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Genomes document ancient mass migration to Europe

Genomes document ancient mass migration to Europe
From the BBC

ancient skeleton

Nomadic herders moved en masse into Europe from the steppe around 4,500 years ago

DNA analysis has revealed evidence for a massive migration into the heartland of Europe 4,500 years ago.

Data from the genomes of 69 ancient individuals suggest that herders moved en masse from the continent’s eastern periphery into Central Europe.

These migrants may be responsible for the expansion of Indo-European languages, which make up the majority of spoken tongues in Europe today.

An international team has published the research in the journal Nature.

Prof David Reich and colleagues extracted DNA from remains found at archaeological sites around the continent. They used a new DNA-enrichment technique that greatly reduces the amount of sequencing needed to obtain genome-wide data.

Their analyses show that 7,000-8,000 years ago, a closely related group of early farmers moved into Europe from the Near East, confirming the findings of previous studies.

The farmers were distinct from the indigenous hunter-gatherers they encountered as they spread around the continent. Eventually, the two groups mixed, so that by 5,000-6,000 years ago, the farmers’ genetic signature had become melded with that of the indigenous Europeans.

But previous studies show that a two-way amalgam of farmers and hunters is not sufficient to capture the genetic complexity of modern Europeans. A third ancestral group must have been added to the melting pot more recently.

Prof Reich and colleagues have now identified a likely source area for this later diaspora. The Bronze Age Yamnaya pastoralists of southern Russia are a good fit for the missing third genetic component in Europeans.

The team analysed nine genomes from individuals belonging to this nomadic group, which buried their dead in mounds known as kurgans.

The scientists contend that a group similar to the Yamnaya moved into the European heartland after the invention of wheeled vehicles, contributing up to 50% of ancestry in some modern north Europeans. Southern Europeans on the whole appear to have been less affected by the expansion.

By 5,000-6,000 years ago, Europeans were a two-way mix of indigenous hunters and Near Eastern farmers

Even more intriguing is the possible link between this steppe expansion and the origins of Indo-European languages.

Most indigenous European tongues, from English to Russian and Spanish to Greek, belong to the Indo-European group. The classification is based on shared features of vocabulary and grammar.

Basque, spoken in south-west France and northern Spain, does not fit in this group, and may be the only surviving relic of an earlier group of languages once spoken more widely.

Two principal hypotheses have been put forward to explain the preponderance of Indo-European tongues in Europe today.

According to the “Anatolian hypothesis”, Indo-European languages were spread by the first farmers from the Near East 7,000-8,000 years ago.

But the latest paper supports the “Steppe hypothesis”, which proposes that early Indo-European speakers were Bronze Age farmers on the grasslands north of the Black and Caspian Seas.

“An open question for us is whether the languages spoken by these steppe migrants were just ancestral to a sub-set of Indo-European languages in Europe today – for example, Balti-Slavic and maybe Germanic – or the great majority of Indo-European languages spoken in Europe today,” Prof Reich told BBC News.

But he added that Indo-European languages spoken in Iran and India had probably already diverged from those spoken by the Yamnaya before the nomads blazed a trail into Europe.


France has a team of official UFO hunters

 

France has a team of official UFO hunters

By BBC Reporter Chris Bockman
Toulouse, France

France has a team of UFO hunters.

Thousands of UFO sightings are reported every year but not many countries are willing to spend money investigating them – there is just one dedicated state-run team left in Europe. Is France onto something?

You don’t need a time machine when you visit the French Space Centre headquarters in Toulouse – it’s already a throwback to the 1970s. Green lawns sweep on to wide boulevards with stout long rectangular office blocks on either side.

It’s almost Soviet-style in the heart of southern France. There are few signs of life even though 1,500 people, most of them civil servants, work in boxy offices along narrow unappealing corridors.

France has the biggest space agency in Europe – the result of the 1960s space race and President Charles de Gaulle’s grand determination to keep France independent of the US by building its own satellites, rocket launchers and providing elite space research.

An offshoot of all that – France is the only country in Europe to maintain a full-time state-run UFO (unidentified flying objects) department. There used to be one in the UK and another in Denmark but they closed down years ago due to budget cuts.

France’s UFO unit consists of four staff, and about a dozen volunteers who get their expenses paid to go on site and look into reports of strange sightings in the skies.

Drawing of Flying Saucer

A drawing from the files at the French UFO department

The team is called Geipan. That’s a French acronym for Study Group and Information on Non-Identified Aerospace Phenomenon.

Its boss is Xavier Passot. Surrounded by dozens of books on UFOs, and stacks of documents, he tells me his mission is to be as transparent as possible about strange sightings and to follow up on each one that his team receives.

