Archive for October, 2009

Topic:  Medicinal Wine in Egypt 


Ancient wine Cellar

A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine to go down, but wine worked even better for the ancient Egyptians, who used to doctor their alcoholic beverages with medicinal herbs and other ingredients, according to a new study.

The oldest of the recently analyzed herbal wines dates to 3150 B.C. Since early medical papyri document the purported health benefits of some of the wine’s ingredients, the discovery provides the first direct chemical evidence for wine with organic medical additives.

“The ancient Egyptians settled on adding herbs and other ingredients that had marked medicinal effects, probably just based on observational trial and error,” Patrick McGovern, lead author of the paper, told Discovery News.

“Of course superstitions crept in too, such as when they would throw in a root because it resembled a certain body part, but we think there was some medical truth behind a lot of their wine additives,” continued McGovern, an archaeochemist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

He and colleagues Armen Mirzoian and Gretchen Hall chemically analyzed residues found inside a jar excavated from the tomb of one of Egypt’s first pharaohs, Scorpion I. They also conducted chemical tests on a later amphora, dating to the 4the to 6th centuries A.D., from Gebel Adda in southern Egypt.

According to a paper published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, both containers tested positive for wine with medicinal additives.

The scientists determined Scorpion I’s drink consisted of grape wine to which a sliced fig had been added, probably to start and sustain the fermentation process, while also adding flavor and sweetness. Terebinth, a tree resin known now for having antioxidant properties, was also found within a yellowish flaky residue scraped from the jar, which was decorated with swirling red paint “tiger stripes.”

While McGovern and his team aren’t yet certain what herbs were in the drink, since many plants share similar chemical components, they suspect mint, coriander, savory, senna and sage were likely candidates.

The researchers are confident, however, that the second, more recent Egyptian wine contained pine resin and rosemary. A previous study determined that an early beer-like fermented emmer wheat barley beverage from Spain contained rosemary, along with mint and thyme. All of these ingredients and more were outlined in Egyptian medical papyri dating to 1850 B.C.

McGovern said the resin and herbal ingredients probably served three primary functions.

“They helped to preserve the wines, while also adding flavor and medical benefits,” he said, explaining that the last two frequently went together, since flavor was, and still is, often linked to health effects.

“Bitter flavors in nature can signal danger, but they can also sometimes have powerful medicinal properties,” he added.

The new findings could explain the presence of herb and tree resin-flavored foods and drinks from the ancient world found elsewhere. For example, a 2,400-year-old Greek shipwreck recently yielded both a retsina-type wine, flavored and preserved with tree resin, and a salad-dressing type oil infused with so much antioxidant-promoting oregano that the mixture remained largely preserved over the millennia.

“Maybe we can even go back to the amphorae, jars and cooking pots previously excavated and now sitting in museum storerooms around the world and ask new questions of each artifact,” said researcher Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who worked on the Greek shipwreck project.

McGovern next hopes to determine which ingredients found in fermented beverages from the ancient world possess actual medical benefits. At present, his team is focusing on artesunate, a wormwood derivative, found in 3,000-year-old Chinese rice wine.

Original Article:

Jennifer Viegas,

Discovery News

 April 14,2009



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Topic: Roman take away( out)


Roman BBq Cooker

Just as a U.S. Presidential state dinner does not reflect how most Americans eat and socialize, researchers think the formal, decadent image of wining and dining in ancient Rome mostly just applied to the elite.

According to archaeologist Penelope Allison of the University of Leicester, the majority of the population consumed food “on the run.”

Allison excavated an entire neighborhood block in Pompeii, a city frozen in time after the eruption of volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Historians often extend findings from Pompeii to other parts of Italy, particularly Rome, given the city’s proximity to the Roman Empire’s center.

“In many parts of the western world today, a popular belief exists that family members should sit down and dine together and, if they don’t, this may represent a breakdown of the family structure, but that idea did not originate in ancient Rome,” she told Discovery News.

Her claims are based both on what she did not find during the excavation, and what she did.

