CEO of GIFEC, Mr. Abraham Kofi Asante
The Government of Ghana under the Nana Akufo-Addo led administration has empowered the Ghana Investment Fund For Electronic Communication (GIFEC) and the Ministry Of Communications (MOC) to help improve communication solutions especially in remote areas in a very unique way.
Since the universe is turning a digital globe, GIFEC which is taking up a pivotal role has introduced various innovative ways of executing the task of resolving electronic communication related challenges.
At a press conference in Accra, on Tuesday, 24th July, 2018 the CEO of The Ghana Investment Fund For Electronic Communications, Mr. Abraham Kofi Asante noted; “GIFEC has undertaken a number of rural-centered initiatives over the past years in unserved and underserved communities, all aimed at narrowing the digital gap.”
Outlining their achievements under the various rolled out initiatives, the CEO said, “Rural Telephony Project (RTP), through close collaboration with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) led to the following accomplishments over the years: 117 RTP sites constructed (2014 – 2016), 100 RTP sites constructed using UMTS 900 (2017), 85 repeater sites (May 2018), 900 communities covered and 200 RTP sites to be constructed by the end of 2018 of which 50 has already been completed.”
“Under the Cyber Laboratory programme; 819 Educational Institutions were provided with Computers, Printers, Scanners and Projectors while 120 Basic Schools are to be equipped with ICT Laboratories by the end of 2018”
Touching on the GIFEC Satellite Hub, which provides Internet Points of Presence in unserved/underserved communities through the installation of a VSAT Satellite Hub, he said, “100 VSATs internet sites have been installed, 25 RTP sites integrated into the hub, 82 CICs connected to the internet.”
He further eulogized MTN and Huawei for partnering GIFEC on its major task to provide rural areas with good Internet and voice services.
Narrating the ordeal people in the rural areas go through in search of the internet and clarity for voice calls, Mr. Abraham Kofi Asante said, “Most people in rural areas, mostly find it very difficult to get good receptions during the making of calls to their loved ones in the cities, as most have to either climb trees, or go to places where they can hear or get good call receptions.”
He also revealed, measures are being put in place to not only offer voice solutions during calls, but also offer better Internet (data) for one to surf the Internet even in remote areas whiles the businesses in the communities are educated on how to use social media to enhance, market and expand their business.
In the coming days, GIFEC will be increasing the reach of some new innovations such as the Emergency Call Centers which empowers Citizens to call and lodge complaints to government directly and get real time feedback and the Coding for Kids initiative; an arrangement to train kids to be able to use computers in programming and learning which already has 150 teachers trained as at June, 2018 and it is expected to train 1500 school children by the end of the first phase of the project.
If Aliens Call, What Should We Do? Scientists Want Your Opinion.
In the age of fake news, researchers worry conspiracy theories would abound before we could figure out how — or if — to reply to an alien message. The answer to this question could affect all of our lives more than nearly any other policy decision out there: How, if it all, should humanity respond if we get a message from an alien civilization? And yet politicians and scientists have never bothered to get our input on it.
At long last, that’s changing. A group of researchers in the UK this week released the first major survey on the question. The responses could help inform an international protocol for responding to first contact.
This is a big deal because, as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned, communicating with extraterrestrials could pose a catastrophic risk to humanity. In fact, if we send out a message and it’s received by less-than-friendly aliens, that could pose an existential threat not only to the human species but to every species on Earth.
Despite the high stakes, scientists have already sent out signals intended to be picked up by aliens. The first one went out in 1974, when the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico transmitted a broadcast containing information on everything from the position of Earth in our solar system to the double helix structure of DNA.
The Arecibo Observatory is currently running a contest that invites kids to design our next message to E.T. And later this year, an organization called Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) plans to transmit a new message containing information on the periodic table. There’s no law saying they can’t, or even that they need to get some international buy-in.
But the scientists at the UK SETI Research Network (UKSRN) think we’re woefully unprepared to handle an alien message if we receive one. And they say no one class of people should unilaterally decide humanity’s response. As astronomer Martin Dominik put it, “We want to hear people’s views. The consequences affect more people than just scientists.”
