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Topic Mayan cookery

Rounded clay balls found in Mexico reveal an ancient Mayan cooking technique.

Planning a last supper party on December 21? To celebrate the Mayan way, you might need several clay balls.

That’s one way the Maya cooked their food, according to U.S. archaeologists who have unearthed dozens of rounded clay pieces from a site in Mexico.

Conducted with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) and Millsaps College’s financial support, the excavation of a kitchen at Escalera al Cielo in Yucatán revealed 77 complete balls and 912 smaller fragments.

About 1-2 inches in diameter and more than 1,000 years old, the clay balls contained microscopic pieces of maize, beans, squash and other root crops.

The finding supports the hypothesis that the balls “were involved in kitchen activities related to food processing,” archaeologists Stephanie Simms, Francesco Berna, of Boston University, MA, and George Bey of Millsaps College, MS, wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“This is the first time fired clay balls have been studied in the Maya area and, to my knowledge, no one has documented the use of clay balls in modern Maya cooking,” Simms told Discovery News.

Located in the Puuc Maya hills of Yucatán, Escalera al Cielo was an elite residential settlement that was rapidly abandoned sometime near the end of the Terminal Classic period (800-950 A.D.), as shown by ceramic vessels, stone tools, personal adornments, and other materil assembled on the floors.

“We know much about the nature of ancient Maya kings and queens, but this type of study helps see how the Maya worked in the kitchen, what kinds of tools they used and the ways they might have prepared their cuisine,” Bey, the project co-director along with archaeologist Tomás Gallareta Negrón and anthropologist William Ringle, told Discovery News.

To better understand the meaning of the fired clay balls, the researchers used a suite of microscopic techniques and experimental replication. The tests revealed that the balls were produced from local clay in a standardized set of sizes.

“They were fired at a fairly low temperature and were used repeatedly in the kitchen,” Bey said.

Most likely, the fired clay balls were either placed directly into pots of food to cook or heat it, or used in pit (pib in Mayan) oven cooking installations.

“This cooking method involves digging a shallow pit, lining it with stones or clay balls, building a fire on top and waiting until it is reduced to embers,” Simms said.

The process continued by placing whole roots, squash fruits or packets of food wrapped in maize on the hot stones. Everything was then covered with earth and leaves to seal in heat. Cooking took from one hour to up to a day or more.

The experimental tests showed “how the ancient Puuc Maya manipulated materials available to them to produce objects that potentially represent a staple of every Puuc Maya kitchen inventory, maybe even representing a local cooking technique and cuisine,” Simms said.

Fired clay balls have been described from a variety of archaeological contexts worldwide, particularly in the Lower Mississippi River Basin and southeastern United States, and in areas of southwest Asia where clay is abundant but stone are not. Similar clay balls were also unearthed in the neolithic village of Catalhoyuk in Turkey, where they were found in hearths and interpreted as cooking or heating implements.

Charles Kolb, an anthropologist, archaeologist and senior program officer in the Division of Preservation and Access at the National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington DC, agrees that Bey and colleagues “have provided logical inferences of artifact use.”

“The fired clay balls show multiple heating episodes rather than just one firing. A single firing might suggest the use as these balls as ‘sling stones’ or offensive weaponry, but their size would connote other uses,” Kolb told Discovery News.

“The multiple firings of these balls points to uses in culinary activities with these fired clay balls substituting for stones,” he added.

Original article:
Photo: About 1-2 inches in diameter and more than 1,000 years old, these clay balls contained microscopic pieces of maize, beans and squash.
By Rossella Lorenzi – Archaeology
news.discovery.com

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Topic: More on the Mayan Collapse

Illustration by Roy Andersen, National Geographic

In a wet period, Maya farms thrived, and an empire flowered, studies say.

Every civilization has its rise and fall. But no culture has fallen quite like the Maya Empire, seemingly swallowed by the jungle after centuries of urban, cultural, intellectual, and agricultural evolution.

