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Original Article:

bbc.com

Ancient Britons were eating dairy, peas, cabbage and oats, according to gunk trapped in their teeth.

Scientists analysed dental plaque found on the teeth of skeletons from the Iron Age to post-Medieval times.

They found evidence of milk proteins, cereals and plants, as well as an enzyme that aids digestion.

In modern samples, they found proteins that reflect a more cosmopolitan diet, including potatoes, soya and peanuts.

The research gives a picture of what people have been eating through the ages, including food that leaves no trace in the archaeological record.

Lead researcher, Dr Camilla Speller, from the department of archaeology at the University of York, said the technique can distinguish between different crops and show whether people were consuming dairy products, like milk or cheese.

Doing porridge

“In the teeth we look at from individuals who lived around the Victorian era, we identified proteins related to plant foods, including oats, peas and vegetables in the cabbage family,” she said.

“Occasionally, we find evidence of milk and oats in the same mouth – I like to think it’s from eating porridge!”

In the new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, researchers analysed 100 archaeological samples from across England, as well as 14 samples from living dental patients and individuals who have recently died.

Dietary proteins were found in about one third of the analysed samples.

Proteins found in ancient dental plaque have already revealed that humans were drinking milk as far back as 6,500 BC.

Co-researcher Dr Jessica Hendy from the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, added: “While there is still a lot we don’t know, this is exciting because it shows that archaeological dental calculus harbours dietary information, including food products that ordinarily do not survive in archaeological sites.”

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The authors believe that the Teotonio waterfall is what attracted people to this location for over 9,000 years, as it was an extremely rich fishing location and an obligatory stopping point for people traveling by boat on this stretch of the Madeira river. It was the location of a fishing village (the village of Teotonio) until 2011, when residents were forced to move inland ahead of dam construction. The dam submersed the village and the waterfall. Eduardo Neves, 2011

 

Original Article:

popular-archaeology

 

Ancient people in the region began cultivating plants and altering forests earlier than previously thought.

PLOS—The remains of domesticated crop plants at an archaeological site in southwest Amazonia supports the idea that this was an important region in the early history of crop cultivation, according to a study published July 25, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jennifer Watling from the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and colleagues.

Genetic analysis of plant species has long pointed to the lowlands of southwest Amazonia as a key region in the early history of plant domestication in the Americas, but systematic archaeological evidence to support this has been rare. The new evidence comes from recently-exposed layers of the Teotonio archaeological site, which has been described by researchers as a “microcosm of human occupation of the Upper Madeira [River]” because it preserves a nearly continuous record of human cultures going back approximately 9,000 years.

In this study, Watling and colleagues analyzed the remains of seeds, phytoliths, and other plant materials in the most ancient soils of the site as well as on artifacts used for processing food. They found some of the earliest evidence of cultivated manioc, a crop which geneticists say was domesticated here over 8,000 years ago, as well as squash, beans, and perhaps calathea, and important tree crops such as palms and Brazil nut. They also saw evidence of disturbed forest and a soil type called “Anthropogenic Dark Earths” which both result from human alteration of local environments.

These findings suggest that the people of this region transitioned from early hunter-gatherer lifestyles to cultivating crops before 6,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought. Along with plant domestication also came the familiar human habit of landscape modification, suggesting that human impact on Amazonian forests in this region goes back many thousands of years. Altogether, these results point to the Upper Madeira as a key locality to explore the earliest days of crop domestication in the New World.

Watling notes: “This discovery at the Teotonio waterfall in Southest Amazonia is some of the oldest evidence for plant cultivation in lowland South America, confirming genetic evidence”.

*Watling J, Shock MP, Mongeló GZ, Almeida FO, Kater T, De Oliveira PE, et al. (2018) Direct archaeological evidence for Southwestern Amazonia as an early plant domestication and food production centrePLoS ONE 13(7): e0199868. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199868

Dr. Yoshi Maezumi,

 

Original article:

Popular-archaeology.com

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER—Ancient communities transformed the Amazon thousands of years ago, farming in a way which has had a lasting impact on the rainforest, a major new study* shows.

Farmers had a more profound effect on the supposedly “untouched” rainforest than previously thought, introducing crops to new areas, boosting the number of edible tree species and using fire to improve the nutrient content of soil, experts have found.

