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KYOTO–No fancy machines here, just a lot of hard work. But this brewery still produced sake, and it’s believed to be the oldest ever found in Japan.

Excavation firm Kokusai Bunkazai Co. unearthed the brewery believed to be from the 15th century at the Saga archaeological site, formerly on the grounds of Tenryuji temple, in Kyoto’s Ukyo Ward.

Among the finds are a facility for squeezing the unrefined sake out and about 180 holes for holding storage jars.

The brewery is believed to have been used until the time of the Onin War (1467-1477).

The previously oldest-known brewery found in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, is estimated to have been built in the Edo Period (1603-1867).

“The discovery (in Kyoto) is likely the oldest sake squeezing facility,” said Masaharu Obase, director of an Itami city-run museum. “It is smaller but has the same structure as the one dating to the Edo Period, indicating that a similar sake squeezing method was used in the medieval period.”

It was already known that sake was produced at Tenryuji temple during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573), allowing it to earn major profits and lend the money out at high interest rates. However, it was the first time that an archaeological finding has corroborated the fact, according to Kokusai Bunkazai.

The Tokyo-based company surveyed a 700-square-meter area near the current grounds of Tenryuji ahead of apartment construction between May and August 2018.

During the research, part of a sake squeezing facility believed to be from the 15th century was unearthed. Researchers said unrefined sake in cloth bags was placed in a tank and squeezed out, using a wooden bar with stones as leverage.

A pillar 1 meter long and 45 centimeters across, as well as two crosspieces to support it, each 15 cm per side and 1.8 meters long, were discovered along with about 20 stones that would have been placed on the crosspieces.

A hollow 1.8 meters across and 1 meter deep for a pot to receive drops of pressed sake was also found.

A smaller pillar from around the 14th century, 30 cm across and 40 cm long, was spotted two meters east of the hollow. Researchers said it is likely that the brewery was rebuilt.

The 180 holes for jars that stored sake are 60 cm across and 20 cm deep. Fragments of 14th-century Bizen ware jars, apparently with a diameter of 60 cm and a height of 1 meter, were unearthed as well.

reprinted from Exeter.ac.uk

Early Muslim communities in Africa ate a cosmopolitan diet as the region became a trading centre for luxury goods, the discovery of thousands of ancient animal bones has shown.

Halal butchery practices became common when Islam spread through Ethiopia as vibrant communities developed because of the import and export of products around the Red Sea, and to Egypt, India, and the Arabian Peninsula, archaeologists have found.

New excavations at three sites in the east of the country completed by the University of Exeter and the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage have uncovered around 50,000 animal bones dating from the eighth/ninth centuries onwards, and showing people living there at this early time ate a Muslim diet 400 years before major Mosques or burial sites were built in the 12th century.

The team, led by Professor Timothy Insoll, and involving archaeozoologist Jane Gaastra from the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, found the first evidence in Africa for ancient halal butchery during the excavations, at Harlaa, Harar, and Ganda Harla.

Previous excavations led by Professor Insoll have revealed the Mosques and burial sites, as well as the remains of luxury materials such as ceramics from China and Egypt, marine shell from the Red Sea and beads from India.

Harlaa was established in the 6th and 7th centuries before Islam arrived in Ethiopia. It was abandoned in the 15th century when Harlaa and Ganda Harlaa were established, possibly because of plague or environmental change, and with the increasing spread of Islam better places to farm could be lived in.

During the period from which the animal bones date people may have been using smaller Mosques not yet discovered by archaeologists, and built larger buildings for worship as Muslim communities grew.

Professor Insoll said: “We didn’t expect to find bones of this quality and quantity. They are so well preserved that we can clearly see both cuts and evidence of wear. We’ve also found bones in both residential areas and places of work”.

“This is significant new information about people’s religious identity at the time. It shows in the early days of Islam in the region people were just starting to adopt religious practices, so were sometimes pragmatic and didn’t follow all of them.”

Analysis of wear on the bones show cattle were used for ploughing and turning grinding stones, and other species such as camels, horses, and donkeys, may have been used as pack animals to carry trade goods and other commodities. Analysis of the age data of cattle bones at Harlaa indicated 80 to 90 per cent of animals survived beyond 3 years of age, showing they were kept for milk or for work rather than bred to eat.

