This was the first time archaeologists had been allowed to excavate on the island. Opening a trench, they aimed to explore the “long and complex” history of settlements and farming on Skomer, informed by three years of careful research by wildlife and science experts and universities.
“Skomer is a fragile protected landscape,” explained Dr Toby Driver, who joined the group from the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth.
“Already we have discovered previously unknown Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual stone settings, and demonstrated that the field systems may date back to at least the later Bronze Age.
“But despite half a century of modern archaeological interest, we still had no scientific dates for the roundhouses and fields on Skomer.
“It was decided to target a prehistoric burnt mound or cooking mound of fire-cracked stones, which stands immediately outside one of the paired roundhouses.
“This mound built up from numerous cooking episodes in the adjacent house. Our excavation discovered a cattle tooth from within the mound of stones, which has now been radiocarbon dated to the late Iron Age.
“Beneath the mound we found a sealed land surface containing Neolithic or Bronze Age worked flint tools.
“A second radiocarbon date from blackthorn charcoal, in the upper soil layers, gave an early Iron Age date, possibly from burning and clearance on the land, which showed our burnt mound and the houses it belongs to arrived after the early Iron Age.
“Both dates are accurate to within 62 years.”
The boiled water took around three hours to cook a joint of meat. The burnt mounds outside the roundhouse clusters are said to be “huge”, dominating the Iron Age landscape alongside the conical thatched house roofs.
“Skomer is a fragile protected landscape, and our archaeological research to date has focussed on non-invasive investigation of the prehistoric fields and settlements,” said Dr Driver.
“This has included new aerial photography, airborne laser scanning, ground geophysics and walkover surveys.
“These new dates confirm pre-Roman settlement on Skomer. Even so, the burnt mound covers a substantial earlier field wall showing that the island was already well settled and farmed in previous centuries.”
As well as its huts and fields from the prehistoric period, the island is well-known for its puffins and breeding seabirds.
A photo of a dark brown archaeological trench with stones, grass and measuring sticks
The post-excavation view of the external face of the western round house of huts on Skomer, Pemrbokeshire, where archaeologists have been working© Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales
You can check out my posts about making my own mead by going to archives for 2011, February through August. Thanks
Admit it, you thought the only time mead was consumed nowadays was at Renaissance Fairs or following a rousing day of LARPing – that’s Live Action Role Playing, for those of you not in the know. But, contrary to popular belief, this ancient honey wine is not just for the Dungeons and Dragons set. Made since ancient times from fermented honey and water, mead is a great drink to add to your fall table, especially if you’ll be celebrating Rosh Hashanah this week. Think of mead as the more adult version of apples and honey with the mead being your honey and a delicious slice of sweet apple cake standing in for the traditional apple slice.
We can trace mead’s origins all the way back to 7000 BCE and mainland China, where archeological digs have unearthed ancient pottery with mead residue inside. From there the recipe for mead traveled to Europe and Africa. In both locations historians believe mead caught on in places where the climates and/or soils didn’t support healthy grape production. With no ability to make wine, mead was a great option, since all one needed was access to bees and water.
As society progressed and we developed the ability to trade with locations much further away from us, many forgot about Mmad, losing the need for it with the influx of wine from other regions. But some cultures across the world maintained mead as a staple beverage, including Ethiopia, which continued to perfect the beverage known as Tej — a beverage that is still drunk at Ethiopian tables to this day.
Recently, mead has experienced a resurgence in the U.S., with craft meaderies opening across the country to brew meads of all different styles. While the traditional sweet mead can still be found, craft mead brewers are now making meads that truly push the boundaries of the beverage, from the very dry and bubbly almost sparkling wine style, to the sweet and fruity that is reminiscent of Riesling.
As the industry has expanded, so has experimentation, with many brewers striving to make meads that not only appeal to their tastes, but that of their peers as well. In many instances, this means new styles of the elixir mixed with fresh fruits and berries, or meads that are “hopped” and made in the style of an American IPA. While mead used to also be a beverage that, historically, was simply fermented and then bottled, some brewers have started to age it like wine, letting the mead rest in stainless steel or oak for up to a year before placing it in the bottle. The result of all of this experimentation is a high quality beverage that is definitely like nothing you may have had with that turkey leg ten years ago at the Renaissance Fair.
