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Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that Swiss cheesemaking dates back to prehistoric times, paving the way for such delicacies as Gruyere and Emmental.

Source: Iron age man was as fond of Swiss cheese as we are

2007799020

 

Original Article:

By Ruth Schuster
haaretz.com

They ate plants too but Neanderthals subsisted on animals, leading to liver and kidney enlargement and wider thoraxes, say Tel Aviv University archaeologists.

Neanderthals and humans were kissing cousins, literally, but they had their anatomical differences, among them wider pelvises and rib-cages. Now archaeologists from Tel Aviv University suggest that the reason for these anatomical discrepancies is that Neanderthals ate mostly meat, while Homo sapiens has had a more variegated diet.

It isn’t new that the Neaderthal ribcage and pelvis are wider than man’s. But until now scientists had assumed that had to do with Neanderthals having greater energetic demands than Homo sapiens. Whether or not that was a factor, the Tel Aviv archaeologists think the reason may have been more diet-oriented.

Studies of coprolites (fossil feces) have shown that Neanderthals, who lived among European and Middle Eastern humans until around 30,000-40,000 years ago, also ate plant matter. But a range of studies have shown the Neanderthal diet to be heavily biased towards protein – meat and fat. Chemical studies of their bones has indicated that a bigger proportion of their diet came from meat than cave bears found at the same sites; analysis of the isotopes in Neanderthal collagen shows their diet consisted mainly of herbivores, and megafauna, such as sloths, mammoths and prehistoric rhinoceroses, as well as plants.

In the frigid winters of the Ice Age, large animals may have flourished, but their fat content would have been reduced. A theoretical model created by the Israeli scientists predicts that during glacial winters, when carbohydrates weren’t available and fat was scarce, the Neanderthals needed to get more caloric intake meat, and evolved to better convert the protein into life-giving energy.

To contend with all that protein, their livers, which are responsible for protein metabolism, had to become larger. So their lower thoraxes did too.

The more protein is metabolized, the more toxins such as urea need removal from the body. As their protein metabolism increased, the Neanderthals needed more renal capacity – an enlarged bladder and kidneys – to get rid of the toxins, could, evolutionarily, be the reason why the Neanderthal pelvis is wider than ours.

“Given that high protein consumption is associated with larger liver and kidneys in animal models, it appears likely that the enlarged inferior section of the Neanderthals’ thorax and possibly, in part, also his wide pelvis, represented an adaptation to provide encasement for those enlarged organs,” write the scientists.

“Early indigenous Arctic populations who primarily ate meat also displayed enlarged livers and the tendency to drink a lot of water, a sign of increased renal activity,” Ben-Dor points out.

Why the Neanderthals eventually went extinct is not known. They also ate whatever herbivores they could catch, not only giant animals. But among the many theories is that their demise is related to the extinction of the megafauna, which disappeared just before they did, around 50,000 years ago. We don’t know precisely why the megafauna went extinct either but one postulation is that the climate changed in ways they found uncomfortable, and they were hunted to death. If so, that may have doomed the Neanderthals in their turn.

The discovery of a Roman pottery dump near Naples has revealed that the Romans used non-stick pans. Archaeologists unearthed fragments of pots with a thick, red, slippery coating (pictured), which are thought to have been used to cook meaty stews some 2,000 years ago Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3515952/Sorry-Tefal-Romans-used-non-stick-cookware-2-000-years-ago-Cumanae-testae-slippery-coating-stop-stews-sticking.html#ixzz492npLaQS Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

The discovery of a Roman pottery dump near Naples has revealed that the Romans used non-stick pans. Archaeologists unearthed fragments of pots with a thick, red, slippery coating (pictured), which are thought to have been used to cook meaty stews some 2,000 years ago

It was first suggested that the Romans cut down on their washing up by using non-stick pans in a first-century cookbook entitled De Re Coquinaria. A millstone was also found at the site (pictured), perhaps buried as an offering the the gods

It was first suggested that the Romans cut down on their washing up by using non-stick pans in a first-century cookbook entitled De Re Coquinaria. A millstone was also found at the site (pictured), perhaps buried as an offering the the gods

Original Article:

By SARAH GRIFFITHS

dailymail.co.uk

 

the Romans used non-stick cookware 2,000 years ago: ‘Cumanae testae’ has slippery coating to stop stews sticking
Fragments of pots with a thick, red, slippery coating unearthed near Naples
Said to be those of Cumanae testae – non-stick pottery used by the Romans
Existence was first seen in a Roman cookbook and has now been proved
Tests will now be carried out to determine what the coating was made of.