What went wrong? The latest discoveries point not to a cataclysmic eruption, quake, or plague but rather to climate change. And faced with the fallout, one expert says, the Maya may have packed up and gone to the beach.

But first came the boom years, roughly A.D. 300 to 660. At the beginning of the so-called Classic Maya period, some 60 Maya cities—each home to between 60,000 and 70,000 people—sprang up across much of modern-day Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. (Explore an interactive map of key Maya sites.)

Surrounded by pyramids, plazas, ball courts, and government buildings, the urban Maya discussed philosophy, developed an accurate solar-year calendar, and relished a thick, bitter beverage made from cacao beans: the world’s first hot chocolate.

Farmers, too, were riding high, turning hillsides into terraced fields to feed the burgeoning population.

Then came the bust, a decline that lasted at least two centuries. By 1100 the residents of once thriving Maya cities seem to have just up and left. But where did they flee to, and why?

In the 19th century, when explorers began discovering the overgrown ruins of “lost cities,” theorists imagined an immense volcanic eruption or earthquake or superstorm—or maybe an empire-wide pandemic. (Related: “Maya Mystery Solved by ‘Important’ Volcanic Discovery?”)

But today scientists generally agree that the Maya collapse has many roots, all intertwined—overpopulation, warfare, famine, drought. At the moment, the hottest field of inquiry centers on climate change, perhaps of the Maya’s own doing.

Flowering With the Rain

The latest Maya climate-change study, published Friday in the journal Science, analyzes a Belizean cavern’s stalagmites—those lumpy, rocky spires on cave floors—to link climate swings to both the rise and fall of the empire.

Formed by water and minerals dripping from above, stalagmites grow quicker in rainier years, giving scientists a reliable record of historical precipitation trends. One sample used in the new study, for example, documents fluctuations as far back as 2,000 years ago.

Among the trends revealed by the Belizean stalagmites: “The early Classic Maya period was unusually wet, wetter than the previous thousand years,” according to study leader Douglas Kennett, an environmental anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University. “During this time, the population proliferated,” aided by a surge in agriculture.

During the wettest decades, from 440 to 660, cities sprouted. All the hallmarks of Maya civilization—sophisticated political systems, monumental architecture, complex religion—came into full flower during this era.

Climate Shift Sparks Conflict

But the 200-year-long wet spell turned out to be an anomaly. When the climate pendulum swung back, hard times followed.

“Mayan systems were founded on those [high] rainfall patterns,” Kennett said. “They could not support themselves when patterns changed.”

The following centuries, from about 660 to 1000, were characterized by repeated and, at times extreme, drought. Agriculture declined and—not coincidentally—social conflict rose, Kennet says.

The Maya religious and political system was based on the belief that rulers were in direct communication with the gods. When these divine connections failed to produce rainfall and good harvests, tensions likely developed.

Within the scant 25 years between 750 and 775, for example, 39 embattled rulers commissioned the same number of stone monuments—evidence of “rivalry, war, and strategic alliances,” according to Kennett’s study.

But times would get even harder.

The stalagmite record suggests that between 1020 and 1100 the region suffered its longest dry spell of the last 2,000 years. With it, the study suggests, came Maya crop failure, famine, mass migration, and death.

By the time Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, inland Maya populations had decreased by 90 percent, and urban centers had been largely abandoned. Farms had become overgrown and cities reclaimed by forest.

A Cautionary Tale?

The collapse, though, wasn’t exactly all natural. To some extent, the Maya may have designed their own decline.

“There were tens of millions of people in the area, and they were building cities and farms at the expense of the forest,” climate scientist Benjamin I. Cook said.

Widespread deforestation reduced the flow of moisture from the ground to the atmosphere, interrupting the natural rain cycle and in turn reducing precipitation, says Cook, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

According to computer simulations Cook ran for a study published in Geophysical Research Letters this past August, the localized drying decreased atmospheric moisture by 5 to 15 percent annually. Even a 10 percent decrease is considered an environmental catastrophe, he says.

