Covid-19 More Severe If You Inherited a Neanderthal Gene on Chromosome 3

(p. A6) A stretch of DNA linked to Covid-19 was passed down from Neanderthals 60,000 years ago, according to a new study.

Scientists don’t yet know why this particular segment increases the risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. But the new findings, which were posted online on Friday [July 3, 2020] and have not yet been published in a scientific journal, show how some clues to modern health stem from ancient history.

. . .

Last month, researchers compared people in Italy and Spain who became very sick with Covid-19 to those who had only mild infections. They found two places in the genome associated with a greater risk. One is on Chromosome 9 and includes ABO, a gene that determines blood type. The other is the Neanderthal segment on Chromosome 3.

But these genetic findings are being rapidly updated as more people infected with the coronavirus are studied. Just last week, an international group of scientists called the Covid-19 Host Genetics Initiative released a new set of data downplaying the risk of blood type. “The jury is still out on ABO,” said Mark Daly, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who is a member of the initiative.

The new data showed an even stronger link between the disease and the Chromosome 3 segment. People who carry two copies of the variant are three times more likely to suffer from severe illness than people who do not.

. . .

(p. A7) Tony Capra, a geneticist at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the study, thought it was plausible that the Neanderthal chunk of DNA originally provided a benefit — perhaps even against other viruses. “But that was 40,000 years ago, and here we are now,” he said.

It’s possible that an immune response that worked against ancient viruses has ended up overreacting against the new coronavirus. People who develop severe cases of Covid-19 typically do so because their immune systems launch uncontrolled attacks that end up scarring their lungs and causing inflammation.

Dr. Paabo said the DNA segment may account in part for why people of Bangladeshi descent are dying at a high rate of Covid-19 in the United Kingdom.

For the full story, see:

Carl Zimmer. “String of Neanderthal Genes May Increase Risk of Severe Illness.” The New York Times (Monday, July 6, 2020, 2020): A6-A7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 8, 2020, and has the title “DNA Inherited From Neanderthals May Increase Risk of Covid-19.”)

The unpublished paper, mentioned above, is:

Zeberg, Hugo, and Svante Pääbo. “The Major Genetic Risk Factor for Severe Covid-19 Is Inherited from Neandertals.” bioRxiv (posted July 3, 2020).

Global Warming Allows Study of Transhumance to Flourish

(p. D3) OSLO — Ice patches that melted from the slopes of a remote mountain pass in Norway have revealed artifacts that provide new insight into the livelihood of hunters, traders and travelers along a route thousands of years old, archaeologists said this month.

. . .

The discoveries, outlined in the scientific journal Antiquity, were made on the central mountain range in Norway’s Innlandet County by the Glacier Archaeology Program, one of many programs worldwide studying what glaciers and ice patches are laying bare as they shift and melt because of climate change.

. . .

These discoveries have illuminated scientists’ understanding of transhumance, which describes how, where and why people moved from one place to another for trade, food, marriage or customs — sometimes over icy mountain passes rather than through the easier terrain, but longer distances, of valleys.

In 1991, hikers accidentally discovered the remains of a man, later nicknamed Ötzi the Tyrolean Iceman, preserved in 5,300 years’ worth of ice and snow in the Italian Alps. This marked the start of a promising period of archaeology that has gained pace as climate warming has revealed more artifacts, said Dr. Stephanie Rogers, a research assistant professor at Auburn University’s department of geosciences.

. . .

Dr. Rogers, who has done research on glacier archaeology in the Alps, said the discovery of the Iceman “really flipped a switch.”

“What was that person doing up there?” she asked, adding that researchers realized that “if we found something in this place, we are going to find something in other places.”

The field of transhumance has gained momentum in the past 10 to 20 years as artifacts have been laid bare because of the warming climate melting ice patches and moving glaciers, Dr. Rogers said.

For the full story, see:

Henrik Pryser Libell and Christine Hauser. “Warming Climate Reveals an Ancient Trade Route.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 28, 2020): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 16 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Warming Climate in Norway Reveals Relics of Ancient Viking Trade Route.”)