You may think Tefal frying pans and other handy non-stick cookware are modern inventions.
But the discovery of a Roman pottery dump near Naples has revealed that the Romans used non-stick pans too.
Archaeologists unearthed fragments of pots with a thick, red, slippery coating, which are thought to have been used to cook meaty stews some 2,000 years ago.

 

The fragments of cookware, known as Cumanae testae or Cumanae patellae – meaning pans from the city of Cumae – were found 12 miles (19km) west of Naples in the ancient city, Discovery News reported.

They date from between 27BC and 37 AD, or the rule of emperors Augustus and Tiberius.
It was first suggested the Romans cut down on their washing up by using non-stick pans in a first-century cookbook entitled De Re Coquinaria.

It said the easy-care cookware was particularly good for making chicken stews and its desirable properties meant it was exported across the Mediterranean to North Africa, France and Britain, for example.
After the passing of centuries, Professor of Greek and Roman art, Giuseppe Pucci, proposed that Cumanae testae has evolved into what’s known as Pompeian Red Ware – pottery with a thick red-slip coating on the inside.

But until now, no evidence of the historical cookware had been found.
A team of archaeologists from the University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’ found fragments of pottery with the distinctive glaze in Cumae, to support Dr Pucci’s claims.
‘We found a dump site filled with internal red-slip cookware fragments,’ Dr Marco Giglio, part of the team, told journalist Rossella Lorenzi.
‘This shows for the first time the Cumanae patellae were indeed produced in this city.’
The team unearthed more than 50,000 pieces of lids, pots and pans with the red glaze, suggesting the site may have been a dump for imperfect non-stick cookware.
‘These pieces help us enormously to reconstruct the way the pottery was manufactured,’ Dr Giglio said.
Because just 10 per cent of the site of the ancient pottery factories has been excavated, many more examples of the pottery may be found.
Analysis has shown the composition of the pottery is different to ‘Red Ware’ found in Pompeii, which had a lesser quality shiny, or non-stick coating.
Tests will now be carried out to determine what the coating was made of.
By comparison, modern-day, non-stick pots and pans use technology called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and Teflon is a brand of PTFE.
It uses layers of PTFE sprayed or rolled on, and the more layers, the higher the quality of non-stick coating.

Dr Giglio said finding the production site of the superior non-stick posts is an archaeologist’s dream.

Cumae was one of the first Greek colonies in Italy, founded in the eight century BC, with Roman soldiers conquering the city in 228 BC.
In Roman mythology, there is an entrance to the underworld located at Avernus, a crater lake near Cumae, and was the route Aeneas used to descend to the Underworld.
The coastal city was destroyed by the Neapolitans and abandoned in 2015.
Previous research has found that Mycenaean Greeks might have used non-stick pans to make bread more than 3,000 years ago.
Mycenaean ceramic griddles had one smooth side and one side covered with tiny holes.
The bread was likely placed on the side with the holes, since the dough tended to stick when cooked on the smooth side of the pan.
These holes seemed to be an ancient non-sticking technology, ensuring that oil spread evenly over the griddle.

 

 

The layout of Lattara (modern Lattes) at the end of the second century.  The tavern is located in Zone 75 [Credit: Antiquity]

The layout of Lattara (modern Lattes) at the end of the second century.
The tavern is located in Zone 75 [Credit: Antiquity]

A view of the ash-filled oven next to an insert (lower right) of a modern tabouna  (Tunisian bread) oven from Souidat, Tunisia [Credit: Antiquity]

A view of the ash-filled oven next to an insert (lower right) of a modern tabouna
(Tunisian bread) oven from Souidat, Tunisia [Credit: Antiquity]

Original Article:

Author: Laura Geggel | Source: LiveScience [March 10, 2016]

archaeologynewsnetwork

 

One of France’s earliest-known Roman taverns is still littered with drinking bowls and animal bones, even though more than 2,000 years have passed since it served patrons, a new archaeological study finds.

An excavation uncovered dozens of other artifacts, including plates and bowls, three ovens, and the base of a millstone that was likely used for grinding flour, the researchers said.

The finding is a valuable one, said study co-researcher Benjamin Luley, a visiting assistant professor of anthropology and classics at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. Before the Romans invaded the south of France, in 125 B.C., a culture speaking the Celtic language lived there and practiced its own customs.

