Archive for December, 2009

Topic: Maya

My Thoughts:

I checked previous posts and I have a post from September on the same subject but this article has more detail so I went ahead and added it.

The ancient Maya cultivated crops of manioc—also known as cassava—some 1,400 years ago, according to archaeologists studying a Maya farm preserved in volcanic ash.

The discovery may help solve the long-standing mystery of how the ancient culture produced enough energy-rich, starchy food to support its large city-centered populations.

“There’s a good chance that this will change the way we look at how the Mayans fed themselves,” said study leader Payson Sheets, an anthropologist at University of Colorado at Boulder.

“It’s a very important clue to resolving this

,” Sheets said. “We’re extremely happy to have found this.”

(The research was funded by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.)

Sheets’s team found the ancient manioc field near Ceren, a Maya village in El Salvador about 15 miles (25 kilometers) west of modern-day San Salvador (see El Salvador map).

The team was excavating what it thought was an ancient cornfield when it discovered traces of cultivated manioc roots perfectly preserved by a volcanic eruption.

The discovery provides a glimpse into the Maya farm as it may have appeared around A.D. 600, when a volcano near Ceren erupted.

The nearby village was covered with as much as 17 feet (5 meters) of ash, preserving it in remarkable detail, the archaeologists said.

“When we excavate [at Ceren], we’re looking at that moment from all that time ago,” said Christine Dixon, a doctoral candidate from Lafayette, California, who was on the team.

“It’s as close as the present can get to the past, which, for archaeologists, is a very exciting endeavor.”

What the Maya Ate:

How the Maya produced enough carbohydrate-rich foods to sustain large cities such as Tikal in Guatemala and Copán in Honduras has long puzzled scientists

Researchers knew that maize, or corn, was a staple of their diet, but corn alone could not have provided enough sustenance.

Experts had theorized that the ancient Maya may have cultivated manioc, which produces large roots, or tubers, that are rich in carbohydrates. But no evidence of manioc crops was known until the recent find.

Sheets and his crew unearthed the new evidence in June while examining an ancient field near Ceren.

The team found that the ancient crop had decomposed but holes in the planting beds had been sealed by ash.

Sheets poured dental plaster into the holes to make molds of what had grown inside. The plaster casts revealed tubers of manioc.

Sheets said the find was “incontrovertible, gorgeous evidence of manioc cultivation.”

“I’d like to say that [the discovery] was due to a logical process with geophysical instruments, that it was due to exceptional insight and wisdom on our part,” he said.

“But no, it was serendipitous. It was luck.”

Where Are the Volcano’s Victims?

Despite the lucky find, there are many more questions to be answered, including why no victims of the volcanic explosion have ever been found at Ceren, despite some 30 years of excavations there.

Sheets said the villagers may have been warned that the volcano was about to blow when rising lava turned underground water to steam. When the steam was forced out of cracks in the surface, it could have created a horrifying shriek that sent the Mayans fleeing, he explained.

Perhaps the villagers escaped unharmed, he added, or perhaps they were overtaken by the volcano’s fast-moving cloud of ash and gases and their bodies haven’t been discovered yet.

Sheets said he hopes these questions will be answered eventually, as continued digs at Ceren work to uncover the site’s secrets.

“There’s much more than I’ll ever do in my lifetime,” he said. “There’s well over a century of research to be done there.”

Original Article:

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
August 20, 2007

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Topic: Grains

Interest in ‘ancient’ grains like quinoa, sorghum and teff has soared, not least because of their gluten-free quality. That means expanding supply to keep up with demand.

Some companies supplying ingredients for the manufacture of gluten-free foods have turned to ancient grains for inspiration – especially since they tend to have high nutrient levels and there have been concerns that products made with rice, corn and potato flour leave nutrients to be desired.

For instance ConAgra Mills in the US has a range of naturally gluten-free flours from quinoa, teff, amaranth, millet and sorghum. This year it launched a new flour blended from these that is intended to tick all the nutrition boxes for gluten-free eaters.

Companies that sell ancient grains for home preparation have enjoyed new popularity for their products too. Marjorie Leventry of wholesaler Inca Organics, who has been sourcing heirloom quinoa (non-hybrid) from Ecuador since the late 1990s, told FoodNavigator.com that demand has surged in the last five years and the gluten-free trend – together with wholegrain interest – is a driving factor.

This year however she has had to source some of her quinoa needs from neighbouring Bolivia (“standard, not heirloom”). Bolivia supplies around half the world’s quinoa, while Ecuador is said to supply around 20 per cent and Peru around 30 per cent.

Statistics on global quinoa production are not available; the FAO’s agricultural commodity resource has no data at present. A source at the Quinoa Corporation, based in California, said that any figures bandied about are likely to be unreliable as it is not an organised crop. Tens of thousands of farmers grow it, scattered over a large area.

