Contentious Issues Page News (update)

Contentious Issues in the News:

News Stories Related to Class Issues

Course Topic News Reading
Neandertal Old Adornments
Woman the Hunter?
Were Neanderthals cave artists? (2012)
Neanderthal Burial?
Male Hunting & Provisioning Of Dads and Cads
Baboon Paternal Investment
Meat eating is an old human habit.
Peopling of the Americas Did Scandinavians Beat Columbus to the New World Twice?
Baja Skulls Don't Resemble Native Americans
Dillehay on Mexican Skulls

Following the North American Coast
IPR Biodiversity Treaty Upsets Some Scientists
Hoodia Advertisement/Web Site
Morality Review of Haidth's Righteous Mind
Menopause Killer Whale Menopause

How Modern Were European Neanderthals?

Image of personal ornaments (pierced fox canines) from the Chatelperronian culture. (Photo: Joao Zilhao)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 28, 2006) ? Neandertals were much more like modern humans than had been previously thought, according to a re-examination of finds from one of the most famous palaeolithic sites in Europe by Bristol University archaeologist, Professor Joao Zilhao, and his French colleagues.

Professor Zilhao has been able to show that sophisticated artefacts such as decorated bone points and personal ornaments found in the Châtelperronian culture of France and Spain were genuinely associated with Neandertals around 44,000 years ago, rather than acquired from modern humans who might have been living nearby. His findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) USA.

The site from which this Neandertal culture derives its name is the Grotte de Fées at Châtelperron in Central France, first excavated in the 1840s. It has been one of the most important and controversial places to understand how modern humans that had previously moved out of Africa replaced the Neandertals, often portrayed as more 'primitive'. In the conventional interpretation of the rock strata of the site, the cave was thought to have evidence of both modern human and Neandertal occupation in interleaved layers. The fact that Neandertals came back to the site after modern humans had lived in it for quite some time would prove the long-term contemporaneity of the two groups, and validate the notion that the cultural novelties seen among the latest Neandertals represented imitation or borrowing, not innovation.

Now archaeologists can show that the Grotte des Fées stratigraphic pattern is illusory because the supposedly Neandertal levels overlying those belonging to the modern human Aurignacian culture are in fact backdirt from nineteenth-century fossil hunting. According to Professor Zilhao and his team, this adds to the evidence from other sites in the region that the Neandertals already had the capacity for symbolic thinking before the arrival of the modern humans into western Europe, which has been radiocarbon dated to around 40,000 years ago.

Professor Zilhao said: "This discovery, along with research on the rock strata at other cave sites, has huge implications for how we view the European Neandertals and, more widely, human evolution. The differences between Neandertals and modern humans may be much less than had been previously thought, suggesting that human cognition and symbolic thinking may date back to before the two sub-species split around 400,000 years ago."






October 7, 2003

From Hydra Venom to Anthrax Myth



Mighty as Hercules was, he sometimes prevailed only by means other than his own brute strength. When the need arose, the superhero of Greek mythology armed himself with biochemical weaponry, anticipating the technological innovations of modern warfare.

Up against the Many-Headed Hydra, Hercules forced the monstrous serpent from its den by shooting fiery arrows coated with pitch. After finally slaying the Hydra, he cut open the body and dipped his arrows in its poisonous venom. His quiver was never again without a supply of poison arrows.

The story of Hercules and the Hydra may be the first description in Western literature of chemical and biological weapons. Because myth often contains a kernel of historical reality, the story suggests that projectiles tipped with combustible or toxic substances must have been known early in Greek history, and widely used in combat.

It may hardly be a coincidence, for example, that the word "toxic" is derived from the ancient Greek word "toxon," meaning arrow.

In a new book praised as an illuminating revision of early military history, Adrienne Mayor marshals not just myth, but also the writing of ancient authors and evidence from archaeological digs to show that biological and chemical weapons saw action in battles long before the modern era of mustard gas, napalm and a Pandora's box of pathogens.