Just like wine, mead can only be great if the ingredients used to make it are, and for mead that all begins with the flowers. Because the base ingredients of mead are simply water and honey, the flowers the bees visited in the process of creating their sticky sweet syrup are incredibly important. Some people say drinking mead is like drinking the elixir of thousands of flowers at once and each mead can have completely different characteristics depending on the types of flowers visited by the bees.
Because mead is usually at least a little sweet, it’s a great accompaniment for spicier foods, which is probably why it’s been a constant on the Ethiopian table for all this time. It also pairs wonderfully with stews, hard sharp cheese and of course desserts.
So add mead to your table, and say cheers to a sweet new year — you won’t be disappointed.
Header image via Boykov / Shutterstock.com
Prehistoric pit discovered on Coney Island beach
Coney Island, in County Sligo, Ireland, is one of several islands of the same name off the coast of Ireland. It is an island of approximately 400 acres and is named after the vast quantity of rabbits which can be spotted on the island at any time (Coney (/ˈkoʊni/, historically /ˈkʌni/) is an English word for a rabbit or rabbit hair, deriving from the Latin cuniculus, meaning “rabbit”
Archaeologists have discovered signs of human habitation, possibly dating back 4,000 years, on Sligo’s Coney Island.
A box-like structure built from large stone slabs found on the island may have been used for bathing or cooking during the Bronze Age, experts believe. It has been excavated by a team led by Eamonn Kelly, director of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum.
The structure is thought to be part of a fulacht fiadh, a prehistoric trough or pit that was dug into the ground and filled with water. Stones, heated separated on an outdoor hearth, would be added to bring the water to boil.
Measuring about a metre long and 80cm wide, the structure was recently identified as an archaeological site by Ciaran Davis, an archaeology student at IT Sligo, and native of nearby Rosses Point, who alerted the museum.
“It tells us that people walked the beach here 3,000 or 4,000 years ago, searched for large stone slabs, and carefully built this structure,” said Mr Davis. “Many other archaeological sites probably await discovery on Coney.”
There are thousands of Bronze Age fulacht fiadh throughout Ireland, but to find one on a beach is a rare event, said Dr Marion Dowd, a lecturer at IT Sligo.
“I know of one other example in Cork. It makes us wonder why they would have wanted to heat saltwater.”
Hot water was typically used for cooking, bathing, washing, dyeing textiles and brewing alcohol, but the use of saltwater meant brewing was not the purpose of the Coney island device, Dr Dowd said.
Radiocarbon dating will determine the exact age of the discovery.
The structure has been known locally as the “lovers’ wishing well”, said Dr Dowd. The legend was that anyone who lay inside it would dream of the person they were going to marry. It was also known as “the sailor’s grave”.
Mr Kelly described the find as “very significant” and said it was “quite extraordinary” that the structure had remained undisturbed despite being known to local people for decades.
“It shows the absolute respect the community has for it, perhaps because some thought it was the grave of a sailor,” he said. “But we have seen grave sites elsewhere which were plundered.”
Currently one family lives full-time on Coney, but there are a number of holiday homes on the island, which is popular with day trippers who can drive or walk across via Cummeen Strand during low tide.
Sep 11, 2014
Volunteers excavate the box-like archeological structure on Coney Island. The site may date back 4,000 years
Ancient pottery confirms people made and drank a milky alcoholic concoction at one of the largest cities in prehistory, Teotihuacan in Mexico, researchers say.
This liquor may have helped provide the people of this ancient metropolis with essential nutrients during frequent shortfalls in staple foods, scientists added.
The ancient city of Teotihuacan, whose name means “the city of the gods” in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, was the largest city in the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. At its zenith, Teotihuacan encompassed about 8 square miles (20 square kilometers) and supported an estimated population of 100,000 people, who raised giant monuments such as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.
Much about Teotihuacan remains unknown, including the origin and language of the people who lived there. To shed light on the mystery of this ancient city, scientists investigated what the people there might have eaten and drank. [In Photos: Human Sacrifices Discovered in Ancient City of Teotihuacan]
Corn, also known as maize, was a key crop for the people of Teotihuacan, but the low rainfall and limited groundwater resources of the area made growing maize there risky. In addition, while maize is high in calories, it contains only low concentrations of several vital nutrients, such as iron, calcium and B vitamins.
