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Discovery at al-Magar, Arabia


The Al Magar finds appear to show horse-like animals with the accessories of domestication

Recent archaeological discoveries on the Arabian Peninsula have uncovered evidence of a previously unknown civilization based in the now arid areas in the middle of the desert.

The artefacts unearthed are providing proof of a civilization that flourished thousands of years ago and have renewed scientific interest in man and the evolution of his relationship with animals.

The 300-odd stone objects so far found in the remote Al Magar area of Saudi Arabia include traces of stone tools, arrow heads, small scrapers and various animal statues including sheep, goats and ostriches.

But the object that has engendered the most intense interest from within the country and around the world is a large, stone carving of an “equid” – an animal belonging to the horse family.

According to Ali bin Ibrahim Al Ghabban, vice-president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, DNA and carbon-14 (radiocarbon) tests are continuing. But initial evidence suggests that the artefacts date back 9,000 years.

“These discoveries reflect the importance of the site as a centre of civilization,” he told BBC News. “It could possibly be the birthplace of an advanced prehistoric civilization that witnessed the domestication of animals, particularly the horse, for the first time during the Neolithic period.”

The crucial find is that of a large sculptural fragment that appears to show the head, muzzle, shoulder and withers of an animal that bears a distinct resemblance to a horse. The piece is unique in terms of its size, weighing more than 135kg.

Moreover, further discoveries on the same site of smaller, horse-like sculptures, also with bands across their shoulders, have opened the possibility that an advanced civilization here may already have been using the accessories of domestication – tack – in order to control horses.

The discoveries show that horses may first have been tamed as long ago as 7000 BC. “The procured evidence may potentially debunk a previously established theory that the domestication of horses originated 5500 years ago in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan,” the Vice-President of the Kingdom’s Commission for Tourism and Antiquities announced in a press conference in Jeddah.

This site shows us clearly, the roots of the domestication of horses 9,000 years ago,” said Ali Al Ghabban, citing human DNA evidence that allowed researchers to date the prehistoric civilization to the New Stone Age.

A number of other artifacts, including handicrafts such as arrowheads, scrapers, grain grinders, tools for spinning and weaving were also unearthed and suggest that the ancient Neolithic society may have had skills that were more diversified than just horse-taming.

“The Al-Maqar civilization is a very advanced civilization of the Neolithic period, Al-Ghabban noted. Although humans have been herding horses ever since they came into contact with the animal 50,000 years ago to use their meat, skins and milk, the domestication of horses didn’t come about until much later, becoming widespread in Europe, Asia and North Africa by 1000 BC.

“This discovery will change our knowledge concerning the domestication of horses and the evolution of culture in the late Neolithic period,” the Saudi archaeologist added.

This latest archaeological discovery in Saudi Arabia comes as the world’s largest oil exporter aims to step up its tourism industry and diversify its largely oil-dependent economy.

However, the Kingdom may just start to scratch the surface of what is speculated to be an uncovered treasure trove of archaeological remains. An armchair archaeologist made headlines in February this year for having allegedly discovered nearly 2000 potential archaeological sites in Saudi Arabia without ever having visited the country.

Dr. David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia, claimed to have spotted 1977 tombs from the comforts of his office in Perth, Australia, using the high-resolution Satellite-imaging capability of Google Maps.

Kennedy, who led the research project at his university, professed that the aerial viewing service offered by Google could penetrate a ban by the Saudi government that forbids aerial photography of the country due to cultural and religious sensitivities, which has left much of Saudi’s archeology in the dark.

The archaeologist confirmed his findings based on ground view photographs he obtained of a few of the sites that matched structures he has seen in Jordan.

Kennedy further speculated that there may be up to a million such sites lying unexplored in the depths of the Arabian Peninsula.

Desert finds challenge horse taming ideas

Horses tamed earlier than thought

Reconstructing the origin and spread of horse domestication in the Eurasian steppe

Discovery at al-Magar

Saudi Aramco World : Discovery at al-Magar

Archeological Discovery – Al-Magar Civilization

Discovery points to roots of arabian breed

Haplogroup J1

In Genetic genealogy and human genetics, Y DNA haplogroup J-M267 (Haplogroup J1) is a subclade (branch) of Y-DNA haplogroup J-P209, (Haplogroup J) along with its sibling clade Y DNA haplogroup J-M172 (Haplogroup J2).