They publish their results on their website which gets 30,000 hits a month. The team receives, on average, two UFO sightings a day. The department insists an 11-page form is filled out for each one. The idea is to provide details including photographs where possible but also weed out jokers and time-wasters.

If someone claims to have seen strange lights in the skies, the UFO team might go online to see whether the observation took place on a flight path – it can trace commercial air traffic going back more than a week.

The team also has access to military flight paths and is in touch with the air force and air traffic controllers.

Sometimes if its staff are really intrigued by photos they have seen or if there have been several witnesses to the same sighting, they will call the local police to ask whether they can be considered credible.

They might even check with neighbours to see whether they were out drinking that night or perhaps smoking something other than cigarettes.

Passot says many of the people who get in touch are smokers, puffing away outside bars or their own homes at night, gazing at the stars.

One of the boxy offices houses yellowing archives going back to the 1950s. The papers I look at contain eerie accounts of strange things encountered in the skies by fighter pilots on routine reconnaissance missions.

For what it’s worth and for those who suspect there’s conspiracy afoot, Passot tells me he has never covered up a UFO sighting.

I take a look at some amazing photos of strange lights and circular forms caught on camera. One, taken by a motorist, of a white ring shape above Marseille is particularly grabbing (the image at the top of this page). But the team figured that one out – it wasn’t invaders from Mars, just the reflection of a small interior overhead light in the car.

In fact, the department can explain away nearly all these phenomena and, believe it or not, the most common culprits are Chinese lanterns sent up at night during parties. The investigators often telephone the local town hall to ask if, perhaps, there had been a wedding going on at the time.

Balloons and kites floating in the skies also get mistaken for alien craft, and space debris and falling meteorites giving off strange lights are more common than one might think.

But there are around 400 UFO sightings going back to the 1970s that the French team cannot explain. One, an alleged flying saucer landing near Aix-en-Provence in 1981, they take very seriously – there were landing marks and multiple witnesses.

So are there really little green men? Well, the jury’s out on the colour but there are many working here, as well as others around the world, who are convinced there is some life out there.

And does the use of French taxpayers’ money on UFO research make sense, particularly in these times of budgetary constraint?

That probably depends on whether you just saw an alien and, in the words of those Ghostbusters, who you gonna call?

Do you believe in UFO’s and Aliens?

Here’s a clip that interviews 2 people who claim to have been abducted by Alines.

Here’s some more people who believe aliens exist.


Mapping Earth’s Magnetic Fields

By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News

A field snapshot in June. Reds are strong; blues are weak. The view is dominated by the core contribution

Europe’s Swarm space mission has begun making maps of Earth’s magnetic field. Data just released shows how the field generated in the planet’s liquid outer core varies in strength over the course of a few months. Swarm’s early assessment appears to support the prevailing view that this magnetic cloak in general is weakening. Many experts believe it heralds a flip in the poles, where north becomes south and vice versa, although it would take thousands of years to complete. The European Space Agency’s Swarm mission was launched last November. It comprises three satellites that are equipped with a variety of instruments – the key ones being state-of-the-art magnetometers that measure field strength and direction. They fly in a configuration that offsets one platform from the other two. The intention is that this should provide a three-dimensional view of the field, and make it easier to tease apart its various components. In the release this week from Esa, we get a view that is dominated by the contribution (95%) from the core. But eventually, Swarm will have the sensitivity to describe magnetism from other, more subtle sources, including that generated by the movement of our salt-water oceans.

Change in the field since January. Reds are a strengthening; blues are a weakening

The maps on this page use the magnetic unit of a nanoTesla. Earth’s field typically has a full strength of some 50,000nT. The maps illustrate a snapshot (in June) and the change that occurs through time (January to June). In the latter, field strength is seen to drop over the western hemisphere but rise in other areas, such as the southern Indian Ocean. Earth’s magnetic field is worthy of study because it is the vital shield that protects the planet from all the charged particles streaming off the Sun. Without it, those particles would strip away the atmosphere, just as they have done at Mars. Investigating the magnetic field also has direct practical benefits, such as improving the reliability of satellite navigation systems which can be affected by magnetic and electrical conditions high in the atmosphere. “I started my career in magnetometry and the accuracy we had then in the laboratories was less than what we can fly in space now,” explained Prof Volker Liebig, the director of Earth observation at Esa. “So what we have on Swarm is fantastic, but we need long time series to understand fully the Earth’s magnetic field, and we will get that from this mission,” he told BBC News.

The Swarm fly high above the Earth in a configuration that offsets one satellite from a pair of spacecraft

Has the Earth already been mapped by Aliens? Do Aliens even exist? Some people say yes, others no. Here’s an interesting perspective from one of NASA’s astronauts including Story Musgrave and SETI’s Seth Shostack. http://youtu.be/MBK6eHWbwNc

 

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