Murals in Teotihuacan depict agave plants, which are also known as maguey plants and physically resemble aloe. A number of these paintings may also depict scenes of people drinking a milky alcoholic potion known as pulque, which is made from maguey sap. (Tequila is also made from agave plants, but these liquors are made from the baked hearts of these crops, not the sap.)
Prior studies hinted that pulque might have helped keep people in Teotihuacan alive. Maguey withstands frost and drought better than maize, and pulque could have provided vital calories, most essential nutrients and probiotic bacteria.
To learn more about the diet and culture of the people of Teotihuacan, scientists analyzed more than 300 sherds, or fragments, of pottery from within and nearby the city that dated to between about A.D. 200 and 550. The researchers cleaned and ground up the potsherds, and then scanned the resulting powder for any materials that the gotten unglazed ceramic might have absorbed. They focused on residues of the alcohol-making bacterium Zymomonas mobilis, which gives pulque its punch.
“This project pushed the detection limits of absorbed organic residue analysis,” said lead study author Marisol Correa-Ascencio, an archaeological chemist at the University of Bristol in England.
The scientists discovered 14 sherds with the earliest direct chemical evidence for the making of pulque in Central America. Researchers found that this fermented maguey sap may have been stored in distinctive, vaselike pottery vessels that were sealed with pine resin, as well as in other less-specialized vessels.
“These findings are a critical first step in providing new information about the subsistence patterns of the inhabitants at Teotihuacan that could not have been gathered using traditional archaeological methods,” Correa-Ascencio said.
In its future research, the teamwill analyze ancient potsherds from other areas in Central America for similar residues, Correa-Ascencio said. She and her colleagues detailed their findings online Sept. 15 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It’s the pits: Ancient peach stones offer clues to fruit’s origins
Peach stones are well represented at archeological sites in the Yangtze valley, so they compared the size and structure of the stones from six sites that spanned a period of roughly 5,000 years. By comparing the size of the stones from each site, they were able to discern peaches growing significantly larger over time in the Yangtze valley, demonstrating that domestication was taking place.
In a study published in PLOS ONE, Gary Crawford, a U of T Mississauga anthropology professor, and two Chinese colleagues propose that the domestic peaches enjoyed worldwide today can trace their ancestry back at least 7,500 years ago to the lower Yangtze River Valley in Southern China, not far from Shanghai. The study, headed by Yunfei Zheng from the Zhejiang Institute of Archeology in China’s Zhejiang Province, was done in collaboration with Crawford and X. Chen, another researcher at the Zhejang Institute.
“Previously, no one knew where peaches were domesticated,” said Crawford. “None of the botanical literature suggested the Yangtze Valley, although many people thought that it happened somewhere in China.”
Radiocarbon dating of ancient peach stones (pits) discovered in the Lower Yangtze River Valley indicates that the peach seems to have been diverged from its wild ancestors as early as 7,500 years ago.
Archeologists have a good understanding of domestication — conscious breeding for traits preferred by people- of annual plants such as grains (rice, wheat, etc.), but the role of trees in early farming and how trees were domesticated is not well documented. Unlike most trees, the peach matures very quickly, producing fruit within two to three years, so selection for desirable traits could become apparent relatively quickly. The problem that Crawford and his colleagues faced was how to recognize the selection process in the archeological record.
Peach stones are well represented at archeological sites in the Yangtze valley, so they compared the size and structure of the stones from six sites that spanned a period of roughly 5,000 years. By comparing the size of the stones from each site, they were able to discern peaches growing significantly larger over time in the Yangtze valley, demonstrating that domestication was taking place. The first peach stones in China most similar to modern cultivated forms are from the Liangzhu culture, which flourished 4,300 to 5300 years ago.
“We’re suggesting that very early on, people understood grafting and vegetative reproduction, because it sped up selection,” Crawford said. “They had to have been doing such work, because seeds have a lot of genetic variability, and you don’t know if a seed will produce the same fruit as the tree that produced it. It’s a gamble. If they simply started grafting, it would guarantee the orchard would have the peaches they wanted.”
Crawford and his colleagues think that it took about 3,000 years before the domesticated peach resembled the fruit we know today.
“The peaches we eat today didn’t grow in the wild,” Crawford added. “Generation after generation kept selecting the peaches they enjoyed. The product went from thinly fleshed, very small fruit to what we have today. Peaches produce fruit over an extended season today but in the wild they have a short season. People must have selected not only for taste and fruit size, but for production time too.”