Allison noticed an unusual lack of tableware and formal dining or kitchen areas within the Pompeii homes. Instead she found isolated plates here and there, such as in sleeping quarters.

“Similar to how children today bring a plate of food to their rooms before watching TV or playing on the computer, my guess is that Roman youths would tote food to certain areas where they possibly engaged in other activities,” she said, adding that kids might also have dined with slaves in nanny or caretaker roles.

What she did find in the homes were multiple mini barbecue-type fire boxes, suggesting that “BBQ or fondue-style dining” often took place.

Allison outlines her findings in the new Oxford University Press book, “The Insula of the Menander at Pompeii Volume III.”

Stephen Dyson, one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient Rome, is a professor of classics at the University of Buffalo who formerly served as the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

Dyson told Discovery News that the new book “was meticulously researched” and that his own work in Pompeii and Rome supports Allison’s conclusions.

He said, “We’ve also found numerous fast food restaurants in Pompeii and other parts of ancient Rome.”

Dyson likened these places to a cross between “Burger King and a British pub or a Spanish tapas bar.” Open to the street, each had a large counter with a receptacle in the middle from which food or drink would have been served.

“Most Romans lived in apartments or rather confined spaces, and there is not much evidence for stoves and other cooking equipment in them,” he said.

Dyson thinks “fast food” restaurants became popular because they were plentiful, the same way modern New Yorkers often eat out due to the panoply of affordable choices. Additionally, many of Rome’s and Pompeii’s residents, who worked as artisans, shopkeepers, weavers and such, made enough money to support these places.

Grabbing food to go, either in a house or on the street, also seems to match the energy and flexibility of the Italian mindset.

Dyson said, “Italy’s vibrant street and bar scenes today, along with the often multipurpose design of homes with bedsteads stacked in a corner, or kitchenettes in surprising places, reflect the wonderful, slightly chaotic, aspects of early Roman life.”

Original article


Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

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Topic:  Gourmet Map

My Thoughts:

I found this information while doing research on The Deipnosophists which I am including because because it pertains to food.

The Deipnosophistae was originally in fifteen books. The work survives in one manuscript from which the whole of books 1 and 2, and some other pages too, disappeared long ago. An Epitome or abridgment was made in medieval times, and survives complete: from this it is possible to read the missing sections, though in a disjointed form.  

Food and cookery

The Deipnosophists is an important source of cookery recipes in classical Greek. It quotes the original text of one recipe from the lost cookbook by Mithaecus, the oldest in Greek and the oldest recipe by a named author in any language. Other authors quoted for their recipes include Glaucus of Locri, Dionysius, Epaenetus, Hegesippus of Tarentum, Erasistratus, Diocles of Carystus, Timachidas of Rhodes, Philistion of Locri, Euthydemus of Athens, Chrysippus of Tyana and Paxamus.

A UC Davis food geographer and a computer technologist are creating maps to the best cheeses, wines, breads and assorted delicacies throughout the Mediterranean, but there’s a catch.

These are maps based on the eight-volume “The Deipnosophists,” written by Egyptian author Athenaeus 1,800 years ago. The book, according to ancient-food expert Louis Grivetti, is what might be considered the bonus edition of “Gourmet” magazine circa A.D. 200.

Grivetti discovered that the most sublime olive oil was produced in the southern Italian town of Thurii, the most superior milk goats were raised on the Greek island of Scyros and the cuisine on Chios, an Aegean island off the coast of Turkey, “was best known for its dainty dishes.”

“Back then it was the guidebook to the known world, from Iberia to central Europe to India and North Africa,” Grivetti says.

Grivetti is producing his own 21st-century book that draws from Athenaeus’ recounting of a long, conversational feast. During each course, dinner guests were asked to pinpoint where the best of Mediterranean foods were being produced, using Roman and Greek citations.

“There were 1,500 ancient works cited by author and title, but fewer than 15 percent of those still exist,” Grivetti says. “However, we’ve found that by looking at the existing sources, they were cited correctly, for the most part.”

With the computer assistance of colleague Matthew Lange, Grivetti will document, among other foods, 500 to 600 ancient wines with appellations by district. He will also trace superior breads, cakes, fruits and vegetables to their classical bakeries and gardens.

