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Concept: Ancient history


Egypt, located on the isthmus of Africa, is an ideal region to study historical population dynamics due to its geographic location and documented interactions with ancient civilizations in Africa, Asia and Europe. Particularly, in the first millennium BCE Egypt endured foreign domination leading to growing numbers of foreigners living within its borders possibly contributing genetically to the local population. Here we present 90 mitochondrial genomes as well as genome-wide data sets from three individuals obtained from Egyptian mummies. The samples recovered from Middle Egypt span around 1,300 years of ancient Egyptian history from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period. Our analyses reveal that ancient Egyptians shared more ancestry with Near Easterners than present-day Egyptians, who received additional sub-Saharan admixture in more recent times. This analysis establishes ancient Egyptian mummies as a genetic source to study ancient human history and offers the perspective of deciphering Egypt’s past at a genome-wide level.

Concepts: Africa, North Africa, Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Slavery, Ancient history, Mummy, Nubia


Ancient DNA research is revealing a human history far more complex than that inferred from parsimonious models based on modern DNA. Here, we review some of the key events in the peopling of the world in the light of the findings of work on ancient DNA.

Concepts: DNA, Species, Science, World, History, Prehistory, Ancient history, Occam's razor


BACKGROUND: Atherosclerosis is thought to be a disease of modern human beings and related to contemporary lifestyles. However, its prevalence before the modern era is unknown. We aimed to evaluate preindustrial populations for atherosclerosis. METHODS: We obtained whole body CT scans of 137 mummies from four different geographical regions or populations spanning more than 4000 years. Individuals from ancient Egypt, ancient Peru, the Ancestral Puebloans of southwest America, and the Unangan of the Aleutian Islands were imaged. Atherosclerosis was regarded as definite if a calcified plaque was seen in the wall of an artery and probable if calcifications were seen along the expected course of an artery. FINDINGS: Probable or definite atherosclerosis was noted in 47 (34%) of 137 mummies and in all four geographical populations: 29 (38%) of 76 ancient Egyptians, 13 (25%) of 51 ancient Peruvians, two (40%) of five Ancestral Puebloans, and three (60%) of five Unangan hunter gatherers (p=NS). Atherosclerosis was present in the aorta in 28 (20%) mummies, iliac or femoral arteries in 25 (18%), popliteal or tibial arteries in 25 (18%), carotid arteries in 17 (12%), and coronary arteries in six (4%). Of the five vascular beds examined, atherosclerosis was present in one to two beds in 34 (25%) mummies, in three to four beds in 11 (8%), and in all five vascular beds in two (1%). Age at time of death was positively correlated with atherosclerosis (mean age at death was 43 [SD 10] years for mummies with atherosclerosis vs 32 [15] years for those without; p<0·0001) and with the number of arterial beds involved (mean age was 32 [SD 15] years for mummies with no atherosclerosis, 42 [10] years for those with atherosclerosis in one or two beds, and 44 [8] years for those with atherosclerosis in three to five beds; p<0·0001). INTERPRETATION: Atherosclerosis was common in four preindustrial populations including preagricultural hunter-gatherers. Although commonly assumed to be a modern disease, the presence of atherosclerosis in premodern human beings raises the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease. FUNDING: National Endowment for the Humanities, Paleocardiology Foundation, The National Bank of Egypt, Siemens, and St Luke's Hospital Foundation of Kansas City.

Concepts: Human, Atherosclerosis, Heart, Atheroma, Artery, Coronary circulation, Ancient Egypt, Ancient history


Dragon’s blood is a rare and precious traditional medicine used by different cultures since ancient times. However, studies on enhancing the rapid accumulation of dragon’s blood in Dracaena cambodiana and determining its formation mechanism are unavailable. In this study, the activities of two fungi, namely, BJDC01 and BJDC05, and their effect on promoting the accumulation of five main compositions of dragon’s blood in D. cambodiana were investigated for the first time. Results of field tests conducted for ten months indicated that the contents of Loureirin D, 4,4'-dihydroxy-2'-dimethoxychalcone, Loureirin A and Loureirin B in two fungal-inoculated materials were 1.67 to 2.85 times greater than those of natural samples, and thus were significantly higher than those of the control groups. The content of 4,4'-dihydroxy-2'6'- dimethoxydihydrochalcone in each fungal-inoculated sample was close to that of the natural sample, and was more than twice of each of the control group. By combining the results of morphological characterizations, both BJDC01 and BJDC05 can stimulate the accumulation of the compositions of dragon’s blood. This stimulation may be considered as a defense response of D. cambodiana tree against the invasion of foreign fungi. Thus, this study provides a potential way of producing dragon’s blood via the inoculation of two fungal elicitors.