But in Bolivia, quinoa growing farmers are very much in the driving seat. Where cooperatives used to exist, they have now collapsed because farmers can name their price at the farm gate – said to be around three times what they received three years ago in some cases. Efforts to increase production are underway, but this is not just a matter of growing more but infrastructure and cleaning plants are needed too.

Outside Latin America other countries are eyeing up the potential in places with suitable conditions. For instance Egypt is reportedly irrigating tracts of desert land so it can boost exports with non-wheat alternatives including quinoa; and a Canadian company, the Northern Quinoa Corporation, distributes quinoa grown on the prairies of Saskatchewan.

Sorghum story

Sorghum, another gluten-free grain, has a long history in the United States. In a good year, such as 2007, production can be as much as 12.6m metric tonnes.

The majority of US sorghum is destined for animal feed and ethanol production. It has been eaten by humans in Asia and Africa for centuries, but it is a relatively recent addition to the US diet.

The National Sorghum Producers Association says gluten-free foods have been instrumental in encouraging human consumption.

Even so, food and other industrial uses (non animal feed and non ethanol) currently account for just 2 per cent of the US harvest.

Teff luck

Like quinoa, teff is a grain with strong geographical links. Grown mainly in Ethiopia and Eritrea (and, to a lesser degree in India and Australia) it has formed an important nutritious part of the diet there for centuries.

But teff, too, is piquing interest from farmers elsewhere. It is now cultivated in Idaho’s Snake Valley and The Teff Company, based there, has expanded distribution from serving the Ethiopian community and restaurants to natural food stores throughout the US.

Original Article:

Food Navigator.com

By Jess Halliday, 09-Sep-2009

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Happy Holidays


My Thoughts:

To any of you reading this-the best of days to you and why are you online instead of opening gifts or calling someone?  Looks who’s talking, being online is getting to be a habit with me! 

I went to see Avatar yesterday-what a rush! Go see it, you’ll be amazed!

More food blog on Monday and for the new year I will start another blog that chronicles my quest to make ancient foods( such as Mead, Beer and Bread using ancient methods as far as I can duplicate them. Should be fun. In the past, before the blog I did make sourdough( wild yeast) culture and bread from scratch and will do so again but I will keep a blog of the day-to-day so you can follow along.

Happy Holidays, which ever  you celebrate!

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Topic: Clues to what the ancients ate

Thanks to poor dental hygiene, researchers are getting a more detailed understanding of what people ate thousands of years ago in what is now Peru.

Dental plaque scraped from the teeth of people who lived as much as 9,200 years ago revealed traces of cultivated crops, including squash and beans, according to a report in Monday’s online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

These ancient people also ate peanuts and a local fruit known as pacay, according to the report by Dolores Piperno, a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the National Museum of Natural History, and Tom Dillehay, professor of archaeology at Vanderbilt University.

They studied 39 teeth from six to eight individuals. Found in northern Peru’s Nanchoc Valley, the teeth were uncovered in the remains of round house structures in a settlement dated to 9,200 to 5,500 years ago.

“Some teeth were dirtier than others. We found starch grains on most of the teeth. About a third of the teeth contained large numbers of starch grains,” Piperno said in a statement.

The teeth study indicates that the diet of these people contained cultivated crops and was stable over time. Some of the grains had been cooked, the researchers noted.

The researchers said they hope the future analysis of starch grains from teeth can lead to other findings about ancient people, perhaps showing a difference in diet between Neanderthals and early modern humans.

Original Article:

Discovery News

Dec. 2, 2008

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Topic: Mans Best Friend-Or Dinner?

Wolves were domesticated no more than 16,300 years ago in southern China, a new genetic analysis suggests—and it’s possible the canines were tamed to be livestock, not pets, the study author speculates.

“In this region, even today, eating dog is a big cultural thing,” noted study co-author Peter Savolainen, a biologist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

“And you can also see in the historical records as far back as you can go that eating dogs has been very common” in East Asia.

“Therefore, you have to think of the possibility that this was one of the reasons for domesticating dogs.”

Dog Diversity

The new work, published Wednesday in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, bolsters the long-held theory that dogs first became “man’s best friend” in East Asia.

That notion came under fire last month, based on a DNA analysis of so-called village dogs in Africa.

The highest level of genetic diversity in modern dogs should exist in the region where the animals first came under human control.

But the August study found that African village dogs have a similar amount of genetic diversity as those in East Asia, calling into question the origins of dog domestication.

For the new work, Savolainen and colleagues analyzed the entire mitochondrial genome—DNA passed down only from the mother—of 169 dogs, as well as portions of the genomes from 1,543 dogs from across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

These dogs all share at least 80 percent of their DNA, the team found. The animals’ genetic diversity increased the farther east the scientists looked.

