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University of Cuyo Publisher (Argentina) via Salas et al. in Nature
University of Cuyo Publisher (Argentina) via Salas et al. in Nature

Scientists Discover a Rare Genome in an Incan Child Mummy

University of Cuyo Publisher (Argentina) via Salas et al. in Nature
University of Cuyo Publisher (Argentina) via Salas et al. in Nature

The boy was only 7 years old when he died more than 500 years ago, chosen for his beauty and health to be sacrificed in an Incan ritual known as capacochain which children were ritualistically killed to mark an important occasion, prevent a natural disaster, or to exert imperial power and control over the then-expanding Incan empire (1438–1533). In 1985, a group of mountaineers discovered his well-preserved mummy more than 17,000 feet up at the edge of the Aconcagua Mountain in Mendoza, Argentina. It was wrapped in different textiles and surrounded by six statuettes. His hair nearly reached his shoulders, and he wore a necklace.

Now scientists have sequenced the child’s genome, and they’ve discovered that he was part of a rare group of people never before identified genetically. Their findings were published today in the journal Nature.

Antonio Salas, of the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, and his colleagues sequenced the entire mitochondrial DNA genome extracted from the boy’s lung, then compared it against a worldwide database of approximately 28,000 mitochondrial genomes, which are passed down from mother to child. They say he belonged to a haplogroup called C1bi that has not been identified previously. (A haplogroup is population that shares a common ancestor.)

There are 203 C1b mitogenomes in the genetic record, dating back to the earliest Paleoindian settlements a little more than 18,000 years ago. The boy, however, appears to have been a descendant of a rare genetic sub-clade of maternal ancestors that lived about 14,300 years ago in Peru, the researchers say.

Based on a database of haplotypes, or DNA variations that tend to be inherited together, the authors say that genetic relatives of the boy in the C1bi haplogroup may live in Peru and Bolivia today; they found a few C1bi genetic matches for the child in these locations in the database, including one person who was a member of the Wari Empire (circa 600–1100), in the Peruvian Andes.

But we’d have to look closer for them in today's South Americans. “The fact that C1bi is very uncommon in present-day populations from South America could be explained by insufficient sampling of modern populations,” they write. “Alternatively, this rarity could reflect important changes in the gene pool of South America since the period of the Inca civilization.”

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Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

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Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
13-Year-Old Amateur Archaeologist Discovers the Buried Treasure of a Danish King
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images

In January, amateur archaeologist René Schön and his 13-year-old student Luca Malaschnitschenko were scouring a field on an island in the Baltic Sea when something small and silver triggered their metal detector. What they initially thought was aluminum trash turned out to be a coin from a 10th-century treasure hoard that once belonged to a Danish king, AP reports.

Schön and Malaschnitschenko discovered the site on the eastern German island of Ruegen, but it wasn't until mid-April that state archaeologists uncovered the hoard in its entirety. Both of the amateur archaeologists were invited back to take part in the final dig, which spanned 4300 square feet.

The treasure trove includes pearls, jewelry, a Thor's hammer, and about 100 silver coins, with the oldest dating back to 714 CE and the most recent to 983 CE. Experts believe the collection once belonged to the Viking-born Danish king Harald "Harry" Bluetooth, who abandoned his Norse faith and brought Christianity to Denmark.

Pile of silver coins.
Stefan Sauer, AFP/Getty Images

Threatened by a rebellion led by his son, the king fled Denmark in the late 980s—around the same time the silver hoard was buried—and took refuge in Pomerania, on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. He died there in 987.

Harry Bluetooth derived his nickname from his bluish dead tooth. Today his legacy lives on in the Swedish Bluetooth technology that bears his name. The symbol for the tech also uses the runic characters for his initials: HB.

According to the archaeologists who worked there, the dig site represents the largest trove of Bluetooth coins ever discovered in the southern Baltic region.

[h/t AP]

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