The study is the first detailed history of long-term human land use and fire management in this region conducted by archaeologists, paleoecologists, botanists and ecologists. It shows how early Amazon farmers used the land intensively and expanded the types of crops grown, without continuously clearing new areas of the forest for farming when soil nutrients became depleted.

The research team examined charcoal, pollen and plant remains from soil in archaeological sites and sediments from a nearby lake to trace the history of vegetation and fire in eastern Brazil. This provided evidence that maize, sweet potato, manioc and squash were farmed as early as 4,500 years ago in this part of the Amazon. Farmers increased the amount of food they grew by improving the nutrient content of the soil through burning and the addition of manure and food waste. Fish and turtles from rivers were also a key part of the diets at the time.

The findings explain why forests around current archaeological sites in the Amazon have a higher concentration of edible plants.

Dr Yoshi Maezumi, from the University of Exeter, who led the study, said: “People thousands of years ago developed a nutrient rich soil called Amazonian Dark Earths (ADEs). They farmed in a way which involved continuous enrichment and reusing of the soil, rather than expanding the amount of land they clear cut for farming. This was a much more sustainable way of farming.”

The development of ADEs allowed the expansion of maize and other crops, usually only grown near nutrient rich lake and river shores, to be farmed in other areas that generally have very poor soils. This increased the amount of food available for the growing Amazon population at the time.

Dr Maezumi said: “Ancient communities likely did clear some understory trees and weeds for farming, but they maintained a closed canopy forest, enriched in edible plants which could bring them food. This is a very different use of the land to that of today, where large areas of land in the Amazon is cleared and planted for industrial scale grain, soya bean farming and cattle grazing. We hope modern conservationists can learn lessons from indigenous land use in the Amazon to inform management decisions about how to safeguard modern forests.”

Professor Jose Iriarte, from the University of Exeter, said: “The work of early farmers in the Amazon has left an enduring legacy. The way indigenous communities managed the land thousands of years ago still shapes modern forest ecosystems. This is important to remember as modern deforestation and agricultural plantations expand across the Amazon Basin, coupled with the intensification of drought severity driven by warming global temperatures.”

*The legacy of 4,500 years of polyculture agroforestry in the eastern Amazon is published in the journal Nature Plants.

 

 

 

Barley heads east

 

Source: Eurekalert.org

Living plant varieties reveal ancient migration routes across Eurasia

The emergence of agriculture is one of the most important transitions in the development of human societies, as it allowed the establishment of settled communities, specialization of labour and technological innovation.

One centre of agricultural origins is the Near East, where barley was domesticated around 10,500 years ago, along with wheat and a number of other crops. Archaeological evidence shows that barley cultivation spread to its ecological limits in Europe, North Africa, and Central, South and East Asia, over a period of approximately 6,000 years.

New results published in PLOS ONE today show that different types of barley, suited to different end uses, ecological conditions and cropping regimes, spread via a variety of routes across Eurasia. In many cases, these routes of spread are backed up by archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence.

According to lead author Dr Diane Lister, researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, “These results are based on the genetic analysis of living crops – traditional farmers’ varieties known as ‘landraces’.”

“These landraces were mostly collected during the early 20th century and are maintained in what are known as ‘germplasm’ collections around the world, with many landraces having precise geographical coordinates recorded. Numerous studies have shown that, remarkably, landraces can preserve an ancient and local genetic signature of the initial spread of farming during prehistory, and this is beautifully illustrated in this current study.”

The results indicate that the different eastward routes of spread of each barley population were distinct from each other in a number of ways, reflecting human choice of particular attributes or the effect of environmental adaptation. These different routes include ones to the north and south of the Iranian Plateau; through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor in Central Asia, possibly connecting up to the Chinese section of the Silk Road; a high altitude spread on the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau; a high latitude spread through the northern steppe; two distinct spreads into Japan; and a maritime route from South Asia. Previous research has provided increasing numbers of direct radiocarbon dates enabling the different routes to be dated.