The greatest diversity was found in a region south of the Yangtze River in China.

According to Savolainen, the data make it “totally clear” that genetic variation in East Asian dogs is much higher than anywhere else in the world.

The analysis also suggests that wolves were domesticated from several hundred individuals sometime between 5,400 and 16,300 years ago.

This is around the time Asian hunter-gatherers were adopting a more settled agrarian lifestyle, which is part of what makes Savolainen think the canines might have been kept as food.

Support, But Not Proof?

Adam Boyko, a biologist at Cornell University in New York and co-author of the August study, agrees that the new work shows greater genetic diversity in East Asia than Africa.

But Boyko said he would like to see more genetic evidence before he calls the finding proof of domestication.

“But clearly, it is a very interesting result,” he said. “There is a ton of data backing it up, [and] they put forth a really interesting hypothesis for dog domestication.”

Original article:

September 4, 2009

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Why Humans Outlive Apes

Topic: Steak-  Lets hear it for meat eaters

Genetic changes that apparently allow humans to live longer than any other primate may be rooted in a more carnivorous diet. 

These changes may also promote brain development and make us less vulnerable to diseases of aging, such as cancer, heart disease and dementia. 

Chimpanzees and great apes are genetically similar to humans, yet they rarely live for more than 50 years. Although the average human lifespan has doubled in the last 200 years – due largely to decreased infant mortality related to advances in diet, environment and medicine – even without these improvements, people living in high mortality hunter-forager lifestyles still have twice the life expectancy at birth as wild chimpanzees do. 

These key differences in lifespan may be due to genes that humans evolved to adjust better to meat-rich diets, biologist Caleb Finch at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles suggested.

Mmmm … raw, red meat 

The oldest known stone tools manufactured by the ancestors of modern humans, which date back some 2.6 million years, apparently helped butcher animal bones. As our forerunners evolved, they became better at capturing and digesting meat, a valuable, high-energy food, by increasing brain and body size and reducing gut size. 

Over time, eating red meat, particularly raw flesh infected with parasites in the era before cooking, stimulates chronic inflammation, Finch explained. In response, humans apparently evolved unique variants in a cholesterol-transporting gene, apolipoprotein E, which regulates chronic inflammation as well as many aspects of aging in the brain and arteries. 

One variant found in all modern human populations, known as ApoE3, emerged roughly 250,000 years ago, “just before the final stage of evolution of Homo sapiens in Africa,” Finch explained. 

ApoE3 lowers the risk of most aging diseases, specifically heart disease and Alzheimer’s, and is linked with an increased lifespan. 

“I suggest that it arose to lower the risk of degenerative disease from the high-fat meat diet they consumed,” Finch told LiveScience. “Another benefit is that it promoted brain development.” 

Puzzle remains

Curiously, another more ancient variant of apolipoprotein E found in a lesser degree in all human populations is ApoE4, which is linked with high cholesterol, shortened lifespan and degeneration of the arteries and brain. 

“The puzzle is, if ApoE4 is so bad, why is it still present?” Finch asked. “It might have some protective effects under some circumstances. A little bit of data suggests that with hepatitis C, you have less liver damage if you have ApoE4.”

Finch detailed these findings in the December issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Original Article:


Charles Q Choi

Dec 2009

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Topic: Prehistoric Bird Roast

Early modern humans and their predecessors in Europe were mostly big game hunters, but a pile of well-nibbled bird bones suggests that at least some prehistoric European cavemen enjoyed small prey too, according to a new study.

The 202 bones, belonging to the Aythya genus of diving ducks, were found at Bolomor Cave near the town of Tavernes in Valencia, Spain. The ducks date to around 150,000 years ago, and were not eaten daintily.

The birds were de-fleshed using both stone tools and teeth,” co-author Ruth Blasco told Discovery News, noting that some of the ducks may have even been consumed raw.

“The modifications observed on small remains from Bolomor Cave are the strongest evidence for bird consumption in the European Middle Pleistocene,” she added.

Blasco, a researcher at the Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution in Tarragona, Spain, and colleague Josep Fernandez Peris analyzed the duck bones under high magnification. They determined three characteristics allow the bird remains to be considered duck dinner leftovers.

First, they found “cutmarks on bones of both the front and hind limb.”

Second, they identified the “presence of burning patterns on the extremities of the bones, areas of the skeleton with less meat.”

Finally, the researchers discovered “human tooth marks on limb bones.”

Although both Neanderthal and modern human remains have been found at the Bolomor Cave complex, the geological level of the roasted duck finds suggests that Homo heidelbergensis is the human species that ate the duck meals.

Original article:

Discovery News

Jennifer Viegas November 2009

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