So UKSRN has launched a survey online and at the Royal Society’s summer science exhibition in London, which runs July 1-7. Here are three of the questions they’re asking the public:
1) Some people think we should send messages into space even if we don’t receive a message first. What is your opinion?
2) If we receive a message, do you think we should reply/make contact or not? Why?
3) What would you consider a credible source?
That third question reflects a worry I’ve been hearing from astronomers over the past couple of years: If a newly discovered message from aliens is announced, members of the public may use social media to spread all sorts of fake news and conspiracy theories about the aliens, their message, and what it will mean for humanity to communicate with them.
In the weeks or months or years it could take scientists to decode the interstellar missive, fear-mongering could tank our chances of responding wisely — or at all. An alien message “will take time to understand and if that work starts to drag out and there is nothing new we can say, the information vacuum will be filled with speculation,” John Elliott, a UKSRN co-founder, told the Guardian. “Conjecture and rumor will take over.”
In hopes of figuring out how to minimize the problem, the survey asks which information sources you’d trust: Main news channels? Direct quotes from scientists? Official government statements? Other sources?
It also asks if you’d post on social media about the discovery of an alien message. If so, would you restrict yourself to defending the scientific evidence? Or would you maybe engage in speculation? Would the absence of any news on the signal’s decoding encourage you to speculate?
You can see how it’d be useful to scientists to be able to predict the public’s response in these scenarios. But there’s a difference between how I say I’d react when I’m filling out a questionnaire, and how I’d actually react in real life. In addition to that limitation, the UKSRN survey is weakened by the fact that the same person can take it more than once from different devices.
Still, it’s an improvement over the lack of public consultation we’ve seen on these questions in the past.
Who gets to make rules about what happens in space?
For decades, the international community has been exploring the possibility of establishing a mechanism for global oversight when it comes to our engagement with outer space. But even if everyone were to agree that’s a good idea, the question of how to set it up and make it enforceable is incredibly complicated.
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty was an early effort in this vein. Ratified by dozens of countries and adopted by the United Nations against the backdrop of the Cold War, it laid out a framework for international space law.
Among other things, it stipulated that the moon and other celestial bodies can only be used for peaceful purposes, and that states can’t store their nuclear weapons in space. The treaty suited its historical context, but it didn’t tackle the concerns people have nowadays about messaging an alien intelligence.
Carl Sagan helped design this early pictorial message to aliens. It was engraved on an aluminum plaque that was attached to the Pioneer 10 spacecraft before its launch in 1972.
Another inflection point came in the late 1980s, when scientists with the organization Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) drafted a post-detection protocol, a list of best practices for what to do if and when we ever find aliens. One of its principles reads: “No response to a signal or other evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence should be sent until appropriate international consultations have taken place.”
This protocol was put on file as a brief with the Outer Space Treaty at the UN, and it was endorsed by the International Academy of Astronautics and the International Institute for Space Law. But it has no regulatory force when it comes to those who actively send out messages à la METI.
In 2015, SETI researchers, Musk, and others released a statement criticizing METI efforts. “We feel the decision whether or not to transmit must be based upon a worldwide consensus, and not a decision based upon the wishes of a few individuals with access to powerful communications equipment,” it said. “We strongly encourage vigorous international debate by a broadly representative body prior to engaging further in this activity.”
So far, though, there is still no “broadly representative body” regulating what messages can be sent into space or by whom.
Alessandra Abe Pacini, a researcher at Arecibo who helped generate the idea for the kids’ contest, told me the question of whether any message should be transmitted at all is “very controversial,” adding: “Even here among the scientists at Arecibo, there is no consensus.”
If some of the smartest astronomers in the world can’t come to an in-house agreement, is there any hope that the international community will ever agree? Maybe not, but the UKSRN survey may at least help us find out how much consensus there is or isn’t among the public. That’s a good first step.
LIFESTYLE: How To Make A Good Impression While Working From Home.
The option to work remotely is a huge draw for employees today. With commutes averaging nearly half an hour each way in the US, working from the comfort of home, a local coffee shop, or nearby co-working space is a perk now enjoyed by nearly half of the US workforce.