Men from this lineage share a common paternal ancestor, which is demonstrated and defined by the presence of the SNP mutation referred to as M267, which was announced in (Cinnioğlu 2004). This haplogroup is found today in significant frequencies in many areas in order near the Middle East, and parts of the Caucasus, Sudan and the Horn of Africa.

It is also found in high frequencies in parts of North Africa and amongst Jewish groups, especially those with Cohen surnames. It can also be found much less commonly, but still occasionally in significant amounts, in Europe and as far east as Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.

Since the discovery of haplogroup J it has generally been recognized that it shows signs of having originated in or near West Asia. The frequency and diversity of both its major branches, J1 and J2, in that region makes them candidates as genetic markers of the spread of farming technology during the Neolithic, which is proposed to have had a major impact upon human populations.

The first J1 men lived in the Late Upper Paleolithic, shortly before the end of the last Ice Age. Like many other successful lineages from the Middle East, J1 is thought to have undergone a major population expansion during the Neolithic period.

Chiaroni et al. (2010) found that the greatest genetic diversity of J1 haplotypes was found in eastern Anatolia, near Lake Van in central Kurdistan. Eastern Anatolia and the Zagros mountains are the region where goats and sheep were first domesticated, some 11,000 years ago. Chiaroni et al. estimated that J1-P58 started expanding 9,000 to 10,000 years ago as pastoralists from the Fertile Crescent. Although they did not analyze the other branches, it is most likely that all surviving J1 lineages share the same origin as goat and sheep herders from the Taurus and Zagros mountains.

The mountainous terrain of the Caucasus, Anatolia and modern Iran, which wasn’t suitable for early cereal farming, was an ideal ground for goat and sheep herding and catalyzed the propagation of J1 pastoralists. Having colonised most of Anatolia, J1 herders would have settled the mountainous regions of Europe, including the southern Balkans, the Carpathians, central and southern Italy (Apennines, Sicily, Sardinia), southern France (especially Auvergne), and most of the Iberian peninsula.

Most J1 Europeans belong to the J1-Z1828 branch, which is also found in Anatolia and the Caucasus, but not in Arabic countries. The Z1842 subclade of Z1828 is the most common variety of J1 in Armenia and Georgia. There are also two other minor European branches: J1-Z2223, which has been found in Anatolia, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and Spain, and J1-M365.1, identified only in England and Spain at the moment.

Their very upstream position in the phylogenetic tree and their scarcity in the Middle East suggests that these were among the earliest J1 lineages to leave the Middle East, probably in the Early Neolithic, or possibly even as Late Paleolithic hunter-gatherers that wandered outside Anatolia and ended up in western Europe.

Within the Middle East, SNP analysis shows that the J1-L136 branch migrated south from eastern Anatolia and split in three directions: the Levant, the southern Zagros (and southern Mesopotamia?), and the mountainous south-western corner of the Arabian peninsula (mostly in Yemen), bypassing the Arabian Desert.

That latter group, consisting essentially of J1-P56 lineages, crossed the Red Sea to settle Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and northern Somalia. The climate would have been considerably less arid than today during the Neolithic period, allowing for a relatively easy transmigration across the Middle East with herds of goats.

Neolithic J1 goat herders were almost certainly not homogenous tribes consisting exclusively of J1 lineages, but in all likelihood a blend of J1 and T1 lineages. So much is evident from the presence of both J1 and T1 in north-east Africa, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, but also in the Fertile Crescent, the Caucasus and the mountainous parts of southern Europe. Maternal lineages also correlate. Wherever J1 and T1 are found in high frequency, mtDNA haplogroups HV, N1 and U3 are also present, as well as J, K and T to a lower extent (=>see Correlating the mtDNA haplogroups of the original Y-haplogroup J1 and T1 herders).

