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Suddenly there was a word for chili peppers. Information about archaeological remains of ancient chili peppers in Mexico along with a study of the appearance of words for chili peppers in ancient dialects helped researchers to understand where jalapeños were domesticated and highlight the value of multi-proxy data analysis. Their results are from one (Kraig Kraft et al.) of nine papers presented in a special feature issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on plant and animal domestication edited by Dolores Piperno, staff scientist emerita at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Curator of South American Archaeology at the National Museum of Natural History and Greger Larson of Durham University in England.

Humans evolved about 200,000 years ago. We spent 95 percent of human history as hunter-gatherers. Why did agriculture begin to emerge in human cultures about 12,000 years ago? Was it the result of a prime mover: divine inspiration, environmental change or population growth? What cultural and natural processes led to the domesticated species that supply most of the world’s foods today? The complexity of these questions requires multidisciplinary research. Bringing together scientists from a wide range of disciplines involved in domestication studies, Larson and Piperno organized a meeting funded and hosted by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre in 2011. The PNAS special feature is a result of the meeting.

“Having archaeologists and geneticists talking to and collaborating with each other and a suite of new techniques to play with is radically changing the way we think about domestication,” said Piperno.

The overview paper (Larson and Piperno et al.) that introduces the special issue emphasizes the need to use both archaeological and genetic evidence to sort out the unique processes of domestication that occurred at about the same time around the world from “predomestication cultivation”—plants cultivated over many generations that still have features of wild plants—and the presence of animals in association with humans to truly domesticated organisms that exhibit very specific traits like large seeds, bigger flowers, reduction in physical and chemical defenses in plants and altered coat color, floppy ears and baby faces (facial neotony) in animals.

Papers in the special feature cover both older and more recent issues in the study of domestication. New genetic screening techniques and the ability to sequence DNA from ancient specimens led Greger Larson and his group at Durham University (Linus Flink et al.) to caution that using modern genetic data alone to guess which genes may have been involved in domestication origins may be misleading. They compared DNA from 80 chickens excavated from 12 different archaeological sites in Europe dated from 280 BC to the 18th Century to modern chicken DNA. Sequencing revealed that yellow-skinned chickens were probably not common early in the domestication process. Their work suggests that yellow skin became the norm only about 500 years ago, probably as a result of global commerce.

Addressing a long-debated question—why hunters and gatherers became farmers—Gremillion, Barton, and Piperno review theories and explanations for agricultural origins, making the case that evolutionary approaches are essential because they offer coherent, empirically testable reconstructions of human behavior.
The authors of the overview paper (Larson and Piperno et al.) expect more exciting results as researchers from around the world and from many disciplines work together to nail down the environmental and ecological contexts of domestication and the shift from hunting and gathering to cultivation and herding. As they say in the paper abstract: “It is difficult to overstate the cultural and biological impacts that the domestication of plants and animals has had on our species. … the next decade will yield even more substantial insights not only into how domestication took place, but also when and where it did, and where and why it did not.”

Original article:

Phys.org

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Smithsonian archaeologist, Dolores Piperno, measures a teosinte plant growing under past climate conditions. Credit: Sean Mattson, STRI

Digging in the Cupboards | Valley News.

An enigmatic box from a bygone era, filled with pottery, seeds and animal bones, has been discovered in the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology. The box was found while researchers were emptying current laboratory spaces in preparation for the installation of a new state-of-the-art radiocarbon dating facility.

Index cards nestled amongst the objects in the box provided a clue to the origins of the material. Key words such as ‘Predynastic’, ‘Sargonid’, and ‘Royal Tombs’ suggested the remains came from the famous excavations by Sir Leonard Woolley in southern Iraq at the site of Ur during the 1920s and early 1930s.

The discovery is very exciting because environmental finds were rarely collected then, especially from this part of the world. Further investigation revealed that these were the remains of food offerings from a royal tomb at least 4,500 years old.

The original excavation was sponsored jointly by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and the finds were divided between London, Philadelphia and Baghdad, following the tradition of the era.

British Museum Ur collection

The British Museum has now offered the remains a new home, where they will join the rest of the museum’s collection from Ur – holdings which are currently both on display (rooms 55-56) and part of a major digitisation programme sponsored by the Leon Levy Foundation and undertaken with the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Dr Hodos from the University of Bristol said: “The remaining mystery is how this material came to be at Bristol in the first place. The environmental remains themselves were published in 1978 in Journal of Archaeological Science. The authors of that study were based at the Institute of Archaeology, London, and at the University of Southampton, and none of them had any known connection to the University of Bristol that might explain how the material came to reside here. If anyone can shed light on this mystery, we would love to hear from them.”

Original article:
news360.com

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In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East | The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Revolving dining room in Emperor Nero’s luxurious palace really existed | Ancient Origins.

Stour Valley Community Archaeology’s first excavation reveals tantalising clues at Bulmer site. Dr Carenza Lewis points out some of the features.
Emma Brennan West Suffolk chief reporter Friday, June 13, 2014
10:08 AM

A community archaeology group has unearthed some interesting clues to the ancient history of an area on the outskirts of Sudbury.

Stour Valley Community Archaeology (SVA) has just held its first excavation over two weekends at Goldingham Hall in Bulmer, on the Suffolk/Essex border.

The dig was made possible thanks to a grant of £2,500 from Dedham Vale and Stour Valley Environmental Fund via the Essex Community Foundation.

The group was also able to use equipment donated by Marilyn Matthews, the widow of amateur archaeologist Mick Matthews, who took part in many excavations in the Stour Valley and particularly enjoyed metal-detecting.

The inaugural day’s digging was dedicated to Mr Matthews’ memory, and his wife attended and saw the tools being put to good use.

The six days of excavating were supervised by a team of archaeologists from Access Cambridge Archaeology under the leadership of Dr Carenza Lewis, who is best known for her appearances on Channel 4’s Time Team and Michael Wood’s Story of England.

The site at Goldingham Hall was chosen because geophysical surveys carried out last year revealed many interesting features that were previously unknown.

SVCA committee member Nick Moore said the dig concentrated on three features, which after many hours of backbreaking digging and sieving eventually revealed a large complex containing a food preparation area with six bread ovens and a series of ditches filled with burnt pottery and bones.

Post-excavation analysis will reveal specific dates, but preliminary thoughts date the site to late Anglo-Saxon or Norman times.

Mr Moore added: “Many finds were discovered, including an in situ medieval arrowhead, and most incredibly, a ‘flint face’ found at the bottom of the post hole of the structure. We are wondering if this could have been a good-luck charm placed in the foundations of the building.

“We would like to reiterate our thanks to Marilyn for donating the equipment, which has been put to great use and is very much appreciated.” Stour Valley Community Archaeology was formed in late 2013 as a legacy of the Heritage Lottery-funded Managing A Masterpiece project.

Original article :

east.co.uk

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4th of July

Happy 4th to everyone!

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