The influence of climate on agriculture is believed to be a key factor in the rise and fall of societies in the Ancient Near East. Dr. Simone Riehl of Tübingen University’s Institute for Archaeological Science and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment has headed an investigation into archaeological finds of grain in order to find out what influence climate had on agriculture in early farming societies. Her findings are published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

She and her team analyzed grains of barley up to 12,000 years old from 33 locations across the Fertile Crescent to ascertain if they had had enough water while growing and ripening. Riehl found that periods of drought had had noticeable and widely differing effects on agriculture and societies in the Ancient Near East, with settlements finding a variety of ways to deal with the problem.

The 1,037 ancient samples were between 12,000 and 2,500 years old. They were compared with modern samples from 13 locations in the former Fertile Crescent. Dr. Riehl and her team measured the grains’ content of two stable carbon isotopes. When barley grass gets insufficient water while growing, the proportion of heavier carbon isotopes deposited in its cells will be higher than normal. The two isotopes 12C und 13C remain stable for thousands of years and can be measured precisely – giving Simone Riehl and her colleagues reliable information on the availability of water while the plants were growing.

They found that many settlements were affected by drought linked to major climate fluctuations. “Geographic factors and technologies introduced by humans played a big role and influenced societies’ options for development as well as their particular ways of dealing with drought,” says Riehl. Her findings indicate that harvests in coastal regions of the northern Levant were little affected by drought; but further inland, drought lead to the need for irrigation or, in extreme cases, abandonment of the settlement.

The findings give archaeologists clues as to how early agricultural societies dealt with climate fluctuations and differing local environments. “They can also help evaluate current conditions in regions with a high risk of crop failures,” Riehl adds. The study is part of a German Research Foundation-backed project looking into the conditions under which Ancient Near Eastern societies rose and fell.

More information: Simone Riehl, Konstantin Pustovoytov, Heike Weippert, Stefan Klett, Frank Hole:Drought stress variability in ancient Near Eastern agricultural systems evidenced by δ13C in barley grain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 August 2014.

Original article:

Samples taken from these sites: Top, left to right: Ghab Valley (western Syria), Iron Age settlement of Zincirli, Hatay Province (SE Turkey), and Hittite-era settlement of Nerik (near Samsun,Turkey); Middle, left to right: irrigation channel …more

Beer, scientists have long argued, helped give rise to civilization in an arc of land that sweeps from modern-day Egypt to the border between Iraq and Iran. Today, chemical analysis of barley grains, one of beer’s key ingredients, is bolstering research into climate change’s role in the collapse of ancient societies.

“There has been a longtime debate about the relationship between climate and its changes and the development and in some cases demise of cultures,” Frank Hole, an emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and a study co-author, explained to NBC News. “The research that we did is attempting to pinpoint this more directly.”

To do this, he and colleagues collected samples of modern and ancient barley grains throughout the Near East and analyzed them to tease out the impact on agriculture of so-called mega-droughts over the past 10,000 years. The existence of these droughts has been inferred from sources such as pollen and microscopic animals in cores of soil pulled from lake and ocean bottoms.
“What’s new in this paper is that barley grains excavated at archaeological sites across the Near East also reveal the same abrupt climate changes,” Harvey Weiss, who studies Near Eastern archaeology and the environment at Yale University, told NBC News. He was not part of the new research, which he added “shows that even with human cultivation practices, these drought periods are well marked.”

The evidence stems from the way carbon isotopes in barley vary with water availability. “Together with other archaeological information they can provide a clearer picture on the fate of ancient societies,” study leader Simone Riehl, an archaeologist based at the University of Tübingen in Germany, told NBC News in an email.

Diverse Impacts

The barley analysis indicates that drought stress was indeed an issue for these ancient societies, “but its regional impact was diverse and influenced by geographic factors,” Riehl, Hole, and colleagues write in a paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For example, coastal farmers were largely unaffected by the droughts and grew copious amounts of barley for beer, bread, and other staples. Further inland, societies were forced to adapt when rains failed to materialize. Some developed irrigation systems. Others switched to more drought tolerant crops. “Sometimes they adapted by getting out and moving someplace else,” Hole said.

Abandonment, he added, still happens in modern times. In Syria, for example, about 70 percent of the country’s agricultural villages were abandoned during a drought that lasted from 2006 to 2010.

“People moved westward, where the water is in effect, but also where the big cities are. They wound up in places like Aleppo and so you have Aleppo being filled with refugees from these farming areas just at the eve of the Arab uprising and these (refugees) then became fodder for the uprising,” he said. Drought also underpinned the flight of migrants from Oklahoma during the dust bowl of the 1930s, he added.

Lessons for the Future

The ancient droughts in the Near East occurred in the absence of human influence such as burning fossil fuels that fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, arrived abruptly, and surprised local populations, according to Weiss. “They differ in that regard from our present world where we know precisely what is happening, we know when it is happening, and we know what its effects are and will be,” he said.

“In that regard,” he continued, “these ancient mega-drought occurrences are a very strong and reinforcing lesson for us who have the ability to literally understand the present and see the future … to take positive action to either avert what we see coming or mitigate its effects and protect our populations.”