Lister describes further, “One barley population is widespread, particularly around the coastlines. This population may have travelled eastwards via a maritime route from South Asia, via Southeast Asia. This particular population is made up of winter-sown varieties of barley, which are thought to be important in rice-growing areas of East Asia, where a crop of rice is commonly grown in the summer months, and barley adapted to winter-sowing regimes can be planted after the rice harvest. The development of multi-cropping practices during prehistory is thought to have greatly increased productivity and stability, enabling more complex societies to develop.”

“Another barley population predominates on the high Tibetan Plateau. This barley has a naked grain, making it a particularly attractive staple, as it doesn’t require the pearling process that hulled barley requires for human consumption. Along with the herding of yak, this naked type of barley is an essential for the Tibetan way of life, and their importance are clearly seen in the offerings of naked barley grains and yak butter in Tibetan Buddhist temples around the region. The staple carbohydrate eaten by the Tibetans is tsampa, made from roasted naked barley flour and mixed with salty Tibetan butter tea.”

Previous research carried out through the Food Globalization in Prehistory project at the University of Cambridge showed that barley cultivation appeared in the Chinese Tibetan Plateau 4,000 years ago, and is thought to have been of essential importance in colonizing the ‘roof of the world’. Some scholars have questioned whether this barley was a product of a local domestication of a wild ancestor separate from those in the Near East. This current study also looked at the genetic relationship between landrace barley, it’s wild progenitor, and weedy varieties. The results show that is unlikely that barley was domesticated in this region, and that ‘wild’ barleys on the plateau are probably weedy derivatives of cultivated barley.

What does this mean for today? Lister concludes, “Barley is an extremely hardy crop, able to grow in regions where other crops are unable to grow, and is an important staple in such environments. Understanding the spread of its cultivation during prehistory, and the various factors that affected its establishment in different regions of Eurasia, will contribute towards our understanding of climate change and its current and future effects on agriculture.”

 

Corn smut: disfiguring but delicious.
CARMEN HAUSER / GETTY IMAGES

 

Original Article:

cosmosmagazine.com

 

Eating only maize leads to disease, and why the Basketmaker II people didn’t fall ill has long been a mystery. Now it’s been solved. Andrew Masterson reports.

 

A mystery concerning how some of North America’s first farmers survived on a diet that appears manifestly inadequate may have been solved.

The ancestral Pueblo people who lived in what is now known as the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States shifted from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle centred on crop-growing around 400BCE.

The primary crop cultivated was maize (known in the US as corn), which accounted for an estimated 80% of calorific intake.

During the ensuing 800 years – a stretch known as the Basketmaker II period – the settlers’ diet contained very little meat. This was perhaps a cultural choice. Basketmaker II people became efficient turkey farmers, but the birds were raised primarily for their feathers, used in the manufacture of blankets, and for certain ritual purposes. They were not eaten.

The nutritional components of Basketmaker II cuisine has been well established through a number of analyses, including radio-isotope sampling conducted at burial sites. A study published in 2013, for instance, found that while maize comprised the massive bulk of food intake, it was accompanied by small amounts of wild plants, including yucca, and – more so in men than women – occasional bits of wild rabbit.

Over all, the Pueblo menu should have been dangerously low in a number of essential nutrients, particularly niacin, tryptophan and lysine – the lack of which leads to a range of ailments, including pellagra, an often fatal disease that results in diarrhoea, dermatitis and dementia.

However, no Basketmaker II human remains ever tested have shown evidence of such an illness. This fact leads to the obvious conclusion that the people must have been able somehow to access the crucial nutrients. There is evidence that at least one community boiled maize in limestone, which would have made some amino acids locked up in the corn more biologically available – but even then the amounts would still have been too small to meet dietary needs.

Now, however, archaeologist and biological anthropologist Jenna Battillo from the Southern Methodist University in Texas may well have found the answer to puzzle.

It turns out to be an organism that today is considered a menace by commercial maize farmers: a fungus called Ustilago maydis, or, more prosaically, corn smut.

Analysing “human paleofaeces” found at a Basketmaker II site known as Turkey Penn Ruin in Utah, Battillo found plentiful evidence of U. maydis spores. This, she writes in a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, indicates that the fungus was included as an intentional part of the diet.

