Archive for September, 2009

Topic: Early Agriculture

Archaeologists in Cyprus found evidence that inhabitants of the Mediterranean island may have abandoned a nomadic lifestyle for agriculture-based settlements earlier than previously believed.

The excavations at the Politiko-Troullia site, near the capital Nicosia, unearthed a series of households around a communal courtyard, and proof of intensive animal husbandry and crop-processing, according to a statement today on the Web site of the Cypriot Interior Ministry’s Public Information Office.

The dig revealed copper metallurgy and sophisticated ceramic technology during the middle part of the Bronze Age, or between 4,000 and 3,500 years ago, the statement said. Archaeologists had previously believed that such settlements, which went on to evolve into cities, only began developing toward the end of the middle Bronze Age.

Cyprus, the third-largest island in the Mediterranean, is thought to have been first settled around 8,800 B.C., according to the British Museum. The findings of the digs, led by professors from Arizona State University and involving students from Cyprus, the U.S. and Canada, “open an archaeological window on the communities that provided the foundation for urbanized civilization on Cyprus” in the late Bronze Age, the statement said.

The fieldwork reveals extensive evidence of the Bronze Age community that was the predecessor to the ancient city of Tamassos, founded in the subsequent Iron Age, according to the statement. In contrast with other city-states in Cyprus, there were previously no precise details about the foundation of Tamassos as an important trade city.

Original Article  July /2009 by

Paul Tugwell




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Topic: Prehistoric BBQ


mammoth-bone-324x205Central Europe’s prehistoric people would likely have been amused by today’s hand-sized hamburgers and hot dogs, since archaeologists have just uncovered a 29,000 B.C. well-equipped kitchen where roasted gigantic mammoth was one of the last meals served.

The site, called Pavlov VI in the Czech Republic near the Austrian and Slovak Republic borders, provides a homespun look at the rich culture of some of Europe’s first anatomically modern humans.

While contemporaneous populations near this region seemed to prefer reindeer meat, the Gravettian residents of this living complex, described in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity, appeared to seek out more super-sized fare.

“It seems that, in contrast to other Upper Paleolithic societies in Moravia, these people depended heavily on mammoths,” project leader Jiri Svoboda told Discovery News.

Svoboda, a professor at the University of Brno and director of its Institute of Archaeology, and colleagues recently excavated Pavlov VI, where they found the remains of a female mammoth and one mammothcalf near a 4-foot-wide roasting pit. Arctic fox, wolverine, bear and hare remains were also found, along with a few horse and reindeer bones.

The meats were cooked luau-style underground. Svoboda said, “We found the heating stones still within the pit and around.”

Boiling pits existed near the middle roaster. He thinks “the whole situation — central roasting pit and the circle of boiling pits — was sheltered by a teepee or yurt-like structure.”

It’s unclear if seafood was added to create a surf-and-turf meal, but multiple decorated shells were unearthed. Many showed signs of cut marks, along with red and black coloration. The scientists additionally found numerous stone tools, such as spatulas, blades and saws, which they suggest were good for carving mammoths.

Perforated, decorative pebbles, ceramic pieces and fragments of fired clay were also excavated. The living unit’s occupants left their fingerprints on some of the clay pieces, which they decorated with impressions made from reindeer hair and textiles.

Some items might have held “magical” or ritualistic significance, according to the scientists. One such artifact looks to be the head of a lion.

“This carnivore head was first modeled of wet clay, then an incision was made with a sharp tool, and finally the piece was heated in the fire, turned into some kind of ceramic,” Svoboda explained. “We hypothesize that this may be sympathetic magic.”

“Sympathetic magic” often involves the use of effigies or fetishes, resembling individuals or objects, and is meant to affect the environment or the practitioners themselves.

Archaeologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University supports the new study, saying the site was “excavated meticulously” by Svoboda and his team.

“This is one more example, in this case from modern detailed excavation and analysis, of the incredibly rich human behavior from this time period,” Trinkaus told Discovery News.

