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original article: mpg.de

New insights into the diet of our species’ earliest member in the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia

Although there has been evidence of our species living in rainforest regions in Southeast Asia from at least 70,000 years ago, the poor preservation of organic material in these regions limits how much we know about their diet and ecological adaptations to these habitats. An international team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz has now applied a new method to investigate the diet of fossil humans: the analysis of stable zinc isotopes from tooth enamel. This method proves particularly helpful to learn whether prehistoric humans and animals were primarily eating meat or plants.

Traditional assumptions have often seen tropical rainforests as a barrier to early Homo sapiens. However, growing proof shows that humans adapted to and lived in tropical rainforest habitats of Southeast Asia. Some researchers also suggest that, in the past, other human species, like Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis, became extinct because they could not adapt to this environment as our species did. However, we know very little about the ecological adaptation of fossil humans, including what they were eating.

Zinc isotopes reveal what kind of food was primarily eaten

In this study, researchers analysed the zinc stable isotope ratios from animal and human teeth from two sites in the Huà Pan Province of Laos: Tam Pà Ling and the nearby site of Nam Lot. “The site of Tam Pà Ling is particularly important for palaeoanthropology and archaeology of Southeast Asia because it holds the oldest and most abundant fossil record of our species in this region”, explains Fabrice Demeter, researcher at the University of Copenhagen. However, there is little archaeological evidence, like stone tools, hearth features, plant remains, cut marks on bones, in Tam Pà Ling: only teeth and bones. This makes isotopic approaches the only way to gain insight into past dietary reliance.

Nitrogen isotope analysis, in particular, can help scientists learn if past humans were eating animals or plants. However, the collagen in bones and teeth needed to do these analyses is not easily conservable. In tropical regions like the one at Tam Pà Ling this problem is even more acute. “New methods – such as zinc isotope analysis of enamel – can now overcome these limitations and allow us to investigate teeth from regions and periods we could not study before”, says study leader Thomas Tütken, professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University’s Institute of Geosciences. “With zinc stable isotope ratios, we can now study Tam Pà Ling and learn what kind of food our earliest ancestors in this region were eating.”

Diet of fossil humans from Southeast Asia

The fossil human studied in this research dates from the Late Pleistocene, more precisely from 46,000 to 63,000 years ago. With it, various mammals from both sites, including water buffalos, rhinos, wild boars, deer, bears, orangutans, macaques, and leopards, were also analysed. All these different animals show various eating behaviours, making for an ideal background to determine what exactly humans were eating at the time. The more diverse the animal remains found at a particular site are, the more information the researchers can use to understand the diet of prehistoric humans.

When we compare the zinc isotope values from the fossil Homo sapiens of Tam Pà Ling to that of the animals, it strongly suggests that its diet contained both plants and animals. This omnivorous diet also differs from most nitrogen isotope data of humans in other regions of the world for that time period, where a meat-rich diet is almost consistently discerned. “Another kind of analysis performed in this study – stable carbon isotopes analysis – indicates that the food consumed came strictly from forested environments”, says Élise Dufour, researcher at the National Natural History Museum of Paris. “The results are the oldest direct evidence for subsistence strategies for Late Pleistocene humans in tropical rainforests.”

Researchers often associated our species with open environments, like savannahs or cold steppes. However, this study shows that early Homo sapienscould adapt to different environments. Together, the zinc and carbon isotope results may suggest a mix of specialized adaptations to tropical rainforests seen from other Southeast Asian archaeological sites. “It will be interesting, in the future, to compare our zinc isotope data with data from other prehistoric human species of Southeast Asia, like Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis, and see if we could understand better why they went extinct while our species survived”, concludes first author Nicolas Bourgon, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Apollo-magizine.com

Garry Shaw

3 September 2021

A small cup, currently on display in the temporary exhibition ‘Drinking with the Gods’ at La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux, held a small surprise for any ancient Greek who’d finished sipping their wine and peered with sadness into its dry, empty interior. A satyr is painted within, his tail in the air as he dives head first into a vat of wine, his own tiny cup left below, untouched. Such behaviour was frowned upon in Greek society, I learn, because drinking wine was a divine affair, involving the proper rituals and respect for the gods, which separated the Greeks from the barbarians. The satyr, it seems, had forgotten his good manners. Luckily for us modern wine-drinkers, there’s no longer any risk of embarrassing ourselves like a drunken satyr, because this intoxicating exhibition explains how we can avoid insulting the Greek and Roman gods or appearing like barbarians.