Early Tool by Extinct Human Ancestors

(p. D2) What’s so special about a 300,000-year-old stick stuck in the muck?

“It’s a stick, sure,” said Jordi Serangeli, an archaeologist from the University of Tübingen in Germany.

. . .

. . . the short, pointed piece of wood his team found in Schöningen, Germany, in 2016 may be the newest addition to the hunting arsenal used by extinct human ancestors during the Middle Pleistocene.

For the full story, see:

Nicholas St. Fleur. “Haywire Immune Reaction Linked to Most Severe Cases.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 28, 2020): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 22, 2020, and has the title “A Short, Pointy, 300,000-Year-Old Clue to Our Ancestors’ Hunting Prowess.”)

Figurative Cave Art at Least 43,900 Years Old

(p. A15) In December 2017, Hamrullah, an archaeologist on an Indonesian government survey, was exploring a cave system in Sulawesi, a large island in central Indonesia. He noticed a tantalizing opening in the ceiling above him. A skilled spelunker, Hamrullah (who only uses one name, like many Indonesians) climbed through the gap into an uncharted chamber. There, he laid eyes on a painting that is upending our understanding of prehistoric humans.

The dramatic panel of art, dating back at least 43,900 years, is “the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world,” a group of scientists said in a paper published Wednesday [Dec. 11, 2019] in Nature, although additional research will be needed to confirm the age of every character in the painting.

In the story told in the scene, eight figures approach wild pigs and anoas (dwarf buffaloes native to Sulawesi). For whoever painted these figures, they represented much more than ordinary human hunters. One appears to have a large beak while another has an appendage resembling a tail. In the language of archaeology, these are therianthropes, or characters that embody a mix of human and animal characteristics.

. . .

“This finding is very significant because it was previously thought that figurative painting dated to a time shortly after modern humans arrived in Europe, perhaps circa 40,000 years ago, but this result shows it has an origin outside Europe,” said Alistair Pike, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton in England, who was not involved in the study.

For the full story, see:

Becky Ferreira. “Cave May Possess World’s ‘Earliest Figurative’ Art.” The New York Times (Thursday, December 12, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 11, 2019, and has the title “Mythical Beings May Be Earliest Imaginative Cave Art by Humans.”)

The academic paper in Nature, mentioned above, is:

Aubert, Maxime, Rustan Lebe, Adhi Agus Oktaviana, Muhammad Tang, Basran Burhan, Hamrullah, Andi Jusdi, Abdullah, Budianto Hakim, Jian-xin Zhao, I. Made Geria, Priyatno Hadi Sulistyarto, Ratno Sardi, and Adam Brumm. “Earliest Hunting Scene in Prehistoric Art.” Nature (Dec. 11, 2019), DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1806-y.

When Sleep Was Hard and Dangerous

(p. A15) Before the Industrial Revolution, no shortage of perils, real or imaginary, made for uneasy nights, from satanic demons to the unholy trinity of bedbugs, fleas and lice. A 17th-century verse sought deliverance at night “from sudden death, fire and theeves, stormes, tempests, and all affrigtments.” Worst in this age—before penicillin, before analgesics—was illness.

Less often, at least among propertied households, did beds themselves disrupt sleep, except when plush mattresses hampered one’s movements. Lower down the social scale, peasants who “hit the hay” at night enjoyed a measure of comfort unknown to paupers forced “to lie at the sign of the star.” Despite John Locke’s contention that tranquil slumber “matters not, whether it be on a soft bed” or on a board, the hard earth must have been agonizing for emaciated frames with minimal body fat for padding.

For the full review, see:

A. Roger Ekirch. “BOOKSHELF; How We Hit the Hay; A consideration of the bed—site of countless births, deaths and famous last words—as a prop with which to elaborate upon the “theater of life.” The New York Times (Friday, Oct. 25, 2019): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 24, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘What We Did in Bed’ Review: How We Hit the Hay; A consideration of the bed—site of countless births, deaths and famous last words—as a prop with which to elaborate upon the “theater of life.”)