These Celtic people lived in densely settled, fortified sites during the Iron Age (750 B.C. to 125 B.C.), trading with cultures near and far, the researchers said. But after the Roman invasion, the Celtic culture at this location changed socially and economically, Luley said.

For instance, the new findings suggest that some people under the Romans stopped preparing their own meals and began eating at communal places, such as taverns.

“Rome had a big impact on southern France,” Luley told Live Science. “We don’t see taverns before the Romans arrive.”

The newly excavated tavern is located at Lattara, an archaeological site that’s been known to modern researchers since the early 1980s. But Luley and his colleague Gaël Piquès, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, were specifically looking for artifacts dating to the end of the Iron Age, when the Romans arrived, the archaeologists said.

The researchers were in luck: The site they uncovered dates to about 125 B.C. to 75 B.C., spanning the period following the Roman conquest, and was located at the intersection of two important streets, the scientists said.

At first, the researchers weren’t sure what to make of it. But a number of clues suggested the site was once a bustling tavern, one that likely served fish, flatbread, and choice cuts of cows and sheep, Luley said.

The excavated area includes a courtyard and two large rooms; one was dedicated to cooking and making flour, and the other was likely reserved for serving patrons, the researchers said. There are three large bread ovens on one end of the kitchen, which indicates that “this isn’t just for one family,” but likely an establishment for serving many people, Luley said. On the other side of the kitchen, the researchers found a row of three stone piles, likely bases for a millstone that helped people grind flour, Luley said.

“One side, they’re making flour. On the other side, they’re making flatbread,” Luley said. “And they’re also probably using the ovens for other things as well.” For example, the archaeologists found lots of fish bones and scales that someone had cut off during food preparation, Luley added.

The other room was likely a dining room, the researchers said. The archaeologists uncovered a large fireplace and a bench along three of the walls that would have accommodated Romans, who reclined when they ate, Luley said. Moreover, the researchers found different kinds of animal bones, such as wishbones and fish vertebra, which people simply threw on the floor. (At that time, people didn’t have the same level of cleanliness as some do now, Luley noted.)

The dining room also had “an overrepresentation of drinking bowls,” used for serving wine — more than would typically be seen in a regular house, he said. Next to the two rooms was a courtyard filled with more animal bones and an offering: a buried stone millstone, a drinking bowl and a plate that likely held cuts of meat.

“Based upon the evidence presented here, it appears that the courtyard complex … functioned as a space for feeding large numbers of people, well beyond the needs of a single domestic unit or nuclear family,” the researchers wrote in the study. “This is unusual, as large, ‘public’ communal spaces for preparing large amounts of food and eating together are essentially nonexistent in Iron Age Mediterranean France.”

Perhaps some of the people of Lattara needed places like the tavern to provide meals for them after the Romans arrived, Luley said.

“If they might be, say, working in the fields, they might not be growing their own food themselves,” he said. And though the researchers haven’t found any coins at the tavern yet, “We think that this is a beginning of the monetary economy” at Lattera, Luley said.

The study was published in the journal Antiquity.

 

Fossil analysis suggests Neanderthals ate a diet of 80 percent meat. Photo by OrdinaryJoe/Shutterstock

Fossil analysis suggests Neanderthals ate a diet of 80 percent meat. Photo by OrdinaryJoe/Shutterstock

 

Original Article:

ups.com

By Brooks Hays, March 19, 2016

 

Researchers have long debated the precise diet of early humans, but the latest study is the first to nail down precise percentages.

 

Neanderthals were apparently too busy hunting and scavenging to pay much attention to Michael Pollan’s dietary advice: eat mostly plants.

New isotopic analysis suggests prehistoric humans ate mostly meat. As detailed in a new study published in the journal Quaternary International, the Neanderthal diet consisted of 80 percent meat, 20 percent vegetables.

Researchers in Germany measured isotope concentrations of collagen in Neanderthal fossils and compared them to the isotopic signatures of animal bones found nearby. In doing so, scientists were able to compare and contrast the diets of early humans and their mammalian neighbors, including mammoths, horses, reindeer, bison, hyenas, bears, lions and others.

“Previously, it was assumed that the Neanderthals utilized the same food sources as their animal neighbors,” lead researcher Herve Bocherens, a professor at the University of Tubingen’s Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, said in a news release.