The Greeks of antiquity were not the only ones to weaponize nature. Ms. Mayor cited evidence of biological agents in ancient battles from Europe and the Mideast to India and China. Among the historical victims and perpetrators were conquerors like Hannibal, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

"The sheer number of legendary narratives and historically verifiable incidents," Ms. Mayor concluded, "invites us to revise assumptions about the origins of biological and chemical warfare and its moral and technological constraints."

Ms. Mayor is an independent scholar of the classics and folklore who lives in Princeton, N.J. Her book, recently published by Overlook Duckworth, is "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World."

Robert Cowley, a founder and former editor of MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History, said last week that the book was "a solid contribution to military history." Ms. Mayor, he added, has "done something no one's done before, bringing together all this material on the dirty tricks of ancient warfare, and think how relevant it is with our present obsession with weapons of mass destruction."

The book also is issued at a time of resurgence in scholarly interest in the origins and history of war. Historians and archaeologists are paying increasing attention to overlooked evidence of warfare among tribal societies and chiefdoms, as well as advanced civilizations.

The Maya, once thought to be a peaceful culture ruled by priests more devoted to calendars than hostilities, have now been found to have had plenty of blood on their hands. On Tahiti, where the people were considered avatars of Rousseau's Noble Savage, war was frequently brutal and merciless. Nearly all premodern societies, some scholars find, often decimated their numbers in violent warfare.

"People have finally realized that scholars and others have been denying reality," Dr. Steven A. LeBlanc, director of collections at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard, said last week. "War is universal and goes back deep into human history."

Dr. LeBlanc is the author of "Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage," written with Katherine E. Register and published this year by St. Martin's Press. He credits Dr. Lawrence H. Keeley, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who published "War Before Civilization" in 1996, with broadening understanding of warfare across time and cultures.

Dr. LeBlanc has not read Ms. Mayor's book, but he said he suspected that, if anything, she had not explored biochemical warfare far enough back in time. Although she cites Sumerian cuneiform tablets relating to knowledge of deadly pathogens in 1770 B.C., her book concentrates on warfare beginning in the Greek and Roman eras, when documentation is more reliable.

Ms. Mayor turned her expertise in mixing mythology, archaeology and history toward biochemical weapons after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "After the anthrax scare, especially," she said in an interview, "I knew how timely a history of biochemical warfare was."

Classics scholars, Ms. Mayor said, advised her that the Greeks would never have used toxic weapons because of their sense of the "fair fight." Other writers seldom investigated biochemical warfare in earlier history, in part because it was assumed to be a recent innovation, little older than the gas attacks of World War I. The ability to manipulate pathogens, toxins and chemicals as agents of war surely required modern knowledge of epidemiology, biology and chemistry. Only a few well poisonings or the catapulting of a plague victim over an enemy wall passed for biochemical combat in antiquity, or so it was thought.

But all the ancients needed, Ms. Mayor discovered, was empirical evidence, not modern scientific understanding, that by the time of the Hercules myth, snake venom was lethal and could be delivered effectively by bow and arrow.

Poison arrows may have been decisive in the Trojan War, Ms. Mayor wrote. Homer never says as much, but references to black blood flowing from wounds and leeches used to suck such blood were standard signs of poisoning by snake venom.

In her book, Ms. Mayor recounts mythic and documented examples of archers in antiquity creating toxic projectiles with poison plants and bacteriological substances, as well as snake venom. She describes deliberate attempts to use smallpox and bubonic plague against enemy troops and cities, in what Roman historians decried as "man-made pestilence."

In the Peloponnesian War, Ms. Mayor said, the Spartans created poison gas and a flame-blowing machine to defeat fortified positions. In their conquests, the Assyrians tossed firebombs of oil. Ancient China and India had recipes for toxic smoke.

