History

DNA Captured From 2,500-Year-Old Phoenician

Analysis of the ancient man's DNA reveal he had European ancestry.

Researchers have sequenced the complete mitochondrial genome of a 2,500-year-old Phoenician, showing the ancient man had European ancestry.

This is the first ancient DNA to be obtained from Phoenician remains.

Known as "Ariche," the young man came from Byrsa, a walled citadel above the harbor of ancient Carthage. Byrsa was attacked by the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus "Africanus" in the Third Punic War. It was destroyed by Rome in 146 B.C.

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Ariche's remains were discovered in 1994 on the southern flank of Bursa hill when a man planting trees fell into the ancient grave.

Analysis of the skeleton revealed the man died between the age of 19 and 24, had a rather robust physique and was 1.7 meters (5'6″) tall. He may have belonged to the Carthaginian elite, as he was buried with gems, scarabs, amulets and other artifacts.

Now genetic research carried out by a team co-led by Lisa Matisoo-Smith at New Zealand's University of Otago has shown the man belonged to a rare European haplogroup - known as U5b2cl - that likely links his maternal ancestry to the North Mediterranean coast, probably on the Iberian Peninsula.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the findings provide the earliest evidence of the European mitochondrial haplogroup U5b2cl in North Africa, dating its arrival to at least the late sixth century BC.

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"U5b2cl is considered to be one of the most ancient haplogroups in Europe and is associated with hunter-gatherer populations there," Matisoo-Smith said.

She noted that mitochondrial group was found in two ancient hunter-gatherers recovered from an archaeological site in north-western Spain.

"While a wave of farming peoples from the Near East replaced these hunter-gatherers, some of their lineages may have persisted longer in the far south of the Iberian peninsula and on off-shore islands and were then transported to the melting pot of Carthage in North Africa via Phoenician and Punic trade networks," Matisoo-Smith said.

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The haplogroup is very rare in modern populations today. In Europe, it appears at levels of less than 1 percent.

"Interestingly, our analysis showed that Ariche's mitochondrial genetic makeup most closely matches that of the sequence of a particular modern-day individual from Portugal," she added.

On the contrary, mitochondrial DNA of 47 modern Lebanese people showed none were of the U5b2cl lineage.

Thought to have originated from what is now Lebanon, the Phoenicians were seafarers and traders who spread their culture across the Mediterranean and west to the Iberian Peninsula where they established settlements and trading posts. The city of Carthage in Tunisia, North Africa, was first established as a Phoenician port and later became the center for Punic trade.

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Despite the significant impact of their culture on Western civilization - they introduced the first alphabetic writing system – the Phoenicians faded from history after being defeated in a series of wars with Rome. They then remained somewhat elusive.

"We still know little about the Phoenicians themselves, except for the likely biased accounts by their Roman and Greek rivals," Matisoo-Smith said.

"Hopefully our findings and other continuing research will cast further light on the origins and impact of Phoenician peoples and their culture," she added.

Paranthropus boisei

Researchers shaped this skull of "Zinj," found in 1959. The adult male lived 1.8 million years ago in the Olduvai Gorge of Tanzania. His scientific name is Paranthropus boisei, though he was originally called Zinjanthropus boisei -- hence the nickname. First discovered by anthropologist Mary Leakey, the well-preserved cranium has a small brain cavity. He would have eaten seeds, plants and roots which he probably dug with sticks or bones.

This reconstruction shows what Ariche might have looked like.

Homo rudolfensis

This model of a sub-human species -- Homo rudolfensis -- was made from bone fragments found in Koobi Fora, Kenya, in 1972. The adult male is believed to have lived about 1.8 million years ago. He used stone tools and ate meat and plants. H. Rudolfensis' distinctive features include a flatter, broader face and broader postcanine teeth, with more complex crowns and roots. He is also recognized as having a larger cranium than his contemporaries.