“However, our results show that all predators occupy a very specific niche, preferring smaller prey as a rule, such as reindeer, wild horses or steppe bison, while the Neanderthals primarily specialized on the large plant-eaters such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses,” Bocherens explained.

All of the Neanderthal and animal bones, dated between 45,000 and 40,000 years old, were collected from two excavation sites in Belgium.

Researchers have long debated the precise diet of early humans, but the latest study is the first to nail down precise percentages.

Bocherens and his colleagues are hopeful their research will shed light on the Neanderthals’ extinction some 40,000 years ago.

“We are accumulating more and more evidence that diet was not a decisive factor in why the Neanderthals had to make room for modern humans,” he said.

 

 

Stone Tools

Stone Tools

 

Original Article:

eurekaert.org

Harved University

Processing food before eating likely played key role in human evolution, study finds

 

How much time and effort do you spend chewing?

Although you probably enjoy a few leisurely meals every day, chances are that you spend very little time and muscular effort chewing your food. That kind of easy eating is very unusual. For perspective, our closest relatives, chimpanzees, spend almost half their day chewing, and with much greater force.

When and how did eating become so easy? And what were its consequences?

According to a new Harvard study, our ancestors between 2 and 3 million years ago started to spend far less time and effort chewing by adding meat to their diet and by using stone tools to process their food. The researchers estimate that such a diet would have saved early humans as many as 2.5 million chews per year, and made possible further changes that helped make us human. The study is described in a March 9 paper published in Nature.

One of the biggest puzzles in human evolution is how species such as Homo erectus evolved smaller teeth, smaller faces, and smaller guts, and yet managed to get more energy from food to pay for their bigger brains and bodies before cooking was invented. “What we showed is that…by processing food, especially meat, before eating it, humans not only decrease the effort needed to chew it, but also chew it much more effectively” said Katie Zink, the first author of the study, and a lecturer working in the lab of Daniel Lieberman, the Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences.

By changing their diets to include just 33 percent meat, and processing their food – slicing meat and pounding vegetables – before eating, Zink and Lieberman found that the muscular effort required per chew and the number of chews required per day was reduced by almost 20 percent. They also found that by simply slicing meat with the sorts of simple tools available more than 2 million years ago, humans were able to swallow smaller, more easily digestible pieces than would have been possible without using tools.

“Eating meat and using stone tools to process food apparently made possible key reductions in the jaws, teeth and chewing muscles that occurred during human evolution,” Zink said.

But testing a process as basic as chewing isn’t as easy – or as attractive – as it might sound.

“What Katie did was creative but sometimes, frankly, a little stomach-churning,” Lieberman said. “Not only did she have people come into the lab, chew raw meat and other foods, and spit them out, but then she had to analyze the stuff.”

It wasn’t just any food – or any meat – that subjects noshed on.

To approximate the toughness and texture of the game that early humans ate, Zink and Lieberman (after much experimentation) settled on using goat – which subjects chewed raw while Zink used instruments attached to their jaw to measure the effort involved.

In each trial, volunteers were given, in random order, a selection of foods prepared in several ways – raw, sliced, pounded and cooked goat, as well as several vegetables, including carrots, beets and yams. After chewing each morsel until they would normally swallow, subjects spit out the food. Zink then spread the individual food particles out onto a tray, photographed them, and digitally measured their sizes.

“What we found was that humans cannot eat raw meat effectively with their low-crested teeth. When you give people raw goat, they chew and chew and chew, and most of the goat is still one big clump – it’s like chewing gum,” Lieberman said. “But once you start processing it mechanically, even just slicing it, the effects on chewing performance are dramatic.”

But why study chewing at all?

“Chewing is one of the key characteristics of being a mammal,” Lieberman explained. “Most other animals, like reptiles, barely chew their food — they just swallow it whole. The evolution of the ability to chew food into smaller particles gave mammals a big boost of extra energy because smaller particles have a higher surface area to volume ratio, allowing digestive enzymes to then break food down more efficiently.”

Most mammals, however, eat a relatively low-quality diet- think of cows eating grass and hay – that they need to spend most of the day chewing. Even humans’ closest ape relatives, with a diet that consists mainly of fruit, must spend nearly half their day chewing to extract enough energy from their food, Lieberman said.

“But we humans have done something really remarkable,” he said. “We eat even higher-quality foods than chimpanzees, and spend an order of magnitude less time chewing them.”

Making that change, however, presented early humans with a new challenge.