But businesses—which also benefit from flexible remote-work policies by reducing the overhead costs that come with physical office space—are struggling to address the collaboration challenges their remote employees faces.
Software company Igloo, where I work, recently surveyed 2,000 employees to gauge the state of the digital workforce in a new report. Our data indicates that over half of remote workers have been left out of important meetings, and more than two-thirds say they deal with challenges they would not encounter in an office setting.
Knowledge sharing is essential in any work environment. For remote workers, this is especially true. Yet, 43% of employees have neglected to share a document with a colleague because they couldn’t find it, or thought it would take too long to find. While working remotely may limit the distractions that come with an open office, challenges like these make it difficult for remote workers to be as successful as their in-office peers.
56% of remote workers have missed out on important information because of their remote status. Employers are responsible for providing their employees with the best tools to communicate and collaborate with their fellow co-workers, but it’s up to remote workers to use those tools effectively to ensure their voices are not ignored. These three steps are a good place to start.
1. Always make your presence (or lack thereof) known
“Out of sight, out of mind” shouldn’t apply to remote workers—but it does more often than not. In our survey, 56% of remote workers have missed out on important information because of their remote status; 70% reported they “feel left out.”
In order to be included, ensure that co-workers know where you are, or at the very least when you’re online. For example, if you’re running out to get lunch or grab a cup of coffee, setting your status to away on your messaging app of choice can help avoid missed connections, eliminating the infamous, “Sorry for the delay!” response.
Gallery: I've been working from home for almost 10 years — these are the 6 tricks I use to get more done in less time (Business Insider)
While remote workers may not have the luxury of grabbing a conference room for a quick chat, there’s a variety of cost-effective and easy-to-use conferencing tools that make it simple to have a virtual face-to-face meeting, regardless of location.
Asking to do an informal meeting over Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Slack, or the plain old telephone can help build rapport with colleagues in various locations, which can be useful when you inevitably need to circle back for information.
2. Show up for the job
While it’s tempting at times to work from your bed, it’s best to reserve this for sick days. Creating a professional environment at home helps trigger productivity. In fact, research shows that working from your bed or even living spaces can cause workers to link these places to stress and makes it hard to disconnect from work, even after logging off for the day.
It’s crucial for remote workers to build a dedicated work environment outfitted with the proper tools. Curating a space equipped with a desk, monitor, keyboard, and office supplies can go a long way.
Creating a structure for the day, in addition to building a workspace and dressing professionally, can also help set work/life balance boundaries and avoid the potential for burnout. Taking time for a coffee break or stepping away to eat lunch, just like those in the office often do, helps productivity in the long run.
And when it’s time to log off for the day, being able to shut a physical door allows employees to leave their work in the (home) office.
3. Make your voice heard
Because remote workers are not physically present, speaking up is crucial. This doesn’t mean dominating every conversation, but at the very least you should avoid the mute button during meetings, and find ways to contribute to meaningful discussions.
This does more than increase your value as an employee. A study directed by psychologist Matthias Mehl at the University of Arizona showed that people who engaged in substantive conversations throughout the day were typically happier than those who conversed primarily with small talk.
Remote workers also must be more intentional about conversations regarding career growth. Because there are no water coolers to start conversations around, remote workers need to be diligent about recording and sharing professional wins and accomplishments.
Telling a supervisor about results regarding an ongoing project isn’t bragging—it’s good communication. Participating in internal message boards and engaging on corporate social channels shows commitment to the company and makes communicating more natural when the challenging assignments and promotions roll around. And when they do, there’s no reason remote workers should get any less consideration for them.
Life In A City Without Water: Anxious, Exhausting and Sweaty.
CHENNAI, India — CHENNAI, India — When the water’s gone, you bathe in what drips out of the air-conditioner. You no longer allow yourself the luxury of an evening shower at the end of a steamy summer’s day. You sprint down two flights of stairs with plastic pots as soon as a neighbor tells you the water tanker is coming.
Every day, 15,000 tankers ferry water from the countryside into the city. Everywhere you look, rows of bright neon plastic water pots are lined up along the lanes, waiting.
This is life in Chennai, a city of nearly five million on India’s southeastern coast.
The rains from last year’s monsoon season were exceptionally weak. By the time summer came with its muggy, draining heat, the city’s four major water reservoirs had virtually run dry.
Chennai has struggled with water for years. Either there’s not enough rain or there’s way too much rain, which floods in the streets before trickling out into the Bay of Bengal.
But the problem is not just the caprice of nature. Gone are the many lakes and fields that once swallowed the rains. They have since been filled in and built over. Land is too expensive to be left fallow.
Even groundwater is spent in many neighborhoods, over-extracted for years as a regular source of water, rather than replenished and stored as a backup.
And so now, little comes out of Bhanu Baskar’s taps at home, which is why she skips a shower on the days she doesn’t need to go out. She saves the water for her grown children, who both have office jobs and who both need a daily shower.
“It’s very uncomfortable,” said Ms. Baskar, 48, trying to hide her shame. “It’s very tough.”
“It’s not hygienic, also,” she said.
Chennai was primed for this crisis. The city gets most of its water each year from the short, heavy monsoon that begins in October and a few pre-monsoon showers. The trick is to capture what comes and save it for the lean times.
Chennai requires every building to catch the rainwater from its rooftops and pour it back into the earth, but that has not been enough to stop either drought or flood. So the city spends huge amounts of money scooping water from the sea, churning it through expensive desalination plants and converting it into water that residents can use.
Sekhar Raghavan, 72, a lifelong Chennai resident and the city’s most outspoken supporter of better rainwater harvesting, finds this absurd.
“Some of us knew this crisis would come,” he said. “For us, in Chennai, harvesting means putting every drop of water back into the ground.”
And then there’s climate change. It doesn’t bear direct blame for Chennai’s water crisis, but it makes it worse.
The city is hotter than before. Maximum temperatures have on average gone up by 1.3 degrees Celsius (or over 2 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1950, according to Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. In an already hot tropical city — often above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and very humid in the summer — that means water evaporates faster and the demand for it rises.
The seeds of the crisis can be found in Velachery, a neighborhood named after one of Chennai’s many lakes. The lake was once deep and wide, but as the city grew, portions of it were filled in 20 years ago to make room for private homes.
P. Jeevantham was one of the first residents in Velachery when it was developed. He built a slender, three-story apartment building, and manages a tiny shop selling everyday provisions on the ground floor.
What remained of the lake was deep and clean back then. That didn’t last for long. Because the city’s water supply was erratic, Mr. Jeevantham drilled a bore well to draw up water from the aquifer beneath Chennai. So did all his neighbors, up and down the block.
Today, Mr. Jeevantham, 60, runs his motor seven hours a day to satisfy the needs of his own family of four and their tenants. It slurps water from 80 feet under the ground, slowly draining from the lake.
“The lake is God’s gift,” he marveled. But for how much longer? This, he didn't know. “Maybe five years,” he said, laughing uncomfortably.
Today the lake is a shallow, gray-green oasis, bordered on the edges by invasive weeds and trash, including, in one corner, a black and yellow, broken-down rickshaw.
Near the city center, the groundwater is nearly gone. Dev Anand, 30, still lives in his childhood home in the Anna Nagar area. For much of his life, his family relied on what city water came through the pipes. When that wasn’t enough, they drew water from under the ground. This summer, that dried up. For a few weeks, his neighbor shared his water. Then his groundwater dried up too.
Mr. Anand, who is active with a civil society group that raises awareness about water, now relies on city tankers. He calls, complains, waits, worries.
The entire neighborhood is on tenterhooks. No one knows when their bore wells will be exhausted. People are still drilling more wells all over the city, draining the aquifer further and faster.
Every now and then comes a sprinkling of pre-monsoon showers. Those, too, seem to leave the city no sooner than they enter it. The water reservoirs have been cleared of silt and trash.
The city says it dispatches more than 9,000 water tankers on any given day, more than ever before; private companies supply another 5,000 tankers.
A steady stream of people line up at a public tap outside the city waterworks near Mr. Anand’s house. An auto-rickshaw driver said he came every afternoon with his wife and two children to fill up six big jugs. Men on scooters dangled their water pots on either side.
