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A 9,000-year-old barbecue pit was recently discovered at Prastio Mesorotsos in Cyprus. Credit: Andrew McCarthy

A 9,000-year-old barbecue pit was recently discovered at Prastio Mesorotsos in Cyprus.
Credit: Andrew McCarthy

 

Original article:

livescience.com

By Megan Gannon, Live Science Contributor | September 02, 2015

 

Before there was pottery in Cyprus, there was barbecue.

And in the spirit of the Stone Age, archaeologists on the Mediterranean island recreated a prehistoric pit feast this summer — feeding 200 people with pig and goat, slow-roasted underground — to test the cooking methods of Neolithic chefs.

A 9,000-year-old barbecue pit was recently discovered at Prastio Mesorotsos, a site in the Diarizos Valley outside of Paphos, which has been almost continuously occupied from the Neolithic era to the present. It took three years of excavations before archaeologists from the University of Edinburgh got to the bottom of the stone-lined, ash-covered pit, and only last summer could they say with some certainty that they were looking at an ancient oven. But the pit was so big — about 8 feet (2.5 meters) across and 3 feet (1 meter) deep — that Andrew McCarthy, director of the expedition, wasn’t sure if cooking in it would actually work. [See Photos of the Neolithic Feast]

“I think it’s probably the closest to the theoretical maximum that a pit oven of this type could be,” McCarthy told Live Science, referring to the fact that too big of a space would’ve taken too much energy to keep hot enough. “It was kind of at the limits of what’s possible. After we reported on what was found, we decided that the best thing to do would be to test our hypothesis in a number of ways.”

So, before the team dug their archaeological trenches at Prastio Mesorotsos this summer, they planned a big party and dug a replica fire pit outside of a nearby restaurant, Extreme View Cafe, whose proprietors were very interested in and helpful with the project, McCarthy said.

Slightly cheating, the team used modern metal picks and shovels to build the oven. (“To get to know how to use stone tools, we would have had to train for a long time,” McCarthy said.) But to gather their other party supplies, they did stick admirably close to ancient methods. They scoured local riverbeds for big igneous stones that would retain and radiate heat, and they hauled their choice rocks uphill in sacks or with a yoke made from a stick and baskets — a time-consuming and painstaking task. “We pretty much came to the conclusion that this would have been a slow process of collecting stones — maybe even over the course of years,” McCarthy said.

With buckets on their heads, McCarthy and his team collected the clay that they would use to hold the 400 stones in place around the outside of the oven. They made their own charcoals out of lemon and carob wood. They tanned 10 goat skins that would be used as parcels for the meat. And they crafted meat hooks out of sapling wood.

Prehistoric inhabitants left McCarthy with some idea of what should be served at the feast, as bones from pigs, goats and deer had been found at the site. When it came time to source the food, McCarthy called a local restaurateur who knew a good butcher, and they ordered a 150-lb. (70 kilograms) pig, skin on, head detached. (They left the unpleasant business of gutting the pig to the butcher.) The team also got an 80-lb. (38 kg) goat. Deer, now extinct in Cyprus, was left off the menu.

Days before the feast, the team let a fire burn in the stone-lined pit for 24 hours so that the ground, possibly still cold and damp from a wet winter, wouldn’t suck the heat out of their oven. The day before the party, it was time to light the charcoals, and cover them with another layer of stones so the meat wouldn’t directly touch the heat source. When the oven was ready, the team tossed on the pig, which had been stuffed with bulgur wheat, wild fennel stems, anise and bay leaves before getting sewn up tightly with hemp twine and packed into a blanket. The goat meat had been chopped up and divided into two parcels, spiced with herbs like wild oregano.

The team packed more herbs on top of the meat, before sealing the oven with stonesand a clay-and-mud mixture. Then they lit another fire on top of the closed pit so that heat wouldn’t escape overnight. [The 7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

Not until the party time were they able to excavate the meat and perform a taste test. “I think it was a success,” said McCarthy, adding that he was nervous about how the meat would turn out. “It really was delicious. You could taste the lemon wood and the carob and the bay leaf. It infused into the meat.”

Not only was the team able to feed nearly 200 guests who were happy to take part in the experiment, but they also ate leftovers for a week. Leftovers may have sustained prehistoric partygoers for even longer.

“I’ve been told that the fat that’s rendered from the pig liquefies to some extent and you can put meat in a container of the fat,” McCarthy said. “The fat itself will go rancid, but the meat will not, and you can store it for up to a year.”