Original article June 3,2009

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News



email sent - confirmed

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chocolate-jars-324x205Topic: Chocolate

My Thoughts:

I discovered this small article yesterday in Wild West Magazine  before I had  a chance to post the Feb 2009  news on the chocolate found in New Mexico. I have posted this as well sinse the information in Wild West Magazine mentioned the theobromine, which the article in Discovery News did not.

Chocolate first appeared in the desert southwest a thousand years ago- earlier than previously believed; researchers from the University of New Mexico and the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition revealed recently.

 Archaeologists studying ceramic jars found at Chaco Culture National Historic Site in New Mexico suspect the jars may have contained a bitter form of coco used in Mesoamerican rituals.

Pot shards were sent to Hershey lab for testing and the results confirmed traces of theobromine, a marker for the seeds used to make coco and chocolate.The University of New Mexico archaeologists who announced the finding this year believe the Pueblo Indians imported the seeds through trade routes in Central America. 

First appeared in Wild West Magazine

August 2009 

Feb. 3, 2009 — Chocolate for your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day? Folks may be surprised to know how far back chocolate goes — perhaps 1,000 years in what is now the United States.

Evidence of chocolate was been found in Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, N.M., the earliest indication of the tasty substance north of Mexico, Patricia L. Crown of the University of New Mexico and W. Jeffrey Hurst of the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition report in Tuesday’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Drinking chocolate was associated with a variety of rituals in ancient Central America, including weddings, but Crown said she is not sure of its exact uses in her area.

The discovery, dated to between A.D. 1000 and 1125, indicates trade was under way between the Chaco Canyon residents and cacao growers in Central America. 

Original Article in Discovery News. 

 ByRandolph E. Schmid, Associated Press

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Topic: Ancient Butter

AN OAK barrel, full of butter, estimated to be roughly 3,000 years old has been found in Gilltown bog, between Timahoe and Staplestown.

The amazing discovery of the barrel, which is being described by archaeology experts in the National Museum as a “really fine example” was found by two Bord na Mona workers.The pair, John Fitzharris and Martin Lane, were harrowing the bog one day

in late May when they noticed a distinctive white streak in the peat.

“We got down to have a look. We knelt down and felt something hard and started to dig it out with out bare hands,” John explained.”We could smell it. And it was attracting crows,” he added.
What they found was an oak barrel, cut out of a trunk, full of butter.

It was largely intact, except for a gash towards the bottom of it caused by the harrow. It was head down, and had a lid; something that has excited the archaeologists.

“We couldn’t believe it,” said Mr Lane.The barrel is also split along the middle, which is common with utensils filled with butter found in the bogs. A conservator at the National Museum, Carol Smith, told the Leinster Leader that the butter expands over time, causing the split.

The barrel is about three feet long and almost a foot wide, and weighs almost 35kgs, (77lbs).

The butter has changed to white and is now adipocere, which is essentially animal fat, the same sort of substance that is found on well-preserved bodies of people or animals found in the bog.The two men put the barrel in the cab of their tractor and brought it back to their base.

“We put it in a black plastic bag,” Mr Fitzharris explained.
And last Tuesday in the Conservation Department of the National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks, the two men were reunited with the barrel in the company of Monasterevin man and one of the museum’s keepers, Pádraig Clancy, conservator Carol Smith, and the Leinster Leader.

Mr Clancy was contacted by Bord na Móna’s archaeological liaison officer who reports to the museum on finds like this. He travelled to the site and took the barrel to Collins Barracks.

“It’s rare to find a barrel as intact as that,” Mr. Clancy explained, “especially with the lid intact, and attached. It’s a really fine example.”

He estimates that the barrel is approximately 3,000 years old, from the Iron Age.

At the moment it is being dried out by staff at the Conservation Department. Once dry it will be soaked in a wax-like solution which preserves it.

“At 35ks, it’s a pretty big one,” Ms. Smith explained. Other examples of bog butter they showed the Leinster Leader tended to be less intact and much smaller.

It is thought that the butter was put in the bog for practical reasons, rather than ritual.

“There are accounts dating back to the 1850’s with people used to wash their cattle once a year in the bog and then put some butter back into the bog. It was piseogary,” Mr. Clancy explained, adding that the butter was usually “stolen by the following week!

