Friday, February 12, 2010

Looking at 4,000 Year Old DNA From Greenland

There is an interesting find at of Greenland. The DNA of a 4,000 year old man was sequenced and some surprises were discovered. An article titled After 4,000 years, DNA suggests ancient Greenland man had risk of baldness and even dry earwax was written by Malcom Ritter.

The biggest shock is that the man was not related to any of the Native Americans in Greenland or the Americas. The article notes, "More importantly, comparisons of his DNA with that of present-day Arctic peoples shed light on the mysterious origins of the man's cultural group, the Saqqaq, the earliest known culture to settle in Greenland. Results suggest his ancestors migrated from Siberia some 5,500 years ago."

The analysis shows the now extinct Saqqaq were not direct ancestors of today's Inuits or Native Americans. The Saqqaq are all gone and no one is certain how they arrived in Greenland. Others findings were that the man had the genes for baldness and dry earwax.

The article also noted, "The DNA was recovered from a tuft of hair that had been excavated in 1986 from permafrost on Greenland's west coast, north of the Arctic Circle. The thousands of years in a deep freeze was key to preserving the genetic material. But most ancient human remains come from warmer places with less potential for preservation, and scientists said it's not clear how often DNA from such samples would allow for constructing a genome."

More information on the history of Greenland can be found at History of Greenland.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Recovering Shackleton's Whiskey

In 1909, British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his companions were forced to abandon their attempt to reach the South Pole. In the process, they unknowingly left behind some major historical treasures.

The article Plan to recover two crates of Shackleton’s whisky buried in Antarctica has the details. The article notes, "Shackleton and his men were donated the crates of whisky as they set off for the South Pole in 1907. Severe weather conditions meant they had to be rescued two years later when just days away from reaching their target. All supplies were then left behind in their hut at Cape Royds including the two cases of whisky. The crates were discovered by polar explorers in January 2006, but couldn't be removed as they were too deeply embedded. However, the team going back to Antarctica next year has agreed to try to retrieve some bottles."

Is the whiskey drinkable?  Mr. Paterson (Whyte & Mackay's master blender) said Shackleton’s whisky could still be drinkable and taste exactly how it did 100 years ago, but conceded that the bottles could have been damaged due to the changing conditions in the Antarctic. Whyte & Mackay's is the brand of the whiskey and the recipe for this whiskey has been lost. Mr. Paterson is hoping some alcohol archaeology will help the company recover the blend.

Due to various treaties, it may be difficult to get the bottles out of Antarctica. I am hoping they have success. This seems like worthwhile history.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Did Alexander the Great Fight the Yeti?


While reading the Anabasis Alexandri (Robson translation) at the Ancient History Sourcebook at Fordham, I came upon a curious passage. It reads as though Alexander's men, in the course of the invasion of India, fought a pitched battle with a tribe of Yeti! Very strange but it is indeed in the account from antiquity. Here is the passage that suggests Yeti's, "Those captured were hairy, not only their heads but the rest of their bodies; their nails were rather like beasts' claws; they used their nails (according to report) as if they were iron tools; with these they tore asunder their fishes, and even the less solid kinds of wood; everything else they cleft with sharp stones; for iron they did not possess. For clothing they wore skins of animals, some even the thick skins of the larger fishes." Maybe they were just strange hairy men...

Here is a more complete account of the battle from http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/arrian-bookVIII-India.html:

Thence they set sail and progressed with a favouring wind; and after a passage of five hundred stades the anchored by a torrent, which ,was called Tomerus. There was a lagoon at the mouths of the river, and the depressions near the bank were inhabited by natives in stifling cabins. These seeing the convoy sailing up were astounded, and lining along the shore stood ready to repel any who should attempt a landing. They carried thick spears, about six cubits long; these had no iron tip, but the same result was obtained by hardening the point with fire. They were in number about six hundred. Nearchus observed these evidently standing firm and drawn up in order, and ordered the ships to hold back within range, so that their missiles might reach the shore; for the natives' spears, which looked stalwart, were good for close fighting, but had no terrors against a volley. Then Nearchus took the lightest and lightest-armed troops, such as were also the best swimmers, and bade them swim off as soon as the word was given. Their orders were that, as soon as any swimmer found bottom, he should await his mate, and not attack the natives till they had their formation three deep; but then they were to raise their battle cry and charge at the double. On the word, those detailed for this service dived from the ships into the sea, and swam smartly, and took up their formation in orderly manner, and having made a phalanx, charged, raising, for their part, their battle cry to the God of War, and those on shipboard raised the cry along with them; and arrows and missiles from the engines were hurled against the natives. They, astounded at the flash of the armour, and the swiftness of the charge, and attacked by showers of arrows and missiles, half naked as they were, never stopped to resist but gave way. Some were killed in flight; others were captured; but some escaped into the hills. Those captured were hairy, not only their heads but the rest of their bodies; their nails were rather like beasts' claws; they used their nails (according to report) as if they were iron tools; with these they tore asunder their fishes, and even the less solid kinds of wood; everything else they cleft with sharp stones; for iron they did not possess. For clothing they wore skins of animals, some even the thick skins of the larger fishes.