While preparing the pit roast, the team inadvertently recreated some of the more elusive, sensory elements of such a prehistoric feast — namely, the spectacle of the three-day-long fire required to heat the oven.

“A fire of this size sustained for three days is probably something you wouldn’t have seen all the time,” McCarthy said. “If you think about this being a feast, a festival or big inter-community gathering, you would have had light and heat throughout the night. This is a very dramatic spot, and where the oven is located is almost like an amphitheater — it’s between two rocks, it’s shaded and sheltered, but at night it would have been a real stage, and you can imagine dancing and storytelling and all sorts of activities taking place there.”

The replica pit has been turned over to the owners of the restaurant, but McCarthy hopes that he’ll be able to go back and test how Neolithic people would have maintained an oven like this for reuse. Near the original ancient barbecue pit, the archaeologists also found a roughly contemporary, but much smaller, domed oven about 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) wide. McCarthy thinks this feature was likely used not for feasts but for everyday cooking. He hopes to build a replica of that oven next year to test if it would have been used for cooking meat, baking bread or perhaps toasting grains to make beer.

Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

The team cooked a whole pig and a chopped-up goat for more than 24 hours in the oven, which was sealed with stones and clay. Credit: Photo courtesy of Andrew McCarthy

The team cooked a whole pig and a chopped-up goat for more than 24 hours in the oven, which was sealed with stones and clay.
Credit: Photo courtesy of Andrew McCarthy

 

 

 

 

The size of the human brain had a great deal to do with the food choices of our ancestors. Credit: Shutterstock

The size of the human brain had a great deal to do with the food choices of our ancestors. Credit: Shutterstock

Original Article:

Phys.org

August 31, 2015 by Norman Owen-Smith, The Conversation

 

Much attention is being given to what people ate in the distant past as a guide to what we should eat today. Advocates of the claimed palaeodiet recommend that we should avoid carbohydrates and load our plates with red meat and fat. Its critics, on the other hand, argue that these are the same ingredients that would set us up for heart attacks. Moreover, these animal-derived foods require more space to produce on our crowded planet filled with starving humans.

A factual foundation for the debate is provided by a review of the eating patterns of early humans and how we adapted to digest starches softened by cooking. The researchers contend that it was digestible starches that provided extra energy needed to fuel the energy needs of bigger brains, rather than extra protein from meat to grow these brains.

But the most striking thing about human diets is just how variable they have been and the adaptations that have taken place. Furthermore, the American evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk in her book Paleofantasy contends that these dietary adaptations are not fixed on what our ancestors ate in caves at some time in the past.

So are our energy, or protein, needs much different from other mammals of similar size? Brains demand a lot of energy but so does the liver and the digestive tract. The extra nutrition that we need for brain work may be counterbalanced, at least partially, by a lesser need for:

a long gut to process poor quality foods, or
a large liver to handle nasty chemicals in these plant parts.
Once built, a large brain does not require extra sources of protein to maintain its activities.

My studies on the dietary requirements of savanna-inhabiting herbivores highlight how these animals must cope with the dry season when most herbage is brown and indigestible even with the aid of microbial symbionts in the gut.

But carnivores do not have this problem because the dry season is when weakened herbivores are most readily killed, especially when they concentrate around scarce waterholes.

The role of carbs among early humans
Meat has long been part of human diets, along with carbohydrates provided by fruits, tubers and grains. We can get by without it, obtaining protein from milk or, with some planning, from legumes.

The early humans that consumed most meat were the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe many thousand years ago, but were not our ancestors. Meat formed the crucial lean-season food for the Neanderthal people during successive winters when plants were seasonally buried under deep snow, but later also for the modern humans who spread through Eurasia and displaced them around 40 000 years ago.

Unlike tropical Africa, meat could be stored during the freezing winters of the far north to provide a reliable food source, especially in the form of large carcasses of elephant-like proboscideans.

This led to a wave of large mammal extinctions as humans spread rapidly into Australia and entered the Americas towards the end of the last Ice Age. By that time hunting technology had been honed and meat routinely supplemented plant food, but the latter remained the dietary staple for African hunter-gatherers like the Bushmen or San people into modern times.

The food journey within evolution

Coping with the intensifying dry season in the expanding African savanna was a critical issue for human ancestors during the evolutionary transition from ape-men to the first humans between three and two million years ago. How did our ape-men ancestors gather sufficient to eat during this time of the year when nutritious fruits and leaves were scarce?