“It’s open to interpretation, but we’re inclined to think that 3,000 years ago they were just storing it.”

Such a large amount of butter, he estimated would have probably been the harvest of a community rather than an individual farmer.
Ms. Smith and Mr. Clancy explained that bog butter has been tasted before, “but not by us!

“It’s a national treasure, you can’t be going hacking bits of it off for your toast!” Ms. Smith joked.

“It’s important to say that we have a good relationship with Bord na Mona,” Mr. Clancy explained. “They are one of the better organisations for reporting finds.”

And the bogs of Kildare have yielded quite a lot of artefacts from the past, including spear heads, pottery and bodies.

“We’ve found no body parts in Gilltown bog,” Ms. Smith said, before adding, “but here’s hoping!”

Original article by Conor McHugh

August 19, 2009

Leinster Leader





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Topic: Farming/Europe

Central and western Europe‘s first farmers weren’t crafty, native hunter-gatherers who gradually gave up their spears for seeds, a new study says.

Instead, they were experienced outsiders who arrived on the scene around 5500 B.C. with animals in tow—and the locals apparently didn’t roll out the welcome wagon.

Within a few generations, all the farmers—probably coming from southeast Europe—moved into central Europe bringing their culture, [livestock], and everything,” Joachim Burger, a molecular archaeologist at the University of Mainz in Germany, said via email.

The finding is based on analysis of genetic material in the skeletal remains of ancient hunter-gatherers and early farmers found in Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia—though farming is thought to have reached areas as far west as western France during the period of rapid expansion, about 7,500 years ago.

The study goes against a long-standing idea that Europe’s first farmers were former hunter-gatherer populations that had settled the region after the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago.

Perhaps, the thinking went, the hunter-gatherers had observed farming practices during their travels or had learned from neighbors.

Instead, the researchers found, the hunter-gatherers and the early farmers remained segregated, according to the study, to be published tomorrow in the journal Science.

Though the two groups had “cultural contacts,” Burger said, they generally didn’t mate, at least initially, according to the genetic analysis.

“We have to think of parallel existing societies of hunter-gatherers and farmers,” Burger said. “They were different people.”

Missing Link in European “Evolution”

The researchers were able to identify the remains of hunter-gatherers because the specimens were either more than 8,000 years old—and therefore older than the first European farms—or were surrounded by “hunting” artifacts, such as arrowheads and bear-tooth necklaces. Farmers, by contrast, were found with root-digging tools and livestock bones, among other things.

When the researchers compared the genetic material of the two ancient groups with modern-European genes, a mystery emerged.

The two lineages “don’t look like the complete set of ancestors necessary to build the modern gene pool,” Burger said.

The puzzle highlights how little we know about where modern Europeans came from.

“Another, unidentified factor must come in, maybe an additional migration” or genetic mutation, he said.

Archaeologist Ron Pinhasi, of University College Cork in Ireland, agreed that more ancient migrations might await discovery.

Pinhasi, who was not involved in the new study, said the report “raises the possibility that the modern European genetic structure has been shaped by a series of subsequent migrations [or] dispersals during prehistoric and historic times.”

Where Did Europe’s First Farmers Come From?

Though study author Burger is placing his bets on southeastern Europe—specifically parts of what are now western Hungary and southwestern Slovakia—no one knows where the early immigrant farmers came from.

To pinpoint the pioneers’ origins, Burger, Pinhasi, and others are working on a separate project, which also uses genetic material from skeletal remains.

According to Burger, it’s possible that the first farmers in Europe were part of a vast chain of farming populations that stretched perhaps as far as the ancient Near East, including Anatolia (now Turkey) and Mesopotamia (roughly present-day Iraq)—where agriculture is thought to have been born about 11,000 years ago.

Pinhasi recently reached the same conclusion—detailed in a separate study published in the journal PLoS ONE in August—by comparing skulls from hunter-gatherers and early farmers found at sites from Europe to the Near East.

More evidence that these far-flung farming populations were genetically similar should be forthcoming, he said. And that would confirm “that agriculture was certainly introduced into Europe from western Anatolia.”

