Middle Eastern history refined by prehistoric DNA

For the time being, the ancient history of mankind was studied only by the methods of archeology, anthropology, linguistics and history, analyzing the structure of burials, comparing tools, jewelry, money, etc., found on archaeological sites, comparing languages, comparing written evidence, if any. But now biologists have deciphered the structure of DNA, learned to read it, and the methods of DNA analysis have become more and more widespread in historical and archaeological research. DNA is a fairly stable molecule, it can be extracted from thousand-year-old bones, analyzed the sequence, compared with other similar thousand-year-old DNA, and as a result, for example, confirm or disprove the hypothesis about the migrations of peoples, about the links between different cultures, etc.

However, the strength of DNA still depends on where it is located. In the climate of the Middle East and the Mediterranean, it collapses faster, but meanwhile, it is the Middle East, the Mediterranean and the territories adjacent to them that are extremely important from the point of view of human history: agriculture was born here, various animals were first domesticated here, there were large migrations, ancient civilization. But although DNA does not preserve very well in the Middle East and Mediterranean climates, it is still not destroyed down to atoms – it simply breaks down into smaller fragments that require more sophisticated methods for analysis. Recently, such methods have appeared, and these days Science published three articles comparing the DNA of more than seven hundred people who have lived in the lands between present-day Croatia and Iran for the past ten thousand years.

The first article deals with the inhabitants of Anatoliawho experimented with growing wheat and domesticating sheep and goats – these experiments began just about 10 thousand years ago. Almost two hundred researchers from scientific centers in Armenia, Turkey, the USA, North Macedonia, Russia and other countries have come to the conclusion that the first agricultural people here were not just descendants of local hunter-gatherers – their genome is an equal mixture in which three migration waves are reflected. . The first two happened between 10,000 and 6,500 years ago: one came from the territories that now belong to Iraq and Syria, the second from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Then there were hunter-gatherers who came about 6500 years ago from the Caucasus. There was also a fourth migration wave: in Anatolia, about 5,000 years ago, nomads of the Yamnaya culture from the Black Sea steppes appeared, but their contribution to the genome was not so great. One way or another, the development of agriculture took place within the framework of an active mixing of peoples, an active interaction of people from different regions, which is also confirmed by other data.

There is a hypothesis that the people of the Yamnaya culture, who roamed from the steppes between the Black and Caspian Seas to the west and east, gave rise to all Indo-European languages, including Anatolian. Some features of the Hittite language, belonging to the Anatolian group of the Indo-European language family, indicate that it was formed under the influence of the people of the Yamnaya culture. However, according to genetic data published in another article, it turns out that Yamnaya people there were ancestors in the mountainous east of Anatolia, where the Lesser Caucasus begins. (And then the picture of the movements of the “pits” becomes especially intricate.) It was probably here that between 5000 and 7000 years ago people lived who spoke a certain dialect from which the Indo-European languages ​​\u200b\u200bcame out.

True, as the portal writes Science, there are certain linguistic objections to such a conclusion, related to the fact that in the most ancient layers of the Indo-European vocabulary there are too few words related to agriculture. But according to genetic data, it turns out that those who spoke the parent language should have already been well acquainted with agriculture. To this, the authors of the work say that the proto-language in the mountains in the east of Anatolia was probably still hunter-gatherer, but in general they agree that the hypothesis of “proto-Indo-Anatolians” requires further research that would harmonize genetic and linguistic data.

The third article talks about how they correlated with each other social status and genetic history. The status can be understood by the burial: a person with merit is buried accordingly. At first, when the “pits” appear in the north of Greece, their tombs are quite status, but later, when the time of the Mycenaean civilization comes (which includes, for example, the heroes of the Homeric epic), the connection between the status and the “pit” origin is lost.

In the same article, the authors analyze the Anatolian genetic presence in the Roman Empire. Judging by the DNA, there were more and more people from Anatolia both in Rome itself and in its environs; apparently, the “Anatolian trace” became more and more noticeable as the empire expanded. Those who came to Rome from those parts were collectively called Greeks, although from a genetic point of view they were not necessarily Greeks – just a lot of them spoke Greek. Newcomers from the east hardly saw themselves as part of the “Anatolian community”, rather, they were simply citizens of the empire or slaves. Later, closer to the Middle Ages, the presence of the Slavic and Turkic-speaking population became more felt in the Roman Empire.

One of the most famous artifacts of the Mycenaean culture mask of Agamemnon, 16th century BC e. (Photo: Xuan Che / Wikipedia)

As the same portal writes Science, many archaeologists notice that one should not judge such things as cultural influence, status, etc. by DNA alone. The influence of a culture spreads not only when its carriers move from point A to point B, and social status can be related to the pedigree in some non-obvious way. However, even if the new genetic data raises more questions than it answers, these new questions will be the reason for further research.

Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by www.nkj.ru.

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