The application of mixing models for the sourcing of dietary end members, which mix into consumer collagen delta13C and delta15N isotopic ratios, has clear benefits for understanding human palaeodiet and human and vertebrate palaeoecology. This is because traditional visual or conventional statistical interpretations of bivariate plots may be erroneous or misleading. In terms of their biological meaning, measured isotopic ratios are proxies, therefore, an in-depth reflection on their intended purpose is requisite prior to analysis. A detailed reconstruction of individual palaeodiet is impossible, but an assessment of changes in the importance of gross dietary end members should provide valuable clues to ancient subsistence economies. Mixing models require the establishment of isotopic data for a considerable amount of bioarchaeological finds associated with human skeletons. However, when discussed within the archaeological context, they provide feasible and plausible solutions. Moreover, mixing models offer the opportunity to hypothesize "missing end members", the traces of which do not show up in the archaeological record at all.
Yersinia pestis has caused at least three human plague pandemics. The second (Black Death, 14-17th centuries) and third (19-20th centuries) have been genetically characterised, but there is only a limited understanding of the first pandemic, the Plague of Justinian (6-8th centuries). To address this gap, we sequenced and analysed draft genomes of Y pestis obtained from two individuals who died in the first pandemic.
Yersinia pestis, the etiologic agent of the disease plague, has been implicated in three historical pandemics. These include the third pandemic of the 19(th) and 20(th) centuries, during which plague was spread around the world, and the second pandemic of the 14(th)-17(th) centuries, which included the infamous epidemic known as the Black Death. Previous studies have confirmed that Y. pestis caused these two more recent pandemics. However, a highly spirited debate still continues as to whether Y. pestis caused the so-called Justinianic Plague of the 6(th)-8(th) centuries AD. By analyzing ancient DNA in two independent ancient DNA laboratories, we confirmed unambiguously the presence of Y. pestis DNA in human skeletal remains from an Early Medieval cemetery. In addition, we narrowed the phylogenetic position of the responsible strain down to major branch 0 on the Y. pestis phylogeny, specifically between nodes N03 and N05. Our findings confirm that Y. pestis was responsible for the Justinianic Plague, which should end the controversy regarding the etiology of this pandemic. The first genotype of a Y. pestis strain that caused the Late Antique plague provides important information about the history of the plague bacillus and suggests that the first pandemic also originated in Asia, similar to the other two plague pandemics.
The diagnosis of starvation in children or adults is an important topic in paediatric and geriatric medicine, and in law assessment. To date, few reliable techniques are available to reconstruct the onset and duration of undernourishment, especially in cases of wilful neglect or abuse. The intention of this research project is to introduce a method based on isotopic analysis to reconstruct nutritional life histories and to detect starvation. For this purpose the specific signature of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in human hair samples is investigated and measured in the course of serious nutritional deprivation. Previous study of our research group on anorectic patients has shown that incremental hair analyses can monitor the individual nutritional status of each patient. Increasing ?(15)N-values indicate the catabolism of bodily protein and are associated with a very low BMI. In contrast, the changes of the ?(13)C values and BMI were in phase, which can be linked to the lack of energy in the consumed diet and the break down of body fat deposits. These findings were now applied to various forensic cases, in which severe starvation occurred recently prior to death. We are aiming at establishing an unbiased biomarker to identify the individual timeframe of nutritional deprivation to detect and prevent starvation.
Yersinia pestis has been identified as the causative agent of the Black Death pandemic in the 14(th) century. However, retrospective diagnostics in human skeletons after more than 600 years are critical. We describe a strategy following a modern diagnostic algorithm and working under strict ancient DNA regime for the identification of medieval human plague victims. An initial screening and DNA quantification assay detected the Y. pestis specific pla gene of the high copy number plasmid pPCP1. Results were confirmed by conventional PCR and sequence analysis targeting both Y. pestis specific virulence plasmids pPCP1 and pMT1. All assays were meticulously validated according to human clinical diagnostics requirements (ISO 15189) regarding efficiency, sensitivity, specificity, and limit of detection (LOD). Assay specificity was 100% tested on 41 clinically relevant bacteria and 29 Y. pseudotuberculosis strains as well as for DNA of 22 Y. pestis strains and 30 previously confirmed clinical human plague samples. The optimized LOD was down to 4 gene copies. 29 individuals from three different multiple inhumations were initially assessed as possible victims of the Black Death pandemic. 7 samples (24%) were positive in the pPCP1 specific screening assay. Confirmation through second target pMT1 specific PCR was successful for 4 of the positive individuals (14%). A maximum of 700 and 560 copies per µl aDNA were quantified in two of the samples. Those were positive in all assays including all repetitions, and are candidates for future continuative investigations such as whole genome sequencing. We discuss that all precautions taken here for the work with aDNA are sufficient to prevent external sample contamination and fulfill the criteria of authenticity. With regard to retrospective diagnostics of a human pathogen and the uniqueness of ancient material we strongly recommend using a careful strategy and validated assays as presented in our study.