One of the critical components of that higher-quality diet is meat, which – despite being calorically dense – is very difficult for humans to chew effectively.

“Meat has a lot of nutrients, but it is also very elastic. You can think of it as being like a rubber band,” Zink said. “So the problem is that we can’t break it down with our flat, low-cusped teeth. But if you slice it up, then you do not need to use your teeth to break it down as much, and you swallow much smaller particles. Cooking makes chewing even easier.”

That pre-processing, and the reductions in chewing effort that came with it, Zink and Lieberman said, may have opened the door to one of the most important lifestyle changes in human evolution – the emergence of hunting and gathering.

“With the origin of the genus Homo…we went from having snouts and big teeth and large chewing muscles to having smaller teeth, smaller chewing muscles, and snoutless faces” Lieberman said. “Those changes, and others, allowed for selection for speech and other shifts in the head, like bigger brains. Underlying that, to some extent, is the simplest technology of all: slicing meat into smaller pieces, and pounding vegetables before you chew them.”

The impact that higher-quality diets and easier chewing could have on early humans is clear if you imagine what day-to-day life might have been like millions of years ago.

“Suppose you go out hunting for antelopes like impala or kudu, but at the end of the day you come back empty-handed, which happened fairly often for early humans,” Lieberman said. “Chimps couldn’t survive that way – they would then have to spend all night eating.

“Following the invention of hunting and gathering, though, humans can benefit from a division of labor,” he continued. “Someone else may have come back with an impala, or some tubers you could eat. And instead of spending all night eating it, you’d spend a lot less time, energy and effort to chew it by pounding it or cutting it with just a few stone stone tools. What a dramatic shift!”

Though many aspects of our biology changed when the genus Homo evolved, Zink and Lieberman said that processing food before eating almost surely played a significant role.

“One of the innovations that helped make us human is cutting up and pounding our food,” Lieberman said. “Extra-oral processing first by using stone tools and then by cooking played a very important role in human evolution because it released selection for big faces and big teeth, which then enabled selection for shorter faces which were important for speech, and enabled us to grow big brains and have large bodies. We are partly who we are because we chew less.”

###

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

 

At its peak in the 14th century, Casas Grandes was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

At its peak in the 14th century, Casas Grandes was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

The evidence of corn beer found at Casas Grandes dates to the same cultural period as this figurine, from 1200 to 1450 CE. (Photo by Vassil)

The evidence of corn beer found at Casas Grandes dates to the same cultural period as this figurine, from 1200 to 1450 CE. (Photo by Vassil)

 

Original Article:

western digs.org

POSTED BY BLAKE DE PASTINO ON MARCH 10, 2016

 

The last meals of men and women buried centuries ago in the ancient city of Casas Grandes were dominated by corn, new research has found — from ground maize, to corn smut, to what archaeologists say is the first conclusive evidence of corn beer in the Greater Southwest.

And these clues were found in a long-overlooked source: the fossilized plaque on the teeth of the dead.

Archaeologists say these and other findings are providing important insights into the diet and lifeways of one of the most influential prehistoric cities in the region.

“The results of this study offer some of the first hard evidence for the production of corn beer, consumption of corn smut, and food processing methods,” said Daniel King, a graduate student in anthropology at Brigham Young University, who led the research.

“It is a step forward in understanding Casas Grandes human-plant interactions, especially diet.”

Casas Grandes, also known as Paquime, was a large settlement on the fringes of the Mogollon culture to the north and Mesoamerica to the south.

At its peak in the 14th century, the city was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

Situated in Chihuahua some 130 kilometers, or 80 miles, from the New Mexico border, Casas Grandes was excavated in the 1950s and ‘60s, revealing hundreds of human remains — some buried, some dismembered and placed in urns, others apparently left out in the open.

Now, a new project undertaken by Dr. Anne Katzenberg of the University of Calgary is revisiting those remains, in an effort to learn more about the people who lived and worked in the prehistoric city.

And King and his colleagues sought to do their part, by analyzing the teeth of the dead.

Specifically, they studied the tooth calculus of more than a hundred sets of human remains.

“Calculus is fossilized tooth tartar,” King said.

“If teeth aren’t cleaned regularly, then the tartar, which can trap pretty much anything in it, such as algae, plants, fungus, or fibers, will slowly mineralize with everything stuck in it and turn into calculus, while the microremains turn into microfossils.”

To get at this microscopic evidence, the team recovered tartar from the remains of 110 people found within the ancient city and from other sites in the Casas Grandes River valley, all buried between 700 and 1450 CE.

