Image: Hans Splinter (Flickr, used under a CC BY-ND 3.0)
Topic: Neolithic diet
The appearance of farming, from its inception in the Near East around 12 000 years ago to the northwestern extremes of Europe by the fourth millennium BCE or shortly thereafter has led to various models being created to explain the Neolithisation of northern Europe; however, resolving these different scenarios has proved problematic due to poor faunal preservation and a need to have a quantitative methodology to examine disparate locations.
New research by archaeologists and chemists from the University of Bristol and Cardiff University published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B attempts to answer the question of dietary change utilising multiple evidence strands, which qualitatively and quantitatively maps subsistence dietary change in the north-east Atlantic archipelagos from the Late Mesolithic into the Neolithic and up to 1400 CE
Cross disciplinary techniques
To do so the researchers had to use cross disciplinary techniques to investigate and sample millions of bone fragments and over 1000 ceramic cooking pots. The model involved investigating sites with hunter–gatherer–fisher influences tested against one of the dominant adoptions of farming using a novel suite of lipid biomarkers and stable carbon isotope signatures of individual fatty acids preserved in cooking vessels.
The team, led by Professor Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol’s School of Chemistry, developed new techniques in an effort to identify fish oils in the pots. Their findings, together with archaeozoological and human skeletal analysis explored by the Cardiff group led by Dr Jacqui Mulville, confirmed that a drop in marine resource usage by early farmers coincided with with the adoption of intensive dairy farming, with more than 99 per cent of the earliest farmer’s cooking pots lacking any marine derived residues.
Human bone collagen contains a unique chemical signature for those eating seafood; while the early fisher folk possessed this signature it was lacking in the later farmers, which backed up the lack of marine residues in the pottery.
Seafood not important to neolithic farmers
Lead author of the study, Dr Lucy Cramp said: “The absence of lipid residues of marine foods in hundreds of cooking pots is really significant. It certainly stacks up with the skeletal isotope evidence to provide a clear picture that seafood was of little importance in the diets of the Neolithic farmers of the region.”
Over 1,000 cooking pots were examined for lipid deposts such as this early Neolithic carinated bowl from Knocknab, Dumfries and Galloway. Image Alison Sheridon, NMS
The Bristol team used a compound-specific carbon isotope technique they have developed to identify the actual fats preserved in the cooking pots, showing that dairy products dominated the menu right across Britain and Ireland as soon as cattle and sheep arrived.
The ability to milk animals was a revolution in food production as, for the first time humans did not have to kill animals to obtain food. As every farmer knows, milking stock requires a high level of skill and knowledge. In view of this, team member, Alison Sheridan from National Museums Scotland concludes that: “The use of cattle for dairy products from the earliest Neolithic confirms the view that farming was introduced by experienced immigrants.”
New diet based around dairying
Viewed together the findings show that Early British hunters ate a diet rich in venison and wild boar as well as eating quantities of sea food, including seals and shellfish. With the introduction of domestic animals some 6,000 years ago they quickly gave up wild foods and fishing was largely abandoned with people adopting a new diet based around dairying.
Dr Cramp continued: “Amazingly, it was another 4,000 years before sea food remains appeared in pots again, during the Iron Age, and it was only with the arrival of the Vikings that fish became a significant part of our diet.”
Why people changed so abruptly from a seafood to farming diet still remains a mystery. This pattern of Neolithisation contrasts markedly to that occurring in the Baltic at exactly the same time, suggesting that geographically distinct ecological and cultural influences dictated the evolution of subsistence practices at this critical transitional phase of European prehistory.
Source: University of Bristol/Proc R Soc B
Feb 18, 2014
(Courtesy the Smithsonian Institution)
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the ancestor plant of modern corn has many long branches tipped with tassels, and its seeds mature over a period of a few months. But when cultivated in a greenhouse under the environmental conditions of 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, teosinte grows into a something recognizable as a corn plant. “Intriguingly, the teosinte plants grown under past conditions exhibit characteristics more like corn: a single main stem topped by a single tassel, a few very short branches tipped by female ears and synchronous seed maturation,” Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History told Science Daily. The Holocene climate, recreated in the greenhouse, was two to three degrees Celsius cooler than today’s temperatures, and the carbon dioxide levels were approximately 260 parts per million. Current carbon dioxide levels are 405 parts per million. “When humans first began to cultivate teosinte about 10,000 years ago, it was probably more maize-like—naturally exhibiting some characteristics previously thought to result from human selection and domestication,” she said. Piperno and colleague Klaus Winter of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute add that past environmental conditions should be taken into consideration by scientists researching evolutionary change and the process of domestication.