During the early Holocene two main paleoamerican cultures thrived in Brazil: the Tradição Nordeste in the semi-desertic Sertão and the Tradição Itaparica in the high plains of the Planalto Central. Here we report on paleodietary singals of a Paleoamerican found in a third Brazilian ecological setting--a riverine shellmound, or sambaqui, located in the Atlantic forest. Most sambaquis are found along the coast. The peoples associated with them subsisted on marine resources. We are reporting a different situation from the oldest recorded riverine sambaqui, called Capelinha. Capelinha is a relatively small sambaqui established along a river 60 km from the Atlantic Ocean coast. It contained the well-preserved remains of a Paleoamerican known as Luzio dated to 9,945±235 years ago; the oldest sambaqui dweller so far. Luzios bones were remarkably well preserved and allowed for stable isotopic analysis of diet. Although artifacts found at this riverine site show connections with the Atlantic coast, we show that he represents a population that was dependent on inland resources as opposed to marine coastal resources. After comparing Luzios paleodietary data with that of other extant and prehistoric groups, we discuss where his group could have come from, if terrestrial diet persisted in riverine sambaquis and how Luzio fits within the discussion of the replacement of paleamerican by amerindian morphology. This study adds to the evidence that shows a greater complexity in the prehistory of the colonization of and the adaptations to the New World.
This study investigates patterns of mobility in Early Medieval Bavaria through a combined study of diet and associated burial practice. Carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios were analyzed in human bone samples from the Late Roman cemetery of Klettham and from the Early Medieval cemeteries of Altenerding and Straubing-Bajuwarenstrasse. For dietary comparison, samples of faunal bone from one Late Roman and three Early Medieval settlement sites were also analyzed. The results indicate that the average diet was in keeping with a landlocked environment and fairly limited availability of freshwater or marine resources. The diet appears not to have changed significantly from the Late Roman to the Early Medieval period. However, in the population of Altenerding, there were significant differences in the diet of men and women, supporting a hypothesis of greater mobility among women. Furthermore, the isotopic evidence from dietary outliers is supported by "foreign" grave goods and practices, such as artificial skull modification. These results reveal the potential of carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis for questions regarding migration and mobility.
Human cremation is a common funeral practice all over the world and will presumably become an even more popular choice for interment in the future. Mainly for purposes of identification, there is presently a growing need to perform trace analyses such as DNA or stable isotope analyses on human remains after cremation in order to clarify pending questions in civil or criminal court cases. The aim of this study was to experimentally test the potential and limitations of DNA and stable isotope analyses when conducted on cremated remains. For this purpose, tibiae from modern cattle were experimentally cremated by incinerating the bones in increments of 100°C until a maximum of 1000°C was reached. In addition, cremated human remains were collected from a modern crematory. The samples were investigated to determine level of DNA preservation and stable isotope values (C and N in collagen, C and O in the structural carbonate, and Sr in apatite). Furthermore, we assessed the integrity of microstructural organization, appearance under UV-light, collagen content, as well as the mineral and crystalline organization. This was conducted in order to provide a general background with which to explain observed changes in the trace analyses data sets. The goal is to develop an efficacious screening method for determining at which degree of burning bone still retains its original biological signals. We found that stable isotope analysis of the tested light elements in bone is only possible up to a heat exposure of 300°C while the isotopic signal from strontium remains unaltered even in bones exposed to very high temperatures. DNA-analyses seem theoretically possible up to a heat exposure of 600°C but can not be advised in every case because of the increased risk of contamination. While the macroscopic colour and UV-fluorescence of cremated bone give hints to temperature exposure of the bones outer surface, its histological appearance can be used as a reliable indicator for the assessment of the overall degree of burning.
Community differentiation is a fundamental topic of the social sciences, and its prehistoric origins in Europe are typically assumed to lie among the complex, densely populated societies that developed millennia after their Neolithic predecessors. Here we present the earliest, statistically significant evidence for such differentiation among the first farmers of Neolithic Europe. By using strontium isotopic data from more than 300 early Neolithic human skeletons, we find significantly less variance in geographic signatures among males than we find among females, and less variance among burials with ground stone adzes than burials without such adzes. From this, in context with other available evidence, we infer differential land use in early Neolithic central Europe within a patrilocal kinship system.
Related JoVE Video
Journal of Visualized Experiments
What is Visualize?
JoVE Visualize is a tool created to match the last 5 years of PubMed publications to methods in JoVE's video library.
How does it work?
We use abstracts found on PubMed and match them to JoVE videos to create a list of 10 to 30 related methods videos.
Video X seems to be unrelated to Abstract Y...
In developing our video relationships, we compare around 5 million PubMed articles to our library of over 4,500 methods videos. In some cases the language used in the PubMed abstracts makes matching that content to a JoVE video difficult. In other cases, there happens not to be any content in our video library that is relevant to the topic of a given abstract. In these cases, our algorithms are trying their best to display videos with relevant content, which can sometimes result in matched videos with only a slight relation.