There is considerable later evidence to back up the suggestion. The fungus, which forms distinctive lumps or “galls” on maize heads, is today a popular food in Mexico, where it is known as huitlacoche. It is also popular among some communities in Central America.

Battillo cites a number of studies that found corn smut was historically considered a delicacy among southern and meso-American societies, including the Aztec, Maya and Hopi.

U. maydis causes loss of vitality and weight as well as cosmetic disfigurement in maize and is therefore hated by commercial growers. About 4% of the US crop is lost to the fungus each year – well down from the estimated 80% that blighted farms in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

For the Basketmaker II people, however, the fungus infection was very positive – indeed, quite literally, a lifesaver.

Battillo reports that corn smut alters the nutrient content of corn. It increases the protein levels from as low as 3% to as high as 19%. It also dramatically boosts the levels of lysine, and introduces 16 other essential amino acids. The only one missing is tryptophan, for which no data is available – Battillo suggests limestone boiling and input from other minor food sources might have been sufficient to provide the average four milligrams a day required to maintain health.

And while the new research seems to answer the question of how Basketmaker II people supplemented their nutrient-poor maize diet, it still leaves another matter unresolved.

The evidence, says Battillo, cannot determine whether the early farmer communities intentionally introduced or encouraged corn smut on their plants, or whether infections happened by accident and were simply tolerated.

In either scenario, she concludes, “the ubiquity of the spores in paleofaeces from Turkey Pen Ruin strongly supports intentional consumption”.

 

 

Archaeologists have discovered seeds for the brewing of beer

 

Original Article:

tornosnews.gr

Ancient Greeks may be known for their love of wine, but it seems they also had an affinity to beer, according to a study by the Aristotle University of the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Two Bronze Age brewers that were recently unearthed prove that Greeks would brew beer on a regular basis 4,000 years ago.

Archaeologists from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki located several archaeobotanical remains of a cereal that could have been used in beer brewing. Similar remains found in the Archontiko area in the island of Corfu were also discovered in Argissa in Zakynthos.

At Archontiko, archaeologists found about 100 individual cereal seeds dating back to the early Bronze Age from 2100 to 2000 BC. In Argissa, they found about 3,500 cereal seeds going back to the Bronze Age, approximately from 2100 to 1700 BC.

Moreover, archaeologists discovered a two-room structure that seems to have been carefully constructed to maintain low temperatures in the Archontiko area, suggesting it was used to process the cereals for beer under the right conditions.

This discovery is the earliest known evidence of beer consumption in Greece, but not in the planet.

One of the oldest beverages humans have produced

Beer is one of the oldest beverages humans have produced, dating back to at least the 5th millennium BC in Iran, and was recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and spread throughout the world.

As almost any cereal containing certain sugars can undergo spontaneous fermentation due to wild yeasts in the air, it is possible that beer-like beverages were independently developed throughout the world soon after a tribe or culture had domesticated cereal. Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars reveal that beer was produced as far back as about 7,000 years ago in what is today Iran. This discovery reveals one of the earliest known uses of fermentation and is the earliest evidence of brewing to date. In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of beer is believed to be a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicting people drinking a beverage through reed straws from a communal bowl. A 3900-year-old Sumerian poem honouring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, contains the oldest surviving beer recipe, describing the production of beer from barley via bread. In China, residue on pottery dating from between 5400 and 4900 years ago shows beer was brewed using barley and other grains.

The invention of bread and beer has been argued to be responsible for humanity’s ability to develop technology and build civilization.The earliest chemically confirmed barley beer to date was discovered at Godin Tepe in the central Zagros Mountains of Iran, where fragments of a jug, from between 5400 and 5000 years ago was found to be coated with beerstone, a by-product of the brewing process.

Beer may have been known in Neolithic Europe as far back as 5,000 years ago, and was mainly brewed on a domestic scale.

 

 

A Roman mosaic with fishing scene, found in Hippolytus House in greater Madrid, Spain. Photograph: Alberto Paredes/Alamy Stock Photo

 

Ancient whale bones have been found on three Roman fish processing sites close to the Strait of Gibraltar

original article:

Theguardian.com

Nicola DavisTue 10 Jul 2018 19.01 EDT

Ancient bones found around the Strait of Gibraltar suggest that the Romans might have had a thriving whaling industry, researchers have claimed.

