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Salt is essential for life. As ancient civilizations evolved from hunters and gatherers to agrarian societies, it has not been clear how people acquired this mineral that is a biological necessity. However, an anthropologist at LSU discovered remnants of an ancient salt works in Belize that provide clues on how the ancient Maya at the peak of their civilization more than 1,000 years ago produced, stored and traded this valuable mineral.

Source: Salt: Mover and shaker in ancient Maya society

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Original article:

Washingtonpost.com

By Ben Gurino

New technology allows scientists to visualize ancient Maya cities like never before

In the autumn of 1929, Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her husband Charles flew across the Yucatán Peninsula. With Charles at the controls, Anne snapped photographs of the jungles just below. She wrote in her journal of Maya structures obscured by large humps of vegetation. A bright stone wall peeked through the leaves, “unspeakably alone and majestic and desolate — the mark of a great civilization gone.”

Nearly a century later, surveyors once again took flight over the ancient Maya empire, and mapped the Guatemala forests with lasers. The 2016 survey, whose first results were published this week in the journal Science, comprises a dozen plots covering 830 square miles, an area larger than the island of Maui. It is the largest such survey of the Maya region, ever.

The study authors describe the results as a revelation. “It’s like putting glasses on when your eyesight is blurry,” said study author Mary Jane Acuña, director of El Tintal Archaeological Project in Guatemala.

In the past, archaeologists had argued that small, disconnected city-states dotted the Maya lowlands, though that conception is falling out of favor. This study shows that the Maya could extensively “exploit and manipulate” their environment and geography, Acuña said. Maya agriculture sustained large populations, who in turn forged relationships across the region.

Combing through the scans, Acuña and her colleagues, an international 18-strong scientific team, tallied 61,480 structures. These included: 60 miles of causeways, roads and canals that connected cities; large maize farms; houses large and small; and, surprisingly, defensive fortifications that suggest the Maya came under attack from the west of Central America.

“We were all humbled,” said Tulane University anthropologist Marcello Canuto, the study’s lead author. “All of us saw things we had walked over and we realized, oh wow, we totally missed that.”

Preliminary images from the survey went public in February, to the delight of archaeologists like Sarah Parcak. Parcak, who was not involved with the research, wrote on Twitter, “Hey all: you realize that researchers just used lasers to find *60,000* new sites in Guatemala?!? This is HOLY [expletive] territory.

Parcak, whose space archaeology program GlobalXplorer.org has been described as the love child of Google Earth and Indiana Jones, is a champion of using satellite data to remotely observe sites in Egypt and elsewhere. “The scale of information that we’re able to collect now is unprecedented,” Parcak said, adding that this survey is “going to upend long-held theories about ancient Maya society.”

With support from a Guatemala-based heritage foundation called Pacunam, the researchers conducted the massive and expensive survey using lidar, or light detection and ranging. They mapped several active archaeological sites, plus well-studied Maya cities like Tikal and Uaxactun.

Lidar’s principles are similar to radar, except instead of radio waves lidar relies on laser light. From an aircraft flying just a few thousand feet above the canopy, the surveyors prickled each square meter with 15 laser pulses. Those pulses penetrate vegetation but bounce back from hard stone surfaces. Using lidar, you can’t see the forest through the invisible trees.

Beneath the thick jungle, ruins appeared. Lots and lots of them. Extrapolated over the 36,700 square miles, which encompasses the total Maya lowland region, the authors estimate the Maya built as many as 2.7 million structures. These would have supported 7 million to 11 million people during the Classic Period of Maya civilization, around the years 650 to 800, in line with other Maya population estimates.

“We’ve been working in this area for over a century,” Canuto said. “It’s not terra incognita, but we didn’t have a good appreciation for what was really there.”

Archaeologist Arlen Chase, a Maya specialist at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas who was not involved with this survey, said for years he has argued that the Maya society was more complex than widely accepted. In 1998, he and archaeologist Diane Chase, his wife, described elaborate agricultural terraces at the Maya city of Caracol in Belize. “Everybody would not believe we had terraces!” he said.

He gets much less push back now, he said. “The paradigm shift that we’ve predicted was happening is in fact happening” Chase said, which he credits to lidar data. He has seen lidar evolve from a “hush-hush type of technology” used by the military to map Fallujah streets to a powerful archaeological tool.

Chase, who previously used lidar at Caracol, where as many as 100,000 people lived, compares this technology to carbon-14 dating. Radiocarbon dating gives archaeologists a much more accurate timeline. Lidar is about to do the same for archaeologists’ sense of space, particularly in densely forested areas near the equator. Two years ago, researchers used lidar mapped dense urban infrastructure around Angkor, the seat of the medieval Khmer Empire in Cambodia.

“We’re just getting started in so many major sites around the world, whether it’s Angkor Wat, whether it’s Tikal in Central America or major sites in Egypt,” Parcak said.

For all its power, lidar cannot supplant old-fashioned archaeology. For 8 percent of the survey area, the archaeologists confirmed the lidar data with boots-on-the-ground visits. This “ground truthing” suggests that the lidar analysis was conservative — they found the predicted structures, and then some.

“There is still much more ground to cover and work to do,” said Acuña, who will continue to study the large ancient Maya city of El Tindal.

Could you imagine, Canuto said, what might be found through a lidar survey of the Amazon? With technology like this, no forested frontiers are final.

 

 

 

A new study describes the earliest-known use of nutmeg as a food ingredient, found at an archaeological site in Indonesia.