Original article by John Roach
for National Geographic News
September 3, 2009

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Topic: Rice

My Thoughts:

Here are a couple of articles from 2002 and 2003 I found on rice.

Scientists have laid bare the “life code” of rice.

Two groups of researchers report a draft DNA sequence of the plant – a staple for more than half the world’s population – in the journal Science.

The genetic information should speed up the breeding of tougher and higher-yielding varieties that can help feed the world’s burgeoning population.

The genomic data will also prove invaluable in boosting the productivity of the other grasses on which humans depend, such as maize (corn) and wheat.

The research shows that a rice plant probably has more genes than a human – perhaps as many as 50-60,000 genes, compared with our 30-40,000.

But the rice genome, like the gene sets of all plants, contains tremendous duplication. Something like three-quarters of all rice genes are repeated in the code.

Much duplication

Scientists think plants copy their genes and then modify them as a strategy for coping with the selective pressures associated with evolution.

The Beijing Genomics Institute and the University of Washington Genome Center, with colleagues at 11 Chinese institutions, read the code of the rice strain known as indica, the predominant subspecies in China and other Asian-Pacific countries.

The second team, fronted by the Swiss-based Syngenta company, decoded the japonica, or Nipponbare, subspecies, which is popular in more arid regions and, in particular, Japan.

The genetic difference between the two is small but significant – about a half to one percent variation in the code. This is about 10 times the variation you would find in the genetic codes of two humans.

Rice, known scientifically as Oryza sativa, is the second plant to be decoded. The first was the tiny mustard plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, used as a laboratory model to investigate plant biology.

Rice, however, is the first food crop to be sequenced.

Another method

Both teams used the Whole-Genome Shotgun technique, the same method employed by the private company Celera to read the human “code of life”.

And just like Celera, Syngenta has struck a deal with the Science journal editors that ensures it keeps proprietorial control over the japonica sequence.

Researchers wanting to work on the sequence will have to sign usage agreements with the Swiss company. Critics claim the access restrictions go against the spirit of open research and will slow the advance of new knowledge.

A consortium of public laboratories, known as the International Rice Genome Sequencing Project (IRGSP), financed by Japan, is also sequencing the Nipponbare subspecies.

The consortium has opted to use a more systematic, traditional route to decryption which, though more precise, can take longer. The IRGSP is expected to publish its results later this year.

Original article  by By Jonathan Amos
BBC News Online science staff on Thursday 4, April, 2002.

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Topic: Ancient Rice #3

My Thoughts:

Here are a couple of articles from 2002 and 2003 I found on rice.

I find this article on ancient rice in Korea fascinating. It puts the oldest cultivation at 15,000 years ago and China’s at 12,000 years ago.  There does seem to be  differing opinions on the time frame for China but I also find it depends on whether we are talking about gathering of ” wild rice” or cultivation of domesticated rice. At times it’s hard to tell the difference but certainly man would have spent many thousands of years just gathering and sometimes planting the wild rice before cultivation of rice became the norm.

Ancient Korean RiceScientists have found the oldest known domesticated rice. The handful of 15,000-year-old burnt grains was discovered by archaeologists in Korea.

Their age challenges the accepted view that rice cultivation originated in China about 12,000 years ago.

The rice is genetically different from the modern food crop, which will allow researchers to trace its evolution.

Today’s rice is the primary food for over half the world’s population, with 576,280,000 tonnes produced in 2002. 

Rice is especially important in Asia, where it is responsible for almost a third of all calorific intake.

Tracer of evolution

The oldest known rice was discovered by Lee Yung-jo and Woo Jong-yoon of Chungbuk National University in South Korea.

They found the ancient grains during excavations in the village of Sorori in the Chungbuk Province.

Radioactive dating of the 59 grains of carbonized rice has pushed back the date for the earliest known cultivation of the plant.

DNA analysis shows the early rice sample to be different from the modern intensively farmed varieties, thereby offering scientists the opportunity to study the evolution of one of the world’s principal food sources.

The region in central Korea where the grains were found is one of the most important sites for understanding the development of Stone Age man in Asia.


Original article published in 2003

By Dr David Whitehouse
BBC News Online science editor

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