This was when meat, or at least the marrow left within bones, could have become a nutritional fallback, probably acquired by scavenging from animal carcasses not completely consumed by big fierce carnivores, along with underground storage organs of plants.

Obtaining this meat required more walking and hence longer limbs, hands freed to carry, security in numbers and stone weapons to throw at threatening carnivore fangs, but not much expansion in cranial capacity. These were features of the early Australopithicines.

At this early time, another branch of ape-men, placed in the genus Paranthropus, took a different adaptive route. They developed huge jaws to chew on tough plant foods extracted from underground storage organs to get them through the dry season.

The last representative of this genus faded out nearly a million years ago when this strategy eventually became unviable. About that time the lineage leading to early humans discovered cooking, or at least how to use it effectively to make starches stored by plants more readily digestible, according to the article in The Quarterly Review of Biology.

Adding this reliably found source of energy to the proteins acquired more opportunistically by hunting animals or gathering shellfish provided the means to survive through seasonal bottlenecks in food availability and build even bigger brains and the adaptations that followed.

A supporting adaptation was to store more body fat to get through the lean periods, especially among women supporting dependent offspring. This works against us now that foods supplying carbohydrates are plentiful.

The modern day dilemma

The problems we currently face are that we retain a craving for sugar, which was scarce the past, while most of the starchy carbohydrates we eat are highly refined. This means losing out on the other nutrients in plant parts like minerals and vitamins, and most basically fibre.

A meat-based diet could have a role to play for people who have a propensity to store fat by filling the gut for longer and alleviating desires to snack on sweets between meals. More important generally is the need to exercise so that we are hungry enough to consume sufficient food to provide the scarce micronutrients that we also require for healthy bodies.

The best advice is to eat lots of things: meat if you can afford it and justify its planetary costs to produce, but also all kinds of good food, as least refined and processed as you can obtain (apart from wines).

Explore further: Hunger for meat pushing food security to the edge

This story is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivatives).

 

 

Opium Poppy

Opium Poppy

Cumin plants

Cumin plants

Original article:

sciencedaily.com

Date: August 28, 2015
Source:
Bar-Ilan University

New findings show that Philistine culture had a major and long-term impact on floral biodiversity in Israel and may assist ecologists in dealing with invasive species.

A new study describes the bio-archaeological remains of the Philistine culture in Israel during the Iron Age (12th century to 7th century BCE). The results of this research indicate that the ca. 600 year presence of the Philistine culture had a major and long-term impact on local floral biodiversity.

One of the most pressing issues in modern biological conservation is “invasion biology.” Due to unprecedented contacts between peoples and culture in today’s “global village” certain animal and plant species are spreading widely throughout the world, often causing enormous damage to local species.

Recent studies have shown that alien species have had a substantial impact not only in recent times but also in antiquity. This is exemplified in a study published in the August 25th issue of Scientific Reports by a team led by archaeologists from Bar-Ilan University’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology (Suembikya (Sue) Frumin, Prof. Ehud Weiss and Prof. Aren Maeir) and the Hebrew University (Dr. Liora Kolska Horwitz), describing the bio-archaeological remains of the

Philistine culture during the Iron Age (12th century to 7th century BCE). The team compiled a database of plant remains extracted from Bronze and Iron Ages sites in the southern Levant, both Philistine and non-Philistine. By analyzing this database, the researchers concluded that the Philistines brought to Israel not just themselves but also their plants.

he species they brought are all cultivars that had not been seen in Israel previously. This includes edible parts of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) which originates in western Europe; the sycamore tree (Ficus sycomorus), whose fruits are known to be cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean, especially Egypt, and whose presence in Israel as a locally grown tree is first attested to in the Iron Age by the presence of its fruit; and finally, cumin (Cuminum cyminum), a spice originating in the Eastern Mediterranean. Sue Frumin, a PhD student at Prof. Ehud Weiss’s archaeobotanical lab, Bar-Ilan University, explains that “the edible parts of these species — opium poppy, sycamore, and cumin — were not identified in the archaeobotanical record of Israel prior to the Iron Age, when the Philistine culture first appeared in the region. None of these plants grows wild in Israel today, but instead grows only as cultivated plants.”

