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94.5% of our undergraduate students go on to work and/or further study within six months of graduating

(Destinations of Leavers Survey 2014/15)

Archaeogenetic findings unlock ancestral origins of Sardinians

Sardinian woman

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 09:37:00 GMT

Huddersfield’s Sardinian researcher Dr Maria Pala investigates the origins of her homeland ancestors 8,000 years ago

Sardinia THE island of Sardinia is remarkable for the fact that an exceptionally high proportion of the population is seemingly descended from people who have occupied it since the Neolithic and Bronze Age, between 8,000 and 2,000 years ago.  For centuries after that, they had little interaction with mainland Europe.

Now, University of Huddersfield researcher Dr Maria Pala has taken part in a project that has helped to unlock the genetic secrets of her Mediterranean homeland.  One of the findings is that some modern Sardinians could have evolved from people who colonised the island at an even earlier period, the Mesolithic.

Dr Pala - whose first degree was from the University of Sassari in her native Sardinia – is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield and a member of its Archaeogenetics Research Group. The group is led by Professor Martin Richards and includes Dr Francesca Gandini as Research Fellow.  They are all co-authors of a new article, titled Mitogenome Diversity in Sardinians: A Genetic Window onto an Island’s Past, appearing in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

It states that modern Sardinians are a “unique reservoir of distinct genetic signatures” and it describes how the research team, based at a number of UK, European and American universities and institutes, analysed 3,491 DNA samples from the present day population and compared them with 21 ancient samples taken from skeletal remains found in rock-cut tombs spanning from the Neolithic period to the Final Bronze Age.

Dr Maria Pala Dr Pala (pictured left) explained that this new study focused on the mitochondrial genome – the maternal line from mothers to daughters – because it provided an unbroken line of descent, much less complex than the whole genome.

It emerged that 78.4 per cent of the modern mitogenomes actually cluster into “Sardinian-specific haplogroups”.

“That percentage is extremely high,” said Dr Pala.  “If you look at Europeans as a whole, you cannot essentially distinguish an English person from an Italian or a French, because Europeans have mixed together for a long time.” 

Sardinian people Sardinia has always been an island, but it is believed that there was a time when a lower sea level meant it retained links with the continent, and through these links the first inhabitants reached the island from continental Europe.  Then the sea level rose but, despite this, connections with the continent remained active through the Neolithic and Bronze Age, possibly fuelled by the abundance of natural resources such as obsidian and metals present in the island.

Then, whether suddenly or gradually, these connections were severed or became sporadic so that for thousands of years Sardinians were isolated, developing their own language, culture, society and sense of identity.

To this day, Sardinians speak their own tongue and they remain genetically distinctive, as the new article co-authored by Dr Pala demonstrates.

It concludes that: Contemporary Sardinians harbour a unique genetic heritage as a result of their distinct history and relative isolation from the demographic upheavals of continental Europe.  Whilst the major signal appears to be the legacy of the first farmers on the island, our results hint at the possibility that the situation might have been much more complex, both for Sardinia but also, by implication, for Europe as a whole.  It now seems plausible that human mobility, inter-communication and gene flow around the Mediterranean from Late Glacial times onwards may well have left signatures that survive to this day.

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DNA researchers show true path of early farming in Europe


Tue, 21 Mar 2017 15:22:00 GMT

New research shows spread of agriculture throughout Europe followed migration into the Mediterranean from the Near East thousands of years earlier than widely believed

Professor Martin Richards A NEW article co-authored by experts at the University of Huddersfield bolsters a theory that the spread of agriculture throughout Europe followed migration into the Mediterranean from the Near East more than 13,000 years ago – thousands of years earlier than widely believed.

This was during the Late Glacial period and initially the migrants were hunter-gatherers.  But they later developed a knowledge of agriculture from further newly-arrived populations from the Near East – where farming began – and during the Neolithic, approximately 8,000 years ago, they began to colonise other parts of Europe, taking their farming practices with them.

The University of Huddersfield is home to the Archaeogenetics Research Group, which uses DNA analysis to solve questions from archaeology, anthropology and history.  It is headed by Professor Martin Richards (pictured left), and the issue of the genetic ancestry of Europeans has been one of his major research areas for many years.

Now he is a principal contributor to the article that appears in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  It describes how the researchers used almost 1,500 mitochondrial genome lineages to date the arrival of people in different regions of Europe.

