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Concept: Western Asia

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The Late Epipalaeolithic Natufian (~14,600 - 11,500 cal BP) is a key period in the prehistory of southwest Asia. Often described as a complex hunting and gathering society with increased sedentism, intensive plant exploitation and associated with an increase in artistic and symbolic material culture, it is positioned between the earlier Upper- and Epi-Palaeolithic and the early Neolithic, when plant cultivation and subsequently animal domestication began. The Natufian has thus often been seen as a necessary pre-adaptation for the emergence of Neolithic economies in southwest Asia. Previous work has pointed to the Mediterranean woodland zone of the southern Levant as the ‘core zone’ of the Early Natufian. Here we present a new sequence of 27 AMS radiocarbon dates from the Natufian site Shubayqa 1 in northeast Jordan. The results suggest that the site was occupied intermittently between ~14,600 - 12,000 cal BP. The dates indicate the Natufian emerged just as early in eastern Jordan as it did in the Mediterranean woodland zone. This suggests that the origins and development of the Natufian were not tied to the ecological conditions of the Mediterranean woodlands, and that the evolution of this hunting and gathering society was more complex and heterogeneous than previously thought.

Concepts: Israel, Western Asia, Jordan, Neolithic, Fertile Crescent, Levant, Syria, Mesolithic

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The Levant is a region in the Near East with an impressive record of continuous human existence and major cultural developments since the Paleolithic period. Genetic and archeological studies present solid evidence placing the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula as the first stepping-stone outside Africa. There is, however, little understanding of demographic changes in the Middle East, particularly the Levant, after the first Out-of-Africa expansion and how the Levantine peoples relate genetically to each other and to their neighbors. In this study we analyze more than 500,000 genome-wide SNPs in 1,341 new samples from the Levant and compare them to samples from 48 populations worldwide. Our results show recent genetic stratifications in the Levant are driven by the religious affiliations of the populations within the region. Cultural changes within the last two millennia appear to have facilitated/maintained admixture between culturally similar populations from the Levant, Arabian Peninsula, and Africa. The same cultural changes seem to have resulted in genetic isolation of other groups by limiting admixture with culturally different neighboring populations. Consequently, Levant populations today fall into two main groups: one sharing more genetic characteristics with modern-day Europeans and Central Asians, and the other with closer genetic affinities to other Middle Easterners and Africans. Finally, we identify a putative Levantine ancestral component that diverged from other Middle Easterners ∼23,700-15,500 years ago during the last glacial period, and diverged from Europeans ∼15,900-9,100 years ago between the last glacial warming and the start of the Neolithic.

Concepts: Arabian Peninsula, United Arab Emirates, Middle East, Islam, Western Asia, Jordan, Near East, Levant

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Human populations, along with those of many other species, are thought to have contracted into a number of refuge areas at the height of the last Ice Age. European populations are believed to be, to a large extent, the descendants of the inhabitants of these refugia, and some extant mtDNA lineages can be traced to refugia in Franco-Cantabria (haplogroups H1, H3, V, and U5b1), the Italian Peninsula (U5b3), and the East European Plain (U4 and U5a). Parts of the Near East, such as the Levant, were also continuously inhabited throughout the Last Glacial Maximum, but unlike western and eastern Europe, no archaeological or genetic evidence for Late Glacial expansions into Europe from the Near East has hitherto been discovered. Here we report, on the basis of an enlarged whole-genome mitochondrial database, that a substantial, perhaps predominant, signal from mitochondrial haplogroups J and T, previously thought to have spread primarily from the Near East into Europe with the Neolithic population, may in fact reflect dispersals during the Late Glacial period, ∼19-12 thousand years (ka) ago.

Concepts: Europe, Western Asia, Pleistocene, Last Glacial Maximum, Ice age, Last glacial period, Glaciology, Glacial period

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Black Cumin (Nigella sativa), which belongs to the botanical family of Ranunculaceae, commonly grows in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Western Asia. Its ripe fruit contains tiny black seeds, known as “Al-Habba Al-Sauda” and “Al-Habba Al-Barakah” in Arabic and black seed or black cumin in English. Seeds of Nigella sativa are frequently used in folk medicine in the Middle East and some Asian countries for the promotion of good health and the treatment of many ailments. However, data for the cardiovascular benefits of black cumin are not well-established. We reviewed the literature from 1960 to March 2012 by using the following key words: “Nigella sativa,” “black seeds,” and “thymoquinone.” Herein, we discussed the most relevant articles to find out the role of Nigella sativa in the cardiovascular diseases spectrum especially when there is a paucity of information and need of further studies in human to establish the utility of Nigella sativa in cardiovascular system protection.