The book under review, is:

Fagan, Brian, and Nadia Durrani. What We Did in Bed: A Horizontal History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.

Neanderthal’s “Body Was Archaic” but “Spirit Was Modern”

(p. B14) Starting in the mid-1950s, leading teams from Columbia University, Dr. Solecki discovered the fossilized skeletons of eight adult and two infant Neanderthals who had lived tens of thousands of years ago in what is now northern Iraq.

Dr. Solecki, who was also a Smithsonian Institution anthropologist at the time, said physical evidence at Shanidar Cave, where the skeletons were found, suggested that Neanderthals had tended to the weak and the wounded, and that they had also buried their dead with flowers, which were placed ornamentally and possibly selected for their therapeutic benefits.

The exhumed bones of a man, named Shanidar 3, who had been blind in one eye and missing his right arm but who had survived for years after he was hurt, indicated that fellow Neanderthals had helped provide him with sustenance and other support.

“Although the body was archaic, the spirit was modern,” Dr. Solecki wrote in the magazine Science in 1975.

Large amounts of pollen found in the soil at a grave site suggested that bodies might have been ceremonially entombed with bluebonnet, hollyhock, grape hyacinth and other flowers — a theory that is still being explored and amplified. (Some researchers hypothesized that the pollen might have been carried by rodents or bees, but Dr. Solecki’s theory has become widely accepted.)

“The association of flowers with Neanderthals adds a whole new dimension to our knowledge of his humanness, indicating he had a ‘soul,’” Dr. Solecki wrote.

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts.  “Ralph Solecki, 101, Archaeologist Who Uncovered the Inner Life of Neanderthals.”  The New York Times  (Wednesday, April 17, 2019):  B14.

(Note:  the online version of the obituary has the date April 11, 2019, and has the title “Ralph Solecki, Who Found Humanity in Neanderthals, Dies at 101.”)

Homo Sapiens Drew Figurative Art for at Least 40,000 of Their 300,000 Years

(p. A10) On the wall of a cave deep in the jungles of Borneo, there is an image of a thick-bodied, spindly-legged animal, drawn in reddish ocher.
It may be a crude image. But it also is more than 40,000 years old, scientists reported on Wednesday, making this the oldest figurative art in the world.
Until now, the oldest known human-made figures were ivory sculptures found in Germany. Scientists have estimated that those figurines — of horses, birds and people — were at most 40,000 years old.
. . .
The finding . . . demonstrates that ancient humans somehow made the creative transition at roughly the same time, in places thousands of miles apart.
“It’s essentially happening at the same time at the opposite ends of the world,” said Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia and a co-author of the report, published in the journal Nature.
. . .
One thing is clear: Figurative art came late in the history of our species.
The oldest fossils of Homo sapiens, found in Morocco, are 300,000 years old. A study last year of genetic diversity among people today indicates that populations began diverging from one another in Africa between 260,000 and 350,000 years ago.
Today, every culture makes art of some sort, and it is likely that humans in Africa over 200,000 years ago had the capacity to create it.
But for thousands of generations, there’s no evidence that people actually made figurative art. The closest thing to it are abstract engravings etched on shells or pieces of ocher.

For the full story, see:

Carl Zimmer. “Cave Contains World’s Oldest Figurative Art, Dating Back Over 40,000 Years.”The New York Times (Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 7, 2018, and has the title “In Cave in Borneo Jungle, Scientists Find Oldest Figurative Painting in the World.”)

The Nature article, mentioned above, has been published online in advance of the print version:
Aubert, M., P. Setiawan, A. A. Oktaviana, A. Brumm, P. H. Sulistyarto, E. W. Saptomo, B. Istiawan, T. A. Ma’rifat, V. N. Wahyuono, F. T. Atmoko, J. X. Zhao, J. Huntley, P. S. C. Taçon, D. L. Howard, and H. E. A. Brand. “Palaeolithic Cave Art in Borneo.” Nature (Nov. 7, 2018) DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0679-9.