DNA is far more abundant than nuclear DNA, because a cell can contain hundreds of mitochondria, whereas it has just one nucleus. Thus the chances of finding nuclear DNA that has survived the ravages of time is far, far lower than those of obtaining mitochondrial DNA—itself a rarity.

And yet. Fast forward to 2010 and the impossible dream was realized: a draft sequence of a nuclear genome of a Neandertal. More recently the sequencing of nuclear DNA retrieved from an enigmatic finger bone from Denisova Cave in Siberia has revealed a previously unknown kind of human. And scientists have obtained an astonishingly complete Neandertal genome from the same cave site. These ancient nuclear genomes paint a rather different picture of archaic-modern human relations than the early mitochondrial DNA work did, and are providing a wealth of fascinating insights into our own evolution and that of our relatively recently extinct cousins.

This fantastically old horse genome got me thinking about the possibility of recovering DNA from comparably ancient human relatives—ones who roamed the earth long before the Neandertals and the Denisovans. If scientists had such data, what would they try to learn from it? When I asked paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin this question, he had this to say:
“Right now the Denisovan and Neandertal genomes have raised a new scenario of population structure for Middle Pleistocene people. They show us that earlier hominins in Eurasia were largely supplanted, possibly with some mixture, by a dispersal of Neandertal and Denisovan ancestors. What was that pre-Neandertal population like? Did it have its own unique events shaping its evolution? How many times did large-scale dispersals of human populations sweep across the Old World? And what happened to African ancestors during this key Middle Pleistocene time period?”

Now, lest we get ahead of ourselves, it must be noted that the horse fossil was found in permafrost, which no doubt contributed to the preservation of the DNA. So will scientists have to find a Middle Pleistocene human on ice (or ice-cold soil) to have any hope of getting a genome out of it? Not necessarily. The Denisova specimens weren’t preserved in permafrost and their ancient DNA is first class. Still, they are far younger than the horse fossil. But according to ancient DNA expert Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University in Canada, the key to DNA preservation is dry conditions. “While cold and dry is best, warm and dry will still work,” he explains.

Poinar additionally noted that he is certain that researchers will eventually recover genomes even older than this 700,000-year-old (give or take) one. Which brings me to my final thought. When I learned of the horse genome, the first thing I thought was: what does this mean for Australopithecus sediba, the two million-year-old fossil species unearthed in at the site of Malapa in South Africa a few years ago. It has been held up as a candidate for the long-sought ancestor of our genus, Homo. These fossils are exquisitely preserved and may even contain organic material. Some of the remains are completely encased in rock, visible only with computed tomography and other imaging techniques. Might scientist be able to extract DNA from these fossils—and might that DNA be sufficiently well preserved to yield a genome? “I think DNA from Malapa is very possible and an exciting prospect,” Poinar says.

In fact, efforts are already under way to recover DNA from the A. sediba fossils, “We are in the process of looking and there are specimens presently being investigated,” says paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand, who is leading the recovery and analysis of the fossils from Malapa. “It is of course unlikely in a [two million-year-old] fossil,” he notes, “nevertheless, Malapa has as good a chance as anywhere if the impossible is going to prove possible.”

I’m going to resume my vacation now. But I’ll be daydreaming about genomes from our long-vanished cousins. The future of ancient DNA research has never looked brighter.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pissed Off Shabti Demands Bread, Beer and Beef!

Hey, I don't blame the dude. He's been starving for the past 80 years!  Now he's going on march to demand BREAD, BEER, AND BEEF!  Hey dude, I hear you.  I love them, too!  Surely it must be possible to satisfy Neb-Senu's appetite by providing miniaturised versions of bread, beer and beef on a mini offering table presented before him.  Come on, people! Feed Neb-Senu! 

There is a video embedded in the news article below, but I was not able to capture it to post here.  I found this same video, minus sound, at You Tube, and you can watch and judge for yourselves, minus the distraction of commentary!

Neb-senu is the tall ebony-colored Shabti on the right-end of the row (farthest away from viewer).

Ancient Egyptian Statue Mysteriously Rotates at Museum

An ancient Egyptian statue in a British museum has sparked debate after it was captured on video seemingly rotating on its own.