Add this to the broader drying trend and the situation becomes dire—a cautionary tale for modern society, according to Cook. Today, as more and more forestland is turned into farms and cities, and as global temperatures continue to rise, we may risk the same fate that befell the Maya, he says.

But, according to Arizona State University professor of environment and society B.L. Turner, “that’s the kind of oversimplification we’re trying to get away from. The Mayan situation is not applicable today—our society is just so radically different now.”

Lure of the Beach

In a study published in August by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Turner attempts to correct some common misconceptions, beginning with the idea that Maya civilization vanished after the conquistadores arrived.

“It didn’t cease to exist; there are still today Mayan people in the area. The culture, the traditions have been maintained,” he said. But the cities, historically, have not—and that’s odd.

Throughout global history, he said, “rarely can you find a large sustained population that just left and never came back,” Turner said. The closest analogue he can think of is the sudden, and final, abandonment of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex in the 15th century.

Turner’s study concludes that the natural environment recovered rather quickly after the dry centuries. Why, then, didn’t the Maya reclaim their glorious cities?

Turner points to the coasts. Fleeing starving, warring inland cities, many Maya made a beeline for the shore. Trade also shifted, from overland paths to coastal routes, he suggests.

With life relatively comfortable on the coast, the inland Maya cities may have simply been forgotten, Turner says. No catastrophic earthquake, no plague, no curse, but rather a gradual migration to the beach, where life was a bit mellower.

That is, until the Spanish arrived.

Original article:
By Nicholas Mott
national geographic

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20121118-113824.jpg

Topic Mayan culture and weather

Decades of extreme weather crippled, and ultimately decimated, first the political culture and later the human population of the ancient Maya, according to a new study by an interdisciplinary team of researchers that includes two University of California, Davis, scientists.

The collapse of the Maya is one of the world’s most enduring mysteries. Now, for the first time, researchers have combined a precise climatic record of the Maya environment with a precise record of Maya political history to provide a better understanding of the role weather had in the civilization’s downfall.

Their findings are published in the Nov. 9, 2012 issue of the journal Science.

“Here you had an amazing state-level society that had created calendars, magnificent architecture, works of art, and was engaged in trade throughout Central America,” said UC Davis anthropology professor and co-author Bruce Winterhalder. “They were incredible craftspersons, proficient in agriculture, statesmanship and warfare—and within about 80 years, it fell completely apart.”

To determine what was happening in the sociopolitical realm during each of those years, the study tapped the extensive Maya Hieroglyphic Database Project, run by UC Davis Native American Language Center director and linguist Martha Macri, a specialist in Mayan hieroglyphs who has been tracking the culture’s stone monuments for nearly 30 years.

“Every one of these Maya monuments is political history,” said Macri.

Inscribed on each monument is the date it was erected and dates of significant events, such as a ruler’s birthday or accession to power, as well as dates of some deaths, burials and major battles. The researchers noted that the number of monuments carved decreased in the years leading to the collapse.

But the monuments made no mention of ecological events, such as storms, drought or references to crop successes or failures.

For that information, the research team collected a stalagmite from a cave in Belize, less than 1 mile from the Maya site of Uxbenka and about 18 miles from three other important centers. Using oxygen isotope dating in 0.1 millimeter increments along the length of the stalagmite, the scientists uncovered a physical record of rainfall over the past 2,000 years.

Combined, the stalagmite and hieroglyphs allowed the researchers to link precipitation to politics. Periods of high and increasing rainfall coincided with a rise in population and political centers between 300 and 660 AD. A climate reversal and drying trend between 660 and 1000 AD triggered political competition, increased warfare, overall sociopolitical instability, and finally, political collapse. This was followed by an extended drought between 1020 and 1100 AD that likely corresponded with crop failures, death, famine, migration and, ultimately, the collapse of the Maya population.

“It has long been suspected that weather events can cause a lot of political unrest and subject societies to disease and invasion,” Macri said. “But now it’s clear. There is physical evidence that correlates right along with it. We are dependent on climatological events that are beyond our control.”