In the fourth century B.C., Aeneas the Tactician's book on how to survive sieges devoted a section to chemically enhanced fires. Ms. Mayor noted that Aeneas recommended pouring down pitch on enemy soldiers or their siege machines, followed by bunches of hemp and lumps of sulfur and, finally, burning bundles of kindling to ignite a destructive conflagration.

Although napalm was not invented until the 1940's or used extensively until the Vietnam War, Greek fire had similar properties as early as the seventh century A.D. Centuries of experiments with combustible sulfur, quicklime and naphtha led to the fabled incendiary weapon. Then siphon-pump technologies enabled the flammable mixture, mainly naphtha, to be propelled under pressure from ships against other ships or coastal fortification. It was used in 673 to break the Muslim siege of Constantinople.

"The range of human inventiveness in the early annals of biochemical warfare is staggering," Ms. Mayor wrote. "But equally impressive is the way ancient examples anticipated, in substance or in principle, almost every basic form of biological and chemical weapon known today."

Then, as now, societies were ambivalent about using fire, pestilence and other terror weapons. To the Greeks and many of their adversaries, the fair and honorable clash of arms was to face each other in ordered ranks out on a plain and fight hand to hand with swords and spears, and die like heroes.

But Ms. Mayor and other researchers have found many instances of ancient writers deploring the treachery of biochemical combat and rationalizing its use in defense as a last resort.

There was also evidence that the ancients already recognized that biowarfare was a double-edge sword, as occurred when Hercules frequently brought destruction to those he hoped to protect ? a mythic variation on "friendly fire."

If scholars seem willing to accept Ms. Mayor's thesis about early precursors to modern biochemical warfare, there is less agreement in the current revival of military scholarship over when and how war became such a prevalent and disruptive aspect of the human condition.

A standard interpretation puts the beginning of organized combat by groups, as opposed to acts of individual violence, about the time foraging cultures first settled into villages and developed agriculture, some 10,000 years ago. People came to have turfs to defend or covet. With the emergence of cities and states, wars became more intense and destructive.

Writing in the July-August issue of the magazine Natural History, Dr. R. Brian Ferguson of Rutgers University-Newark said the earliest persuasive evidence of warfare found by archaeologists was a mass burial of skeletons and stone projectiles in the Nile Valley of Sudan. The site is estimated to be 12,000 to 14,000 years old.

Dr. LeBlanc of Harvard, responding in the current issue of the magazine, criticized belief in what he called the myth that people in the deep past, long before 14,000 years ago, were "sublimely peaceful."

In his book "Constant Battles," Dr. LeBlanc conceded that "the rise of social complexity results in more organized and intense warfare." But, he said in an interview, research on simple foraging societies, recent and past, indicated that their wars seemed to be especially vicious, with at least 25 percent of the populations dying in many conflicts.

"When we get good data on foragers, early farmers, even chimpanzees," he said, "this kind of number tends to crop up over and over again. It exceeded anything in the two world wars of the 20th century."

In "War Before Civilization," Dr. Keeley of Illinois made the same point about death tolls in primitive warfare, in discussing what he called the myth of a pacified past. "If Westerners have belatedly recognized that they are not the crown of creation and rightful lords of the earth," he wrote, "their now common view of themselves as humanity's nadir is equally absurd."

Anyone who was subjected long ago to Ms. Mayor's Greek fire, poison arrows and bombs packed with menacing scorpions might agree, never knowing whether any war could be better or worse than the one crashing over the ramparts at the moment and no rescuing Hercules in sight.


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August 10



Big beast extinction blamed on prehistoric fire starters

09:45 10 August 03

Betsy Mason

Prehistoric fire starters may have unwittingly killed off the big beasts that once roamed Australia. Analysis of ancient eggshells suggests that the animals suddenly became extinct about 50,000 years ago because people burned up their habitat.

Australia's giant carnivorous kangaroos, seven-metre-long lizards, marsupial lions and enormous flightless birds all died off between 45,000 and 55,000 years ago. Most scientists agree that people arrived in Australia somewhere between 50,000 and 55,000 years ago.