Indeed, modern brewers of beer are keenly aware of water stress, particularly in California which is in the midst of years-long drought. “Without water, we physically can’t make beer,” Cheri Chastain, the sustainability coordinator for Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif., told NBC News.

In addition to measures to conserve water within the brewery such as using a silicon-based lubricant on the bottling line instead of soapy water, the brewer has an on-site farm where 11 acres of hops and 30 acres of barley are grown. The harvest is used for an annual Estate Ale and experience gained on the farm leads to “more intelligent conversations with our growers” about conserving water, Chastain said.

The good news for beer drinkers is that most of the country’s barley is grown in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains, which are not currently as severely impacted by drought. “There are some hop and barley farms in California, it is just not a tremendous amount of volume,” Chastain said. “It is more the orchard crops. They are struggling.”

Original article:
By John Roach NBC News
nbc news


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New World Cereal-Maze


My very first post as Ancient Foods, including today I’ve had 113,293 visitors! Thanks

Originally posted on Ancientfoods:

Topic: Maze

Looking at Current World Archaeology, I’m both pleased and amazed; a grass that marks the beginnings of domestic corn (maze) has finally been found in Mexico. Archaeobotanist Dolores Piperno and anthropologist Anthony Ranere have found what they believe to be a large wild grass (Balsas teosinte) in Mexico’s Central Balsas River Valley that is genetically close to domesticated maze. Piperno and Ranere also found evidence from lake sediments of early agriculture and plant remains that are unique to domesticated maze. Samples were taken from shelters and caves in the area, of tools and plant remains. At one site near Xihuatoxtla, they found grinding tools containing tiny bits of domesticated maze starch in their cracks and crevices dating to 8,700 BP (before present).

Dolores Piperno believes these new findings establish tropical southwest Mexico as an important center where early agriculture occurred in the New World. She also believes…

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Five years

Week it’s official, 5 years ago I started at wordpress. My first post was September1, 2009.
Thanks everyone, I enjoy bringing these articles, insights and discoveries your way
Joanna Linsley-Poe
I’ve started, first post today, a new personal blog that will give a voice to my other interests. Check on it sometime. I hope it will make me a better writer.
I plan to devote a category to my stepfather who prospected and looked for The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, that’s coming soon.
my moment in time

Neanderthals may have caught, butchered and cooked wild pigeons long before modern humans became regular consumers of bird meat, a study revealed on Thursday.

Close examination of 1,724 bones from rock doves, found in a cave in Gibraltar and dated to between 67,000 and 28,000 years ago, revealed cuts, human tooth marks and burns, said a paper in the journal Scientific Reports.

This suggested the doves may have been butchered and then roasted, wrote the researchers—the first evidence of hominids eating birds.

And the evidence suggested Neanderthals ate much like a latter-day Homo sapiens would tuck into a roast chicken, pulling the bones apart to get at the soft flesh.

“They liked what we like and went for the breasts, the drumsticks and the wings,” study author Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, told journalists of the bone analysis.

“They had the knowledge and technology to do this.”

The scarred remains were from rock doves—a species that typically nests on cliff ledges and the entrance to large caves—and the ancestors of today’s widespread feral pigeon.

The discarded remains were from a time that the cave was occupied by Neanderthals and subsequently by humans.

It was long thought that modern humans were the first hominids to eat birds on a regular basis.
Yet at Gorham’s Cave, “Neanderthals exploited Rock Doves for food for a period of over 40 thousand years, the earliest evidence dating to at least 67 thousand years ago,” said the paper.

And these were not sporadic meals, as borne out by “repeated evidence of the practice in different, widely spaced” parts of the cave.

“Our results point to hitherto unappreciated capacities of the Neanderthals to exploit birds as food resources on a regular basis,” the team wrote.

“More so, they were practising it long before the arrival of modern humans and had therefore invented it independently.”

Even more human

Finlayson said the bone analysis added to a growing body of evidence that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than was once widely believed.

“This makes them even more human,” he said.

Other recent studies have shown that in addition to meat, Neanderthals ate vegetables, berries and nuts, that they took care of their elders and used sophisticated bone tools.

An enigmatic branch of the human family tree, Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and Middle East for up to 300,000 years but vanished from the fossil record about 30-40,000 years ago.

Only a small proportion of bones found in regions of the cave inhabited by Neanderthals had cut marks on them, but the authors pointed out that rock doves were small and easy to eat without utensils.

“After skinning or feather removal, direct use of hands and teeth would be the best way to remove the meat and fat/cartilage from the bones,” they wrote.

“The proof of this is the human toothmarks and associated damage observed on some dove bones.”

It was not known how the birds were captured, though the team speculated they would have been relatively easy to snatch from their nests “by a moderately skillful and silent climber”

The researchers conceded the scorch marks were not conclusive proof of cooking, as they could be from waste disposal or accidental burning.

Original article:
By Brian Reyes

Photograph from the sea of Governor’s Beach, southeast side of the Rock, Gibraltar, showing Gorham’s Cave, which is the focus of this research. Credit: C. Finlayson

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-08-ancient-pigeon-bones-reveal-secrets.html#jCp


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