Said Winterhalder: “It’s a cautionary tale about how fragile our political structure might be. Are we in danger the same way the Classic Maya were in danger? I don’t know. But I suspect that just before their rapid descent and disappearance, Maya political elites were quite confident about their achievements.”

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Co-authors leading the study are Douglas Kennett of Pennsylvania State University and Sebastian Breitenbach of Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule in Switzerland. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the European Research Council and Alphawood Foundation.

eurekalert.org

20121118-113840.jpg

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Topic: Ancient drinking cup

Excavating a remote Maya palace in the ruined city of Uxul, archaeologists in Mexico have uncovered the ancient tomb of a young prince—and a rare artifact.

cup of Mayan Prince

The floor of an entrance building within Uxul’s 11-building royal complex concealed the entrance to the small chamber, which held the remains of the 20- to 25-year-old man and nine ceramic objects.

On one cup, “there was a simple message … in elegantly modeled hieroglyphics that read: ‘[This is] the cup of the young man/prince,’” team member Nikolai Grube, an anthropologist at Germany’s University of Bonn, said in a late-July statement.

Another cup bears a date, which Grube and colleague Kai Delvendahl interpret to mean the year A.D. 711, giving some indication as to when the prince lived and died.

It’s common for Maya artifacts to refer to their owners, Grube said. But all previous princely drinking vessels have been excavated “illegally, without controlled excavation, by looters. This is the first time we have found such a vessel in an archaeological context.”

The Maya civilization sprawled across much of modern-day Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Around A.D. 900 the so-called Classic era of the Maya Empire came to a close after a series of droughts and perhaps political strife.

The Man Who Wouldn’t Be King

Despite its obvious archaeological attractions, the small tomb at Uxul (ooh-SHOOL) is noticeably lacking in jade jewelry—suggesting the prince was not in line for the throne, experts say.

If he had been, archaeologist Jennifer Mathews said, “you would see very lavish objects like jade masks made in the individual’s likeness, jade earspools, or other elaborate jade objects.

“We don’t see that in this particular case, so they think that this was a guy who was part of the royal family but who was not in line for the throne,” added Mathews, of Texas’s Trinity University, who wasn’t part of the project.
Dig member Grube ruled out the possibility that any jade might have been looted from the tomb. It was “clearly sealed” before the excavation, with a stone bench perched atop the entrance for good measure, he told National Geographic News.

Prestige and Power

Though the young Maya prince may have had no hope of inheriting the kingdom, his fortunes look to have been on the rise.

Until 705, Calakmul, a Maya metropolis about 16 miles (26 kilometers) away, had ruled Uxul in today’s Campeche state. After that time Calakmul’s influence receded, and the prince’s family became the local rulers of Uxul. (See a map of the Maya civilization.)

In Maya culture, rulers were seen as godlike, and “they would have been lavished with all kinds of goods,” Trinity University’s Mathews added.

“Overall, his family would have had more prestige and power. I guess inadvertently he would have received benefits from that.”

Original article:
national geographic

By Rachel Kaufman, August 30, 2012

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Topic: Mayan Collapse

 

 

Multiple factors, including climate change, led to collapse and depopulation of ancient Maya.

 

Original Article:

eurekalert.org

August 21, 2012

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Topic: Myan Crops

For six centuries, the ancient Maya flourished, with more than a hundred city-states scattered across what is now southern Mexico and northern Central America.

 

Then, in A.D. 695, the collapse of several cities in present day Guatemala marked the start of the Classic Maya’s slow decline. Prolonged drought is thought to have played a role, but a study published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters adds a new twist: The Maya may have made the droughts worse by clearing away forests for cities and crops, making a naturally drying climate drier.