With around 50 artefacts on display, including loans from the Louvre, ‘Drinking with the Gods’ centres on the role of wine in Graeco-Roman culture, with a large part dedicated to Dionysus, the god who gave wine to humans and – perhaps more importantly – taught us to make it ourselves. Early on, there’s a statue of the god carved into the marble leg of a banqueting table. It shows Dionysus leaning against a pillar, naked, one arm over his head in a gesture of ecstasy (or possibly wondering where he’d last seen his clothes). With his other hand, he pours wine for his panther, his constant companion, present in various artefacts on display. Unmixed with water, the wine drank by panther and god alike was believed to drive mere mortals insane, the exhibition explains. This is useful advice for the Greek-god-fearing among us. The correct way to drink wine is to mix it with water in a large vase called a krater. Then, before taking a cup, you make an offering from it to the gods and say a prayer.

As you explore the exhibition, there’s a bronze image of Dionysus’s drunken mule (not a very efficient way of getting around, I imagine), and paintings and carvings of the satyrs that accompanied the god on his travels – men with goat or horse legs and animal ears. Women called the maenads (‘the mad ones’) were also part of the divinity’s troupe, and were believed to tear you apart if you didn’t welcome Dionysus correctly. It sounds like quite the party – so long as you followed the correct rituals and survived the night.

Further characters from Dionysus’s myths and adventures are also present. The sides of one Greek vase from 490 BC show Dionysus and Heracles meeting for a drinking competition. Pan makes an appearance as a small bronze figure, and we meet a marble statue of the satyr Silenus, Dionysus’s tutor, carved holding a large goatskin of wine. Festivals of Dionysus are represented too, such as the three-day-long Anthesteria (‘Flower Festival’), celebrating the god’s return and new wine; a scene of women offering to a statue of Dionysus during this festival can be seen on a jug from 450–440 BC. The exhibition also explores the god of wine’s incarnation as Bacchus under the Roman Empire.

One highlight is a replica of a huge vase from the 6th century BC discovered in a Celtic princesses’ tomb in France. This could hold 1,100 litres of wine and is apparently the largest known vase from the ancient world – standing before it, you can quite easily imagine diving inside like an ill-mannered satyr. Another reproduction shows a mosaic of a skeleton holding wine jugs, meant to remind banqueters to enjoy their lives.

Installation view of ‘Drinking with the Gods’, La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux, 2021. Photo: Anaka

But there’s more to the exhibition than the ancient artefacts. In one area, you can sit and listen to tales of Dionysus, as told by the slam artist and poet Maras, the words projected on to the walls. A video shows a banqueting scene from Federico Fellini’s film Satyricon (1969). Three modern installations have been created by street artists, inspired by the ancient myths. Atmospheric music drifts across the exhibition space. The imagery on one Italian situla, showing King Maron hosting Dionysus and receiving a vine and drinking vessel in return, has been replicated on a large scale in fabric, which makes its theme – the gift of wine – much clearer, and makes you feel immersed in the scene.

The exhibition is moodily lit with spotlights, creating stark contrasts between dark spaces, the illuminated objects, and the green-themed information panels and labels, which present the objects and their backgrounds in a refreshingly clear, engaging and sometimes almost conversational manner. Interesting cultural details are included throughout – among them, that during the Anthesteria, the Greeks held competitions in which people tried to down their cups of wine in a single gulp.