Australopithecus afarensis

With each new discovery, paleoanthropologists have to rewrite the origins of man's ancestors, adding on new branches and tracking when species split. This model was fashioned from pieces of a skull and jaw found among the remains of 17 pre-humans (nine adults, three adolescents and five children) which were discovered in the Afar Region of Ethiopia in 1975. The ape-man species, Australopithecus afarensis, is believed to have lived 3.2 million years ago. Several more bones from this species have been found in Ethiopia, including the famed "Lucy," a nearly complete A. afarensis skeleton found in Hadar.

Australopithecus africanus

Meet "Mrs. Ples," the popular nickname for the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus, unearthed in Sterkfontein, South Africa in 1947. It is believed she lived 2.5 million years ago (although the sex of the fossil is not entirely certain). Crystals found on her skull suggest that she died after falling into a chalk pit, which was later filled with sediment. A. africanus has long puzzled scientists because of its massive jaws and teeth, but they now believe the species' skull design was optimal for cracking nuts and seeds.

Paranthropus aethiopicus

The skull of this male adult was found on the western shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya in 1985. The shape of the mouth indicates that he had a strong bite and could chew plants. He is believed to have lived in 2.5 million years ago and is classified as Paranthropus aethiopicus. Much is still unknown about this species because so few reamins of P. aethiopicus have been found.

Back in the Beginning

To put a human face on our ancestors, scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute used sophisticated methods to form 27 model heads based on tiny bone fragments, teeth and skulls collected from across the globe. The heads are on display for the first time together at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. This model is Sahelanthropus tchadensis, also nicknamed "Toumai," who lived 6.8 million years ago. Parts of its jaw bone and teeth were found nine years ago in the Djurab desert in Chad. It's one of the oldest hominid specimens ever found.

Homo ergaster

The almost perfectly preserved skeleton of the "Turkana Boy" is one of the most spectacular discoveries in paleoanthropology. Judging from his anatomy, scientists believe this Homo ergaster was a tall youth about 13 to 15 years old. According to research, the boy died beside a shallow river delta, where he was covered by alluvial sediments. Comparing the shape of the skull and teeth, H. ergaster had a similiar head structure to the Asian Homo erectus.

Homo heidelbergensis

This adult male, Homo heidelbergensis, was discovered in in Sima de los Huesos, Spain in 1993. Judging by the skull and cranium, scientists believe he probably died from a massive infection that caused a facial deformation. The model, shown here, does not include the deformity. This species is believed to be an ancestor of Neanderthals, as seen in the shape of his face. "Miquelon," the nickname of "Atapuerca 5", lived about 500,000 to 350,000 years ago and fossils of this species have been found in Italy, France and Greece.

Homo neanderthalensis

The "Old Man of La Chapelle" was recreated from the skull and jaw of a Homo neanderthalensis male found near La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in France in 1908. He lived 56,000 years ago. His relatively old age, thought to be between 40 to 50 years old, indicates he was well looked after by a clan. The old man's skeleton indicates he suffered from a number of afflictions, including arthritis, and had numerous broken bones. Scientists at first did not realize the age and afflicted state of this specimen when he was first discovered. This led them to incorrectly theorize that male Neanderthals were hunched over when they walked.

Homo floresiensis

The skull and jaw of this female "hobbit" was found in Liang Bua, Flores, Indonesia, in 2003. She was about 1 meter tall (about 3'3") and lived about 18,000 years ago. The discovery of her species, Homo floresiensis, brought into question the belief that Homo sapiens was the only form of mankind for the past 30,000 years. Scientists are still debating whether Homo floresiensis was its own species, or merely a group of diseased modern humans. Evidence is mounting that these small beings were, in fact, a distinct human species.

Homo sapiens

Bones can only tell us so much. Experts often assume or make educated guesses to fill in the gaps in mankind's family tree, and to develop a sense what our ancestors may have looked like. Judging from skull and mandible fragments found in a cave in Israel in 1969, this young female Homo sapien lived between 100,000 and 90,000 years ago. Her bones indicate she was about 20 years old. Her shattered skull was found among the remains of 20 others in a shallow grave.