“We’re not saying deforestation explains the entire drought, but it does explain a substantial portion of the overall drying that is thought to have occurred,” said the study’s lead author Benjamin Cook, a climate modeler at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

More than 19 million people were scattered across the Maya empire at its height, between A.D. 250 and A.D. 900. Using population records and other data, the study authors reconstructed the progressive loss of rainforest across their territory as the civilization grew. The researchers ran computer simulations to see how lands newly dominated by crops would have affected climate. In the heavily logged Yucatan peninsula, they found that rainfall would have declined by as much as 15 percent while in other Maya lands, such as southern Mexico, it would have fallen by 5 percent. Overall, the researchers attributed 60 percent of the drying estimated at the time of the Maya’s peak to deforestation.

As crops like corn replace a forest’s dark canopy, more sunlight bounces back into space, said Cook. With the ground absorbing less energy from the sun, less water evaporates from the surface, releasing less moisture into the air to form rain-making clouds. “You basically slow things down—the ability to form clouds and precipitation,” he said.

 

 

 

The idea that the Maya changed the climate by clearing away jungle, partly causing their demise, was popularized by historian Jared Diamond in his 2005 book Collapse. In the first study to test the hypothesis, climate modeler Robert Oglesby and his colleagues ran a computer simulation of what total deforestation of Maya lands would do to climate. Their results, published in 2010in the Journal of Geophysical Research, showed that wet season rainfall could fall 15 to 30 percent if all Maya lands were completely cleared of trees. Oglesby, who was not involved in the Cook study, said that Cook’s estimate of a 5 to 15 percent reduction in rainfall, though lower than his own, makes sense since Cook’s simulation used a realistic tree-clearing scenario.

Archeologists attribute a variety of factors to the collapse of the Classic Maya, whose ancestors are still living today in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. In addition to a drying climate in several regions, the city-states struggled with overpopulation, changing trade routes, war and peasant revolts.

The Maya cleared the forests to grow corn and other crops, but they also needed the trees for cooking large amounts of lime plaster used in constructing their elaborate cities. Thomas Sever, an archeologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, and a co-author of the 2010 deforestation study, said that it would have taken 20 trees to produce a single square meter of cityscape. “When you look at these cities and see all the lime and lime plaster, you understand why they needed to cut down the trees to keep their society going,” he said.

The Maya also lacked the technology to tap the groundwater several hundred feet beneath them. Their reservoirs and canals were able to store and distribute water when rain plentiful, but when the rain failed, they had nowhere to turn. “By the time of the collapse, every square mile of soil had been turned over,” said Sever.

Scientists know from studying climate records held in cave formations and lake sediments that the Maya suffered through a series of droughts yet they continue to debate their severity. In a paper earlier this year in Science, researchers Martín Medina-Elizalde and Eelco Rohling of Mexico’s Yucatan Center for Scientific Research found that annual rainfall may have fallen as little as 25 percent during the Maya’s decline, from about A.D. 800 to A.D. 950. Most of the reduction in rainfall, however, may have occurred during the summer growing season when rain would have been most needed for cultivation and replenishing freshwater storage systems, they added.

Today, many of the Maya’s abandoned cities are overgrown with jungle, especially on the Yucatan peninsula. Satellite images, however, show that deforestation is happening rapidly elsewhere, including in other regions the Maya once occupied. The study may offer a warning about the consequences: “There’s a tremendous amount of change going on in Guatemala,” said Oglesby. “They may be that much more vulnerable to a severe drought.”

Other authors of the study are: Kevin Anchukaitis, Lamont-Doherty; Jed Kaplan, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland; Michael Puma, NASA GISS; Max Kelley, NASA GISS and Denis Gueyffier, ONERA, the French Aerospace Lab.

Original Article:

heritagedaily.com

August 21, 2012

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Topic: More on chocolate

Archaeologists have found residues of cacao — or chocolate — on 2,500-year-old plate fragments from the Northern Maya Lowlands in Yucatan, Mexico. Although cacao residue has been found in cups from other sites that are 1,000 years older, this is the oldest trace of cacao in this northern region.

Perhaps more important, it is the first evidence that the Maya used cacao for anything other than as a drink. The presence of cacao on a plate suggests that it was used as a spice or sauce for food. Perhaps it was even a precursor of the popular mole sauce for meats, often made with chocolate, now widely used in Mexican cuisine.

