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Solving ancient mystery points to resource for warmer future

Jade Guedes
Jade Guedes

Climate change may be responsible for the abrupt collapse of civilization on the fringes of the Tibetan Plateau around 2000 B.C.

WSU archaeologist Jade D’Alpoim Guedes and an international team of researchers found that cooling global temperatures at the end of the Holocene Climatic Optimum, a 4,000 year period of warm weather, would have made it impossible for ancient people on the Tibetan Plateau to cultivate millet, their primary food source. » More …

Study of ancient dogs in the Americas yields insights into human, dog migration

Brian Kemp, left, and Timothy Kohler
Brian Kemp, left, and Timothy Kohler

A new study conducted in part by Washington State University researchers Brian Kemp and Timothy Kohler suggests that dogs may have first successfully migrated to the Americas only about 10,000 years ago, thousands of years after the first human migrants crossed a land bridge from Siberia to North America.

The study looked at the genetic characteristics of 84 individual dogs from more than a dozen sites in North and South America, and is the largest analysis so far of ancient dogs in the Americas.

Unlike their wild wolf predecessors, ancient dogs learned to tolerate human company and generally benefited from the association: They gained access to new food sources, enjoyed the safety of human encampments and, eventually, traveled the world with their two-legged masters.

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Science Daily

Discovery News

King’s DNA throws a curve ball; WSU scholars weigh in

WSU historian Jesse Spohnholz, left, and molecular anthropologist Brian Kemp. Skeleton in foreground is not that of King Richard III. (Photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services)
WSU historian Jesse Spohnholz, left, and molecular anthropologist Brian Kemp. Skeleton in foreground is not that of King Richard III. (Photo by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services)

The recent announcement that a skeleton found under a parking lot in England two years ago is that of King Richard III has laid one mystery to rest – while giving rise to another.

Findings of a study published this month in the journal Nature Communications confirmed the skeleton as that of the English monarch who was killed in battle in 1485. But the DNA analysis also lays bare the fact that a break – or breaks – occurred on the male side of the monarch’s family tree. In other words, a woman married to a king had a son from another man.

“Basically, the more information that was gleaned from retrieving the king’s DNA, the more complicated the story became,” said WSU molecular anthropologist Brian Kemp who, with WSU historian Jesse Spohnholz, read the report and commented on its findings.

“At what point in the royal lineage the infidelity occurred is not known, and to identify the break in the male line would require examining six centuries of marriages,” said Kemp, who is widely known for his genetic analyses of 10,000-year-old Native Americans.

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Localized climate change contributed to ancient depopulation

Timothy Kohler
Timothy Kohler

Washington State University researchers have detailed the role of localized climate change in one of the great mysteries of North American archaeology: the depopulation of southwest Colorado by ancestral Pueblo people in the late 1200s.

In the process, they address one of the mysteries of modern-day climate change: How will humans react?

Writing in Nature Communications, WSU archaeologist Tim Kohler and post-doctoral researcher Kyle Bocinsky use tree-ring data, the growth requirements of traditional maize crops and a suite of computer programs to make a finely scaled map of ideal Southwest growing regions for the past 2,000 years.

Their data paint a narrative of some 40,000 people leaving the Mesa Verde area of southwest Colorado as drought plagued the niche in which they grew maize, their main food source. Meanwhile, the Pajarito Plateau of the northern Rio Grande saw a large population spike.

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Fight against Ebola now needs a social front

Barry Hewlett
Barry Hewlett

If medics in space suits inspire dread, then imagine the fear stoked by the arrival of foreigners with guns.

The Acholi people called it gemo—a bad spirit that arrived suddenly, like an ill wind—and they had strict protocols to deal with the deadly sickness that followed. Patients were quarantined at home and cared for by a gemo survivor. Two poles of elephant grass were erected outside, as a warning to other villagers to stay away. Dancing, arguing and sex were forbidden, rotten meat was to be scrupulously avoided and those recovering had to remain isolated for a lunar month. Those who succumbed were buried at the edge of the village.

It took the skills of a trailblazing anthropologist, WSU Professor Barry Hewlett, to discover that the Acholi, an ethnic group in northern Uganda, had their own rather effective method of dealing with Ebola. He inveigled his way into a World Health Organisation team tackling an Ebola outbreak in 2000, furnishing the first, in-depth anthropological analysis of how communities regard this killer in their midst. Ebola may be classed as an emerging disease, but the Acholi, he found, may well have been battling it for a century.

Recently, Professor Hewlett revealed his dismay at how the current outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were being handled by the international fraternity, whose urgent, well-meaning containment efforts were leaving scant room for the beliefs, customs and sensitivities of locals.

Read more about how WSU anthropologists are helping in the fight to control Ebola:

Gulf News

The Columbian