All of which adds up to a rather delicious blend, mixing old flavours with something new. With the world now slowly opening up again, if you can make it to Bordeaux, ‘Drinking with the Gods’ is an exhibition that you should sample while you still have the chance. And when enjoying a glass of wine afterwards, remember to offer a little to Dionysus.

‘Drinking with the Gods’ is at La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux, France, until 7 November.

April 1, 2010 by Ancientfoods | Edit Topic: Pasta On April 1, 1957 the British news show Panorama broadcast a three-minute segment about a bumper …

The Annual Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

Happy April everyone!

Original article: eurekalert.org

13-Oct-2021Peer-Reviewed Publication

Cell Press

Human feces don’t usually stick around for long—and certainly not for thousands of years. But exceptions to this general rule are found in a few places in the world, including prehistoric salt mines of the Austrian UNESCO World Heritage area Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut. Now, researchers who’ve studied ancient fecal samples (or paleofeces) from these mines have uncovered some surprising evidence: the presence of two fungal species used in the production of blue cheese and beer. The findings appear in the journal Current Biology on October 13.

“Genome-wide analysis indicates that both fungi were involved in food fermentation and provide the first molecular evidence for blue cheese and beer consumption during Iron Age Europe,” says Frank Maixner (@FrankMaixner) of the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies in Bolzano, Italy.

“These results shed substantial new light on the life of the prehistoric salt miners in Hallstatt and allow an understanding of ancient culinary practices in general on a whole new level,” adds Kerstin Kowarik (@KowarikKerstin) of the Museum of Natural History Vienna. “It is becoming increasingly clear that not only were prehistoric culinary practices sophisticated, but also that complex processed foodstuffs as well as the technique of fermentation have held a prominent role in our early food history.”

Earlier studies already had shown the potential for studies of prehistoric paleofeces from salt mines to offer important insights into early human diet and health. In the new study, Maixner, Kowarik, and their colleagues added in-depth microscopic, metagenomic, and proteomic analyses—to explore the microbes, DNA, and proteins that were present in those poop samples.

These comprehensive studies allowed them to reconstruct the diet of the people who once lived there. They also could get information about the ancient microbes that inhabited their guts. Gut microbes are collectively known as the gut microbiome and are now recognized to have an important role in human health.

Their dietary survey identified bran and glumes of different cereals as one of the most prevalent plant fragments. They report that this highly fibrous, carbohydrate-rich diet was supplemented with proteins from broad beans and occasionally with fruits, nuts, or animal food products.

In keeping with their plant-heavy diet, the ancient miners up to the Baroque period also had gut microbiome structures more like those of modern non-Westernized individuals, whose diets are also mainly composed of unprocessed food, fresh fruits and vegetables. The findings suggest a more recent shift in the Western gut microbiome as eating habits and lifestyles changed.

When the researchers extended their microbial survey to include fungi, that’s when they got their biggest surprise: an abundance in one of their Iron Age samples of Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA.

“The Hallstatt miners seem to have intentionally applied food fermentation technologies with microorganisms which are still nowadays used in the food industry,” Maixner says.

The findings offer the first evidence that people were already producing blue cheese in Iron Age Europe nearly 2,700 years ago, he adds. In ongoing and future studies of the paleofeces from Hallstatt, they hope to learn more about the early production of fermented foods and the interplay between nutrition and the gut microbiome composition in different time periods.

###

This work was supported by Programma Ricerca Budget prestazioni Eurac 2017 of the Province of Bolzano, Italy, and the South Tyrolean grant legge 14, the European Regional Development Fund, the European Research Council grant, the US National Institutes of Health, and the US National Science Foundation.

Current Biology, Maixner et al.: “Paleofeces analyses indicate blue cheese and beer consumption by Iron Age Hallstatt salt miners and a non-Westernized gut microbiome structure in Europe until the Baroque period”

Original article:phys.org

by Mary Beth King,  University of New Mexico


Research recently published by adjunct assistant professor Cyler Conrad from the Department of Archaeology at The University of New Mexico examines the importance of turkeys to the Ancestral Pueblo people and how they have managed the birds for more than 1,600 years. Evidence of turkeys and various methods of enclosing them is evident in the ancient pueblos all over New Mexico and surrounding areas, making them part of the area’s history.