It is unclear whether goats were domesticated by a tribe that already comprised both J1 and T1 lineages, or if the merger between the two groups happened during the Neolithic expansion, when two separate tribes would have bumped into each others, intermixed, and thereafter propagated together.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) is a division of the Neolithic developed by Kathleen Kenyon during her archaeological excavations at Jericho in the southern Levant region.

Cultural tendencies of this period differ from that of the earlier Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period in that people living during this period began to depend more heavily upon domesticated animals to supplement their earlier mixed agrarian and hunter-gatherer diet. In addition the flint tool kit of the period is new and quite disparate from that of the earlier period.

Like the earlier PPNA people, the PPNB culture developed from the Earlier Natufian but shows evidence of a northerly origin, possibly indicating an influx from the region of north eastern Anatolia. The culture disappeared during the 8.2 kiloyear event, a term that climatologists have adopted for a sudden decrease in global temperatures that occurred approximately 8,200 years before the present, or c. 6200 BCE, and which lasted for the next two to four centuries.

Work at the site of ‘Ain Ghazal in Jordan has indicated a later Pre-Pottery Neolithic C period which existed between 8,200 and 7,900 BP. Juris Zarins has proposed that a Circum Arabian Nomadic Pastoral Complex developed in the period from the climatic crisis of 6200 BCE, partly as a result of an increasing emphasis in PPNB cultures upon animal domesticates, and a fusion with Harifian hunter gatherers in Southern Palestine, with affiliate connections with the cultures of Fayyum and the Eastern Desert of Egypt. Cultures practicing this lifestyle spread down the Red Sea shoreline and moved east from Syria into southern Iraq.

In the following Munhatta and Yarmukian post-pottery Neolithic cultures that succeeded it, rapid cultural development continues, although PPNB culture continued in the Amuq valley, where it influenced the later development of Ghassulian culture, a culture and an archaeological stage dating to the Middle Chalcolithic Period in the Southern Levant (c. 3800–c. 3350 BC).

Considered to correspond to the Halafian culture of North Syria and Mesopotamia, its type-site, Tulaylat al-Ghassul, is located in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea in modern Jordan and was excavated in the 1930s.

The Ghassulian stage was characterized by small hamlet settlements of mixed farming peoples, and migrated southwards from Syria into Palestine Canaan. Houses were trapezoid-shaped and built mud-brick, covered with remarkable polychrome wall paintings.

Their pottery was highly elaborate, including footed bowls and horn-shaped drinking goblets, indicating the cultivation of wine. Several samples display the use of sculptural decoration or of a reserved slip (a clay and water coating partially wiped away while still wet). The Ghassulians were a Chalcolithic culture as they also smelted copper.

Funerary customs show evidence that they buried their dead in stone dolmens, a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table), although there are also more complex variants.[2] Most date from the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BC).

Ghassulian culture has been identified at numerous other places in what is today southern Israel, especially in the region of Beersheba. The Ghassulian culture correlates closely with the Amratian of Egypt and may have had trading affinities (e.g., the distinctive churns, or “bird vases”) with early Minoan culture in Crete.

J1 has several recognized subclades, some of which were recognized before J1 itself was recognized. With one notable exception, J-P58, found in a low frequency in the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula, most of these are not common.

Kitchen et al. (2009) estimated through a Bayesian phylogenetic analysis that Semitic languages originated in the Levant around 3,750 BCE, during the Early Bronze Age. It evolved into three groups: East Semitic (an extinct branch that comprised Akkadian), Central Semitic (which gave rise to Aramaic, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Hebrew and Arabic), and South Semitic (South Arabian and Ethiopian).

J1-P58, the Central Semitic branch of J1, appears to have expanded from the southern Levant (Israel, Palestine, Jordan) across the Arabian Peninsula during the Bronze Age, from approximately 3,500 to 2,500 BCE.

Camels were domesticated in Somalia and southern Arabia c. 3,000 BCE, but did not become widely used in the southern Levant before approximately 1,100 BCE. Camels played an important role in the further diffusion of J1-P58 lineages, notably with the Bedouins in the desertic parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Bedouins now make up a substantial percentage of the population of Sudan (33%), Libya (15%), the United Arab Emirates (8%) and Saudi Arabia (5%).