Concepts: Middle East, Europe, Asia, Iran, Turkey, Western Asia, Jordan, Nigella sativa

26

One new genus (Roznerathous gen. n.) and 31 new species of Elateridae are described: Athous szalokii sp. n. (Georgia), Agriotes balikesirensis sp. n. (Turkey), Agriotes rozneri sp. n. (Syria), Agriotes sakaryaensis sp. n. (Turkey), Cardiophorus anatolicus sp. n. (Turkey), Cardiophorus aranyos sp. n. (Afghanistan), Cardiophorus burkus sp. n. (Afghanistan), Cardiophorus dicronychoides sp. n. (Afghanistan), Cardiophorus podlussanyi sp. n. (Turkey), Cardiophorus tenuis sp. n. (Armenia), Coptostethus attilai sp. n. (Spain: Canary Isl.), Coptostethus buci sp. n. (Spain: Canary Isl.), Coptostethus kundratai sp. n. (Spain: Canary Isl.), Craspedostethus ferrugineus sp. n. (Iran), Craspedostethus hirticollis sp. n. (Afghanistan), Dicronychus decoroides sp.n. (Iran), Dicronychus diluvii sp. n. (Turkey), Dicronychus fabiani sp. n. (Iran), Dicronychus gurjevae sp. n. (Afghanistan), Dicronychus ilniczkyi sp. n. (Oman), Dicronychus kandaharensis sp. n. (Afghanistan), Dicronychus karolyvigi sp. n. (Iran), Dicronychus podlussanyi sp. n. (Turkey), Dicronychus povolnyi sp. n. (Afghanistan), Dicronychus quadrimaculatus sp. n. (Afghanistan), Glyphonyx occidentalis sp. n. (Afghanistan), Hartenius marocanus sp. n. (Morocco), Hemicrepidius rahmei (Iran) sp. n., Idotarmonides gracilis sp. n. (Turkey), Roznerathous hellenicus sp. n. (Greece), Oedostethus pektusanicus sp. n. (North Korea). Dicronychus marginalis comb. n. and Dicronychus oxypterus comb. n. New distributional data for species of the genera Aeoloides, Agriotes, Ampedus, Cardiohypnus, Cardiophorus, Cidnopus, Craspedostethus, Dicronychus, Drasterius, Haterumelater, Heteroderes, Hypnoidus, Isidus, Limonius, Liotrichus, Melanotus, Pseudocrepidophorus and Zorochros are given. The females of Astanchus ussuriensis (Gurjeva, 1975); Cidnopus macedonicus Cate et Platia, 1989; Peripontius orchymonti Platia, 2008 and the male of Agriotes barkulensis Jagemann, 1942 were unknown at the time of their description, are figured. With 137 figures. 

Concepts: Beetle, Iran, Turkey, Western Asia, Armenia, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Click beetle

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The frequency of paediatric-onset multiple sclerosis (POMS) and the precise risk of secondary progression of disease are largely unknown in the Middle East. This cross-sectional cohort study assessed the risk and examined prognostic factors for time to onset of secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS) in a cohort of POMS patients.

Concepts: Multiple sclerosis, Saudi Arabia, Arabian Peninsula, Middle East, Asia, Western Asia, Kuwait, Near East

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Near Eastern wild boars possess a characteristic DNA signature. Unexpectedly, wild boars from Israel have the DNA sequences of European wild boars and domestic pigs. To understand how this anomaly evolved, we sequenced DNA from ancient and modern pigs from Israel. Pigs from Late Bronze Age (until ca. 1150 BCE) in Israel shared haplotypes of modern and ancient Near Eastern pigs. European haplotypes became dominant only during the Iron Age (ca. 900 BCE). This raises the possibility that European pigs were brought to the region by the Sea Peoples who migrated to the Levant at that time. Then, a complete genetic turnover took place, most likely because of repeated admixture between local and introduced European domestic pigs that went feral. Severe population bottlenecks likely accelerated this process. Introductions by humans have strongly affected the phylogeography of wild animals, and interpretations of phylogeography based on modern DNA alone should be taken with caution.