Concepts: Controlling for a variable, Scientific control, Scientific method, Medicine, Fungus, Stimulation, Ancient history, Dracaena


Ancient DNA methodology was applied to analyse sequences extracted from freshly unearthed remains (teeth) of 4 individuals deeply deposited in slightly alkaline soil of the Tell Ashara (ancient Terqa) and Tell Masaikh (ancient Kar-Assurnasirpal) Syrian archaeological sites, both in the middle Euphrates valley. Dated to the period between 2.5 Kyrs BC and 0.5 Kyrs AD the studied individuals carried mtDNA haplotypes corresponding to the M4b1, M49 and/or M61 haplogroups, which are believed to have arisen in the area of the Indian subcontinent during the Upper Paleolithic and are absent in people living today in Syria. However, they are present in people inhabiting today’s Tibet, Himalayas, India and Pakistan. We anticipate that the analysed remains from Mesopotamia belonged to people with genetic affinity to the Indian subcontinent since the distribution of identified ancient haplotypes indicates solid link with populations from the region of South Asia-Tibet (Trans-Himalaya). They may have been descendants of migrants from much earlier times, spreading the clades of the macrohaplogroup M throughout Eurasia and founding regional Mesopotamian groups like that of Terqa or just merchants moving along trade routes passing near or through the region. None of the successfully identified nuclear alleles turned out to be ΔF508 CFTR, LCT-13910T or Δ32 CCR5.

Concepts: Indian subcontinent, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Syria, Ancient history, Mesopotamia, Ancient Near East, Cradle of civilization


The dynamics of ecosystem collapse are fundamental to determining how and why biological communities change through time, as well as the potential effects of extinctions on ecosystems. Here, we integrate depictions of mammals from Egyptian antiquity with direct lines of paleontological and archeological evidence to infer local extinctions and community dynamics over a 6,000-y span. The unprecedented temporal resolution of this dataset enables examination of how the tandem effects of human population growth and climate change can disrupt mammalian communities. We show that the extinctions of mammals in Egypt were nonrandom and that destabilizing changes in community composition coincided with abrupt aridification events and the attendant collapses of some complex societies. We also show that the roles of species in a community can change over time and that persistence is predicted by measures of species sensitivity, a function of local dynamic stability. To our knowledge, our study is the first high-resolution analysis of the ecological impacts of environmental change on predator-prey networks over millennial timescales and sheds light on the historical events that have shaped modern animal communities.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Ecology, Mammal, Ancient Egypt, World population, Paleontology, Ancient history


Lubrication plays a crucial role in reducing friction for transporting heavy objects, from moving a 60-ton statue in ancient Egypt to relocating a 15,000-ton building in modern society. Although in China spoked wheels appeared ca. 1500 B.C., in the 15th and 16th centuries sliding sledges were still used in transporting huge stones to the Forbidden City in Beijing. We show that an ice lubrication technique of water-lubricated wood-on-ice sliding was used instead of the common ancient approaches, such as wood-on-wood sliding or the use of log rollers. The technique took full advantage of the natural properties of ice, such as sufficient hardness, flatness, and low friction with a water film. This ice-assisted movement is more efficient for such heavy-load and low-speed transportation necessary for the stones of the Forbidden City. The transportation of the huge stones provides an early example of ice lubrication and complements current studies of the high-speed regime relevant to competitive ice sports.

Concepts: Water, Transport, Ancient Egypt, London, Beijing, Ancient history, 16th century, Forbidden City


In this review article the history of leishmaniasis is discussed regarding the origin of the genus Leishmania in the Mesozoic era and its subsequent geographical distribution, initial evidence of the disease in ancient times, first accounts of the infection in the Middle Ages, and the discovery of Leishmania parasites as causative agents of leishmaniasis in modern times. With respect to the origin and dispersal of Leishmania parasites, the three currently debated hypotheses (Palaearctic, Neotropical and supercontinental origin, respectively) are presented. Ancient documents and paleoparasitological data indicate that leishmaniasis was already widespread in antiquity. Identification of Leishmania parasites as etiological agents and sand flies as the transmission vectors of leishmaniasis started at the beginning of the 20(th) century and the discovery of new Leishmania and sand fly species continued well into the 21(st) century. Lately, the Syrian civil war and refugee crises have shown that leishmaniasis epidemics can happen any time in conflict areas and neighbouring regions where the disease was previously endemic.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Infectious disease, Middle Ages, Leishmania, History, Fly, Ancient Rome, Ancient history


Cyperus esculentus tubers (tiger nut) are one of the ancient food sources known to humanity. It is traditionally used in the Middle East to stimulate sexual arousal in men. However, there has been no scientific evidence about its assumed aphrodisiac properties. This study aimed to investigate the influence of tiger nut on the copulatory behavior of sexually active male rats.

Concepts: Sexual intercourse, Middle East, Asia, Human sexual behavior, Near East, Ancient history, Aphrodisiac, Cyperus esculentus


We describe monolayer nanosheets of calcium copper tetrasilicate, CaCuSi4O10, that have strong near-infrared luminescence and are amenable to solution processing methods. The facile exfoliation of bulk CaCuSi4O10 into nanosheets is especially surprising in view of the long history of this material as the colored component of Egyptian blue, a well-known pigment from ancient times.

Concepts: Physical chemistry, Pigment, History, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Ancient history