For more information: science daily.com
Feb 6, 2014
Greeting everyone, back to postings!
Topic: Ancient Hearth
Humans, by most estimates, discovered fire over a million years ago. But when did they really begin to control fire and use it for their daily needs? That question — one which is central to the subject of the rise of human culture — is still hotly debated. A team of Israeli scientists recently discovered in the Qesem Cave, an archaeological site near present-day Rosh Ha’ayin, the earliest evidence — dating to around 300,000 years ago — of unequivocal repeated fire building over a continuous period. These findings not only help answer the question, they hint that those prehistoric humans already had a highly advanced social structure and intellectual capacity.
Excavations in Qesem Cave have been ongoing since 2000. The team is headed by Profs. Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University. Dr. Ruth Shahack-Gross of the Kimmel Center for Archeological Science at the Weizmann Institute has been involved in this archaeological research since excavations began, and she collects samples on-site for later detailed analysis in the lab. Shahack-Gross, whose expertise is in the identification of archaeological materials, identified a thick deposit of wood ash in the center of the cave. Using infrared spectroscopy, she and her colleagues were able to determine that mixed in with the ash were bits of bone and soil that had been heated to very high temperatures. This was conclusive proof that the area had been the site of a large hearth.
Next, Shahack-Gross tested the micro-morphology of the ash. To do this, she extracted a cubic chunk of sediment from the hearth and hardened it in the lab. Then she sliced it into extremely thin slices — so thin they could be placed under a microscope to observe the exact composition of the materials in the deposit and reveal how they were formed. With this method, she was able to distinguish a great many micro-strata in the ash — evidence for a hearth that was used repeatedly over time. These findings were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Around the hearth area, as well as inside it, the archaeologists found large numbers of flint tools that were clearly used for cutting meat. In contrast, the flint tools found just a few meters away had a different shape, designed for other activities. Also in and around the area were large numbers of burnt animal bones — further evidence for repeated fire use for cooking meat. Shahack-Gross and her colleagues have shown that this organization of various “household” activities into different parts of the cave points to an organization of space — and a thus kind of social order — that is typical of modern humans. This suggests that the cave was a sort of base camp that prehistoric humans returned to again and again.
“These findings help us to fix an important turning point in the development of human culture — that in which humans first began to regularly use fire both for cooking meat and as a focal point — a sort of campfire — for social gatherings,” she says. “They also tell us something about the impressive levels of social and cognitive development of humans living some 300,000 years ago.” The researchers think that these findings, along with others, are signs of substantial changes in human behavior and biology that commenced with the appearance in the region of new forms of culture — and indeed a new human species — about 400,000 years ago.
Source: Weizmann Institute of Science.[January 27, 2014]
Again I see links are not working for WP app so just Copy the info above to see the original article, thanks
I am taking a short vacation, working on website deadline and such, back next Monday.
HUNTING NOTCHES An ancient piece of carved bone (both sides shown) was probably the base of a spear point that inhabitants of Timor attached to a wooden or bamboo shaft. The artifact is slightly less than one inch long and about one-half inch wide.
Topic: Spear points
A 35,000-year-old piece of carved bone found on Timor, an island between Java and Papua New Guinea, indicates that complex hunting weapons were manufactured much earlier than previously thought in Australasia.
A team led by archaeologist Sue O’Connor of Australian National University in Canberra has unearthed, in a project that began in 2000, what it regards as the broken butt of a bone spear point. Three closely spaced notches and part of a fourth were carved on each side of the artifact, above a shaft that tapers to a rounded bottom.
Wear on the notches and residue of a sticky substance close to the bottom suggest the point was tied and glued to a slot on the side of a wooden handle or inserted into a split hollow shaft, the researchers report January 15 in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Until now, comparably complex hunting weapons made on islands near Timor dated to no more than several hundred years ago. Curiously, 80,000- to 90,000-year-old African bone spear points display notches similar to those on the Timor find, O’Connor says.
Stone Ag Islanders threw spears from boats at large fish and other sea prey, O’Connor proposes.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on January 29, 2014, to correct the description of the bone artifacts. They are thought to be parts of spear points, not harpoon points.
My links are not working with the wordpress update so you will have to look up the article.
by Bruce Bower
Jan 21, 2014