The 10-inch tall statue of Neb-senu has been on display at the Manchester Museum in Manchester, England, for 80 years but it was only recently that museum staff noticed the statue moving.

"Most Egyptologists are not superstitious people. I wondered who had changed the object's position without telling me," the museum's curator, Campbell Price, told the U.K.'s Sun. "But the next time I looked, it was facing in another direction-and a day later had yet another orientation."

With his curiosity piqued, Price returned the statue of the Egyptian idol to its original position in a locked glass case and set up a camera to film the statue over an 11-hour period. The resulting time-lapse video, Price says, shows the statue moving on its own.

Other experts attribute the rotation to a more scientific reasoning, such as subtle vibrations that cause the statue to move.

"The statue only seems to spin during the day when people are in the museum," Carol Redmount, associate professor of Egyptian archeology at the University of California, Berkeley, told ABC News. "It could have something to do with its individual placement and the individual character of the statue."

The statue, made from serpentine, shows what is likely an official with "priestly duties," according to Price, wearing a shoulder-length wig and knee-length kilt.

The hieroglyphs on the back of the statue spell out, "bread, beer and beef," a "prayer for offerings for the spirit of the man," Price told the Sun.


One of my favorite old-time movies is "Miracle of the Bells."  It starred, of all people - Fred MacMurray (he later went on to television fame in the 1960's as the father of "My Three Sons" and a drop-dead gorgeous actress who sported only one name - Valli (Dorothy Sebastian).  In the film, she plays an actress who strikes it big by scoring the lead in a major film production of "Joan of Arc" -- but before the film can be completed she dies of -- I think -- tuberculosis.  The producers decide to pull the film from distribution rather than working around an ending with an unknown, now dead, although brilliant, actress.  Fred MacMurray, who had befriended the "Kid" as he called her, years before, when she was a struggling actress dancing in a two-bit woo-woo show to make ends meet, hits upon an ingenious plan to not only pay homage to the girl he maybe could have loved and maybe even did love and his coldest, calculating most commercial reporter instincts to promote the film and, he hopes, put enough pressure on the Hollywood producers to release the film, which shows the "Kid" at her finest.

And I have to say that, without watching a single scene fresh of the movie, I don't even know if' it has ever been released as a video, just remembering Valli acting as Joan of Arc was a very emotional and transcendent experience as I watched the old film on cable TV years ago in the 1980's (when it was still reasonably priced - I don't have cable TV now).

Anyway, the grand climax of the movie takes place in the actress's hometown church -- a small, struggling mining town in Pennsylvania, I believe.  As the church is packed with people for her final memorial service, the bells of the church begin to ring, and all across the town, all other church bells begin to ring too.  This is spread across the region, from town to town, city to city, as many church bells begin to ring at precisely the same time, and -- miraculously, all across the United States, as people had read reporter Fred MacMurray's touching tribute to the deceased actress and the demise of her one and only and greatest film role of all time in a movie that would never be seen, was spread across the land in the week before the memorial service took place.

In the local church where the deceased actress lay in a fine coffin beneath a hovering stone sculpture of the Archangel Michael, as the church bells begin to ring, and other bells from other churches join in, filling the air with deafening sound, suddenly, to the amazed eyes of all beholding, the Archangel begins to move! 

The Archangel, in fact, moves about 45 degrees so that He is now hovering with (I seem to recall) a mighty sword arched over the dead actress's coffin, as if protecting it, as if blessing it.  And the head of the statue appears to be gazing down at her, as she lays at rest. 

Of course the story of the miraculous event that occurred in that little, tired church in Pennsylvania, spreads across the United States in a firestorm -- or what was a firestorm back then, when there were only telephones and telegraphs! 

Enough publicity is generated, and enough public opinion arises, that the Hollywood producers who had pulled Valli's finest hour as Joan of Arc announce that they are releasing the film after all!

And thus, the Miracle of the Bells ends on a sad, but triumphant note.

Well, it got to me, heh?  I still remember so much of it, even after all these years! 