The maps will show the tastiest water and most original breads in the shapes of animals came from the district of Attica, which included Athens, while Sicily boasted the choicest cheese and Cyprus the sweetest pomegranates.

Grivetti’s book, due in 2005, will also allow for comparisons between ancient Mediterranean food patterns and today’s Mediterranean diet, considered one of the healthiest in the world.

Original article

UC Davis News and Information

January 2004

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Topic Ancient Farming:

BALLYCASTLE, Ireland–It took 40 years, but Seamas Caulfield finally solved the puzzle of his father’s peat bog, and in the process unearthed a 5,000-year-old Stone Age village.

Schoolteacher Patrick Caulfield was digging peat–long-decayed vegetation that has been used for domestic fuel in Ireland for centuries–in a bog near this western Ireland hamlet in the 1930s when his spade struck rocks two metres down.

He cleared the immediate area and discovered that the rocks formed part of a wall.

“He had the feeling that it was a significant find and he wrote telling about it to the National Museum in Dublin,” says Gretta Byrne. “He received an encouraging letter back, but explaining that they [the museum] couldn’t investigate because they didn’t have the resources.” Ireland, especially the western counties, was facing hard economic times between the world wars.

What had that peat spade struck? The riddle fascinated young Seamas. He grew up and became an archeologist, and as Ireland came out of the economic doldrums he led an archeological expedition to the peat bog on what’s called the C?ide Fields (pronounced “kay-jeh”).

What they unearthed has been called the most extensive Neolithic site in the world, a farming community dating back to before 3,000 B.C.

Now a state-of-the-art visitor centre has been built on the site to showcase the C?ide Fields dig. Byrne is the manager. She takes a visitor on a walk over part of the site, on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, pointing out stone-walled fields, livestock enclosures, dwellings and tombs used by people at the dawn of recorded history.

Archeologists think the Stone Age community covers 10 square kilometres. Because the bog it sits under is 90 per cent water, they’ve been able to push iron rods through the peat and locate dozens of kilometres of stone field walls. But only a fraction of what’s believed to be there has been excavated, so the curious get a much better “feel” of the ancient settlement from the galleries in the visitor centre.

These explain that the people who lived here were farmers and fishermen. They were peaceful people, it appears, for the community is well spread out, “not huddled together as they would be if they were fearful of attack,” archeologist Caulfield says in an introductory video.

“We believe they lived here for about 500 years,” says Byrne. Why they left is a mystery (global cooling is one theory). But after they went, forests and other vegetation grew, then died and decayed, creating, through the eons, the two- to four-metre [six- to 12-foot] deep blanket of peat bog.

In the galleries are recreations of Stone Age buildings, showing manikins doing such things as milling flour and tending livestock.

The centrepiece, in the foyer, is the trunk of a pine tree bearing axe marks where schoolteacher Caulfield cut off branches for firewood. “Radiocarbon dating indicates it was growing about 4,200 years ago,” says Byrne. “It was blown over and preserved by the bog.”

The visitor centre, an award-winning steel-and-glass pyramid, welcomes 35,000 to 40,000 visitors a year. Visit www.museumsofmayo.com/ceide.htm.

Original article:

Mitchell Smyth, Special to Vancouver Courier

Published: Friday, October 09, 2009

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Topic: Ancient Farmers Market

Chemical residues found in soil from Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula indicate that ancient Mayans traded food in marketplaces, a practice long considered unlikely by archaeologists.

From examining the sites of ancient Mayan cities, archaeologists have long recognized that the cities were home to more people than the local agricultural capacities could have supported, said Shepherd University archaeologist Bruce Dahlin, who led the new study of the Yucatan soil.

So for years, archaeologists looked for evidence of advanced farming practices that could have ramped up agricultural capacities beyond what archaeologists can observe, thus sustaining the populations. The idea that Mayans might have imported food and other goods wasn’t taken seriously because most archaeologists thought that the Maya elite had a system whereby underlings were paid for loyalty by goods passed down the social ladder.