Source: 3,500-year-old pumpkin spice? Archaeologists find the earliest use of nutmeg as a food

Courtesy Prof. Danny Nadel

Jewishpress.com

 

The earliest evidence of alcohol production, some 13,000 years ago, was discovered in the Rakefet Cave in Mount Carmel, in a joint study by researchers from the University of Haifa and Stanford University. The alcohol, probably a kind of beer made from fermented grains, was produced by the Natufians, who lived in the region at that time. This brewery precedes by five thousand years the earliest site to date, in northern China.

The Epipaleolithic Natufian culture existed from around 13,050 to 7,550 BCE in the Levant. The culture was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities may be the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements in the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. The Natufians are believed to have founded Jericho, considered by many to be the oldest city in the world. Some evidence suggests deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture, at Tell Abu Hureyra, in northern Syria, the site of earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. The world’s oldest evidence of bread-making has been found at Shubayqa, a 14,500 year old site in Jordan’s northeastern desert.

Mount Carmel was one of the most important and crowded areas in the system of Natufian settlements, and sites in the Carmel and surrounding areas have been studied by archaeologists from the University of Haifa for decades.

“The Rakefet Cave does not stop offering new discoveries about the wonderful Natufian culture,” said Prof. Danny Nadel of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, who leads the excavations. “We have already discovered that they buried their dead and that they lined the graves with a bed of flowers. We discovered their technological capabilities through a variety of tools and now we find that they produced beer and consumed it, apparently at special ceremonies.”

Another finding at the Rakefet Cave site were dozens of craters carved several centimeters deep in the rock, dating back 13,000 years.

The new study, a collaboration between Prof. Danny Rosenberg of the ancient stone tools laboratory at the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa and researchers from Stanford University, focused on a microscopic examination of the remains found in these three craters, of starches and phytoliths (rigid, microscopic structures made of silica, found in some plant tissues and persisting after the decay of the plant) containing traces of precipitation.

The first test showed evidence of several different grains stored in the same craters, including wheat, barley, oatmeal, legumes and flax.

A microscopic examination two of the three craters showed microscopic remains of starch grains that underwent morphological changes which correspond to changes in starch during fermentation. The evidence shows that the craters were used to store grains before and after fermentation.

In the third crater, evidence was found that it was used for storage, but also as a receptacle in which grain could be beaten and crushed, a necessary stage in fermentation.

According to the researchers, the grains were apparently stored in baskets that made it easier to remove and feed the grains into the craters, evidenced by the remnants of fibers found at the bottom of the craters. A microscopic examination showed evidence that the fibers were rotated and processed to fit the pattern of woven baskets.

“The creation of these craters in the stone, and then the necessary actions to produce alcohol required great effort and professionalism, which attests to the great ceremonial importance that the Natufian culture related to the production of alcohol,” Prof. Nadel concluded, speculating that “since they were the first to invest considerable effort in their burial rituals, it is not inconceivable that the production and consumption of alcohol were also part of the Natufian burial ceremonies.”

 

 

 

Knowledge of the diet of people living in the prehistoric settlement of Çatalhöyük almost 8000 years ago has been complemented in astonishing scope and detail by analyzing proteins from their ceramic bowls and jars. Using this new approach, an international team of researchers has determined that vessels from this early farming site in central Anatolia, in what is now Turkey, contained cereals, legumes, dairy products and meat, in some cases narrowing food items down to specific species.

Source: Cuisine of early farmers revealed by analysis of proteins in pottery from Çatalhöyük


 

Original article:

Popular archaeology

CNRS—At the foot of the hill on which sits the ancient city of Cumae, in the region of Naples, Priscilla Munzi, CNRS researcher at the Jean Bérard Centre (CNRS-EFR), and Jean-Pierre Brun, professor at the Collège de France, are exploring a Roman-era necropolis. They now reveal the latest discovery to surface in the archaeological dig they have led since 2001: a painted tomb from the 2nd century B.C. In excellent condition, the tomb depicts a banquet scene, fixed by pigments.

Twice the size of Pompeii, the ancient city of Cumae is located 25 km west of Naples on the Tyrrhenian Sea facing the island of Ischia, at the Campi Flegrei Archaeological Park. Ancient historians considered Cumae the oldest Ancient Greek settlement in the western world. Founded in the latter half of the 8th century B.C. by Greeks from Euboea, the settlement grew quickly and prospered over time.

In recent years, French researchers have focused on an area where a Greek sanctuary, roads and a necropolis were found. Among the hundreds of ancient sepulchers unearthed since 2001, they have discovered a series of vaulted burial chambers made of tuff, a volcanic stone found in the area. People entered the tomb through a door in the façade sealed with a large stone block. The space inside was generally composed of a chamber with three vaults or funerary beds. The tombs were raided in the 19th century, but recovered remains and traces of funerary furnishings, which archaeologists have used to date the tombs to the second century B.C., indicate the high social status of those buried within.

Until now, only tombs painted red or white had been found, but in June 2018 researchers discovered a room with exceptionally executed figure painting. A naked servant carrying a jug of wine and a vase is still visible; the banquet’s guests are thought to have been painted on the side walls. Other elements of the banquet can also be distinguished. In addition to the excellent state of conservation of the remaining plaster and pigments, such a décor in a tomb built in that period is rare; its “unfashionable” subject matter was in vogue one or two centuries earlier. This discovery is also an opportunity to trace artistic activity over time at the site.

To preserve the fresco, archaeologists removed it, along with fragments found on the ground, in order to re-assemble the décor like a puzzle.

The digs were carried out with financial support from the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Ecole française de Rome and the Fondation du Collège de France. This research is part of a concession granted by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Assets and Activities in partnership with the Phlegraen Fields archaeological site.

 

Humans may have been cultivating plants on a narrow coastal strip in Brazil as far back as 4,800 years ago, according to a new study.

Source: Coastal strip in Brazil sheds new light on early farming

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