Now, let me tell you darlings, Father Paul, who was the young but worldly wise priest of the old parish church where the actress was laid to rest, he was played by none other than a young and very skinny FRANK SINATRA!  And he didn't sing a note, either! 

Valli went on to play in another bizarre but smash film that has become a cult classic: The Red Shoes.

I do not remember any other films in which she starred.  But those two films were enough to fill the plate of a great actress, back in those days.

Anyway -- back  to the Miracle of the Bells.  Father Paul deduces that it was the vibrations of the extended bell ringing that caused the stone sculpture of Michael the Archangel to swing around on its base to face protectively over Valli's coffin.

Vibrations.  The Music of the Goddess.  Oh, if only we would stop and take awhile to listen once again to the Divine Music.

P.S.  Guess what, darlings!  The colorized version of The Miracle of the Bells is available to view on You Tube:

So, is it just vibrations (shades of the Beach Boys' smash song from the mid 1960's Good Vibrations...) that is causing Neb-Senu to spin in his glass case?  And was it just good good good vibrations that caused the admittedly fictional stone stature of Michael the Archangel to pivot around on his pedestal to protectively overlook the coffin of the actress played by Valli?

A Couple Personal Super Moon Photos

Hola darlings!

These are not the best quality, but I did get out last night and took several photographs of the Super Moon from the vantage point of my front yard near the end of my garage.  I forgot about getting out at Moon rise due east which happened a few hours earlier (I was busy ripping carpeting off my staircase), but the photos I took were looking toward the southeast and the Moon was just beautiful!  I wish I could have captured it much better.  Oh well.

These photographs that I'm posting remind me a little of water-colors; they were taken about 10:00 p.m. last night.  It was very humid and "dewey" last night -- at one point yesterday the dew point was at SEVENTY!  In Milwaukee, Wisconsin!  Holy Hathor!  Dew point is worse than humidity.  I have discovered over the past several years, since local weather forecasts have started reporting on dew points, that I get extremely uncomfortable at anything over 55.  Sixty is torture.  Seventy is HELL.

The photo below is the best of the photos I took -- slightly less blurred looking and no water spots (or Phantom Moons, as I prefer to think of them):

I wished Mr. Don was here to see this with me.  Even my poor photo captures the incredible beauty of the Moon's light bouncing off the clouds last night, and the partial echo of the Moon's incredible glow from the street lamp.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

9 Queens Upcoming Events

Hola!  Check out the latest from 9 Queens.  I hope you are supporting them!  9 Queens does great work with kids and women.  We need more of them around - across the entire USA!!!

Shang Dynasty Capital To Be Excavated

June 23, 2013

China begins excavation to discover 3000-year-old ancient city

Beijing: Chinese archaeologists have started a three-month excavation project in north China's Hebei Province to discover an ancient state capital dating back to more than 3,000 years.

The excavation project is taking place in the Caijiafen village. The State Administration of Cultural Heritage has approved the excavation in April.
Archaeologists and historians believe that Caijiafen village has served as the capital of Guzhu state, a vassal state of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC to 1046 BC), according to Xie Fei, an expert from the Hebei Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau.

The excavation will help in unveiling the history and culture of the ancient state, Xie told state-run Xinhua news agency.
About 30 archaeologists from Renmin University and Hebei Provincial Cultural Heritage Bureau are participating in the excavation project.


Super Moon Over Rotterdam

Hola darlings!

Yesterday was the "super Moon" event - as I understand it, the Moon happened to be a point in its rotation around the Earth closest to it and this coincided with the "full" Moon, making the Moon look super-large and particularly close in the skies in the northern hemisphere last night.  I happened to see this breathtaking photograph at Xinunet while I was checking out a story on the upcoming excavation of an ancient Shang Dynasty capital.

What struck me was the juxtoposition of the lunar crescent on the top of a mosque against the full Moon Goddess in all of her glory rising above Rotterdam in The Netherlands!  A truly international symbol as well as an international event published in international news coverage.  How connected we have become.  If only we would remember that underneath our different skin colors and cultures, we're all the same, too.

Does that crescent symbol look familiar to you?  It sure does to me...