In “Contextualizing Ancestral Pueblo Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo spp.) Management,” Conrad reviewed the archeological record to focus on three main questions: How turkey pens are identified, if turkey pen construction or evidence for captivity shifts through time, and how the record of turkey penning informs us regarding the long-term human management of these birds and global perspectives on human-bird/human-animal management.

“The research is a large review of archeological evidence for turkey management by Ancestral Pueblo peoples throughout the American Southwest and Mexican Northwest, and by management, I mean keeping turkeys in pens or other enclosed spaces. What I discovered by reading through ethnographic and ethnohistoric descriptions, archeological site reports and publications focused on turkey pen contexts, is that Ancestral Pueblo people participated in a complex relationship with these birds,” Conrad explained. 

In some cases turkeys were penned within rooms in villages; sometimes those rooms were specifically constructed as pens and sometimes they were reused as pens. There is evidence that they were even kept in a room in or near Room 28 in Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon where UNM anthropologist Patricia Crown found cylindrical jars used to consume drinks made of cacao, the first evidence of the consumption of chocolate north of the US-Mexico border. 

“It appears that turkeys were kept in a nearby room, except during the final period of occupation in Room 28 when it may have functioned as a pen itself. This was a really interesting observation which Dr. Crown identified: A possible record of the modification of spaces to fill certain needs at certain times, in this case with turkeys,” Conrad observed.

Turkeys were also allowed to free-range, were kept tied to turkey tethers, and were occasionally held in small cages. Consistent variability in the type of space and context in which Ancestral Pueblo peoples kept turkeys was clearly intentional—an adaptive strategy that allowed flexibility in the management of these birds for a variety of purposes for well over 1,600 years in the Southwest and northwest Mexico.

Conrad also speculates on why turkeys were kept: “Were turkeys raised as pets? For feathers? For food? To increase flock sizes? For egg production? Or perhaps for dozens of other reasons we simply can’t understand as archeologists looking into the past. What I can confirm is that the flexibility in turkey confinement was intentional.”

Turkeys were probably used in more ways than we recognize today. 

“We know at least that their feathers, eggs, bones, meat, and even visual, auditory, and conceptual manifestations were used for a variety of purposes. These include the creation of blankets, paints, tools, musical instruments, food, and art.” 

Indigenous peoples of this region had special and significant relationships with a variety of birds, Conrad noted, such as macaws, eagles, and herons, just to name a few. Chickens were introduced later by the Spanish at contact.

“Birds hold a special place in Pueblo society and we see this record throughout the archeological identification of bird bones, feathers, imagery on ceramics and rock art, and much more. Turkeys are only one of many birds that deserve careful attention when trying to examine human-bird interactions through time,” he added.

To find out more about turkeys and their role in the lives of Ancestral Pueblo people, Conrad examined the record of past excavations and research. 

Turkey pens had a variety of forms and construction in Ancestral Pueblo contexts so it was sometimes challenging to define them. But there is one good way to determine where the birds were kept.

“One of the clearest lines of evidence for identifying a turkey pen within these places is the presence of turkey droppings or dense mats of turkey dung,” Conrad said.

Research has also revealed what turkeys ate, thanks to the UNM Center for Stable Isotopes, where state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation measures certain elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen—proxies for bird diets—in organic and inorganic substances. Free-range poultry isn’t a modern concept.

“We know what turkeys ate based on evidence from botanicals in contexts associated with turkeys such as pollen, and rare examples of preserved foods recovered from desiccated and mummified turkeys from this region. All these records indicate that turkeys consumed domesticated maize. But, there are fascinating examples that contradict this record—including evidence from Tijeras Pueblo identified by [UNM anthropologist] Emily Lena Jones. Those turkeys have diets that appear to be more ‘natural’ or free-range, as we like to say,” he elaborated.