Even groundwater is spent in many neighborhoods, over-extracted for years as a regular source of water, rather than replenished and stored as a backup.
These days, his family increasingly relies on the generosity of neighbors. Someone orders a private water tank and shares. As soon as a city water tanker shows, neighbors text — and the Baskars rush out with their jugs.
It is exhausting, all this waiting, worrying and keeping vigil for water. Mr. Baskar said he was sleeping less than usual. His mother said she hadn’t had time to check in with relatives on the other side of town. It used to be that you came to the big city to chase money, Mr. Baskar said. “Now we run after water.”
HISTORY: The First Europeans Weren’t Who You Might Think.
The idea that there were once “pure” populations of ancestral Europeans, there since the days of woolly mammoths, has inspired ideologues since well before the Nazis. It has long nourished white racism, and in recent years it has stoked fears about the impact of immigrants: fears that have threatened to rip apart the European Union and roiled politics in the United States.
Now scientists are delivering new answers to the question of who Europeans really are and where they came from. Their findings suggest that the continent has been a melting pot since the Ice Age. Europeans living today, in whatever country, are a varying mix of ancient bloodlines hailing from Africa, the Middle East, and the Russian steppe.
The result has been an explosion of new information that is transforming archaeology. In 2018 alone, the genomes of more than a thousand prehistoric humans were determined, mostly from bones dug up years ago and preserved in museums and archaeological labs. In the process any notion of European genetic purity has been swept away on a tide of powdered bone.
Analysis of ancient genomes provides the equivalent of the personal DNA testing kits available today, but for people who died long before humans invented writing, the wheel, or pottery. The genetic information is startlingly complete: Everything from hair and eye color to the inability to digest milk can be determined from a thousandth of an ounce of bone or tooth. And like personal DNA tests, the results reveal clues to the identities and origins of ancient humans’ ancestors—and thus to ancient migrations.
Three major movements of people, it now seems clear, shaped the course of European prehistory. Immigrants brought art and music, farming and cities, domesticated horses and the wheel. They introduced the Indo-European languages spoken across much of the continent today. They may have even brought the plague. The last major contributors to western and central Europe’s genetic makeup—the last of the first Europeans, so to speak—arrived from the Russian steppe as Stonehenge was being built, nearly 5,000 years ago. They finished the job.
In an era of debate over migration and borders, the science shows that Europe is a continent of immigrants and always has been. “The people who live in a place today are not the descendants of people who lived there long ago,” says Harvard University paleogeneticist David Reich. “There are no indigenous people—anyone who hearkens back to racial purity is confronted with the meaninglessness of the concept.”
First wave: Out of Africa
Thirty-two years ago the study of the DNA of living humans helped establish that we all share a family tree and a primordial migration story: All people outside Africa are descended from ancestors who left that continent more than 60,000 years ago. About 45,000 years ago, those first modern humans ventured into Europe, having made their way up through the Middle East. Their own DNA suggests they had dark skin and perhaps light eyes.
Europe then was a forbidding place. Mile-thick ice sheets covered parts of the continent. Where there was enough warmth, there was wildlife. There were also other humans, but not like us: Neanderthals, whose own ancestors had wandered out of Africa hundreds of thousands of years earlier, had already adapted to the cold and harsh conditions.
The first modern Europeans lived as hunters and gatherers in small, nomadic bands. They followed the rivers, edging along the Danube from its mouth on the Black Sea deep into western and central Europe. For millennia, they made little impact. Their DNA indicates they mixed with the Neanderthals—who, within 5,000 years, were gone. Today about 2 percent of a typical European’s genome consists of Neanderthal DNA. A typical African has none.
As Europe was gripped by the Ice Age, the modern humans hung on in the ice-free south, adapting to the cold climate. Around 27,000 years ago, there may have been as few as a thousand of them, according to some population estimates. They subsisted on large mammals such as mammoths, horses, reindeer, and aurochs—the ancestors of modern cattle. In the caves where they sheltered, they left behind spectacular paintings and engravings
of their prey.
About 14,500 years ago, as Europe began to warm, humans followed the retreating glaciers north. In the ensuing millennia, they developed more sophisticated stone tools and settled in small villages. Archaeologists call this period the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age.
In the 1960s Serbian archaeologists uncovered a Mesolithic fishing village nestled in steep cliffs on a bend of the Danube, near one of the river’s narrowest points. Called Lepenski Vir, the site was an elaborate settlement that had housed as many as a hundred people, starting roughly 9,000 years ago. Some dwellings were furnished with carved sculptures that were half human, half fish.
Bones found at Lepenski Vir indicated that the people there depended heavily on fish from the river. Today what remains of the village is preserved under a canopy overlooking the Danube; sculptures of goggle-eyed river gods still watch over ancient hearths. “Seventy percent of their diet was fish,” says Vladimir Nojkovic, the site’s director. “They lived here almost 2,000 years, until farmers pushed them out.”
Second wave: Out of Anatolia
The Konya Plain in central Anatolia is modern Turkey’s breadbasket, a fertile expanse where you can see rainstorms blotting out mountains on the horizon long before they begin spattering the dust around you. It has been home to farmers, says University of Liverpool archaeologist Douglas Baird, since the first days of farming. For more than a decade Baird has been excavating a prehistoric village here called Boncuklu. It’s a place where people began planting small plots of emmer and einkorn, two ancient forms of wheat, and probably herding small flocks of sheep and goats, some 10,300 years ago, near the dawn of the Neolithic period.
Within a thousand years the Neolithic revolution, as it’s called, spread north through Anatolia and into southeastern Europe. By about 6,000 years ago, there were farmers and herders all across Europe.
It has long been clear that Europe acquired the practice of farming from Turkey or the Levant, but did it acquire farmers from the same places? The answer isn’t obvious. For decades, many archaeologists thought a whole suite of innovations—farming, but also ceramic pottery, polished stone axes capable of clearing forests, and complicated settlements—was carried into Europe not by migrants but by trade and word of mouth, from one valley to the next, as hunter-gatherers who already lived there adopted the new tools and way of life.
But DNA evidence from Boncuklu has helped show that migration had a lot more to do with it. The farmers of Boncuklu kept their dead close, burying them in the fetal position under the floors of their houses. Beginning in 2014, Baird sent samples of DNA extracted from skull fragments and teeth from more than a dozen burials to DNA labs in Sweden, Turkey, the U.K., and Germany.
Many of the samples were too badly degraded after spending millennia in the heat of the Konya Plain to yield much DNA. But then Johannes Krause and his team at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History tested the samples from a handful of petrous bones. The petrous bone is a tiny part of the inner ear, not much bigger than a pinkie tip; it’s also about the densest bone in the body. Researchers have found that it preserves genetic information long after usable DNA has been baked out of the rest of a skeleton. That realization, along with better sequencing machines, has helped drive the explosion in ancient DNA studies.
The Boncuklu petrous bones paid off: DNA extracted from them was a match for farmers who lived and died centuries later and hundreds of miles to the northwest. That meant early Anatolian farmers had migrated, spreading their genes as well as their lifestyle.
They didn’t stop in southeastern Europe. Over the centuries their descendants pushed along the Danube past Lepenski Vir and deep into the heart of the continent. Others traveled along the Mediterranean by boat, colonizing islands such as Sardinia and Sicily and settling southern Europe as far as Portugal. From Boncuklu to Britain, the Anatolian genetic signature is found wherever farming first appears.
Those Neolithic farmers mostly had light skin and dark eyes—the opposite of many of the hunter-gatherers with whom they now lived side by side. “They looked different, spoke different languages … had different diets,” says Hartwick College archaeologist David Anthony. “For the most part, they stayed separate.”
Across Europe, this creeping first contact was standoffish, sometimes for centuries. There’s little evidence of one group taking up the tools or traditions of the other. Even where the two populations did mingle, intermarriage was rare. “There’s no question they were in contact with each other, but they weren’t exchanging wives or husbands,” Anthony says. “Defying every anthropology course, people were not having sex with each other.” Fear of the other has a long history.