Concepts: Wild boar, Ancient Egypt, Western Asia, Bronze Age, Levant, Mesopotamia, Iron Age, Ancient Near East

20

In war zones, the explosion of bombs, bullets, and other ammunition releases multiple neurotoxicants into the environment. The Middle East is currently the site of heavy environmental disruption by massive bombardments. A very large number of US military bases, which release highly toxic environmental contaminants, have also been erected since 2003. Current knowledge supports the hypothesis that war-created pollution is a major cause of rising birth defects and cancers in Iraq. We created elemental bio-imaging of trace elements in deciduous teeth of children with birth defects from Iraq. Healthy and naturally shed teeth from Lebanon and Iran were also analyzed for trace elements. Lead (Pb) was highest in teeth from children with birth defects who donated their teeth from Basra, Iraq (mean 0.73-16.74 (208)Pb/(43)Ca ppm, n = 3). Pb in healthy Lebanese and Iranian teeth were 0.038-0.382 (208)Pb/(43)Ca ppm (n = 4) and 0.041-0.31 (208)Pb/(43)Ca ppm (n = 2), respectively. Our hypothesis that increased war activity coincides with increased metal levels in deciduous teeth is confirmed by this research. Lead levels were similar in Lebanese and Iranian deciduous teeth. Deciduous teeth from Iraqi children with birth defects had remarkably higher levels of Pb. Two Iraqi teeth had four times more Pb, and one tooth had as much as 50 times more Pb than samples from Lebanon and Iran.

Concepts: Middle East, Iran, Western Asia, Persian language, Arabic language, Iraq, Central Asia, Baghdad

18

Human mitochondrial DNA haplogroup U is among the initial maternal founders in Southwest Asia and Europe and one that best indicates matrilineal genetic continuity between late Pleistocene hunter-gatherer groups and present-day populations of Europe. While most haplogroup U subclades are older than 30 thousand years, the comparatively recent coalescence time of the extant variation of haplogroup U7 (~16-19 thousand years ago) suggests that its current distribution is the consequence of more recent dispersal events, despite its wide geographical range across Europe, the Near East and South Asia. Here we report 267 new U7 mitogenomes that - analysed alongside 100 published ones - enable us to discern at least two distinct temporal phases of dispersal, both of which most likely emanated from the Near East. The earlier one began prior to the Holocene (~11.5 thousand years ago) towards South Asia, while the later dispersal took place more recently towards Mediterranean Europe during the Neolithic (~8 thousand years ago). These findings imply that the carriers of haplogroup U7 spread to South Asia and Europe before the suggested Bronze Age expansion of Indo-European languages from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe region.

Concepts: DNA, Mitochondrial DNA, Europe, Population genetics, Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, Neolithic

18

We report genome-wide ancient DNA from 44 ancient Near Easterners ranging in time between ~12,000 and 1,400 BCE, from Natufian hunter-gatherers to Bronze Age farmers. We show that the earliest populations of the Near East derived around half their ancestry from a ‘Basal Eurasian’ lineage that had little if any Neanderthal admixture and that separated from other non-African lineages before their separation from each other. The first farmers of the southern Levant (Israel and Jordan) and Zagros Mountains (Iran) were strongly genetically differentiated, and each descended from local hunter-gatherers. By the time of the Bronze Age, these two populations and Anatolian-related farmers had mixed with each other and with the hunter-gatherers of Europe to drastically reduce genetic differentiation. The impact of the Near Eastern farmers extended beyond the Near East: farmers related to those of Anatolia spread westward into Europe; farmers related to those of the Levant spread southward into East Africa; farmers related to those from Iran spread northward into the Eurasian steppe; and people related to both the early farmers of Iran and to the pastoralists of the Eurasian steppe spread eastward into South Asia.

Concepts: Middle East, Asia, Western Asia, Fertile Crescent, Iraq, Near East, Levant, Mesopotamia