Those ancient turkeys aren’t so very far removed from modern wildlife.

“The DNA of the Ancestral Pueblo domesticated turkey survives in some wild Merriam’s turkey populations within the Southwest. So, when you are hunting for turkeys in New Mexico, or simply experience them in the environment, there is likely an aspect of that turkey that is related to the birds, peoples, and experiences described in this research,” he noted, adding, “There is a direct connection between what we perceive as ‘wild’ turkeys within the environment today and their ancestors of the past who interacted with and were managed by Pueblo peoples. It makes this research important because it was the specific conditions in which Ancestral Pueblo peoples managed these birds that allowed for this current relationship.”


original article: dailysabah.com

Archaeologists seek clues of the culinary culture and eating habits of the Lydians in the excavations of the ancient city of Daskyleion, located on the shores of Lake Manyas in the Bandırma district of western Balıkesir province, using various dental tools.

The excavation team, headed by Kaan Iren – a lecturer at Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University Faculty of Letters Archaeology Department – continue their work in and around the 2,600-year-old kitchen structure found three years ago in Daskyleion. The team prefers small, sensitive instruments used in dentistry such as forceps and spatulas. With these tools, delicate finds such as pottery, fish spines, seeds and plant remains that have not been destroyed and remained intact can be carefully removed.

Iren told Anadolu Agency (AA) that they named the section where the Lydian kitchen is found “Akro Daskyleion.”

Stating that a Lydian palace was destroyed by a fire and the kitchen was affected by this, Iren said, “Our research and excavations have been continuing in this kitchen for years, without skipping any data. We continue our work by slowly digging with very sensitive tools, fine brushes and needles and documenting all data.”

Büşra Atalar Yeter, a postgraduate in charge of the Lydian kitchen excavation team, said that they investigated the relationship between the kitchen structure and other areas during their work this year. Stating that they had revealed places that could be cellars, according to their research, Atalar said: “We found burned mud brick blocks in these areas. These probably belong to a cellar destroyed by a collapsed wall because we obtained various bones and different types of seeds from the surrounding area.”

“In order to preserve the data, we have analyzed our work in detail and meticulously. Therefore, we continue to work with small dental tools,” she added.

Original article:https: cenich.es

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

A study led by CENIEH researcher has just been presented looking at the subsistence strategies of Neanderthal groups at the Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter site (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid), whose results indicate that they mainly hunted large bovids and cervids

Abel Moclán, a researcher at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), is the lead author of a paper published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews which undertook a zooarchaeological and taphonomic study of the Neanderthal Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter site (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid), some 76,000 years old, whose results indicate that these Neanderthals mainly hunted large bovids and cervids.

Thanks to the taphonomic study, it has been possible to characterize the site as a “hunting camp”, meaning that it was used by these hominins as a staging post between where they caught their prey and the place of final consumption, at which the entire group would have made use of the resources the hunting parties obtained at different times.

Covering over 300 m2, this is possibly the region’s largest Neanderthal camp, and evidence had previously been found of different activities undertaken by these hominins here, such as manufacturing stone tools or the use of fire, at different moments, although little had been known about how important the faunal remains encountered were.

“We’ve been able to show with a high degree of certainty that the Navalmaíllo Neanderthals mainly hunted large bovids and cervids, which they processed there and then carried to a second place of reference. This point is very interesting, as this type of behavior has been identified at very few sites in the Iberian Peninsula. To do all this, we used very powerful statistical tools such as Artificial Intelligence”, says Moclán.

The other collaborators in this study were the researchers Rosa Huguet and Hugues Alexandre Blain, from the IPHES in Tarragona; Belén Márquez, César Laplana and María Ángeles Galindo-Pellicena, of the Museo Arqueológico Regional of Madrid; Nuria García, attached to the Universidad Complutense de Madrid; Diego Álvarez-Lao, of the Universidad de Oviedo, and the three co-directors of the Pinilla del Valle project: the geologist Alfredo Pérez González, the paleontologist Juan Luis Arsuaga and the archaeologist Enrique Baquedano.