The two most common Jewish subclades of J1 downstream of P58 are L816 and ZS227. The latter includes the Cohanim haplotype. Most of the other branches under P58 could be described as Arabic, although only P858 seems to be genuinely linked to the medieval Arabic expansion from Saudi Arabia.

The J-P58 marker which defines subgroup J-P58 is very prevalent in many areas where J1 is common, especially in parts of North Africa and throughout the Arabian Peninsula. It also makes up approximately 70% of the J-M267 among the Amhara of Ethiopia. Notably, it is not common among the J-M267 populations in the Caucasus.

Chiaroni 2009 proposed that J-P58 (that they refer to as J1e) might have first dispersed during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, “from a geographical zone, including northeast Syria, northern Iraq and eastern Turkey toward Mediterranean Anatolia, Ismaili from southern Syria, Jordan, Palestine and northern Egypt.”

They further propose that the Zarzian material culture may be ancestral. They also propose that this movement of people may also be linked to the dispersal of Semitic languages by hunter-herders, who moved into arid areas during periods known to have had low rainfall.

Thus, while other haplogroups, including J2, moved out of the area with agriculturalists, that followed the rainfall, populations carrying J1 remained with their flocks (King 2002 and Chiaroni 2008).

According to this scenario, after the initial neolithic expansion involving Semitic languages, which possibly reached as far as Yemen, a more recent dispersal occurred during the Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age (approximately 3000–5000 BCE), and this involved the branch of Semitic which leads to the Arabic language.

The authors propose that this involved a spread of some J-P58 from the direction of Syria towards Arab populations of the Arabian Peninsula and Negev. On the other hand, the authors agree that later waves of dispersion in and around this area have also had complex effects upon the distributions of some types of J-P58 in some regions.

Horse domestication mystery solved (?)

New research indicates that domestic horses originated in the steppes of modern-day Ukraine, southwest Russia and west Kazakhstan, mixing with local wild stocks as they spread throughout Europe and Asia. The research was published today, 07 May, in the journal PNAS.

For several decades scientists puzzled over the origin of domesticated horses. Based on archaeological evidence, it had long been thought that horse domestication originated in the western part of the Eurasian Steppe (Ukraine, southwest Russia and west Kazakhstan); however, a single origin in a geographically restricted area appeared at odds with the large number of female lineages in the domestic horse gene pool, commonly thought to reflect multiple domestication “events” across a wide geographic area.

In order to solve the perplexing history of the domestic horse, scientists from the University of Cambridge used a genetic database of more than 300 horses sampled from across the Eurasian Steppe to run a number of different modelling scenarios.

Their research shows that the extinct wild ancestor of domestic horses, Equus ferus, expanded out of East Asia approximately 160,000 years ago. They were also able to demonstrate that Equus ferus was domesticated in the western Eurasian Steppe, and that herds were repeatedly restocked with wild horses as they spread across Eurasia.

ScienceNOW also covers the new research, and reports on a contrasting viewpoint: Not all researchers are convinced, however. Archaeologist Marsha Levine of the University of Cambridge thinks using modern genetic samples to retrace horses’ evolution is a dead end. “There’s been mixing of cultures and mixing of horses in this region for many thousands of years,” she says. “And so when you’re looking at any modern horse, you just don’t know where it’s from.”

Bringing together many kinds of evidence is what will ultimately answer the whens and wheres of horse domestication, Levine says. “What we need to be doing is using material from excavations, sequencing ancient genes, and combining that with what we know from archaeological evidence about how animals were used in the past.”

The idea that ancient DNA will ultimately confirm/reject the model presented in the paper is understandable. Of course, it may be the case that the west Eurasian steppe was the place where horse domestication happened, but it is also the place where local horses may be descended from European, West Asian, and Central Asian breeds. To find out about this it is necesarry to see the admixture between western and eastern horse breeds on the steppe is.

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