It was found that in central Europe and Iberia, these could mainly be traced to the Neolithic.  However, in the central and eastern Mediterranean, they predominantly dated to the much earlier Late Glacial period.

The authors write that: “This supports a scenario in which the genetic pool of Mediterranean Europe was partly a result of Late Glacial expansions from a Near Eastern refuge, and that this formed an important source pool for subsequent Neolithic expansions into the rest of Europe”.

DNA Professor Richards explained that he and his co-researchers carried out their latest investigations using modern DNA samples because in Italy and Greece there is an acute shortage of pre-Neolithic skeletal remains from which ancient samples can be taken.  The warmth of the climate has resulted in low levels of preservation. 

“We haven’t been able to fill the gap with ancient DNA, so we found a way to get round that by looking at modern samples.  Instead of dating the lineages across Europe as a whole we have dated them firstly in the Mediterranean area and then we have looked at what happens if you assume that they have arrived in that area and then moved on,” said Professor Richards.

Now he hopes that new sources of ancient DNA in Italy and Greece will be discovered, so that his migration scenario can be tested more directly.

“In the past, it’s been difficult to recover DNA from these kinds of environments but there have been so many technical developments in the recovery of ancient DNA in the last few years that I think it will happen soon.”  In fact, another team of researchers has already confirmed one of the paper’s main predictions, by looking at pre-Neolithic DNA from Sardinia, just one week ago.

The research was carried out primarily by Dr Joana Pereira as part of her PhD project, supervised jointly by Professor Richards and Dr Luisa Pereira of the Institute of Molecular Pathology and Immunology at the University of Porto, alongside Dr Pedro Soares of the University of Minho, in Portugal.  The authors of the new article – titled Reconciling evidence from ancient and contemporary genomes: a major source for the European Neolithic within Mediterranean Europe – also include Dr Maria Pala, who is Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield and a key member of the archaeogenetics group. 

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Silence of Suicide event attracts huge audience

silence of suicide

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 15:46:00 GMT

The event shattered the stigma surrounding suicide by providing an open forum for people who have attempted suicide or those affected by suicide of someone close

Michael Mansfield QC with Ms Yvette GreenwayThe pioneers behind the Silence of Suicide campaign, Michael Mansfield and his partner Yvette Greenway

WE need opportunities to come together and talk about suicide more freely if we are to breakdown the stigma surrounding it, said top barrister Michael Mansfield QC at an event held at the University of Huddersfield.

The event was part of the SOS Silence of Suicide campaign launched by Michael Mansfield and his partner Yvette Greenway after his own daughter Anna tragically took her own life in May 2015.   It was through this personal loss they experienced the taboo surrounding suicide and how nobody dares to talk about it.

Since then the pair have toured the country holding stigma-free networking meetings to give people a platform to come together and talk about their experiences whether they have contemplated or attempted suicide, suffer from mental illness, or been bereaved when a loved one did take the tragic step.   

Mr Mansfield expressed the need for spaces in communities and workplaces where people can come together and talk without the fear of judgement or stigma.  He implored the audience to continue talking about suicide and Ms Greenway suggested the audience take the SOS idea of networking into the future by holding their own local meetings.

Michael Mansfield QC This idea was also reiterated later by members of the audience when they spoke about the lack of provisions outside Leeds and Bradford for group discussions on suicide and mental illness.

A university student who knows only too well the benefits of speaking out is Celine Balantine. She was invited to be a guest speaker at the event by Ms Greenway after recently appearing in a BBC interview talking about her struggles with anxiety and depression.

“The first time I opened up on Facebook about my struggles,” said Celine, “I was worried I was going to be called a psycho and a looney, but this wasn’t the case at all.  I have received nothing but unconditional support and messages on how my speaking out has helped others in the same situation,” she said.

Celine BalantineCeline Balantine

Celine told the audience about her recent stay in a local mental health unit and how she mistakenly thought of a gloomy and dark place with patients in straitjackets.  “But it couldn’t have been more different,” she said.

Ms Greenway then opened the floor to the audience and asked if there was anyone, who had attempted suicide, willing to speak.

A female said how as a teenager she had made two unsuccessful attempts to take her own life but had also experienced the emotion as a bereaved relative after losing her father to suicide.  On both occasions, support was lacking, she said.