Twentieth excavation campaign

The twentieth excavation campaign at the Pinilla del Valle sites is currently under way, from August 15th through September 15th. These excavations are being directed from the Museo Arqueológico Regional of the Comunidad de Madrid, and they are financed by the Comunidad de Madrid. The project is also sponsored by the company Mahou San Miguel and enjoys the collaboration of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, the Ayuntamiento de Pinilla del Valle, the Canal de Isabel II, the Fundación General of the Universidad de Alcalá and the Dirección General de Juventud.

Pottery vessels which had contained beer, found with human remains in platform moundPeer-Reviewed Publication

DARTMOUTH COLLEGE

original article: eurekalert.org

Alcoholic beverages have long been known to serve an important socio-cultural function in ancient societies, including at ritual feasts. A new study finds evidence of beer drinking 9,000 years ago in southern China, which was likely part of a ritual to honor the dead. The findings are based on an analysis of ancient pots found at a burial site at Qiaotou, making the site among the oldest in the world for early beer drinking. The results are reported in PLOS ONE.

The ancient pots were discovered in a platform mound (80 m x 50 m wide, with an elevation of 3 m above ground level), which was surrounded by a human-made ditch (10-15 m wide and 1.5-2 m deep), based on ongoing excavations at Qiaotou. No residential structures were found at the site. The mound contained two human skeletons and multiple pottery pits with high-quality pottery vessels, many of which were complete vessels. The pottery was painted with white slip and some of the vessels were decorated with abstract designs. As the study reports, these artifacts are probably some of “the earliest known painted pottery in the world.” No pottery of this kind has been found at any other sites dating to this time period.

The research team analyzed different types of pottery found at Qiaotou, which were of varying sizes. Some of the pottery vessels were relatively small and similar in size to drinking vessels used today, and to those found in other parts of the world. Each of the pots could basically be held in one hand like a cup unlike storage vessels, which are much larger in size. Seven of the 20 vessels, which were part of their analysis, appeared to be long-necked Hu pots, which were used to drink alcohol in the later historical periods.

To confirm that the vessels were used for drinking alcohol, the research team analyzed microfossil residues— starch, phytolith (fossilized plant residue), and fungi, extracted from the interior surfaces of the pots. The residues were compared with control samples obtained from soil surrounding the vessels.

The team identified microbotanical (starch granules and phytoliths) and microbial (mold and yeast) residues in the pots that were consistent with residues from beer fermentation and are not found naturally in soil or in other artifacts unless they had contained alcohol.

“Through a residue analysis of pots from Qiaotou, our results revealed that the pottery vessels were used to hold beer, in its most general sense— a fermented beverage made of rice (Oryza sp.), a grain called Job’s tears (Coix lacryma-jobi), and unidentified tubers,” says co-author Jiajing Wang, an assistant professor of anthropology at Dartmouth. “This ancient beer though would not have been like the IPA that we have today. Instead, it was likely a slightly fermented and sweet beverage, which was probably cloudy in color.”

The results also showed that phytoliths of rice husks and other plants were also present in the residue from the pots. They may have been added to the beer as a fermentation agent.

Although the Yangtze River Valley of southern China is known today as the country’s rice heartland, the domestication of rice occurred gradually between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago, so 9,000 years ago, rice was still in the early stage of domestication. At that time, most communities were hunter-gatherers who relied primarily on foraging. As the researchers explain in the study, given that rice harvesting and processing was labor intensive, the beer at Qiaotou was probably a ritually significant drink/beverage.

The residue analysis of the pots also showed traces of mold, which was used in the beermaking process. The mold found in the pots at Qiaotou was very similar to the mold present in koji, which is used to make sake and other fermented rice beverages in East Asia. The results predate earlier research, which found that mold had been used in fermentation processes 8,000 years ago in China.