Archaeologists found the remains of pigs in Harlaa and Ganda Harlaa, which could have been domesticated or wild, unexpected in an Islamic area, as pigs are haram, ot forbidden in Islamic halal diet. This suggests the region was cosmopolitan, with visitors and residents from different areas and with different religions. Another explanation could be that early Muslims in the area ate pork during this period for practical reasons. No pig remains were found at Harar, which was a city of Muslim scholarship and pilgrimage. Similar halal butchery techniques were used in all three sites, showing the influence of Muslim traders who arrived in the area and the spread of Islam to first Harlaa, and then Harar and Ganda Harla.

People also ate and hunted warthog, bushpig, aardvark, porcupine, hare, gennet, mongoose and leopard.

At Harlaa researchers also found evidence of marine fish imported from the Red Sea some 120 kilometres away. These had all been processed prior to being sent to Harlaa, either in dried or salted form to preserve them. This was indicated by the complete absence of fish heads showing these had 2 been removed, probably at the Red Sea coast. No local freshwater fish species were found suggesting the people eating the fish were used to a sophisticated diet.

Similar animal body portions were found at each site, indicating wealth or status may not have been a factor in access to meat.

The study, published in the Journal of African Archaeology, indicates that the discarded remains of meals eaten many hundreds of years ago can provide very important information on diet, but also religious conversion, trade, and the use of animals for transport and work purposes in Islamic societies in Africa which have been largely neglected by archaeologists.

It fell to the bottom of a loch 2,500 years ago – its story long untold as it remained hidden by the deep, dark waters.
Original article: Scotsman.com

Monday, 20th July 2020, 5:00 pm

Monday, 20th July 2020, 4:58 pm

Updated 

The replica crannog on Loch Tay, where the butter was found.

Now, the wooden butter dish remains one of the most evocative items left behind by Scotland’s ancient water dwellers who made their homes on Loch Tay.

The dish was recovered during earlier excavations on the loch where at least 17 crannogs, or Iron Age wooden houses, were once dotted up and down the water.

Built from alder with a life span of around 20 years, the structures simply collapsed into the loch once they had served their purpose, with an incredible array of objects taken with them.

The 2,500-year-old butter dish and the remains of the butter. PIC: Scottish Crannog Centre.

The 2,500-year-old butter dish and the remains of the butter. PIC: Scottish Crannog Centre.

Among them was the dish which, remarkably, still carried traces of butter made by this Iron Age community.

Rich Hiden, archaeologist at the Scottish Crannog Centre, said the item had helped to illuminate the everyday life of the crannog dwellers who farmed the surrounding land, grew barley and ancient wheats such as spelt and emmer, and reared animals.

The crannogs were probably considered high-status sites which offered good security as well as easy access to trading routes along the Tay and into the North Sea.

Mr Hiden said conditions at the bottom of the loch had offered the perfect environment to preserve the butter and the dish.

He said: “Because of the fantastic anaerobic conditions, where there is very light, oxygen or bacteria to break down anything organic, you get this type of sealed environment.

“When they started excavating, they pulled out this square wooden dish, well around three quarters of a square wooden dish, which had these really nice chisel marks on the sides as well as this grey stuff.”

Liped analysis on this matter found that it was dairy material, with experts believing it likely originated from a cow.

Holes in the bottom of the wooden dish further suggest that it was used for the buttering process.

Cream would have been churned until thickened until it splits to form the buttermilk, with a woven cloth – possibly made from nettle fibres – placed in the dish with the clumps of cream then further pushed through to separate the last of the liquid.Read MoreBreakthrough in study of Scotland’s ancient loch dwellers

The butter then may have been turned into cheese by adding rennet, which naturally forms in a number of plants, including nettles.

Mr Hiden said: “This dish is so valuable in many ways. To be honest, we would expect people of this time to be eating dairy. In the early Iron Age, they had mastered the technology of smelting iron ore into to’s so mastering the technology of dairy we would expect.

“So while it may not surprise us that they are eating dairy, what is so important about this butter dish is that it helps us to identify what life was like in the crannogs and the skills and the tools that they had

“To me, that is archaeology at its finest. It is using the object itself to unravel the story. The best thing about this butter dish is that is so personal and offers us such a complete snapshot of what was happening here.

