Archaeology team tells Queen, “We want to dig up Henry VIII”

Henry VIII, archaeology, archeologyTwo American archaeologists have asked the Queen of England for permission to dig up Henry VIII and use the latest techniques to reconstruct his face. Bioarchaeologist Catrina Whitley and anthropologist Kyra Kramer popped the question because they’re interested in seeing how accurate the royal portraits of the famous king really are. They also want to perform DNA tests to see if he suffered from a rare illness that might have driven him insane.

Facial reconstruction on skulls is nothing new and has been steadily improving over the years. It’s used in archaeology to study ancient people and by CSI teams to identify murder victims.

Drs. Whitley and Kramer would like to open Henry VIII’s grave in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and measure his skull. They can then create an accurate image of what he looked like in real life.

While this is interesting and is sure to make lots of headlines, of more historic importance is their plan to analyze the king’s DNA to test for McLeod Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can lead to schizophrenia. Historians have long wondered why an intelligent, level-headed leader became an erratic tyrant in later life. His wives must have wondered too.

No word yet from Queen Elizabeth on whether she’ll allow her predecessor to be exhumed.

For more on how archaeologists go about reconstructing a face from a skull, check out this video of a similar project that reconstructed the face of an ancient Greek girl.

[Photo courtesy Vincent Steenberg]

Your Journey of 60,000 years

Most people that read Gadling are travelers. After talking to a lot of my more mobile friends, I see that they got interested in travel at a young age, often from their family. Turns out, a love for travel can be genetic, and chances are you come from a long, long line of travelers.

The National Geographic Genographic Project headed by Spencer Wells looks at tracing every person’s journey genetically. Wells, who has authored several books on the subject of population genetics, is interested in seeing how people have arrived at their current location. Starting from African and the “one mother theory” about 60,000 years ago, this projects looks at the spread of humans over the earth and their genetic differences and similarities acquired on the way. One can even see how close to extinction the human race was.

Fantastic stories of people crossing the land bridges between continents, trekking through deserts in Africa and sailing across oceans — your ancestors experienced this! You can follow your personal journey, through comparison of DNA, and see where you’ve been and what types of genes you are carrying. I was quite surprised to see my journey. I am very light skinned and fair haired and was shocked to see that I had a lot of genetic connections to Central Asia. Looking at the pictures of people sampled from that region, I saw similar features to my grandfathers and relatives.

The coolest thing about the Genographic project is that it is “people powered.” It needs your participation to work. You can purchase a kit to create your own DNA cheek swab and send in your data. Wells and his team will analyze your chromosomes and compare them with their database. This will give you a personal map and story of your journey.

This project will continue to shed light on migratory patterns and evolution of humans, as a species, for years to come. It will also hopefully show people just how similar we all are and how intertwined our paths have become.

Visiting the past: Tracing your ancestry through DNA testing

If your family is anything like mine, you’re not quite sure what part of the world your ancestors herald from. Sure, we have an idea stretching back to the late 1800’s but have never known beyond that – something fairly typical for many Americans whose ancestors came over on the boat sometime in the last 400 years.

And so, I remain jealous of those who journey across the world to their ancestral home to visit the village where long-dead relatives lived for generations before uprooting everything and moving to the New World. It must be a very wonderful feeling to stand in such a place and completely submerge oneself in family history and reconnect with the past.

I’ve thought often of hiring a genealogy specialist to help track down my family’s history so that one day I could knock on a door in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, or God knows where and introduce myself to some distant relative whose ancestors never caught the boat. How cool would that be?

There is another option, however, to researching my family history–one, that explores the family tree all the way to the roots.

DNA testing is something that was prohibitively expense even just a few years ago. Today, however, one can pay just $1000 for a partial genetic decoding that will not only reveal all sorts of things about inherited traits and predisposition towards certain diseases, but it will also trace back your ancestry.

Although a wonderful article in Wired Magazine focuses mostly on the “dozen or so diseases and conditions, from type 2 diabetes to Crohn’s disease” that can be identified through genomics, journalist Thomas Goetz does briefly discuss the ancestry angle thanks Jimmy Buffett. One day when Goetz was doing researching for the article, the singer stopped by a genomics lab to figure out if he was related to investor Warren Buffett (he wasn’t). In the process, however, he peeked into his ancestral genome to learn that his “maternal lineage showed a strong connection to the British Isles.” He also discovered “a strong link to the Basque region of Spain.” Very cool!

Sure, there are no addresses or even cities provided with such research, but at least it will point wanderlust travels such as myself in the right direction home.

And it’s simple. Just fill up a 2.5-milliliter vial with spit and mail it off to 23andMe, a genomics company run by the wife of one of the Google billionaires. The information will be securely posted online 4-6 weeks later, at which point you will know more about yourself than perhaps you’d ever like to know.