Beer is technically any fermented beverage made from crops through a two-stage transformation process. In the first phase, enzymes transform starch into sugar (saccharification). In the second phase, the yeasts convert the sugar into alcohol and other states like carbon dioxide (fermentation). As the researchers explain in the study, mold acts kind of like an agent for both processes, by serving as a saccharification-fermentation starter.

“We don’t know how people made the mold 9,000 years ago, as fermentation can happen naturally,” says Wang. “If people had some leftover rice and the grains became moldy, they may have noticed that the grains became sweeter and alcoholic with age. While people may not have known the biochemistry associated with grains that became moldy, they probably observed the fermentation process and leveraged it through trial and error.”

Given that the pottery at Qiaotou was found near the burials in a non-residential area, the researchers conclude that the pots of beer were likely used in ritualistic ceremonies relating to the burial of the dead. They speculate that ritualized drinking may have been integral to forging social relationships and cooperation, which served as a precursor to complex rice farming societies that emerged 4,000 years later.

Jiajing Wang is available for comment at: jiajing.wang@dartmouth.edu. Leping Jiang and Hanlong Sun at Zhejian Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in China, also served as co-authors of the study.
 

By Andrew CurryAug. 25, 2021

Original article in sciencemag.org


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Herculaneum was covered by Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 C.E., but unlike Pompeii, many human remains there were well preserved.
 
LUCIANO FATTORE/SAPIENZA UNIVERSITY OF ROME

Almost 2000 years ago, a volcanic eruption buried the seaside Roman town of Herculaneum in the same rush of hot ash and gas that decimated Pompeii. The catastrophe didn’t just preserve buildings and bones—it saved clues to the Roman diet. A new analysis of the bones of 17 victims reveals what these ancient villagers were eating, and in what proportions. Residents scarfed a lot of seafood and olive oil, confirming historians’ estimates that average Romans consumed 20 liters (more than 5 gallons) of the oil each year.

Previous studies have only given broad outlines, not the nitty-gritty details, of the ancient Roman diet, says Erica Rowan, an archaeobotanist at the Royal Holloway University of London who was not involved with the new work. “Here they do a good job” of filling in those details.

In 79 C.E., in a desperate attempt to escape the impact of the Mount Vesuvius eruption, the people of Herculaneum huddled in boathouses along the town’s waterfront, situated on the west coast of central Italy. But a sudden blast of 250°C ash and gas killed them instantly, cooking their flesh while preserving their bones almost perfectly.

In previous work, scientists analyzed the collagen in those bones to conclude that men at Herculaneum had a more diverse diet than women. In the new study, researchers isolated specific amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—from the collagen, and determined the ratios of varieties, or isotopes, of nitrogen and carbon atoms. Those isotopes can be traced to specific foods.

Thanks to the remains of plants and animals found at the site, archaeologists know the people of Herculaneum ate grains such as wheat and millet. They also consumed lentils, beans, cherries, peaches, and olives, plus 70 kinds of fish and shellfish from the Bay of Naples. But the proportions remained a mystery.

Using the new method, “We can tell where their calories were coming from,” says study co-author Oliver Craig, an archaeologist at the University of York. “We were able to see foodstuffs we’re usually not able to see because they’re not proteins.”

The analysis held some shocks: People at Herculaneum ate a lot of seafood, especially compared with humans in the Mediterranean region today. Approximately one-quarter of their protein was netted from the nearby sea, nearly triple the amount in the modern Mediterranean diet, the team reports today in Science Advances. “We haven’t been able to see that before in regular isotopic analysis,” Rowan says.

Olive oil was also a big hit. It made up at least 12% of calories consumed at Herculaneum, and perhaps much more. The find supports historical sources indicating the average Roman consumed 20 liters of oil each year, and that the oil was one of the most significant fat sources in the Roman diet. Olives were grown widely all across the Roman Empire, providing ample supplies. “Oil wasn’t a condiment, it was a proper ingredient,” says co-author Silvia Soncin, an archaeologist at Sapienza University of Rome. “They got a lot of energy out of it.”