This suspicious coincidence of timing has led some to conclude that overzealous hunting by humans caused the extinctions. But others claim that we could not have cleared the entire continent of so many species in such a short time.

Geologist Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado at Boulder and an international team analysed hundreds of eggshell fragments of an extinct flightless bird called Genyornis, dating from 130,000 to 50,000 years ago. They compared them with the eggshells of emus, dating from 130,000 years ago to the present day.

Last grass
Carbon isotopes in the eggshells reveal what the birds were eating when they laid the eggs. The team found that emus consumed either grasses, shrubs and trees, or a mixture, until 50,000 years ago, when grasses all but disappeared from their diet.

But Genyornis ate a narrow diet that always included grass - and then died out, Miller told an International Union for Quaternary Research meeting in Reno, Nevada, last week.

Climate change is too slow to have killed off most of the grasses, argues Miller. The best explanation is that people began burning the landscape.

Bert Roberts of the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, says that giant marsupials became extinct around the same time, and the reason could be that burning affected the entire ecosystem.

09:45 10 August 03

August 5

Washington Post Infidelity
Major study reveals that males are more promiscuous than females.  See if you can find a clear example of the naturalistic fallacy.  Also note that this is a very good example of sensationalistic journalism more designed to entertain than to inform.

Last Year's Stories (2002)

December 12

New York Times: "Major Museums Affirm Right to Keep Long-Held Antiquities"


December 4


Tuesday, 3 December, 2002, 15:22 GMT

Human skulls are 'oldest Americans'

Tests on skulls found in Mexico suggest they are almost 13,000 years old - and shed fresh light on how humans colonised the Americas. The human skulls are the oldest tested so far from the continent, and their shape is set to inflame further a controversy over native American burial rights. The skulls were analysed by a scientist from John Moores University in Liverpool, UK, with help from teams in Oxford and Mexico itself. They came from a collection of 27 skeletons of early humans kept at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. These were originally discovered more than 100 years ago in the area surrounding the city.

'Amazing' find

The latest radiocarbon dating techniques allow dating to be carried out on tiny quantities of bone, although the process is expensive. Dr Silvia Gonzalez, who dated the skulls, said: "The museum knew that the remains were of significant historical value but they hadn't been scientifically dated."I decided to analyse small bone samples from five skeletons using the latest carbon-dating techniques," she told BBC News Online."I think everybody was amazed at how old they were."

The earliest human remains tested prior to this had been dated at approximately 12,000 years ago. Domestic tools dated at 14,500 years have been found in Chile - but with no associated human remains. The latest dating is not only confirmation that humans were present in the Americas much earlier than 12,000 years ago, but also that they were not related to early native Americans.

Asian travellers

The two oldest skulls were "dolichocephalic" - that is, long and narrow-headed. Other, more recent skulls were a different shape - short and broad, like those from native American remains. This suggests that humans dispersed within Mexico in two distinct waves, and that a race of long and narrow-headed humans may have lived in North America prior to the American Indians. Traditionally, American Indians were thought to have been the first to arrive on the continent, crossing from Asia on a land bridge. Dr Gonzalez told BBC News Online: "We believe that the older race may have come from what is now Japan, via the Pacific islands and perhaps the California coast. "Mexico appears to have been a crossroads for people spreading across the Americas. "Our next project is to examine remains found in the Baha peninsula of California, and look at their DNA to see if they are related. "But this discovery, although it is very significant, raises more questions than it solves."

Legal challenge

Scientific analysis of early skull finds in the US has often been halted by native American custom which assumes that any ancient remains involve their ancestors and must be handed over. However, this evidence that another race may have pre-dated native Americans could strengthen legal challenges from researchers to force access to such remains.  Dr Gonzalez said: "My research could have implications for the ancient burial rights of North American Indians." Dr Gonzalez has now been awarded a grant from the Mexican government and the UK's Natural Environment Research Council to continue her work for three years.