In addition to the translocation of exotic plants from other regions, the Philistines were the first community to exploit over 70 species of synanthropic plants (species which benefit from living in the vicinity of man) that were locally available in Israel, such as Purslane, Wild Radish, Saltwort, Henbane and Vigna. These plant species were not found in archaeological sites pre-dating the Iron Age, or in Iron Age archaeological sites recognized as belonging to non-Philistine cultures — Canaanite, Israelite, Judahite, and Phoenician. The “agricultural revolution” that accompanied the Philistine culture reflects a different agrarian regime and dietary preferences to that of their contemporaries.

The fact that the three exotic plants introduced by the Philistines originate from different regions accords well with the diverse geographic origin of these people. The Philistines — one of the so called Sea Peoples, and mentioned in the Bible and other ancient sources — were a multi-ethnic community with origins in the Aegean, Turkey, Cyprus and other regions in the Eastern Mediterranean who settled on the southern coastal plain of Israel in the early Iron Age (12th century BCE), and integrated with Canaanite and other local populations, finally to disappear at the end of the Iron Age (ca. 600 BCE).

The results of this research indicate that the ca. 600 year presence of the Philistine culture in Israel had a major and long-term impact on local floral biodiversity. The Philistines left as a biological heritage a variety of plants still cultivated in Israel, including, among others, sycamore, cumin, coriander, bay tree and opium poppy.

The Philistines also left their mark on the local fauna. In a previous study also published in Scientific Reports in which two of the present authors (Maeir and Kolska Horwitz) participated, DNA extracted from ancient pig bones from Philistine and non-Philistine sites in Israel demonstrated that European pigs were introduced by the Philistines into Israel and slowly swamped the local pig populations through inter-breeding. As a consequence, modern wild boar in Israel today bears a European haplotype rather than a local, Near Eastern one.

As illustrated by these studies, the examination of the ancient bio-archaeological record has the potential to help us understand the long-term mechanisms and vectors that have contributed to current floral and faunal biodiversity, information that may also assist contemporary ecologists in dealing with the pressing issue of invasive species.

###

Journal Reference:

Suembikya Frumin, Aren M. Maeir, Liora Kolska Horwitz, Ehud Weiss. Studying Ancient Anthropogenic Impacts on Current Floral Biodiversity in the Southern Levant as reflected by the Philistine Migration. Scientific Reports, 2015; 5: 13308 DOI: 10.1038/srep13308

 

Barley Field

Barley Field

 

Ancient mortars holes Native American

Ancient mortars holes Native American THESE MORTARS could well be similar to the ones discussed in the following article.

 

Original article:

Eurkalert.org

PUBLIC RELEASE: 26-AUG-2015

BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY

 

Team including researchers from Bar-Ilan University and Harvard University unravel the mystery of 12,500-year-old rock-cut mortars found throughout Southwestern Asia.

 

Using 12,500-year-old conical mortars carved into bedrock, they reconstructed how their ancient ancestors processed wild barley to produce groat meals, as well as a delicacy that might be termed “proto-pita” – small loaves of coal-baked, unleavened bread. In so doing, they re-enacted a critical moment in the rise of civilization: the emergence of wild-grain-based nutrition, some 2,000 to 3,000 years before our hunter-gatherer forebears would establish the sedentary farming communities which were the hallmark of the “Neolithic Revolution”.

The research team, consisting of independent researchers as well as faculty members from Bar-Ilan and Harvard Universities, conducted their study in the Late Natufian site of Huzuq Musa, located in Israel’s Jordan Valley. Their findings were published in the journal Plos One on July 31, 2015.

When Did Agriculture Begin?

Most investigators agree that cereal domestication was achieved about 10,500 years ago. The current work demonstrates how groat meals and fine flour were produced from wild barley, two to three millennia before the appearance of domesticated grains.

According to Prof. Mordechai Kislev, an expert in archaeo-botony who is a member of Bar-Ilan University’s Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, the team’s field work resolved a long-standing mystery about thousands of cone-shaped hollows carved into the bedrock throughout the Southern Levant.

“The conical, human-made hollows, found all over Southeast Asia, were noticed by archaeologists decades ago, but there was no agreement about their function,” Prof. Kislev says. “Assuming they were mortars used for the processing of plant food, my colleagues – under the direction of archaeologist Dr. David Eitam – decided to use these ancient stone tools, along with period-appropriate items such wooden pestles, sticks and sieves, to reconstruct how the work was done.”

Along with Eitam and Kislev, additional members of the team were physicist Adiel Karty and Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef, a member of Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology.