Still, large, open areas found in settlements of the Classic era (about A.D. 300 to 900) seemed to look like possible marketplaces, but archaeologists could find no strong indications of the areas’ purpose. This is where the chemical residues came in handy.

Dahlin brought in environmental scientist Richard Terry of Brigham Young University and his team to analyze surface soil samples from Chunchucmil in the western Yucatan for indications that food had once been there. These indications come in the form of phosphorus, left in the soil by decomposed food.

“All food materials contain phosphorus, and a common denominator of all humans is that they bring food to places where they live,” Terry said. “Over time, the organic matter is ground into the soil and rots, but the phosphorus holds to the soil particles even in a tropical rain forest that gets a meter or two of rain every year.”

Terry and his team found concentrations of phosphorous up to 40 times higher in these open areas than those in ancient patios and streets. The pattern of phosphorous residue matched that found in the last remaining modern market that runs atop soil (all other modern markets have been paved).

The matching patterns indicate that the Mayans did in fact have a market economy, and studies from other sites may reveal just how far that economy may have spread.

Original Article:

LiveScience: 03 December 2007

By Andrea Thompson,

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Topic: Ancient Squash

June 29, 2007 — Agriculture was taking root in South America almost as early as the first farmers were breaking ground in the Middle East, new research indicates. Evidence that squash was being grown nearly 10,000 years ago, in what is now Peru, is reported in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.

A team led by anthropologist Tom D. Dillehay of Vanderbilt University also uncovered remains of peanuts from 7,600 years ago and cotton dated to 5,500 years ago in the floors and hearths of sites in the Nanchoc Valley of northern Peru.

“We believe the development of agriculture by the Nanchoc people served as a catalyst for cultural and social changes that eventually led to intensified agriculture, institutionalized political power and new towns in the Andean highlands and along the coast 4,000 to 5,500 years ago,” Dillehay said.

Dolores Piperno, curator for archaeobotany and South American archaeology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, said the report “adds to the accumulating data for agriculture in the Americas as old or nearly as old as that in the Old World, provides evidence for the domestication of a major species of squash native to South America, and documents ancient peanuts and quinoa.”


Original Article


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Topic: Maze Goddess

A Chicomecoatl monolith found recently in Zempoala municipality, Hidalgo, 500 years old, which represents the goddess of maize, was restored by National Institute of Anthropology and History specialists and now historical research has begun.

The archaeological finding associated to Mexica culture dated between 1430 and 1520 was found in July 2009 by employees of a private company, notifying immediately the Hidalgo INAH Center, which proceeded to remove and guard it.

The 60 centimeters tall sculpture represents the Mexica maize goddess, Chicomecoatl, linked to fertility. She carries 2 corncobs on each hand, and has an orifice in the chest, where a greenstone or “chalchiutlicue”, which represents the flower of life, was inlaid.

Archaeologist Osvaldo Sterpone, in charge of moving the piece to Pachuca and who will coordinate historical research, mentioned that the orifice was covered with red colored lime that matched the stone that has to be identified yet. He remarked the stone sculpture was found near Santa Ana Archaeological Site.

Sterpone commented that the sculpture may be dated in Late Post Classic period, when Mexica Empire controlled this region to obtain obsidian and other material that they traded.

Restoration of Chicomecoatl, which presents an excellent conservation state, was in charge of Virginia Carrasquel, from Hidalgo INAH Center, who leaded cleaning, stabilization and preservation tasks before being exposed at Zempolala Community Museum for 2 days.

After it returned to Hidalgo INAH Center, the piece was guarded at the cultural goods warehouse, where Chicomecoatl will be studied to determine the influence it had in the region.

Regarding the context of the finding, archaeologist Sterpone mentioned that no other element associated to the sculpture was found in the sand mine located at San Pedro Tlaquilpan.

“There are not regional archaeological studies about Chicomecoatl, so we will base on historical sources. In this sense, a similar sculpture was found during the 1970´s decade in Autonomous University of the State of Hidalgo” concluded the archaeologist.

Original article


August 6, 2009

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