Turkey Bones May Help Trace Fate of Ancient Cliff Dwellers

Researchers say they have found a new clue into the mysterious exodus of ancient cliff-dwelling people from the Mesa Verde area of Colorado more than 700 years ago: DNA from the bones of domesticated turkeys.

The DNA shows the Mesa Verde people raised turkeys that had telltale similarities to turkeys kept by ancient people in the Rio Grande Valley of northern New Mexico � and that those birds became more common in New Mexico about the same time the Mesa Verde people were leaving their cliff dwellings, according to a paper published last month in the journal PLoS One.

That supports the hypothesis that when the cliff dwellers left the Mesa Verde region in the late 1200s, many migrated to northern New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley, about 170 miles (270 kilometers) to the southeast, and that the Pueblo Indians who live there today are their descendants, the archaeologists wrote.

The cliff dwellers would have taken some turkeys with them, accounting for the increase in numbers in New Mexico, the authors said.

The debate continues

Researchers have long debated what became of the people sometimes called Ancestral Puebloans, who lived in the elaborate Mesa Verde cliff dwellings and other communities across the Four Corners region, where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet.

Archaeologists believe the Ancestral Puebloans were a flourishing population of about 30,000 in 1200, but by 1280 they were gone, driven off by a devastating drought, social turbulence and warfare.

Because they left no written record, their paths are not known with certainty. Many archaeologists and present-day Pueblo Indians believe the Ancestral Puebloans moved to villages across New Mexico and Arizona, and that their descendants live there today.

Scott Ortman, a University of Colorado archaeologist and a co-author of the PLoS One paper, said the turkey DNA supports the explanation that many migrated to an area along the Rio Grande north of present-day Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The patterns that we found are consistent with several other studies and several other lines of evidence, he said in an interview.

Evidence of migration

Jim Allison, an archaeologist at Brigham Young University who was not involved in the paper, agreed the findings mesh with other evidence of a southeastward migration.

But a weakness of the study is the number of DNA samples used, he said. Researchers examined DNA from nearly 270 sets of turkey remains � some from before 1280 and some from after that date. But only 11 sets of remains came from the Rio Grande before 1280.

It would have been really nice to have 10 times as many, Allison said, but they were not available.

Ortman acknowledged that the turkey DNA alone is not conclusive evidence of migration to the Rio Grande Valley.

The New Mexico turkeys could have come from someplace other than the Mesa Verde region, or turkey-herding communities could already have sprung up in New Mexico before the Ancestral Puebloans left their Mesa Verde communities, he said.

Evidence is thin

Some archaeologists argue the evidence for a migration to the Rio Grande Valley is thin. Even supporters, such as Allison, acknowledge that some evidence does not fit, including differences in pottery and architectural styles.

Tim Hovezak, an archaeologist at Mesa Verde National Park, said he is not convinced the Ancestral Puebloans moved to the Rio Grande, but he tries to keep an open mind.

I think it’s still a mystery, and it’s a very compelling one, he said.

Ortman said other evidence besides the turkey DNA points to the migration.

The Tewa language spoken by some northern New Mexico Pueblo Indians today includes vocabulary that seems to harken back to the material culture of the Mesa Verde area, he said.

The Tewa term for the roof of a church translates roughly to a basket made out of timbers, Ortman said. That better describes the roofs used on kivas � ceremonial rooms � in ancient Mesa Verde communities than it does the churches in New Mexico, he said.

Another line of evidence is similarities in the facial structures of the remains of ancient people from the Mesa Verde region and New Mexico, Ortman said.

Respect for Ancestral Puebloan remains

Examining human DNA from Ancestral Puebloan remains would provide a more definitive answer, Ortman said. But some contemporary Pueblo Indians object to doing that, and Ortman and others said they respect their wishes.

Theresa Pasqual, a member of the Acoma Pueblo in northwestern New Mexico and the pueblo’s former preservation director, said she knows of no pueblos that would consent to DNA testing on ancestral remains because of spiritual and cultural concerns.

Pasqual, who is studying archaeology at the University of New Mexico, said she was heartened by the turkey DNA study because it supports the oral traditions of Acoma and other present-day pueblos that point to ancestral ties to the Mesa Verde region.

Some Acoma families still raise domestic turkeys and hunt wild ones, but it would be difficult to trace that tradition to the Ancestral Puebloans, Pasqual said.

The Ancestral Puebloan sites are a key factor in what she called Acoma’s migration narrative.

These places have been a part of our narrative and a part of our history and a part of our present-day life for as long as we can remember, Pasqual said.

Source: Voice of America


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US: Islamic State Has Committed ‘Genocide’ Against Religious Believers

The United States accused Islamic State insurgents on Tuesday of carrying out a reign of violence targeting religious minorities and opposition ethnic groups, even as they have been losing control of large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Islamic State “is clearly responsible for genocide … and crimes against humanity.”