From Field to Food Ingredient

The experiment began by collecting spikelets – the coated grains of a cereal ear – from wild barley, the most common wild cereal in the Levant both in prehistory and today. After ripening on the ground to prevent them from scattering in the wind, the grains were then separated from the stalks, first by beating against the threshing floor with a curved stick, and subsequently, by sifting them through a large-holed sieve.

“At this point, the conical mortars were used to complete the transformation of wild grain into groats and flour that could be used for food,” says team member Adiel Karty, explaining that the different-sized mortars served specific agricultural purposes. “Filled with a measure of the raw grain and beaten with a wooden pestle, the wider cones were used for hummeling – removal of the bristle that extends from the edge of the seed,” he explains. “The narrower cones came into play during the next stage, when the same wooden pestle was used to remove the grain husk; the Natufians invented a peeling-milling machine long before the invention of machinery!”

After de-husking, the grain was scooped out of the conical mortar by hand then placed into a small cup cut in the adjacent bedrock. From there, it was transferred for filtering in a small-gauge sieve.

“We found that de-husking – and the later milling into flour – was significantly aided by the presence of these cup-like depressions, which could be used to deposit material produced in the mortar by repeated hand-scooping from its bottom,” says Dr. Eitam. “This was a kind of labor-saving device, making it easier to transfer the grain and waste material to a sieve or other vessel.”

Evolution and Contribution

Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef, an emeritus faculty member at Harvard who is a world-renowned expert on the origin of modern humans and early farming societies in the ancient Near East, says that the current study complements nearly 80 years of investigations suggesting that the Natufians – although subsisting as a hunter-gatherer society – used sickles to harvest wild, almost-ripe cereals, and were capable of producing large quantities of groat meals from roasted, “half green” barley grain. Moreover, the technological advance from wide-to narrow-cone mortars represented a major dietary change, because de-husked flour made it possible to produce the fine flour needed for what has become the Western world’s most widespread staple food: bread.

“With the development of a new agro-technological system, including threshing floors, peeling utensils and milling devices, the Natufians bequeathed to their Neolithic successors a technical advancement that contributed to the establishment of agricultural societies,” Prof. Bar-Yosef says.

Bon Appetite! Barley Bread for (Nearly) All

Prof. Kislev points out that the barley-processing “facilities” found at the site indicate that stone-utensil-produced flour could have been a significant part of the local Natufian diet.

“Huzuq Musa is estimated to have had a population of about a hundred people,” he says. “If we assume that the historical 35 liters of grain given to a Roman worker during the winter corresponds to a reasonable level of nutrition, the four large threshing floors discovered near the site – and its accompanying tools – could have produced a sufficient quantity of processed barley for its estimated inhabitants.”

“Producing food from wild barley grain was not easy, but the biggest challenge may have been the challenge of not harvesting all the wild grain in the field, and ensuring that there would be something left to eat the following year,” he says. “This Natufian advance was a bridge to the Neolithic revolution, when sedentary farmers developed the discipline needed to plan for the successful planting – and reaping – of domesticated grains.”

According to Dr. Eitam, the majority of scholars agree that Natufian culture was characterized by the first communities that inhabited permanent settlements. “Our discovery of this sophisticated agro-technological system indicates that Natufian society made the shift from hunting-gathering to an agriculture-based economy, which was possibly extant 3,000 years before the domestication of cereal,” he says.

###

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.

 

 

grazing cows. photo from shutterstock

grazing cows. photo from shutterstock

 

Original Article:

sciencenordic.com

By: Kristian Sjøgren

August 17,2015

 

Farming started in Denmark and southern Sweden about 6,000 years ago, and now researchers have discovered that these early farmers were far more advanced than they have previously been given credit for.

According to a new study, settlers from more developed regions of Central Europe moved to Denmark and Sweden, where they introduced advanced farming practices.

They brought knowledge and agricultural experience with them, which they shared with the local hunter-gatherers over the next 300 years, transforming them into a well-developed agrarian society.

In the new study, researchers from England studied cow teeth dated to 3,950 BC from southern Sweden.

The teeth show that the early farmers had mastered the cumbersome task of calving at different times of the year, so that milk was available all year round.

“It’s very interesting that the farmers of the period were able to manipulate the calving seasons, so all the calves did not come in the spring. This is very hard to do, and would not have taken place if the farmers had not intended to do it,” says Kurt Gron, a researcher from the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, UK, and lead-author on the study.