About 5,400 years ago, everything changed. All across Europe, thriving Neolithic settlements shrank or disappeared altogether. The dramatic decline has puzzled archaeologists for decades. “There’s less stuff, less material, less people, less sites,” Krause says. “Without some major event, it’s hard to explain.” But there’s no sign of mass conflict or war.
After a 500-year gap, the population seemed to grow again, but something was very different. In southeastern Europe, the villages and egalitarian cemeteries of the Neolithic were replaced by imposing grave mounds covering lone adult men. Farther north, from Russia to the Rhine, a new culture sprang up, called Corded Ware after its pottery, which was decorated by pressing string into wet clay.
The State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany, has dozens of Corded Ware graves, including many that were hastily rescued by archaeologists before construction crews went to work. To save time and preserve delicate remains, the graves were removed from the ground in wooden crates, soil and all, and stored in a warehouse for later analysis. Stacked to the ceiling on steel shelves, they’re now a rich resource for geneticists.
Corded Ware burials are so recognizable, archaeologists rarely need to bother with radiocarbon dating. Almost invariably, men were buried lying on their right side and women lying on their left, both with their legs curled up and their faces pointed south. In some of the Halle warehouse’s graves, women clutch purses and bags hung with canine teeth from dozens of dogs; men have stone battle-axes. In one grave, neatly contained in a wooden crate on the concrete floor of the warehouse, a woman and child are buried together.
When researchers first analyzed the DNA from some of these graves, they expected the Corded Ware folk would be closely related to Neolithic farmers. Instead, their DNA contained distinctive genes that were new to Europe at the time—but are detectable now in just about every modern European population. Many Corded Ware people turned out to be more closely related to Native Americans than to Neolithic European farmers. That deepened the mystery of who they were.
One bright October Morning near the Serbian town of Žabalj, Polish archaeologist Piotr Włodarczak and his colleagues steer their pickup toward a mound erected 4,700 years ago. On the plains flanking the Danube, mounds like this one, a hundred feet across and 10 feet high, provide the only topography. It would have taken weeks or months for prehistoric humans to build each one. It took Włodarczak’s team weeks of digging with a backhoe and shovels to remove the top of the mound.
Standing on it now, he peels back a tarp to reveal what’s underneath: a rectangular chamber containing the skeleton of a chieftain, lying on his back with his knees bent. Impressions from the reed mats and wood beams that formed the roof of his tomb are still clear in the dark, hard-packed earth.
It was not new 800 miles to the east, however. On what are now the steppes of southern Russia and eastern Ukraine, a group of nomads called the Yamnaya, some of the first people in the world to ride horses, had mastered the wheel and were building wagons and following herds of cattle across the grasslands. They built few permanent settlements. But they buried their most prominent men with bronze and silver ornaments in mighty grave mounds that still dot the steppes.
By 2800 B.C, archaeological excavations show, the Yamnaya had begun moving west, probably looking for greener pastures. Włodarczak’s mound near Žabalj is the westernmost Yamnaya grave found so far. But genetic evidence, Reich and others say, shows that many Corded Ware people were, to a large extent, their descendants. Like those Corded Ware skeletons, the Yamnaya shared distant kinship with Native Americans—whose ancestors hailed from farther east, in Siberia.
Within a few centuries, other people with a significant amount of Yamnaya DNA had spread as far as the British Isles. In Britain and some other places, hardly any of the farmers who already lived in Europe survived the onslaught from the east. In what is now Germany, “there’s a 70 percent to possibly 100 percent replacement of the local population,” Reich says. “Something very dramatic happens 4,500 years ago.”
Until then, farmers had been thriving in Europe for millennia. They had settled from Bulgaria all the way to Ireland, often in complex villages that housed hundreds or even thousands of people. Volker Heyd, an archaeologist at the University of Helsinki, Finland, estimates there were as many as seven million people in Europe in 3000 B.C. In Britain, Neolithic people were constructing Stonehenge.