The charitable voluntary organisation Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) explained how they had a national helpline number open daily.  However, agreed about the lack of self-help support groups available in Kirklees as they only had three Yorkshire offices; in Sheffield, Bradford and Hull.

Ms Yvette Greenway The viewpoint of adults and children not being used to failure because society only applauds success, was raised by a mother whose son had tragically taken his own life and how men were harder to reach than women at talking about their emotions.

Mr Mansfield said the internet had become a social issue with children becoming isolated because of the ironically named ‘social’ media and quoted statistics that children as young as eight years old are now contemplating suicide.

Speaking from the University was Dr Sarah Kendal and Steven Lyons.  They spoke about how the three concerns people have on loss, identity and belonging, can be overcome by sharing with others in the same situation and the support strategies the University teaches its students in training to be mental health nurses.

Nearly two hundred people attended Yorkshire's first SOS networking event organised with the assistance of Senior Law Lecturer Phil Drake.

He said: “It was an incredibly moving event that started off as a discussion about a taboo subject and ended with people sharing their stories and being heard in a supportive and caring environment.”

  • You can watch the SOS Silence of Suicide film, which was shown at the beginning of the meeting and was co-produced and directed by Jasper Warry and Yvette Greenway of Anna Christian Productions.
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Dr Rowan Williams to speak at the University

Dr Rowan Williams

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 11:31:00 GMT

The former Archbishop of Canterbury will speak at both the spirituality in healthcare conference and at the annual Harold Wilson Lecture

Dr Rowan Williams ON a visit to the University of Huddersfield, former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams (pictured left) will – in the course of a single day – provide a keynote address to hundreds of delegates at a special conference dealing with the issue of spirituality in healthcare, and later deliver the annual Harold Wilson Lecture, a prestigious event open to the public.

The 11 July conference is the second to be organised by the University’s well-established Spirituality Special Interest Group, which researches and teaches all aspects of spirituality in health and social care and how it can lead to increased compassion from health and social care practitioners, and higher levels of hope, meaning and purpose among patients.

Top to bottom - Wilf McSherry, Kevin Bond, Fiona Venner When the group organised its first conference, two years ago, it attracted more than 200 delegates from around the UK and similar numbers are expected at the 2017 event, which focuses on the role of spirituality in mental health care.

‌Dr Melanie Rogers (pictured left) , an Advanced Nurse Practitioner and a Senior Lecturer at the University, is chair of the Spirituality SIG and she was delighted when Dr Williams agreed to be one of the keynote speakers.

Dr Melanie Rogers “He is deeply passionate about spirituality and about compassionate approaches to supporting people,” said Dr Rogers.  She added that spirituality was distinct from religious faith, although for many people there was an overlap.

Rowan Williams – who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002-2012 – is best known as a religious leader, but is also a noted poet and writer on a wide range of themes.  At the University of Huddersfield conference he will focus on the links between spirituality and compassion in a talk titled Nourishing the spirit: relations, stories, rhythms.

After he was confirmed as a speaker at the Spirituality and Mental Health Conference, Dr Williams was invited by the University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Bob Cryan, to deliver the 2017 Harold Wilson Lecture.  Commemorating the Huddersfield-born former Prime Minister, the event has attracted a series of famous lecturers from the fields of politics, science and religion.

The Spirituality and Mental Health Conference is open to all health and social care professionals, community and voluntary sector workers, plus service users and carers.  In addition to Dr Williams, the keynote speakers will include Wilf McSherry, who is Professor of Dignity in Care at Staffordshire University; Kevin Bond, the ex-chief executive of innovative NHS mental health provider NAVIGO; and Fiona Venner, Chief Executive of Leeds Survivor-Led Crisis Service.

The conference will also see the launch of a new book titled Spiritually Competent Practice in Health Care, edited by Dr Rogers, alongside her University of Huddersfield colleagues Professor John Wattis and Professor Stephen Curran.  The book has eight chapters from a range of experts and deals with what the editors describe as “the considerable real evidence for the benefit of spirituality and spiritually competent care”.

The publishers state that the book will be “ideal for practitioners, educators, trainees and managers in nursing and healthcare” and it “is also relevant reading for occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers and psychologists”. 

Pictured above are keynote speakers Wilf McSherry, Kevin Bond and Fiona Venner

  • More information about the Spirituality Conference and place bookings can be found online or by phone at 01484 472541 or email
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