“This means that the earliest farmers were highly skilled from the beginning of the Neolithic period, which suggests immigrants were instrumental in bringing pastoral agriculture to the region,” he says.

The new results are published in PLOS One.

Danish scientist: Completely new insights

Lasse Sørensen, a postdoc at the National Museum of Denmark, studies the transition of early Scandinavian society from hunter-gatherers to a culture dominated by farming.

He was not involved in the new study, but he describes it as exciting work that is part of a larger discussion of the importance of agriculture for the first farmers.

Until now, most researchers believed that early farming was primitive because the farmers held on to many of their hunter-gatherer traditions.

“We know that the first farmers had cows, but we do not know anything about how they managed them, and how much they still had to rely on their ancient hunter-gatherer traditions to hunt and fish,” says Sørensen.

“This study points to a very advanced agriculture, and it gives us a whole new understanding of everyday life in a very interesting transition period in Scandinavian history,” he says.

Studied isotopes in teeth

In the new study, researchers analysed the oxygen isotopes in the teeth of prehistoric cattle from Almhov, in south Sweden.

The isotopes are incorporated into teeth when the young cattle drink water and the chemical signal is then preserved.

Since the isotopes in their drinking water vary over the course of a year, analysing the isotopes in the cows’ teeth can tell the researchers which season the cow was born in.

“This comparison allowed us to conclude that cattle were manipulated by farmers to give birth in multiple seasons,” says Gron.

They Could Make Yogurt And Cheese

Calving in different seasons meant that farmers had access to milk all year round.

According to Sørensen, this means that quite early in the Neolithic period farmers already had the techniques to make milk into yogurt or cheese. Otherwise, why would they produce milk all year round?

They must also have been able to plan and collect food for the cattle to last the winter — a time when the young calves were especially vulnerable.

All these things required buildings, tools, and skills that Danish hunter-gatherers were not able to either invent themselves or learn from others in such a short period.

“It is a giant leap from hunter-gathering to farming, and it is so advanced that one cannot imagine that hunter-gatherers could have learned the necessary skills from newcomers or by themselves for that matter,” says Sørensen.

“It takes many generations to master these techniques so these farmers must have been outsiders. Their presence has spread over the centuries and become integrated with the local populations of hunter-gatherers, who would have had to spend a lot of time learning about the agricultural techniques and the farming lifestyle,” he says.

Exactly how old are the teeth?

Søren Andersen is an archaeologist and senior scientist at Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, Denmark, and studies early farming societies.

Andersen does not agree that the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers happened so suddenly. He suggests it developed gradually — and contrary to the new study — was not introduced by a sudden influx of large groups of immigrants from the south.

He does not believe that the scientists behind the new research have proven adequately that the teeth are actually from 3950 BC, and not, for example, 200 years later.

If the teeth are 200 years younger, then this puts them in a period in which all researchers agree that the agricultural revolution was well established in southern Scandinavia. In which case, it would not be so strange for people to manipulate calving times.

Critic not convinced by the new research

“Before the results can be credible, there must be no doubt that the teeth come from the time that the researchers say they do. I believe, however, this has not been proven,” says Andersen.

“In addition, researchers come up with evidence from several settlements to say that it was a widespread phenomenon. I remain sceptical until I see evidence that migrants brought agriculture to southern Scandinavia,” says Andersen.

Andersen suggests that the agricultural settlements are located in exactly the same places as the hunter-gatherer settlements once lay. According to him, it is illogical that the new migrants should settle in the exact same places where people already lived.

Andersen maintains that the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to a farming society happened more gradually.

 

20130515-120149.jpg

Wild Emmer

Wild Emmer

 

The importance of dietary carbohydrate in human evolution

Original Article:

PUBLIC RELEASE: 06-AUG-2015
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS JOURNALS

press.uchicago.edu

 

Understanding how and why we evolved such large brains is one of the most puzzling issues in the study of human evolution. It is widely accepted that brain size increase is partly linked to changes in diet over the last 3 million years, and increases in meat consumption and the development of cooking have received particular attention from the scientific community. In a new study published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, Dr. Karen Hardy and her team bring together archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological and anatomical data to argue that carbohydrate consumption, particularly in the form of starch, was critical for the accelerated expansion of the human brain over the last million years, and coevolved both with copy number variation of the salivary amylase genes and controlled fire use for cooking.

