Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ancient Phoenician mtDNA Looks European

The mito-genome of a Carthaginian Phoenician has been sequenced...The Tunisia man had the maternal haplotype U5b2c1, which is fairly limited to Europe. It is also found in low frequency in the Phoenician heartland of Lebanon, which was either native there as well or it was cross-pollinated through its colonies in Western and Southern Iberia. Additional sequencing shows some affinity to a person from Portugal.
From Bell Beaker Blogger.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Trying To Mix Physics and Religion Can Get Embarassing

Letting money from religiously motivated people drive discussions of physics can lead to absurd crazy-talk.
Some people at Rutgers have decided to show what can go wrong when you have the Templeton Foundation funding “philosophy of physics”. They’ve scheduled a two-day Rutgers Mini-Conference on Multiverse, Theodicy, and Fine-Tuning, during which the speakers will consider the following two topics:
  • Everettian Quantum Mechanics and Evil
    The problem of evil has been around for a long time: How can an all-powerful and all-good God allow evil of the sorts we see in the world? If the Everettian interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, though, then there is a lot more evil in the world than what we see. This suggest a second problem of evil: If Everettianism is true, how can an all-powerful and all-good God allow evil of the sort we don’t see?
  • A Probability Problem in the Fine-Tuning Argument
    According to the fine-tuning argument: (i) the probability of a life-permitting universe, conditional on the non-existence of God, is low; and (ii) the probability of a life-permitting universe, conditional on the existence of God, is high. I demonstrate that these two claims cannot be simultaneously justified.
From Not Even Wrong.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the Everettian interpretation of quantum mechanics is another name for the "Many Worlds Interpretation".

The "fine-tuning" argument argues that physical constants in our current version of the laws of the universe which are derived from a variety of other physical constants, must have precise and absurdly "unlikely" values to cancel out and produce the measured values.

Every now and then I consider absurd questions too, like whether unicorn meat would be kosher. But, I don't try to hold legitimate academic mini-conferences discussing the issue.

Quick Hits

Busy with work and fighting an eight week old spring cough, so I'll be brief:

* Ny's arya blog has an interesting post about the linguistic evidence that the proto-Indo-European homeland had lots of tall mountains, contra the stereotype of proto-Indo-Europeans as purely steppe people.  Likewise, there is lots of sedentary agricultural vocabulary in proto-Indo-European.

This blog also pointed me to a nice meaty article (pdf) on the latest thinking about the Tocharian languages (the easternmost and now extinct branch of the Indo-European languages) by J.P. Mallory, a leading expert in the field.

* There is a new linguistics paper on Dene-Yeniseic by the main proponent of the case that the two language families (one Old World and one New World) are linguistically related.

* Someone found a beer recipe from China ca. 3000 BCE.

* Corded Ware women were more mobile than men per Strontium analysis of remains.

* British Bell Beaker people were mobile within Britain but not so much beyond it. Many more findings from the same paper are discussed here.  And, Beaker people were all over the British Isles:

* In the course of a discussion at Razib's blog over whether Muhammed could have been a Christian or Christian influenced, I did some research on and learned a lot about the Parthian Empire which is relevant to a lot of Iron Age history.  The discussion by Razib, me and multiple others is worth reading and brings out both stark differences of opinion in fact, subtle differences of opinion on importance and characterization of the facts, and plain old lots of historical data points from all sides that you probably didn't hear about, or don't recall, from Western Civ.  My usual focus is pre-Iron Age, but I'm intrigued enough to look more closely into this period.

* I've been largely convinced that you can't meaningfully estimate how many genes influence a continuous genetically determined trait by looking at the genetic variance and assuming that due to the law of averages, if a trait is determined by a large number of genes then it will have low variance in a population.  This is true, at the most basic level, because the law of averages applies only to repeated trials with the same probability and effect, while additive genetic variance does not meet this condition.

* Analysis of whole genomes from all over the world by software that allows for admixture tend to show that South Asians and East Eurasians mostly descend from West Africans with material East African admixture.  But, its hard to know what to make of that as the software is really operating to deal with issues beyond the range of applicability where it is designed to function properly and can't necessarily consider all hypotheses that make sense to explain the data.

* Humans were hunting mastodons in Florida ca. 14,550 years ago (pre-Clovis).

* Fifteen Indus River Valley civilization remains have been sent to labs for ancient DNA analysis and someday we'll learn what they can tell us about that civilization whose population genetic connection with West Eurasia and South Asia is highly disputed.  But, it could take awhile.

* Brown bears and modern humans migrated to similar places over the last 40,000 years (pre-agriculture) based upon brown bear genetics. Mammoth herd migration and genetics are similar informative regarding Paleolithic era human migrations. See also data points on elk.

* Donkeys were late arrivals to Europe, but donkey remains were found from 2500 BCE in Iberia.

* Somebody has unearthed a Dutch Bell Beaker boardwalk along a river.

* Bronze Age instrument construction involved very long range trade networks and the instruments themselves were widely disperse.

* The geology of the Andaman Islands explained.