The bones, dating to the first few centuries AD or earlier, belong to grey whales and North Atlantic right whales – coastal migratory species that are no longer found in European waters.

Researchers say this not only suggests these whales might have been common around the entrance to the Mediterranean in Roman times, but that Romans might have hunted them.

They add that Romans would not have had the technology to hunt whale species found in the region today – sperm or fin whales which live further out at sea – meaning evidence of whaling might not have been something archaeologists and historians were looking out for.

“It’s the coastal [species] that makes all the difference,” said Dr Ana Rodrigues, first author of the research from the Functional and Evolutionary Ecology Centre, CEFE, in France.

The right whale was once widespread in the North Atlantic, with breeding grounds off the northern coast of Spain and north west Africa, but was hunted by Medieval Basque whalers among others, and are now only found in the Western North Atlantic. Grey whales disappeared from the North Atlantic some time in the 18th century, and are now only found in the Pacific.

Until the recent discoveries it was unclear whether the whales’ habitat had ever included the Mediterranean: the region is southerly enough for the animals to potentially calve there after feeding in more northerly areas. While there are a handful of historical reports of right whales cropping up in the Mediterranean, the only reliable grey whale sighting in the region was in 2010 and is thought to have been a misguided individual that turned up from the Pacific.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Rodrigues and a team of archaeologists and ecologists, describe how they set out to unpick the issue by examining 10 bones – thought to be from whales – collected during recent archaeological digs or housed in museum collections. These bones came from five sites – four around the Strait of Gibraltar and one site on the coast of north-west Spain, three of which were linked to the Roman fish-salting and fish-sauce making industries.

The team combined previous anatomical analysis with new analyses based both on DNA extracted from the bones and their collagen – a protein whose makeup differs between groups of species, and which degrades more slowly than DNA.

While one of the bones was found to be from a dolphin and another from an elephant – possibly a war animal – three were identified as grey whales, and two as North Atlantic right whales with another also suspected of being from this latter species. All were found by carbon-dating as being from either Roman or pre-Roman times – findings backed up by dating based on information from the archaeological sites.

The team say the discovery suggests grey and North Atlantic right whales were common in the waters around the Strait of Gibraltar during Roman times, since whale bones rarely end up in the archaeological record and they are not prized possessions.

This theory is backed up by writings from the time: Pliny the Elder – a fervent naturalist who died down the coast from Pompeii during the volcanic disaster – appears to reference whales calving in the coastal waters off Cadiz in the winter in his Naturalis Historia. And if the whales were present, the team say, it is possible the Romans hunted them.

The team say the location of the bones, and other evidence, suggests whales might even have entered further into the Mediterranean sea itself to calve.

Dr Vicki Szabo, an expert in whaling history from Western Carolina University said the study offered a rare glimpse into the past habitats of the whales, and backed up ideas that industrial hunting might have happened far earlier than widely thought, although its scale is unclear. “Whales are considered archaeologically invisible because so few bones are transported from shore to site, so I think in that context this concentration of species that they have is meaningful,” she said.

Mark Robinson, professor of environmental archaeology at the University of Oxford, said there have been suggestions for a decade that some Roman sites with fish vats in the region might have been linked to whaling. “The Greek author Oppian, writing in the 2nd century AD, describes whales being hunted in the Western Mediterranean by harpooning them on the surface, also using tridents and axes to kill them, lashing them to a boats and then dragging them to the shore.”

However Dr Erica Rowan, a classical archaeologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, said while the study suggests the habitats of the whales probably extended to include the Gibraltar region, how common the whales were and whether the Romans industrially hunted them as they did fish such as tuna remains unclear – not least because the study included just a handful of bones from a period spanning several hundred years.

“I think that if these whales were present in such numbers and were being caught on an industrial scale that we would have more evidence, perhaps not in the zoo archaeological record but in the ceramic record and in the literary sources,” she said. “The Romans ate and talked about an enormous variety of fish and seafood, and if whale was widely exploited and exported, then it is strangely absent from many discussions.”

But Rodrigues is more hopeful about what the discovery tells us. “I think [this study] can change our perspective of the Roman economy,” she said.

 

 

 

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