Research Themes

Ancient DNA

Ancient DNA can be loosely described as any "old" (usually degraded) DNA recovered from biological samples. Examples include the analysis of DNA recovered from archaeological material, mummified tissues, archival collectionsof museum/medical specimens, preserved plant remains, ice and soil cores, and so on.Ancient DNA can be loosely described as any "old" (usually degraded) DNA recovered from biological samples. Examples include the analysis of DNA recovered from archaeological material, mummified tissues, archival collections of museum/medical specimens, preserved plant remains, ice and soil cores, and so on.

Access to ancient human and animal remains in the Jordan Valley provides a unique opportunity to use the tools of molecular biology to obtain information on the host-pathogen relation and its changes in populations of the Dead Sea Valley and adjacent regions between the pre-domestication Neolithic and the Roman period.

Ask the question Who were the ancient Canaanites? Have they left their genes in the modern inhabitants of the land? The ancient bones of Jericho excavated by Kenyon have been handled by too many people in the 50+ years since excavation to enable us to study their DNA with any reliability. Using more modern and scientific methods of excavation we propose to retrieve fresh skeletal material for scientific analysis material that will not be contaminated by previous unknown handlers. This should significantly help in what is a major attempt to find the evolution of diseases from the past that are still with us today.

Thus we have an opportunity using isotope analysis to study the diets of this one settled population through the ages. Because Jericho was a spot through which many groups of people passed (invaded) the region over time, we would like to learn from such a study about the diet of the population change over time? If so was this brought about by climate or cultural change; was it brought about by conquest by a new group etc.

Disease Evolution

Tuberculosis (TB) was well known in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, and research has already discovered mummified vertebrae with lesions characteristic of TB. Researchers at the Institute will use DNA research on 6,000-year-old bones excavated in Jericho in hopes of finding data to help combat TB and other pathogens today.

TB is a deadly infectious bacterial disease that usually attacks the lungs. A disease of crowds, it is transmitted from human to human living in close contact. One-third of the world's current population has been infected by tuberculosis, resulting, in recent years, in approximately three million deaths per year. While the origins of tuberculosis and its evolution remain unclear, it is thought it came from the first villages and small towns in the Fertile Crescent region about 9-10,000 years ago. Jericho is one of the earliest towns on earth, dating back to 9,000 B.C.
 

Genetic Perspectives on the Evolution of Human Diets

Our bones and teeth provide a permanent record of our life history. They are the key to interpreting all aspects of our past-our origins as well as the major events in our lifetime. For this reason skeletal and dental remains of past peoples are an essential component of research into disease and nutrition. In addition techniques developed in these studies provide the standards used in forensic identification, especially in mass disasters. Research in our laboratory focuses on development and evolution of populations in Palestine.

Between 13,000 BP and 7,500 BP, human populations in the Near East shifted from an extractive mode of production, founded on hunting and gathering, to an economy based on primary production through domestication of plants and animals. In the Southern Levant the transition to agro-pastoralism took some 5,500 years and is associated with the Epipaleolithic (Natufian)-Neolithic Periods. Examination of skeletal remains from these periods shows that the associated changes in technology, diet, occupation and settlement patterns affected health and nutrition, especially of women and children.

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