To many archaeologists, the idea that a bunch of nomads could replace such an established civilization within a few centuries has seemed implausible. “How the hell would these pastoral, decentralized groups overthrow grounded Neolithic society, even if they had horses and were good warriors?” asks Kristian Kristiansen, an archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
A clue comes from the teeth of 101 people living on the steppes and farther west in Europe around the time that the Yamnaya’s westward migration began. In seven of the samples, alongside the human DNA, geneticists found the DNA of an early form of Yersinia pestis—the plague microbe that killed roughly half of all Europeans in the 14th century.
Unlike that flea-borne Black Death, this early variant had to be passed from person to person. The steppe nomads apparently had lived with the disease for centuries, perhaps building up immunity or resistance—much as the Europeans who colonized the Americas carried smallpox without succumbing to it wholesale. And just as smallpox and other diseases ravaged Native American populations, the plague, once introduced by the first Yamnaya, might have spread rapidly through crowded Neolithic villages. That could explain both their surprising collapse and the rapid spread of Yamnaya DNA from Russia to Britain.
“Plague epidemics cleared the way for the Yamnaya expansion,” says Morten Allentoft, an evolutionary biologist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, who helped identify the ancient plague DNA.
But that theory has a major question: Evidence of plague has only just recently been documented in ancient Neolithic skeletons, and so far, no one has found anything like the plague pits full of diseased skeletons left behind after the Black Death. If a plague wiped out Europe’s Neolithic farmers, it left little trace.
Whether or not they brought plague, the Yamnaya did bring domesticated horses and a mobile lifestyle based on wagons into Stone Age Europe. And in bringing innovative metal weapons and tools, they may have helped nudge Europe toward the Bronze Age.
That might not have been the Yamnaya’s most significant contribution to Europe’s development. Their arrival on the continent matches the time linguists pinpoint as the initial spread of Indo-European languages, a family of hundreds that includes most languages spoken from Ireland to Russia to the northern half of India. All are thought to have evolved from a single proto-Indo-European tongue, and the question of where it was spoken and by whom has been debated since the 19th century. According to one theory, it was the Neolithic farmers from Anatolia who brought it into Europe along with farming.
Another theory, proposed a century ago by a German scholar named Gustaf Kossinna, held that the proto-Indo-Europeans were an ancient race of north Germans—the people who made Corded Ware pots and axes. Kossinna thought that the ethnicity of people in the past—their biological identity, in effect—could be deduced from the stuff they left behind.
“Sharply defined archaeological cultural areas,” he wrote, “correspond unquestionably with the areas of particular people or tribes.”
The north German tribe of proto-Indo-Europeans, Kossinna argued, had moved outward and dominated an area that stretched most of the way to Moscow. Nazi propagandists later used that as an intellectual justification for the modern Aryan “master race” to invade eastern Europe.
Partly as a result, for decades after World War II the whole idea that ancient cultural shifts might be explained by migrations fell into ill repute in some archaeological circles. Even today it makes some archaeologists uncomfortable when geneticists draw bold arrows across maps of Europe.
“This kind of simplicity leads back to Kossinna,” says Heyd, who’s German. “It calls back old demons of blond, blue-eyed guys coming back somehow out of the hell where they were sent after World War II.”
Yet ancient DNA, which provides direct information about the biology of ancient humans, has become a strong argument against Kossinna’s theory. First, in documenting the spread of the Yamnaya and their descendants deeper and deeper into Europe at just the right time, the DNA evidence supports the favored theory among linguists: that proto-Indo-Europeans migrated into Europe from the Russian steppe, not the other way around. Second, together with archaeology it amounts to a rejection of Kossinna’s claim that some kind of pure race exists in Europe, one that can be identified from its cultural artifacts.
All Europeans today are a mix. The genetic recipe for a typical European would be roughly equal parts Yamnaya and Anatolian farmer, with a much smaller dollop of African hunter-gatherer. But the average conceals large regional variations: more “eastern cowboy” genes in Scandinavia, more farmer ones in Spain and Italy, and significant chunks of hunter-gatherer DNA in the Baltics and eastern Europe.
“To me, the new results from DNA are undermining the nationalist paradigm that we have always lived here and not mixed with other people,” Gothenburg’s Kristiansen says. “There’s no such thing as a Dane or a Swede or a German.” Instead, “we’re all Russians, all Africans.”
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