Discovering more about the origins of domesticated peaches tells us more about our human ancestors, too, Crawford noted.
Crops such as domesticated peaches indicate that early people weren’t passive in dealing with the environment. Not only did they understand grain production, but the woodlands and certain trees were being manipulated early on.
“There is a general sense that people in the past were not as smart as we are,” said Crawford. “The reality is that they were modern humans with the brain capacity and talents that we have now.
“People have been changing the environment to suit their needs for a very long time, and the domestication of peaches helps us understand this.”
September 6, 2014
University of Toronto
health care system? Politicians and others continue to debate this issue. They always conclude that more money is the answer. But this approach is doomed to failure. How can it work when it’s taken 40,000 years for humans to get into such horrible shape?
How did it happen? And is there a solution?
Dr. Barry Bogin is a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. He says we all envision our Paleolithic ancestors as being short, bent-over people with small brains, but actually, they were a tad taller and with brains as large as ours. And if alive today, they would not require hospitalization for so much degenerative disease.
Admittedly, most stone-age people did not live as long as today’s North Americans. Large numbers died while hunting animals or from infection due to lack of antibiotics. Others suffered terrible deaths from childbirth.
But the ones that escaped these problems did not face cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, or obesity—all of today’s big killers—later in life.
What protected them? Ironically, it was the things they lacked that saved them. Three meals a day were never guaranteed, so they had to continually exert themselves to find food.
Dr. Bogin reports that today most people expend only 400 calories to complete the day’s chores. Cars, television sets, and computers don’t burn up calories.
Stone-age people lost 1,600 calories by hunting and gathering food. This, along with the absence of fast-food outlets and supermarkets, kept them thin, a major factor in preventing degenerative disease.
Nutritional anthropologists can pinpoint what stone-age people ate—and how their nutrition safeguarded them from certain diseases—by analyzing their bones and fossilized human waste.
Sugar and Salt
Possibly, their major protection was the lack of sugar. The only source of pure sugar was honey, which was not easy to get and only available in certain areas a few months of the year.
Today, we consume 20 teaspoons of sugar daily, which translates into 146,000 calories a year and 42 pounds of body fat if it’s not burned up by exercise.
What’s beyond belief is that Americans now eat more refined sugar in a single day than stone-age people ate in a lifetime! This is one reason why stone-age people were free of cavities.
Stone-age people also lacked excessive sodium. They consumed about 1,000 milligrams of sodium daily. Today, we use from 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams every day, mostly from supermarket foods. This is one reason why hypertension is a leading cause of death.
Fiber vs. Saturated Fat
Paleolithic men had phenomenal good luck. They consumed up to 150 grams of fiber daily due to a diet rich in plant food. This triggered large soft stools and prevented constipation, diverticulitis, and possibly colon cancer. North Americans consume a mere 15 grams of fiber daily.
Dr. Bogin says they were also not exposed to saturated fats, the type linked to coronary disease. It’s estimated that the American public devours 200 hamburgers every second.
Paleolithic people didn’t eat significant amounts of saturated fat even in areas where game was abundant. The bison, which roamed the prairies, were thin, and what fat they contained was largely unsaturated fat. In fact, Dr. Bogin claims some of their fat consisted of omega-3 fatty acids, the kind found in fish.
Nor could thirsty stone-age people run to the corner store for a 10-ounce can of soda loaded with 8 teaspoons of sugar. Neither had they learned to ferment grains and grapes. Without alcohol, they escaped some cancers. All they had was calorie-free water, no doubt cleaner than today’s drinking water.
Paleolithic people also escaped osteoporosis. This, in spite of the fact that cows and goats were not herded for dairy products. But their plant foods were so high in calcium that they averaged 1,900 milligrams of calcium a day.
We can learn from our ancient ancestors by eating whole-wheat bread and bran cereals, adding more fruit and vegetables to our diet, drinking milk, and above all, saying no to drinks laden with sugar. And if we rise out of our chairs more often, maybe then we could control the escalating costs in health care.
By Gifford-Jones, M.D., He is a medical journalist based in Toronto. His website is DocGiff.com. He may be contacted at Info@docgiff.com.
*Illustration of a man from the Stone Age via Shutterstock