The women of Herculaneum also ate fewer grains and cereals than did the men. Herculaneum’s men, meanwhile, seemed to down more fish and shellfish. Soncin and Craig suggest men’s varied diets might be a sign that they spent more time outside of the house.

The scientists acknowledge that the Herculaneum diet may not be representative of ancient Rome as a whole. It’s possible the people of the town—situated on the rich Bay of Naples, surrounded by fertile volcanic soil, and near a major port importing goods from across the Mediterranean—had an especially diverse diet.

Still, Rowan says, the approach could shed light on other ancient diets across the globe. “If they could use the same methods at different sites, it would be really interesting.”

Original article: eurekalert.org

Long-held eating habits beliefs debunked

UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO

23-Jul-2021

Long-held eating habits beliefs debunked

New research from the University of Otago debunks a long-held belief about our ancestors’ eating habits.

For more than 60 years, researchers have believed Paranthropus, a close fossil relative of ours which lived about one to three million years ago, evolved massive back teeth to consume hard food items such as seeds and nuts, while our own direct ancestors, the genus Homo, is thought to have evolved smaller teeth due to eating softer food such as cooked food and meats. 

However, after travelling to several large institutes and museums in South Africa, Japan and the United Kingdom and studying tooth fractures in more than 20,000 teeth of fossil and living primate species, Dr Ian Towle, an Otago biological anthropologist, working with Dr Carolina Loch, of the Faculty of Dentistry, says this “neat picture is far more complex than once thought”.

“By individually studying each tooth and recording the position and size of any tooth fractures, we show tooth chipping does not support regular hard food eating in Paranthropus robustus, therefore potentially putting an end to the argument that this group as a whole were hard food eaters,” he says.

Dr Towle says the findings challenge our understanding of dietary and behavioural changes during human evolution.

“The results are surprising, with human fossils so far studied – those in our own genus Homo – showing extremely high rates of tooth fractures, similar to living hard object eating primates, yet Paranthropus show extremely low levels of fracture, similar to primates that eat soft fruits or leaves.

“Although in recent years there has been a slow acceptance that another species of Paranthropus, Paranthropus boisei, found in East Africa, was unlikely to have regularly eaten hard foods, the notion that Paranthropus evolved their large dental apparatus to eat hard foods has persisted. Therefore, this research can be seen as the final nail in the coffin of Paranthropus as hard object feeders.”

The fact that humans show such contrasting chipping patterns is equally significant and will have “knock on” effects for further research, particularly research on dietary changes during human evolution, and why the human dentition has evolved the way it has, he says. 

“The regular tooth fractures in fossil humans may be caused by non-food items, such as grit or stone tools. However, regardless of the cause, these groups were subjected to substantial tooth wear and fractures. So, it raises questions to why our teeth reduced in size, especially compared to groups like Paranthropus.”

Dr Towle’s research will now focus on if our dentition evolved smaller due to other factors to allow other parts of the skull to expand, leading to evolution then favouring other tooth properties to protect it against wear and fracture, instead of increased tooth size. 

“This is something we are investigating now, to see if tooth enamel may have evolved different characteristics among the great apes. Our research as a whole may also have implications for our understanding of oral health, since fossil human samples typically show immaculate dental health.

“Since extreme tooth wear and fractures were the norm, our ancestors likely evolved dental characteristics to not just cope with but actually utilise this dental tissue loss. For example, without substantial tooth wear our dentitions can face all sorts of issues, including impacted wisdom teeth, tooth crowding and even increased susceptibility to cavities.”

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Paranthropus robustus tooth chipping patterns do not support regular hard food mastication, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch, was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Tooth chipping prevalence and pattern in extant primates, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Chipping and wear patterns in extant primate and fossil hominin molars: ‘Functional’ cusps are associated with extensive wear but low levels of fracture, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

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