For further analysis and description see:



November 26

UFO Archaeology: Investigation of the Roswell Site

November 19

Chimpanzees effectively use weapons in fights.
Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham, author of Demonic Males, reports on observational research of weapon use among chimps at Kibale.

Society for Scientific Anthropology
The SSA will have its first meeting in New Orleans at this year's Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association.  Check their web site at


November 14 News

The reanalysis of Boas' skull form data by Sparks and Jantz received considerable attention in Science.  This seems to have led to a decision by the American Anthropological Association to rush the publication of a paper that draws a different conclusion regarding Boas' skull data.  Click here to view that article.

November 11 News:
I found this Van Sertima's reply to his critics here






A Link to Journal of African Civilization.  A journal founded by Van Sertima of Rutgers University

About October 23:
This week's readings by Campbell and Smuts are not in the standard adversarial format.  Rather, they are dealing with what one might call "feminist" evolutionary psychology and behavioral ecology.  That is, how do we account for male domination from an evolutionary perspective and some evolutionary ideas about the development of sex differences with a special emphasis on women.  Remember, Pat Draper will join us as a local expert.

Ideas for Alternative Topics

    Since you all seem to loath to come up with ideas for alternative topics, here are some ideas:

  • Engendering Archaeology or Feminist Archaeology
  • The Origins of Skin Color: folate, calcium, skin cancer - take your pick
  • The Original Affluent Society: why do hunter gatherers work so little or do they?
  • Is a Purely Foraging Life Possible in the Tropics?
  • How to Deal with Human Behavioral Adaptations: Evolutionary Psychology versus Behavioral Ecology

Old Stuff

  • Under intellectual property rights, two new links have been added on ethical codes from the American Anthropological Association's web set (http:///
  • Under the post modern week, there is a link to a site that provides a dictionary to post modern terms.  It is biased towards clinical psychologists (if you can believe that).
  • Melissa Conner will be our "local expert" for NAGPRA and Kennewick week.

    Paul Farmer will be speaking at the EN Thompson Forum.  He is a well-known medical anthropologist who is working on AIDS and may be a relevant tie-in for Nancy Shepher-Hughes position on advocacy anthropology.
  • Revolt of the Scientists.  A new organization is being formed at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association.  In part, they have decided to have their own parallel meeting and are making plans to develop this idea further.  Click here to visit their web site.


DNA tests offer clues to suspect's race
August 18, 2005

By Richard Willing, USA TODAY

Police seeking the killer of an unidentified girl who was found decapitated in Kansas City, Mo., four years ago kept a secret from the public.

The child, dubbed "Precious Doe" by local residents, appeared to be black. But new DNA tests that can determine a person's heritage indicated she was of mixed ancestry - about 40% white. That meant she almost certainly had a white grandparent.

This year, a tip led police to an Oklahoma woman who had not reported her young daughter's disappearance. When the woman was found to have both a black and a white parent, police moved in. Further DNA tests determined that the woman, Michelle Johnson, was the girl's mother. Johnson and her husband, Harrell Johnson, the victim's stepfather, have been charged in the slaying.

Precious Doe was identified as 3-year-old Erica Michelle Marie Green of Muskogee, Okla. During a trip to Kansas City, prosecutors allege, her stepfather kicked her to death because she wouldn't go to bed on time.

In the past 12 years, police across the USA have identified thousands of suspects by testing DNA profiles in blood, sweat, semen or skin tissue left at crime scenes, and then comparing them to the profiles of known offenders on file in government databases. But as the Kansas City case showed, advances in DNA testing are allowing investigators to learn more about suspects whose profiles are not in the databases. Tests that can identify a suspect's ancestry are being used not to identify the suspect by name, but rather to give police an idea of what he or she looks like.

DNA ancestry testing "made a huge difference" in the Precious Doe case by helping investigators sort through reports about possible suspects, says Dave Bernard, a Kansas City police detective. "It allowed us to prioritize our tips, to give special attention to tips about mixed-race children, for instance. It was invaluable."

How the test works

DNA is a cellular acid that carries a person's unique genetic code. The company that invented the ancestry test, DNAPrint Genomics of Sarasota, Fla., says that by examining tiny genetic markers on the DNA molecule that tend to be similar in people of certain population groups, it can tell whether a suspect's heritage is European, Sub-Saharan African, Southeast Asian, Native American or a mix of those.

The test works, the company says, because population groups developed different DNA characteristics after splitting off from common African ancestors more than 60,000 years ago.

In 2003, police in Louisiana used ancestry testing to help find the suspect in seven rape/murders. Since then, police in Missouri, Virginia, Colorado, California and the United Kingdom also have used such tests to develop leads in more than 80 other homicide, rape and missing-persons cases, according to DNAPrint Genomics and USA TODAY research.

Using the same genetic principles, DNAPrint Genomics is developing tests aimed at determining a suspect's eye color from a DNA sample. In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, the government's Forensic Science Service has begun examining DNA samples for indications of hair color.

DNAPrint Genomics also sells the test to people who want to trace their roots. The test, which costs $219, has been especially popular among those seeking to determine whether they are descended from Native Americans, lab director Matt Thomas says. DNAPrint Genomics charges police departments $1,000 for each ancestry test, because testing crime scene evidence for DNA can be particularly difficult.

Bernard and many other police detectives hail the ancestry tests as a breakthrough in crime-fighting. But medical ethicists, defense lawyers and even some police officials are troubled by the push to use DNA tests to identify suspects by what amounts to their race.

Some, such as Terry Melton, president of Mitotyping Technologies of State College, Pa., say the reliability of ancestry testing remains unproved.

William Shields, a biology professor and genetics specialist at State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, says that even if the tests are correct, a person's ancestry often is a poor predictor of what he will look like. Human beings, Shields adds, are too scientifically similar to one another to be distinguished by a "layman's term" such as race.

Some defense lawyers say they fear that using ancestry testing to determine suspects' heritage could lead to genetic racial profiling, or promote the idea that certain races are more inclined than others to commit crimes.

"How far are we from having (ancestry tests) used to justify taking DNA from any black man on a street corner, because we think a Sub-Saharan African committed the crime?" asks Ingrid Gill, a Chicago lawyer who has lectured on ancestry testing at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

George Rhoden, a detective with London's Metropolitan Police and president of the force's Black Police Association, also is a skeptic. He says that in a society in which marriages between people of different ethnic backgrounds are increasingly common, racial designations often are "very broad" and "don't do us coppers much good."

Rhoden points out that suspects with similar genetic ancestry can look significantly different from one another. A person whose profile is 75% Sub-Saharan African, for example, may have skin color that is nearly identical to someone whose profile is 35% Sub-Saharan African.

"As a detective, I don't care where (a suspect's) grandfather came from," Rhoden says. "I want to know what he looks like."

Mark Shriver, an anthropological geneticist at Penn State University and a consultant to DNAPrint Genomics, acknowledges that "there's a huge sensitivity about race in our society. We are making a strong attempt to be sensitive to the issue."

But "that doesn't take away the reality that people often describe each other in terms of race. We're saying: Let DNA be the witness."

Beyond standard DNA tests

Conventional DNA analysis compares 13 relatively large areas on the molecule where the DNA sequence is known to vary greatly among individuals. If two DNA samples match at all 13 positions, statistics maintained by the FBI say it's highly likely they came from the same person.

Ancestry tests, by contrast, examine 176 mutations in which the DNA varies at only one position. Some of the mutations, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (or SNPs), have been found to occur only in certain ancestral groups. Others tend to cluster in one group more than others because of centuries of geographic separation and inter-marriage. Together, Thomas says, SNPs are "highly informative of ancestry."

In 2003, DNAPrint Genomics began to license its test to police agencies. The scientists realized, Thomas says, that knowing a suspect's race or ancestral background "may not be great for, 'Who do we arrest?' " but could help police determine, "Who do we question?"