With global increase in obesity and diet-related metabolic diseases, interest has intensified in ancestral or ‘Palaeolithic’ diets, not least because – to a first order of approximation – human physiology should be optimized for the nutritional profiles we have experienced during our evolution. Up until now, there has been a heavy focus on the role of animal protein and cooking in the development of the human brain over the last 2 million years, and the importance of carbohydrate, particular in form of starch-rich plant foods, has been largely overlooked.

Hardy’s team highlights the following observations to build a case for dietary carbohydrate being essential for the evolution of modern big-brained humans:

(1) The human brain uses up to 25% of the body’s energy budget and up to 60% of blood glucose. While synthesis of glucose from other sources is possible, it is not the most efficient way, and these high glucose demands are unlikely to have been met on a low carbohydrate diet;

(2) Human pregnancy and lactation place additional demands on the body’s glucose budget and low maternal blood glucose levels compromise the health of both the mother and her offspring;

(3) Starches would have been readily available to ancestral human populations in the form of tubers, as well as in seeds and some fruits and nuts;

(4) While raw starches are often only poorly digested in humans, when cooked they lose their crystalline structure and become far more easily digested;

(5) Salivary amylase genes are usually present in many copies (average ~6) in humans, but in only 2 copies in other primates. This increases the amount of salivary amylase produced and so increases the ability to digest starch. The exact date when salivary amylase genes multiplied remains uncertain, but genetic evidence suggests it was at some point in the last 1 million years.

Hardy proposes that after cooking became widespread, the co-evolution of cooking and higher copy number of the salivary amylase (and possibly pancreatic amylase) genes increased the availability of pre-formed dietary glucose to the brain and fetus, which in turn, permitted the acceleration in brain size increase which occurred from around 800,000 years ago onwards.

Eating meat may have kick-started the evolution of bigger brains, but cooked starchy foods together with more salivary amylase genes made us smarter still.

###

Karen Hardy, Jennie Brand Miller, Katherine D. Brown, Mark G. Thomas, and Les Copeland. “The Importance of Dietary Carbohydrate in Human Evolution.” The Quarterly Review of Biology: September 2015.

For further information contact:
Karen Hardy for the overall context of the study +44 780 976 6164, khardy@icrea.cat or karhardy2@googlemail.com
Mark Thomas for questions related to genetics, +44 020 7679 2286, m.thomas@ucl.ac.uk
Jennie Brand Miller for questions related to nutrition and pregnancy, +61 2 9351 3759, jennie.brandmiller@sydney.edu.au
Les Copeland for questions related to starchy foods and carbohydrates, +61 2 8627 1017 les.copeland@sydney.edu.au

Fragment of a distillation vessel used for the production of rakia, which is dated back to the 11th century. Photo: National Historical Museum (NIM)

Fragment of a distillation vessel used for the production of rakia, which is dated back to the 11th century. Photo: National Historical Museum (NIM)

 

Original Article:

July 27, 2015

novitine.com

 

Bulgarian archaeologists recently discovered an 11th century fragment of a distillation vessel used for the production of the country’s traditional fruit brandy, which is known as rakia. 

The fragment was uncovered during the excavation works, which are being conducted by the National Historical Museum (NIM) at the medieval Lyutitsa fortress.
The fortress is situated on a hill above the town of Ivaylovgrad and the find was discovered by the team of archaeologist Filip Petrunov, press statement of NIM informs.
This is the second vessel for the distillation of rakia to be uncovered at the fortress and the third one in Bulgaria.
The first vessel at Lyutitsa was found in 2011, while the other one was uncovered in the medieval fortress of Drastar, which is located in the town of Silistra.
All three distillation vessels are dated back to the 11th century, which raises an important point in the ongoing historical debate on tracing back the start of rakia production.
Until recently, historians argued that the production of rakia had started only in the 16th century.
However archaeologist Prof. Konstantin Totev discovered five years ago a fragment of a cup dating back to the 14th century.
The cup bears an inscription of an unknown Bulgarian, who boasted that he had drank rakia at a religious holiday back then.
Another archaeologist, Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov, published the justification of the military commander Lala Sahin Pasha to the Ottoman Sultan for his failure to storm the fortress of Sofia in 1382.
The Ottoman commander complained that Sofia was defended by tough Bulgarians, who would drink rakia before the fight and thus became invincible.
The director of NIM Bozhidar Dimitrov concluded that as long as there is rakia, Bulgaria is invincible.

 

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