Tillerson, speaking as he released the State Department’s annual report on religious freedom in 199 countries and territories around the globe, said, “Religious persecution and intolerance remains far too prevalent.”

The top U.S. diplomat said that “almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion. Where religious freedom is not protected we know that instability, human rights abuses and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root. We cannot ignore these conditions.”

Seven countries

Tillerson singled out seven countries for an array of abuses in the way their governments treat the faithful: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain, China, Pakistan and Sudan. Tillerson said that in various ways these nations intimidate believers practicing their faiths through harassment, imprisonment and executions.

“No one should have to live in fear, worship in secret, or face discrimination because of his or her beliefs,” he said.

But he laid out his most detailed indictment against Islamic State.

As we make progress in defeating ISIS and denying them their caliphate, their terrorist members have and continue to target multiple religions and ethnic groups for rape, kidnapping enslavement and even death,” he said.

“To remove any ambiguity from previous statements or reports by the State Department,” Tillerson said, “the crime of genocide requires three elements: specific acts with specific intent to destroy and hold or impart specific people. Members of national, ethnic, racial or religious groups. Specific act-specific intent-specific people. Application of the law to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled.

US priority

Tillerson said the protection of religious minorities “and others who are targets of violent extremism � remains a human rights priority” for President Donald Trump’s administration.

The report said that in Iraq, where Baghdad’s forces have reclaimed the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State control, the insurgents “pursued a campaign of violence against members of all faiths, but against non-Sunnis in particular.”

The State Department said, “In areas under its control, ISIS continued to commit individual and mass killings, and to engage in rape, kidnapping, random detentions and mass abductions, torture, abduction and forced conversion of non-Muslim male children, and the enslavement and sex trafficking of women and girls from minority religious communities.”

It said Islamic State “continued to engage in harassment, intimidation, robbery, and the destruction of personal property and religious sites. In areas not under ISIS control, it continued suicide bombings and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attacks against all segments of society.”

In Syria, the report said that “nonstate actors, including a number of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and other governments, such as ISIS and … al-Nusra Front, targeted Shia, Alawites, Christians, and other religious minorities, as well as other Sunnis, with indiscriminate attacks, as well as killings, kidnappings, physical mistreatment, and arrests in the areas of the country under their control.

“ISIS killed dozens through public executions, crucifixions, and beheadings of men, women, and children on charges of apostasy, blasphemy, homosexuality, and cursing God,” the report said, “In Raqqa [Islamic State’s self-declared capital] and elsewhere in Syria, ISIS continued to hold thousands of enslaved Yazidi women and girls kidnapped in Iraq and trafficked to Syria to be sold or distributed to ISIS members as ‘spoils of war’ because of their religious beliefs.”


The report singled out China for what it said were the government’s abuse, detention, arrests and torture of adherents of various faiths.

“The government cited concerns over the ‘three evils’ of ‘ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism’ as grounds to enact and enforce restrictions on religious practices of Uighur Muslims,” the report said. “The government sought the forcible repatriation of Uighur Muslims from foreign countries, many of whom sought asylum in those countries on the grounds of religious persecution.”

Source: Voice of America


Iraqi Shi’ite Militias Pledge to Take Part in Next IS Fight

Iraq’s Shi’ite militias announced on Monday they will participate in the next major battle against the Islamic State group after the Iraqi forces’ victory in Mosul last month.

The Shi’ite militias did not fight in the urban part of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, but were key in clearing far-flung villages of IS and capturing supply lines in the desert west of Mosul toward Iraq’s border with Syria.

The spokesman for the government-sanctioned umbrella � known as the Popular Mobilization Forces or PMF and mostly made up of Shi’ite militias � says the participation of the militiamen is “essential” in the upcoming fight for the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul. About 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of the Syrian border, Tal Afar was once home to both Shiites and Sunni ethnic Turkmen.

“Today we want to speak loud and clear that [the PMF] are actively involved in Tal Afar military operations and will participate in all areas where operations are taking place,” Ahmed al-Asadi told reporters in Baghdad.

In past fights against IS in Iraq, including the battles for the cities of Tikrit and Fallujah, the Shi’ite militias were accused of sectarian killings and other abuses against minority Sunnis. They acknowledge some abuses may have occurred but say those responsible have been disciplined.

Monday’s announcement may increase tensions between Iraq and neighboring Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has repeatedly warned that military operations in and around Mosul should not lead to any demographic changes on the ground, reflecting concerns that once territory is liberated from IS, Iraqi Kurdish or Shi’ite forces may push out Sunni Arabs or ethnic Turkmen.

Source: Voice of America


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