The company's test was first used in a criminal investigation in the Baton Rouge area, where a series of at least seven rape/murders had authorities stumped. Witnesses had reported seeing a white man in a white truck near the scene of two of the killings. Police had taken DNA samples from more than 1,200 white men in the area and had not found a match to samples from the crimes.

Then the DNAPrint Genomics ancestry test found that the unknown attacker was mostly of Sub-Saharan African ancestry with a smattering of Native American.

That led authorities to focus on Derrick Todd Lee, a black man with convictions for burglary and stalking. Additional testing matched Lee's DNA to samples taken from victims. He has been convicted in two of the slayings.

In 2004, police in Charlottesville, Va., used ancestry testing to confirm the race of a suspect in six unsolved rapes that began in 1997. Police had been criticized for seeking DNA samples from local black men based on victims' descriptions of the assailant. The testing indicated that he indeed was of Sub-Saharan African descent.

Ancestry testing also has been used on a female skeleton that was found in the snow near Mammoth Lake, Calif., in May 2003. The slain woman initially was misidentified as southeast Asian, based on witnesses' descriptions of a woman seen in the area. DNAPrint Genomics found she actually was a Native American, a finding confirmed by analyses of her diet and bone composition and further DNA tests.

The ancestry test "turned around the whole investigation," says Paul Dostie, the police detective investigating the case. "We're still looking for the killer, but we know a lot more now."

New technology 'scares me'

For all the promise of ancestry testing, there are increasing concerns about how police will use such information.

Defense lawyer Bruce Unangst, who defended Lee in his second murder trial, says the new technology "scares me. It's supposed to be new and foolproof, but that's traditionally what they say about all new" crime-fighting innovations. "By the time we find out there are serious questions ... a whole bunch of innocent people have had their DNA searched."

Last year, London police sought DNA samples from officers of Afro-Caribbean backgrounds to compare them with evidence from nine unsolved rapes. The suspect's accent and the neighborhood in which he operated suggested to police that he was a black man with Caribbean roots.

Working with DNAPrint Genomics, London police hoped to develop a database of DNA characteristics that are particular to Afro-Caribbeans to confirm their suspicions and to help them find suspects in other cases.

Rhoden, as head of the Black Police Association, urged members not to cooperate. "In our view, this promoted racial stereotyping while adding little to the investigation."

Melton, the private lab president from State College, Pa., says inferring a suspect's appearance by examining only 176 ancestry markers is "more than (labs) ought to be doing."

Because scientists have identified thousands of SNPs, Melton says, many more should be tested.

DNAPrint Genomics reviewed about 25,000 DNA markers before choosing the 176 that were "most informative of ancestry," Thomas says. The company now has a test that can tell whether a European's DNA came from a northern or southern European, he says.

For detectives who use its service, the company provides photographs of people whose ancestral profile matches that of the detectives' suspect.

"What does a Northern European, Native American and Southeast Asian mixture look like? That's a fair question," Thomas says. "We're told the photographs are extremely helpful."

The company's research is continuing. After Afro-Caribbean police in London refused to donate DNA samples, DNAPrint Genomics collected about 150 samples from police on Caribbean islands.

More samples are needed, Thomas says, but the DNA profiles collected so far suggest there are markers that distinguish Afro-Caribbean blacks from others in the Sub-Saharan group.

London police, Thomas says, were "on the right track" in their rape investigation.

Rhoden draws a different lesson from the episode. He notes that few of the Caribbean officers who gave DNA samples were willing to have their photographs added to the company's files.

"Even for these guys, who wished to be helpful, that was going too far," Rhoden says. "We should take notice of how nervous it makes such people before we endorse any kind of mass DNA taking from ordinary people." (Return to top of page)


Early humans followed the coast
By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

Learning how to live off the sea may have played a key role in the expansion of early humans around the globe.

After leaving Africa, human groups probably followed coastal routes to the Americas and South-East Asia.

Professor Jon Erlandson says the maritime capabilities of ancient humans have been greatly underestimated.

He has found evidence that early peoples in California pursued a sophisticated seafaring lifestyle 10,000 years ago.

Anthropologists have long regarded the exploitation of marine resources as a recent development in human history, and as peripheral to the development of civilisation.

This view has been reinforced by a relative lack of evidence of ancient occupation in coastal areas.

But that view is gradually changing; genetic studies, for example, suggest a major early human expansion out of Africa occurred along the southern coastline of Asia, leading to the colonisation of Australia 50,000 years ago.

Shifting sea levels since the last Ice Age, combined with coastal erosion, would have erased many traces of a maritime past, Professor Erlandson explained.

"The story of human evolution and human migrations has been dominated by terrestrial perspectives," the University of Oregon researcher told BBC News.

"I grew up on the coast and I always thought this didn't make much sense. Coastlines are exceptionally rich in resources."

Ancient artefacts

Professor Erlandson has carried out extensive excavations on San Miguel Island, off the coast of California, which is known to have been inhabited at least 13,000 years ago.

About 100,000 seals and sea lions of six different species live on the island. These slow-moving sea mammals would have been easy prey for the island's early human inhabitants.


"The big elephant seals weigh over 300lbs," he explained. "It has always seemed to me that these were a resource that early humans would not want to miss."

One of the digs, at Daisy Cave, on San Miguel Island, has yielded scores of bone "gorges", a form of fish hook.

The gorges were covered with bait to be swallowed whole by fish, which were then reeled in. These are between 8,600 and 9,600 years old and are associated with more than 30,000 fish bones. They are the oldest examples of such artefacts in the New World.


  Actually proving such a migration took place is a very difficult thing to do because of sea level changes and coastal erosion
Jon Erlandson, University of Oregon
The researchers have also recovered fragments of knotted "cordage" - woven seagrass - that might have been used to make fishing nets. These delicate items were preserved by pickling under layers of ancient cormorant dung.

"The preservation is superb, so we interpreted the cordage as 'cut-offs' from the manufacture and maintenance of nets, fishing lines, and other maritime-related woven technologies," Professor Erlandson said.

At other sites, the researchers have found barbed points that were most likely used for hunting sea mammals - possibly sea otters. They also unearthed examples of 9,000-year-old basketry as well as 8,600-year-old shell bead jewellery.

'Kelp highway'

The findings from Daisy Cave could be consistent with the idea that some of America's first colonists followed a coastal migration route from Asia.

Conquering the cold waters of the northern Pacific would have required advanced seafaring skills as well as an ability to successfully exploit marine resources.

At the height of the last Ice Age, a land mass called Beringia would have connected North-East Asia to North America.

Traditionally, the first Americans were thought to be big game hunters, who marched from Siberia across the land bridge to Alaska. Then, they were thought to have travelled south through the Canadian Arctic via an "ice-free corridor" that emerged in the central US.

But the earliest signs of human occupation from the ice-free corridor date to 11,000 years ago, while California's Channel Islands are now known to have been inhabited at least 13,000 years ago.

Professor Erlandson has come up with an alternative theory that maritime peoples from Asia followed forests of kelp to the New World.

Kelp Forest would have hugged the coastline from Japan up through Siberia to Alaska and down along the Pacific coast of North America. This marine plant grows in rocky, nearshore habitats and cold water up to 20C.

It creates rich ecosystems, providing habitats for seals, sea otters, hundreds of fish species and shellfish. These could have been important sources of food and other resources such as skins for early peoples.

However, the professor of archaeology says "actually proving such a migration took place is a very difficult thing to do because of sea level changes and coastal erosion".

He added: "I think the peopling of the New World was much more complex than has traditionally been viewed. I think it probably involved maritime and terrestrial migrations."

Jon Erlandson was speaking at the Calpe Conference 2006 in Gibraltar.