He added: “It is not just a piece of wood. You look at it and you start to extrapolate so much. If you start to pull one thread, you look at the tool marks and you see they were using very fine chisels to make this kind of object. They were probably making their own so that gives another aspect as to how life was here.”

It is believed that 20 people and animals lived in a crannog at any one time. Many trees were used to fashion the homes, with the Iron Age residents having a solid knowledge of trees with their houses thatched with reed and bracken.

Hazel was woven into panels to make walls and partitions.

Plans are underway to relocate the Scottish Crannog Centre to a bigger site at Dalerb, with three to four crannogs to be built in the water there.

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Dr. Sara Halwas, a specialist in ancient plant remains, takes notes while working at the Olson site Dr. Sara Halwas, a specialist in ancient plant remains, takes notes while working at the Olson site along the Gainsborough Creek southwest of Melita, Manitoba on Friday. Dr. Mary Malainey of Brandon University is the project director and principal investigator for a team of archaeologists working at the Olson site until July 28th. Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun

A rare find in southwestern Manitoba – modified bison shoulder blades – may lead to knowledge about a pre-contact agrarian Indigenous society in southwestern Manitoba.

The project was launched after Eric Olson found the objects rising from a creek bed 15 kilometres south of Melita – an hour and a half southwest of Brandon – in 2018.

The objects are hoes.

Brandon University anthropology professor Mary Malainey is leading the project, which began with initial investigations of the site last summer. The archaeological dig taking place this past week and next is a joint effort with the Manitoba Archaeological Society.

“To find bison scapula hoes, it’s really unusual. Complete hoes. Not just possible hoe fragments, in air quotes, but definite. No doubt about it. This is only the second site in Manitoba where we have that,” Malainey said.

The other site is in Lockport, north of Winnipeg.

“That makes it very, very, very special. And the fact that Eric found the hoes after they had eroded out of the creek bank … we have to worry about (that) because the erosion is affecting the site. It’s really important that if we want to get the information, that we act as quickly as possible.”

Malainey figures the 2014 flood brought the hoes to the surface.

Cataloguing more objects and other preserved materials to fill out the story of the Indigenous society that lived and likely gardened in the area is the goal this year. Keeping in mind the hoes found had eroded out of the creek bed — what Malainey calls a secondary context — last year’s investigations were to determine if there was anything left of an original site.

“Are there any intact, undisturbed materials in primary context? The answer was yes. That’s why we’re going back,” she said.

Ultimately, Malainey is looking for proof of a gardening society, which was not found at the Lockport site or other research sites — the smoking gun, as she calls it.

Meanwhile, Amber Flett, past president of the Manitoba Archaeological Society and senior archaeologist with InterGroup Consultants, reached out to the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council and First Nations in southwestern Manitoba within 150 kilometres of the site.

Flett said she contacted Long Plain First Nation, Dakota Tipi First Nation, Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation and, nearest to the site, Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation. She sent out initial emails to describe the initial find, as well as the 2019 activities.

“This year, we wanted to invite the First Nations out to see the site and participate if they wanted to dig and such,” Flett said, adding responses were positive.

“The ones we heard back from, we are getting a few people, like Birdtail Sioux, Dakota Tipi and Canupawakpa.”

Flett asked Canupawakpa if it would be interested in doing a blessing ceremony at the site prior to the work starting. Elder Greg Chatkana performed the ceremony Wednesday.

“It’s too soon to say which Indigenous population made and used the hoes,” Malainey said.

“We know that the people who lived in that area probably lived there for about 200 years from the late 1400s to the 1600s or 1700s. We also know that with the fur trade there was a whole lot of movement of people. Because of the incredible displacement and migration that was associated with the fur trade, it’s very difficult to say which ethnic group was in that area.”

She added: “Could they be Siouxan? Yes. Could they be something else, like Algonquian? Yes. But we don’t know.”

Malainey emphasized that the project does not involve Indigenous burial grounds.

“In that area, there are many, many, many burial mounds. We do not want anything to do with the burial mounds. We are looking for that evidence of agriculture. We’re looking for the fields. We’re looking for the storage pits. We’re looking for their houses,” she said.

“We are not going anywhere near the burial mounds. That was really important for us.”

Malainey will have extra help from professional archaeologists who are volunteering. For example, Sara Halwas will collect soil cores from the site. She plans to study the remains of domesticated crops and other plants recovered from them as a post-doctoral research project at the University of Manitoba.

In addition, the surrounding prairie will be examined using ground-penetrating radar (GPR), according to the initial Brandon University news release.

“We hope the GPR survey will help us locate the former village of the pre-contact Indigenous farmers,” Malainey stated.

Flett said she believes this will be a multi-year project.

“Hopefully, it will continue to grow. It’s based on funding.”

This year’s effort were made possible thanks to financial contributions from Manitoba Heritage Grants Program, the Manitoba Archeological Society, Brandon University, and the Canada Summer Jobs program.

Weather permitting, public archaeology activities will be held today, tomorrow, and July 25 and 26, including presentations and site tours.

Those interested are invited to meet the researchers in the grassy plain west of Highway 83, approximately 500 metres north of the junction with 10N on those days at 10 a.m. or noon. For more information, a message for Malainey can be left at malaineym@brandonu.ca or 204-727-9734.

The Brandon Sun is in contact with Chatkana to discuss the possibility of a future story about the archeological project from the First Nation’s perspective.

© Copyright 2020 Battlefords News Optimist

Not just metals, hierarchical societies and fortified settlements: a new food also influenced economic transformations in the Bronze Age around 3500 years ago. This is evidenced by frequent archaeological discoveries of remains of broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum L.), a cereal with small, roundish grains. A major study by the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 “Scales of Transformation – Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies” at Kiel University (CAU) was published yesterday (13 August) in the journal Scientific Reports. It shows how common millet got onto the menu in Bronze Age Europe. Intensive trade and communication networks facilitated the incredibly rapid spread of this new crop originating from the Far East.

“Wheat, maize and rice now dominate our cereal farming. Millet is regarded as a niche crop suitable mainly for birdseed,” explained Professor Wiebke Kirleis from CRC 1266. As this cereal is once more experiencing increasing attention as a gluten-free food, however, it makes the results of the study even more exciting, she added.

Millet was domesticated in north-east China in about 6000 BC and quickly became a staple crop. It is a drought-tolerant, fast-growing cereal that is rich in minerals and vitamins. With a growing time of just 60 to 90 days from sowing to harvest, it was grown by both farmers and pastoralists, and was consumed by both humans and domestic animals. Over thousands of years, pastoral groups spread millet westward from East Asia. The earliest millet in Central Asia comes from archaeological sites in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Kashmir Valley, and is dated to about 2500 BC.

“In Europe, curiously, broomcorn millet has been found at many Neolithic sites, which date from between 6500 and 2000 BC, depending on the region,” said Kirleis. Is it possible that millet was domesticated in China at around the same time? Wheat, barley and our domestic animals were only introduced to Europe thousands of years after they were domesticated in the “Fertile Crescent” – a region extending from the Persian Gulf through northern Syria to Jordan. Was there a special relationship with China? Doubts about this hypothesis arose following the radiocarbon-dating (14C) of a few grains of millet in 2013. These tiny grains had infiltrated older archaeological layers through root channels and earthworm activity. When millet first appeared and was cultivated in Europe remained unknown.

A group of researchers at the Collaborative Research Centre “Scales of Transformation” (CRC 1266), led by Wiebke Kirleis, set out to answer this question. They researched not only the spread of millet cultivation in Europe, but also focused their attention on the prehistoric population’s acceptance of this exotic cereal and examined which agricultural and social phenomena were associated with this innovation.

As millet ripens within three months after sowing, it can be grown as a catch crop between the summer harvest and winter sowing of wheat or barley in central and southern Europe. Further north, it probably served as a reserve crop if late frost had destroyed spring-sown crops. Surplus grain from the extra harvest increased food security and supported a steadily growing population.

Working with almost thirty research institutions across Europe, the archaeobotanists Dragana Filipović and Marta Dal Corso from the team led by Wiebke Kirleis, together with John Meadows from the Leibniz Laboratory for Radiometric Dating and Stable Isotope Research at Kiel University and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA) in Schleswig, radiocarbon-dated millet from 75 prehistoric sites (6th-1st century BC). The results show that millet cultivation did not begin in the Early Stone Age, but was first introduced around 1500 BC, and that the new crop spread incredibly rapidly across much of Central Europe 3500 years ago. “This indicates that there were extensive trade and communication networks during the Bronze Age. But the study also shows that millet was quickly and widely recognised as a versatile addition to the then emmer- and barley-dominated cuisine,” concluded Kirleis.

Millet evidently spread along established trade routes for bronze objects (including weapons), gold and amber. These transformation processes of food strategies and their social dimensions are a key issue for CRC 1266. Future research in CRC 1266 will examine what social dynamics were associated with the introduction of this new food in this distinct period of upheaval in European prehistory, as the highly productive and connected world of Bronze Age Europe was also a stage for conflict. Evidence of battles and numerous fortifications are testimony of this.

By Associated PressMEXICO CITY —

Latimes.com

The number of mammoth skeletons recovered at an airport construction site north of Mexico City has risen to at least 200, with a large number still to be excavated, experts said Thursday. 

Archeologists hope the site that has become “mammoth central” — the shores of an ancient lake bed that both attracted and trapped mammoths in its marshy soil — may help solve the riddle of their extinction. 

Experts said that finds are still being made at the site, including signs that humans may have made tools from the bones of the lumbering animals that died somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago. 

There are so many mammoths at the site of the new Santa Lucia airport that observers have to accompany each bulldozer that digs into the soil to make sure work is halted when mammoth bones are uncovered. 

“We have about 200 mammoths, about 25 camels, five horses,” said archeologist Rubén Manzanilla López of the National Institute of Anthropology and History, referring to animals that went extinct in the Americas. 

The site is only about 12 miles from artificial pits, essentially shallow mammoth traps, that were dug by early inhabitants to trap and kill dozens of mammoths. 

Manzanilla López said evidence is beginning to emerge suggesting that even if the mammoths at the airport died natural deaths after becoming stuck in the mud of the ancient lake bed, their remains may have been carved up by humans. Something similar happened at the mammoth-trap site in the hamlet of San Antonio Xahuento, in the nearby township of Tultepec.

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While tests are still being carried out on the mammoth bones to try to find possible butchering marks, archeologists have found dozens of mammoth-bone tools — usually shafts used to hold other tools or cutting implements — like ones in Tultepec.

“Here we have found evidence that we have the same kind of tools, but until we can do the laboratory studies to see marks of these tools or possible tools, we can’t say we have evidence that is well-founded,” Manzanilla López said.

Paleontologist Joaquin Arroyo Cabrales said the airport site “will be a very important site to test hypotheses” about the mass extinction of mammoths.

 

“What caused these animals’ extinction, everywhere there is a debate, whether it was climate change or the presence of humans,” Arroyo Cabrales said. “I think in the end the decision will be that there was a synergy effect between climate change and human presence.”

Ashley Leger, a paleontologist at the California-based Cogstone Resource Management company, who was not involved in the dig, noted that such natural death groupings “are rare. A very specific set of conditions that allow for a collection of remains in an area but also be preserved as fossils must be met. There needs to be a means for them to be buried rapidly and experience low oxygen levels.”

The site near Mexico City now appears to have outstripped the Mammoth Site at Hot Springs, S.D. — which has about 61 sets of remains — as the world’s largest find of mammoth bones. Large concentrations have also been found in Siberia and at Los Angeles’ La Brea tar pits.

For now, the mammoths seem to be everywhere at the site and the finds may slow down, but not stop, work on the new airport.

 

Mexican Army Capt. Jesus Cantoral, who oversees efforts to preserve remains at the army-led construction site, said “a large number of excavation sites” are still pending detailed study, and that observers have to accompany backhoes and bulldozers every time they break ground at a new spot.

The airport project is so huge, he noted, that the machines can just go work somewhere else while archeologists study a specific area.

University of Tübingen archaeologists discover rare evidence of early winemaking at Tell el-Burak in Lebanon


Wine had great importance in the Iron Age Mediterranean. In particular, the Phoenicians – the inhabitants of the central coastal Levant – were considered to have played an important role in the spread and popularity of wine. However, no installation for winemaking was known in their homeland. Now, the first Iron Age wine press in present-day Lebanon has been discovered during excavations at the Phoenician site of Tell el-Burak. Dr. Adriano Orsingher and Professor Jens Kamlah from the Institute of Biblical Archaeology, and Dr. Silvia Amicone and Dr. Christoph Berthold from the Competence Center Archaeometry – Baden-Württemberg (CCA-BW) at the University of Tübingen, together with Professor Hélène Sader from the American University in Beirut, investigated the construction of the 7th century BCE wine press and the building materials used in it. They found that when the Phoenicians built the wine press, they used a plaster mixed from lime and fragments of crushed ceramics. Later, in Roman times, this technique for making a lime-based plaster was further developed. The study has been published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity.

Since 2001, the site of Tell el-Burak has been excavated by by a joint Lebanese-German mission. The Tell el-Burak Archaeological Project has uncovered the remains of a small Phoenician settlement, inhabited from the late eighth to the middle of the fourth century BCE. It is likely that the settlement was founded by the nearby town of Sidon to supply it with agricultural products. Tell el-Burak was bordered to the southwest and southeast by a 2.5-meter-wide terrace wall. “South of one of these walls we discovered a well-preserved wine press. It had been built on the slope of the hill,” the authors report.

Hardwearing, water-resistant material

Analyses carried out at the Tübingen CCA-BW within the framework of the ResourceCultures collaborative research center (1070) have now provided new data on the composition and technology of the Iron Age plaster of which the wine press was made. “A good-quality lime plaster could be difficult to produce,” say the authors, “The Phoenicians refined the process by using recycled ceramic shards. This made it possible to build better and at the same time more stable buildings.” A local and innovative tradition of lime plaster had developed in southern Phoenicia, they add, “The finished plaster was water-resistant and hardwearing. The Romans adopted this technique for making their buildings.” An ongoing organic residue analysis at the University of Tübingen may determine whether all three plastered structures at Tell el-Burak were connected to wine production. 

Earlier research in Tell el-Burak showed that grapes were cultivated on a large scale in the area surrounding the village. “We assume that wine was produced there on a large scale for several centuries. For the Phoenicians it was very important – they also used wine in religious ceremonies,” say the authors. The earlier discovery of a large number of amphorae – often used to transport liquids and other foodstuffs – indicates that the Phoenicians also traded their wine. “The city of Sidon was on sea trade routes in the eastern Mediterranean. Phoenicians played an important role in the spread of wine in the Mediterranean area, and their tradition of wine consumption was passed on to Europe and North Africa.” So far there has been little evidence of wine production in Phoenicia, the authors said. “This new discovery provides many clues as to how the pioneers of wine produced the drink.”

Prehistoric ancestors

News.mit.edu

Some of the oldest remains of early human ancestors have been unearthed in Olduvai Gorge, a rift valley setting in northern Tanzania where anthropologists have discovered fossils of hominids that existed 1.8 million years ago. The region has preserved many fossils and stone tools, indicating that early humans settled and hunted there.

Now a team led by researchers at MIT and the University of Alcalá in Spain has discovered evidence that hot springs may have existed in Olduvai Gorge around that time, near early human archaeological sites. The proximity of these hydrothermal features raises the possibility that early humans could have used hot springs as a cooking resource, for instance to boil fresh kills, long before humans are thought to have used fire as a controlled source for cooking.

“As far as we can tell, this is the first time researchers have put forth concrete evidence for the possibility that people were using hydrothermal environments as a resource, where animals would’ve been gathering, and where the potential to cook was available,” says Roger Summons, the Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).

Summons and his colleagues have published their findings today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study’s lead author is Ainara Sistiaga, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow based at MIT and the University of Copenhagen. The team includes Fatima Husain, a graduate student in EAPS, along with archaeologists, geologists, and geochemists from the University of Alcalá and the University of Valladolid, in Spain; the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania; and Pennsylvania State University.

An unexpected reconstruction

In 2016, Sistiaga joined an archaeological expedition  to Olduvai Gorge, where researchers with the Olduvai Paleoanthropology and Paleoecology Project were collecting sediments from a 3-kilometer-long layer of exposed rock that was deposited around 1.7 million years ago. This geologic layer was striking because its sandy composition was markedly different from the dark clay layer just below, which was deposited 1.8 million years ago.

“Something was changing in the environment, so we wanted to understand what happened and how that impacted humans,” says Sistiaga, who had originally planned to analyze the sediments to see how the landscape changed in response to climate and how these changes may have affected the way early humans lived in the region.

It’s thought that around 1.7 million years ago, East Africa underwent a gradual aridification, moving from a wetter, tree-populated climate to dryer, grassier terrain. Sistiaga brought back sandy rocks collected from the Olduvai Gorge layer and began to analyze them in Summons’ lab for signs of certain lipids that can contain residue of leaf waxes, offering clues to the kind of vegetation present at the time.

“You can reconstruct something about the plants that were there by the carbon numbers and the isotopes, and that’s what our lab specializes in, and why Ainara was doing it in our lab,” Summons says. “But then she discovered other classes of compounds that were totally unexpected.”

An unambiguous sign

Within the sediments she brought back, Sistiaga came across lipids that looked completely different from the plant-derived lipids she knew. She took the data to Summons, who realized that they were a close match with lipids produced not by plants, but by specific groups of bacteria that he and his colleagues had reported on, in a completely different context, nearly 20 years ago.

The lipids that Sistiaga extracted from sediments deposited 1.7 million years ago in Tanzania were the same lipids that are produced by a modern bacteria that Summons and his colleagues previously studied in the United States, in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park.

One specific bacterium, Thermocrinis ruber, is a hyperthermophilic organism that will only thrive in very hot waters, such as those found in the outflow channels of boiling hot springs.

“They won’t even grow unless the temperature is above 80 degrees Celsius [176 degrees Fahrenheit],” Summons says. “Some of the samples Ainara brought back from this sandy layer in Olduvai Gorge had these same assemblages of bacterial lipids that we think are unambiguously indicative of high-temperature water.”

That is, it appears that heat-loving bacteria similar to those Summons had worked on more than 20 years ago in Yellowstone may also have lived in Olduvai Gorge 1.7 million years ago. By extension, the team proposes, high-temperature features such as hot springs and hydrothermal waters could also have been present.

“It’s not a crazy idea that, with all this tectonic activity in the middle of the rift system, there could have been extrusion of hydrothermal fluids,” notes Sistiaga, who says that Olduvai Gorge is a geologically active tectonic region that has upheaved volcanoes over millions of years — activity that could also have boiled up groundwater to form hot springs at the surface.

The region where the team collected the sediments is adjacent to sites of early human habitation featuring stone tools, along with animal bones. It is possible, then, that nearby hot springs may have enabled hominins to cook food such as meat and certain tough tubers and roots.

“The authors’ comprehensive analyses paint a vivid picture of the ancient Olduvai Gorge ecosystem and landscape, including the first compelling evidence for ancient hydrothermal springs,” says Richard Pancost, a professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Bristol, who was not involved in the study. “This introduces the fascinating possibility that such springs could have been used by early hominins to cook food.”

“Why wouldn’t you eat it?”

Exactly how early humans may have cooked with hot springs is still an open question. They could have butchered animals and dipped the meat in hot springs to make them more palatable. In a similar way, they could have boiled roots and tubers, much like cooking raw potatoes, to make them more easily digestible. Animals could have also met their demise while falling into the hydrothermal waters, where early humans could have fished them out as a precooked meal.

“If there was a wildebeest that fell into the water and was cooked, why wouldn’t you eat it?” Sistiaga poses.

While there is currently no sure-fire way to establish whether early humans indeed used hot springs to cook, the team plans to look for similar lipids, and signs of hydrothermal reservoirs, in other layers and locations throughout Olduvai Gorge, as well as near other sites in the world where human settlements have been found.

“We can prove in other sites that maybe hot springs were present, but we would still lack evidence of how humans interacted with them. That’s a question of behavior, and understanding the behavior of extinct species almost 2 million years ago is very difficult, Sistiaga says. “I hope we can find other evidence that supports at least the presence of this resource in other important sites for human evolution.”

This research was supported, in part, by the European Commission (MSCA-GF), the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and the Government of Spain.

 

 

 

Pottery fragments found at the Havnø kitchen midden, Northern Denmark. Credit: Harry Robson, University of York.

York.ac.uk

Hunter-gatherer groups living in the Baltic between seven and six thousand years ago had culturally distinct cuisines, analysis of ancient pottery fragments has revealed.

An international team of researchers analysed over 500 hunter-gatherer vessels from 61 archaeological sites throughout the Baltic region.

They found striking contrasts in food preferences and culinary practices between different groups – even in areas where there was a similar availability of resources. Pots were used for storing and preparing foods ranging from marine fish, seal and beaver to wild boar, bear, deer, freshwater fish, hazelnuts and plants.

The findings suggest that the culinary tastes of ancient people were not solely dictated by the foods available in a particular area, but also influenced by the traditions and habits of cultural groups, the authors of the study say.

Rich variety

A lead author of the study, Dr Harry Robson from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “People are often surprised to learn that hunter-gatherers used pottery to store, process and cook food, as carrying cumbersome ceramic vessels seems inconsistent with a nomadic life-style.

“Our study looked at how this pottery was used and found evidence of a rich variety of foods and culinary traditions in different hunter-gatherer groups.”

The researchers also identified unexpected evidence of dairy products in some of the pottery vessels, suggesting that some hunter-gatherer groups were interacting with early farmers to obtain this resource.

Dr Robson added: “The presence of dairy fats in several hunter-gatherer vessels was an unexpected example of culinary ‘cultural fusion’. The discovery has implications for our understanding of the transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to early farming and demonstrates that this commodity was either exchanged or perhaps even looted from nearby farmers.”

Cultural habits

Lead author of the study, Dr Blandine Courel from the British Museum, added: “Despite a common biota that provided lots of marine and terrestrial resources for their livelihoods, hunter-gatherer communities around the Baltic Sea basin did not use pottery for the same purpose. Our study suggests that culinary practices were not influenced by environmental constraints but rather were likely embedded in some long-standing culinary traditions and cultural habits.”

The study, led by the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum, the University of York and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Germany), used molecular and isotopic techniques to analyse the fragments of pottery.

Revolutionised understanding

Senior author, Professor Oliver Craig from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “Chemical analysis of the remains of foods and natural products prepared in pottery has already revolutionised our understanding of early agricultural societies, we are now seeing these methods being rolled out to study prehistoric hunter-gatherer pottery. The results suggest that they too had complex and culturally distinct cuisines.”

 

Around 600 beer bottles were found stacked beneath the stairs of a building next to Scarborough Castle Inn in Leeds. [Image: Archaeological Services WYAS]

Archaeology.co.uk

Excavations on the site of Tetley’s Brewery in Leeds have revealed intriguing insights into the 18th- and 19th-century development of the city. Carried out by Archaeological Services WYAS, the investigation explored buildings along Hunslet Lane, including the location of the Scarborough Castle Inn, adjacent shops, and a side street known as South Terrace.

The well-preserved foundations and basements of these properties were exposed – all brick-built, with the majority having sandstone foundations – below layers of concrete. Far from being mundane footings, they tell stories of alteration, renewal, life, and war.

For example, the footprint of the Scarborough Castle Inn and nearby shops showed signs of significant alterations, including the addition of cellarage and the raising of the floors to match an increase in road level. The pub’s front wall had also undergone extensive work to prevent its collapse, while debris in the enterprise’s cellar included the twisted remains of enamel advertising signs and a single Tetley’s beer bottle. The adjoining shops yielded a small assemblage of shoe nails and leather offcuts, which had fallen down behind a floor slab, traces of the bootmakers that once worked and lived there.

It was the cellar of a building adjacent to the pub that produced the most surprising find, however. Lying in neatly stacked rows beneath the stone stairs of the cellar were around 600 bottles. The distinct smell of beer, on their initial exposure, indicated that they were full when stacked although most of the corks had since degraded. Some, however, still contained liquid and analysis of one tightly corked bottle gave an ABV of 3%. The majority of the bottles were stoneware and stamped with J E RICHARDSON LEEDS. John Edwin Richardson was a grocer and provision merchant who lived in various properties in Leeds; he was recorded in the 1901 census as living on Hunslet Lane. Why he left the bottles and how they were forgotten before the building was demolished, though, remains a mystery.

The row of houses known as South Terrace had also undergone extensive alterations, including the complete realignment of its western wall to allow for the widening of Hunslet Lane. A later basement contained another surprising discovery: a set of six interconnected brick- and stone-built ducts. Could these have been an underfloor heating system? The ducts were accessed via a small basement room, which later seems to have been used as an air-raid shelter, from which four gas masks were recovered in the backfill.
These excavations concluded at the end of March, and it is anticipated that analysis of the recovered artefacts, combined with historical research, will produce illuminating insights into life in developing Leeds.

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