Above is one of the sides of the incredibly beautiful and ancient Narmer Palette from pre-dynastic Egypt, although some historians call it Dynasty Zero.  Zero because it was right around the time Narmer was united Upper and Lower Egypt into one kingdom.  Check out Hat-hert a/k/a Hathor, the cow/lunar goddess, who was later turned into a daughter of the Sun god, Re, and became a solar goddess. But her first, and most ancient, association is with the Moon, and in some depictions of Hat-hert and later, Isis, she wears the "horns" of the Moon (a/k/a cow horns) enclosing the sacred solar disc.  Hat-hert also prominently appears on the reverse side of the Narmer Palette.  The Palette's antiquity is attested to by the fact that Hat-hert is depicted in her original cow form.  In later incarnations during her long herstory in ancient Egypt, Hat-hert was depicted as a woman with cow-ears, and still later, as a woman wearing a "crown" of cow horns. 

Here is a much later depiction of the lunar crescent worn as a crown by this beautifully formed alabaster goddess who "may" be Ishtar (Astarte), from a "necropolis of Hillah, near Babylon" with a 400 year swing date of 2nd Century BCE or CE, at the Lourve (photo from Wikipedia Commons):

At Carthage, the Moon goddess was worshipped as the fearsome Tanit, sometimes depicted with a lion's head (Hat-Hert was sometimes transformed into a lioness to wreak destruction upon sinning Egyptians, harking back to predynastic depictions of Hat-Hert as a warrior goddess:

  Tanit, to whom infants and young children were sacrificed by the CARthiginians (CAR is another archaic Moon goddess, whose worship is found in ancient place-names, I've written about her, too) is said to be an incarnation of Astarte:

The photo above is from Wikipedia Commons.  Do you see a resemblance between this form of the Goddess and the ancient Egyptian "ankh" symbol?  I also couldn't help but notice that in this depiction of a lunar goddess, the crescent Moon is "inverted" over the Goddess' head and I was much struck by its resemblance to some depictions I've seen of doves, so often associated with the Roman Catholic Mother of God, the Virgin Mary.  Periodically in modern-era Egypt (prior to the Islamists taking over the government after the overthrow of Mubarak), thousand of people attested to seeing the Virgin Mary appearing in the skies above Coptic Christian churches, often surrounded by "doves."  I've written about some of these apparitions of the Virgin Mary. 

If you're interested in learning more, please check out:

July 2, 2009:  The True Origins of the Koran (formatting is screwed up on this post, and many of my older posts, due to various changes that Google Blogger has gone through since the founding of this blog.  I hope you will take the time to slog through it despite no paragraph breaks!)

April 15, 2008:  Goddess Tanit

July 4, 2008:  The Goddess of the Moon

Did you know that the Moon Goddess has an intimate connection with Chinese Xiang'qi and the even older "pre-chess" game of Xiang'xi?  Oh yeah, if you read herstory between the lines, sometimes one can discern the truth.  Please check out my post from October 27, 2007:  The Chinese Moon Goddess and Chess

And if you would like to read more about some of the Virgin Mary apparitions:

August 24, 2007:  Goddess Sighting: Our Lady of Guadalupe (check out the nice crescent Moon the Our Lady is standing upon)

Our Lady of Zeitoun, from Wikipedia (I'm sure I posted about this and other Virgin Mary apparitions occurring in Egypt, but right now I cannot find them in my blog and I don't have time to hunt and peck at the moment)

At Tour Egypt:  Egypt: Egypt's 1960's Remarkable Virgin Mary Sightings, Egypt
Check out the "dove" above the "Virgin Mary" figure -- does it remind you of the crescent Moon depiction in the ancient stone carving above Tanit's head at Carthage (above):

She reappeared again in 2009, at a different location, but this time the birds around here were described as a swirl of pigeons and the Goddess had been reduced to appearing as an amorphous "flash of light."  Well, maybe.  Depends who you talked to when it happened...  Such things, after all, are in the eye of the beholder:

December 15, 2009:  EGYPT: Is it the Virgin Mary or just a curious flash of light?

For my part, I think the Mother has been, and is still trying, desperately, to reach out to us, but we're just not getting Her message.  Beware when she returns as Kali or Car.  And those in the know won't be able to say we weren't warned.
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