Researchers had previously thought that the only uses for cacao by the Maya were crushing the beans and dissolving it in liquid to make a drink something like hot chocolate, or fermenting the pulp that surrounds the beans in its pod to make an alcoholic drink.

The plate fragments were recovered in 2001 by archaeologist Tomas Gallareta Negron of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History and his colleagues at Paso del Macho in the Southern Puuc region of Mexico. Paso del Macho, which dates from 600 BC to 500 BC, was a relatively small site, but must have been important because it had several small mounds and a ball court, said archaeologist George Bey of Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., who also worked at the site. “The fact that the inhabitants were able to acquire and use cacao indicates they were part of the larger Maya world even at this early date,” he said in a news release announcing the discovery.

Chemist Timothy Ward of Millsaps and his colleagues extracted the residue from the plate fragments and submitted it to mass spectrometry, which identified a ratio of theobromine and caffeine characteristic of cacao.

“This evidence, combined with other archaeological, architectural and settlement data, is providing us with a new view of this little known area of the Maya world during the earliest times,” Gallareta Negron said. “The Northern Maya world was just as complex and sophisticated as the far better known Southern Maya area, and we can now add the consumption of cacao to this list of traits.”

Original article:
By Thomas H. Maugh II
August 3, 2012, 11:18 a.m.
latimes.com

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Topic: Mayan Water System

I wonder just how this system impacted their agriculture although the article does not mention it. I will be looking for more on this subject in the future.

Water management and climate change in ancient Maya city#.T3envb45FTQ.email.

Original article

sciencedaily

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Cincinnati, via Newswise. The original article was written by Dawn Fuller.

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Topic Ancient popcorn

 

Popcorn

 

A new study suggests that people living along the coast of northern Peru were eating popcorn 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Researchers say corncobs found at an ancient site in Peru suggest that the inhabitants used them for making flour and popcorn.

Scientists from Washington’s Natural History Museum say the oldest corncobs they found dated from 4700BC.

They are the earliest ever discovered in South America.

Ancient food

The curator of New World archaeology at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, Dolores Piperno, says maize was first domesticated in Mexico nearly 9,000 years ago from a wild grass.

Ms Piperno says that her team’s research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that only a few thousand years later maize arrived in South America, where it evolved into different varieties now common in the Andean regions.

Her team discovered the maize in the archaeological sites of Paredones and Huaca Prieta.

“This evidence further indicated that in many areas corn arrived before pots did, and that early experimentation with corn as a food was not dependent on the presence of pottery,” Ms Piperno explained.

She says that at the time, though, maize was not yet an important part of their diet.

Original Article:

bbc.co.uk

Jan 18, 2012

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Español: Kabah, Yucatán México. El llamado Cod...

Image via Wikipedia

Topic: Myan Kitchen

Mexico City – Archaeologists on Thursday were still  digesting this week’s announcement of the discovery of a royal  kitchen from the time of the Mayas in the Kabah archaeological area,  in the south-eastern Mexican state of Yucatan.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH),  which announced the finding late Wednesday, said a large number of  pots, stone artifacts and other materials were found in the area,  along with evidence of fires.

The kitchen is believed to have been 40 metres long and 14 metres  wide, and researchers date it at 750-950 AD, when the pre-Hispanic  town of Kabah was in its prime. There is however evidence of a human  presence in the area as early as 300 BC, the INAH said.

The Codz-Poop (or Palace of Masks);

 

 

The kitchen is believed to have been part of a palace.

‘We think large quantities of food were cooked in palaces, which  is why utensils were larger, there were more of them and they had  varied shapes for different uses,’ said archaeologist Lourdes  Toscano.

Toscano said researchers were struck by the absence of animal  bones at the site, which led them to believe that waste was taken  elsewhere. Archaeologists plan to study the traces of organic matter  they did find, however, to find out what food was eaten by the  community.

Original article:

monstersandcritics.com

Nov 17, 2011

 

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