Of those 110 samples, 63 yielded some sort of microscopic remains.

The most common traces the researchers found were starch granules, mostly bits of corn, which accounted for 36 percent of the samples.

Also common were phytoliths — tiny mineral fragments — that came from grasses and squash.

And more than 10 percent of the samples revealed the presence of corn smut — an edible, nutritious fungus that grows on corn and is still considered a delicacy, known today by its Aztec name, huitlacoche.

But while corn appears often in the dental record of Casas Grandes’ dead, that’s not necessarily a reflection of the population’s diet as a whole, King noted.

“Given the nature of calculus, any microremains recovered are going to be from the last days or weeks of the person’s life, maybe a month or two, but not longer,” he explained.

“So reconstructing diet, in the long term sense, doesn’t work with calculus.

“However,” he added, “identifying specific foodstuffs — like corn beer, fish, chile, et cetera — is useful, as many of them can’t be seen in the results of other studies.”

And in this regard, King said, the “most interesting results” of his team’s research was the discovery of corn alcohol.

Three of the samples revealed granules of maize that bore the unmistakable signs of fermentation, he said — including swelling and fragmentation caused by being heated at three distinct temperatures, and striations created by the fermenting process.

These bloated, broken grains seem to be the result of making chicha — a corn beer whose use has been recorded in Central and South America for as much as 5,000 years, King said.

In those cultures, brewing and consuming chicha is thought to have held ceremonial value, but it may have held other functions as well, he noted.

“We don’t have enough information to determine [chicha’s] use,” King said.

“Based on ethnographic accounts, we default to ‘ritual’, although I always think that’s a cop-out answer.

“We know modern groups used corn beer or similar drinks in religious ceremonies, so that’s all we can go off of.”

In addition, King noted, the burial contexts of the samples haven’t yet been analyzed, so archaeologists can’t yet draw conclusions about whether beer consumption was limited, for example, to a certain social class.

Moreover, he added, this is the first “substantial evidence” of corn beer in the Greater Southwest, so it’s possible that chicha may have served a different function in Casas Grandes than it did in Mesoamerica.

When it comes to beer in the southwestern archaeological record, he said, “almost nothing exists for northern Mexico or the American Southwest. The results we posted may be the first of their kind for this region.”

Some ceramic fragments found near Casas Grandes, for example, have displayed microscopic “pitting” that could have been caused by fermentation, he noted.

Granules of corn found in the tooth calculus of people buried at Casas Grandes show signs of swelling and fragmentation that are typical of fermentation, researchers say. (Photo courtesy King et al.)

Granules of corn found in the tooth calculus of people buried at Casas Grandes show signs of swelling and fragmentation that are typical of fermentation, researchers say. (Photo courtesy King et al.)

 

And a study in 2007 found traces consistent with fermentation in potsherds from Ancestral Puebloan settlements in New Mexico; but researchers cautioned that the fermentation may have been accidental, and the findings were described as “provocative but inconclusive.”

King’s new findings, then, raise the question of how the custom of brewing corn beer arrived at Casas Grandes, as well as when, and by whom.

“The best archaeological evidence we have for corn beer and other alcoholic drinks comes from Peru or Mesoamerica,” King said.

“So, if anything, the idea for corn fermentation came up from the south, but that is still conjecture at this point.”

As for when beer came to town, his findings do provide some insights.

His team studied teeth dating back as far as the year 700, but the fermented granules were only detected on remains dated to the so-called Medio Period of Casas Grandes — a cultural heyday that spanned from about 1200 CE to 1450 CE — suggesting that chicha might have been a relatively recent phenomenon.

“Our results show that maize was used throughout various time periods, but evidence for maize fermentation only comes from the Medio period,” he said.

“This is not to say such use did not exist in the [earlier] period, only that our results don’t currently support that idea.”

But whether it was brewed, chewed, or cooked, the corn of Casas Grandes may, in time, teach us volumes, not just about diet, but also about the social interactions that shaped one of the most important cultural crossroads in ancient North America.

“The continuity of maize use throughout the two time periods is important,” King said.

“It may suggest a continuity of people, thereby supporting an in situ development.

“Turning maize into beer during the Medio period, however, could suggest an influx of new ideas — or perhaps even people — during that time, which might indicate outside influence — either foreigners coming to Casas Grandes, or locals traveling and coming back with new ideas.”

 

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