"Introduction of Osteological and Molecular Methods in Cypriot Archaeology – revival of Byzantine/Medieval Nicosia"
Host Organisation: Department of Antiquities
Project Coordinator: Yiannis Violaris
Scientific Coordinator: Popi Chrysostomou
Partner Organisation: Cyprus Institute of Neurology and Genetics
Laboratory of Forensic Genetics: Dr. Marios Cariolou, Panayiotis Manoli
Molecular Genetics Thalassaemia Department: Dr. Marina Kleanthous, George Christopoulos
Private Researcher: Dr. Michalis Angastiniotis
Beneficiary Organisation: University of Cyprus, Dr. Demetrios Michaelides
A. G. Leventis Foundation, Dr. Vassos Karageorghis
Research funded by the Research Promotion Foundation, under the National Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Innovation 2003-2005.
The 4-year research project aimed at the study of the human skeletal remains excavated in 2002-2004 at the site of Palaion Demarheion (Old Municipality) in Nicosia, through the interdisciplinary fields of archaeology, anthropology, history, genetics and medicine.
Specifically, this pioneering and ambitious project had the following objectives:
(a) the study of the burial customs during the 11th-15th century AD in Cyprus
(b) the anthropological study of a minimum number of 209 individuals,
(c) a palaeodemographic study,
(d) the molecular analysis of samples on a mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome level,
(e) the molecular investigation for the existence of pathogenic genes of beta-thalassemia, and
(f) the creation of a skeletal collection for educational purposes.
The main findings can be summarised as follows:
(a) Archaeological study:
The study focused on the archaeological data related to the cemeteries of the two churches excavated at Palaion Demarheion. The two churches date to the end of the 12th/early 13th c. AD (Church A’) and the end of the 11th/beginning of 12th c. to the 15th c. AD (Church B’) respectively. This data was incorporated with other historical and ethnographic sources. The outcome of the study was the recording of the burial customs during the byzantine/medieval period in Cyprus and a thorough presentation of the religious practices concerning death during the period under study, indicating the various chronological and cultural/religious variations.
(b) Anthropological study:
A database was created with (i) records of the anthropological data of a minimum number of 209 individuals (inventories, sex estimation, age-at-death and stature determination, pathologies, ante-, peri- and post-mortem traumas etc), (ii) field diaries, photographs and drawings, and (iii) laboratory photographs and drawings.
The age-at-death was also determined via a new radiographic method developed on the modern Cypriot population. In a validation study of known-age skeletons, this method presented very promising results since the estimated age intervals were closer to the chronological age of the specimens than those recorded via the traditional ageing methods.
Finally, in situ stature measurements were compared to stature estimations using regression formulae. New regression formulae were created based on the Cypriot population under study.
(c) Palaeodemographic study:
Demographic life tables were created for the cemetery population related to the two churches. The life tables were compared to those of other European archaeological populations. The population at the site of Palaion Demarheion exhibits much higher infant/child mortality rates, especially the skeletons associated with Church A’ (53% infant/child mortality) which date to the end of the 12th/early 13th c. AD.
(d) Genetic study:
Forty-seven samples were analysed on a mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome level. DNA was successfully extracted in 32 samples, 14 of which yielded positive results in the Y-chromosome typing indicating that the samples belonged to males with no paternal relationship between them. The 8 of the 14 samples had good quality data to be assigned to a Y-haplogroup; eight haplogroups were recorded indicating heterogeneity in the male population. The attested haplogroups are very rare in both international and local genetic databases.
Sixteen samples yielded enough data to be assigned in ten different mitochondrial haplotypes. The haplogroups of skeletons associated with Church A’ also appear in the samples of skeletons associated with Church B’ which date from the 11th to the 15th c. AD. An important finding of the study is the identification of new haplotypes (H1, H2, H6 and K), predominantly considered of European origin, only in samples dating to the 14th /15th century.
The genetic data, in combination with the palaeodemographic data, support the hypothesis of a newcoming population. The introduction of a new population group could result in an increased infant mortality rate, at least during its first generation, and would explain the introduction of new genetic haplotypes in the cemeteries of Nicosia. This theory is also consistent with the historical sources, that is, the beginning in 1191 of the Frankish period in Cyprus.
Thalassaemia is an inherited disease that is found in high frequencies in the modern Cypriot population - one in seven Cypriots is a carrier of beta-thalassaemia. Thalassaemia has also been reported in studies of Cypriot skeletal collections dating as early as the Neolithic period.
The polymerase chain reaction set-up was performed using primers specifically designed to take into account the most common thalassaemic mutation in the modern Cypriot population (80.6% IVS 1-110 G/A). No amplifiable DNA was obtained from seven samples, and the sequence analysis performed on the five samples did not produce informative data. LightCycler Melting Curve Analysis was subsequently performed which indicated the presence of a sample with heterozygous thalassaemia. To confirm the results, ThalassoChip, a beta-thalassaemia genetic diagnostic tool which is based on arrayed primer extension (APEX) technology, was performed. The results indicated that none of the analysed samples had a G/A transition at IVSI-110.
(f) Human Skeletal Reference Collection:
According to the deliverables of the programme, part of the skeletal collection under study is currently maintained for educational purposes at the Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus.