Archive for January, 2010

Topic: Andean Brewery

In the clear Peruvian mountain air, the view from the sunbaked summit of Cerro Baúl stretches 50 miles or more. The vista is dominated by dozens of arid valleys and distant Andean peaks. A thousand years ago, a person on this 2,600-foot mountain would have been standing at the southern frontier of the Wari Empire, which dominated much of what is now Peru from A.D. 600 until it disappeared around 400 years later, a period archaeologists call the Middle Horizon. The Wari likely thought of Cerro Baúl as sacred; even now, the ground here is littered with carefully arranged pebbles in the shape of houses or farms and the occasional empty bottle of liquor, left behind by locals as offerings to the spirit of the mountain. But archaeological evidence shows the mountaintop was much more than a holy place on the fringes of an empire. It may be the key to understanding how the Wari managed to control a state that stretched some 800 miles to the north.

To me, the hilltop looks like a lifeless jumble of tan boulders. But Donna Nash, an archaeologist from Chicago’s Field Museum and codirector of the Cerro Baúl Archaeological Project, sees something quite different. Striding across the bleak surface, pointing to the outlines of walls and corridors that have long since collapsed or been blown away, she conjures a vision of what once stood here–a palace complex of colorful two-story buildings. At one time, she says, hundreds of people lived up here. Everything they needed–water, food, precious stones for crafting beads, clay for making pots, and corn for brewing beer–had to be carried to the top.

Living on top of a mountain was a tremendous display of power and wealth. And mountaintop temples would have had great views of other peaks, perhaps an important element of Wari rituals. “It’s not an economically efficient production site,” Ryan Williams, the dig codirector and Nash’s husband, tells me later. “But you impress the neighbors by living closer to the gods.”

And, perhaps, by showing them a good time. The most critical building at Cerro Baúl may have been the brewery. A four-room structure about 2,500 square feet, it had all the equipment needed to make chicha, a corn-based beer still popular in the Andes. As we stand among the ruins, Nash tells me the Wari–usually thought of as a fairly bloodthirsty bunch, based on pottery painted with images of warriors, beheadings, and bound captives–may have actually wooed local leaders with a potent mix of corn beer and hallucinogens. Mountaintop palaces might have functioned like embassies, and could have played a role in a soft-power effort to impress the neighbors with great parties.

Original Article:


by Andrew Curry

December 2009


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Topic: Old method-New farming

Fifteen hundred years ago, tribes people from the central Amazon basin mixed their soil with charcoal derived from animal bone and tree bark. Today, at the site of this charcoal deposit, scientists have found some of the richest, most fertile soil in the world. Now this ancient, remarkably simple farming technique seems far ahead of the curve, holding promise as a carbon-negative strategy to rein in world hunger as well as greenhouse  gasses.

At the 235th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, scientists report that charcoal derived from heated biomass has an unprecedented ability to improve the fertility of soil — one that surpasses compost, animal manure, and other well-known soil conditioners.

They also suggest that this so-called “biochar” profoundly enhances the natural carbon seizing ability of soil. Dubbed “black gold agriculture,” scientists say this “revolutionary” farming technique can provide a cheap, straight-forward strategy to reduce greenhouse gases by trapping them in charcoal-laced soil.

“Charcoal fertilization can permanently increase soil organic matter content and improve soil quality, persisting in soil for hundreds to thousands of years,” Mingxin Guo, Ph.D., and colleagues report. In what they describe as a “new and pioneering” ACS report — the first systematic investigation of soil improvement by charcoal fertilization — Guo found that soils receiving charcoal produced from organic wastes were much looser, absorbed significantly more water and nutrients and produced higher crop biomass. The authors, with Delaware State University, say “the results demonstrate that charcoal amendment is a revolutionary approach for long-term soil quality improvement.”

Soil deterioration from depletion of organic matter is an increasingly serious global problem that contributes to hunger and malnutrition. Often a result of unsustainable farming, overuse of chemical fertilizers and drought, the main weapons to combat the problem –compost, animal manure and crop debris — decompose rapidly.

“Earth’s soil is the largest terrestrial pool of carbon,” Guo said. “In other words, most of the earth’s carbon is fixed in soil.” But if this soil is intensively cultivated by tillage and chemical fertilization, organic matter in soil will be quickly decomposed into carbon dioxide by soil microbes and released into the atmosphere, leaving the soil compacted and nutrient-poor.

Applying raw organic materials to soil only provides a temporary solution, since the applied organic matter decomposes quickly. Converting this unutilized raw material into biochar, a non-toxic and stable fertilizer, could keep carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere, says Guo.

“Speaking in terms of fertility and productivity, the soil quality will be improved. It is a long-term effect. After you apply it once, it will be there for hundreds of years,” according to Guo. With its porous structure and high nutrient- and water-holding capabilities, biochar could become an extremely attractive option for commercial farmers and home gardeners looking for long-term soil improvement.

The researchers planted winter wheat in pots of soil in a greenhouse. Some pots were amended with two percent biochar, generated from readily available ingredients like tree leaves, corn stalk and wood chips. The other pots contained ordinary soil.

The biochar-infused soil showed vastly improved germination and growing rates compared to regular soil. Guo says that even a one-percent charcoal treatment would lead to improved crop yield.

Guo is “positive” that this ground-breaking farming technique can help feed countries with poor soil quality. “We hope this technology will be extended worldwide,” says Guo.

“The production of current arable land could be significantly improved to provide more food and fiber for the growing populations. We want to call it the second agricultural revolution, or black gold revolution!”

He suggests that charcoal production has been practiced for at least 3000 years. But until now, nobody realized that this charcoal could improve soil fertility until archaeologists stumbled on the aforementioned Amazonian soil several years ago.

Biochar production is straightforward, involving a heating process known as pyrolysis. First, organic residue such as tree leaves and wood chips is packed into a metal container and sealed. Then, through a small hole on top, the container is heated and the material burns. The raw organic matter is transformed into black charcoal. Smokes generated during pyrolysis can also be collected and cooled down to form bio-oil, a renewable energy source, says Guo.

In lieu of patenting biochar, Guo says he is most interested in extending the technology into practice as soon as possible. To that end, his colleagues at Delaware State University are investigating a standardized production procedure for biochar. They also foresee long-term field studies are needed to validate and demonstrate the technology. Guo noted that downsides of biochar include transportation costs resulting from its bulk mass and a need to develop new tools to spread the granular fertilizer over large tracts of farmland.

The researchers are about to embark on a five-year study on the effect of “black gold” on spinach, green peppers, tomatoes and other crops. They seek the long-term effects of biochar fertilization on soil carbon changes, crop productivity and its effect of the soil microorganism community.

“Through this long-term work, we will show to people that biochar fertilization will significantly change our current conventional farming concepts,” says Guo.

Original article:

Science Daily

April 15, 2008

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Topic : Wine Presses

Centuries ago, come September, galleys would be rowed into Mġarr ix-Xini harbour and loaded with amphorae filled with wine that had been pressed in the valley.

Winemakers would fill shallow basins with grapes and, once pressed, the juice would flow through holes and channels into a deeper collecting holder, all carved into the rock.

These wine presses, said to date back to 500 BC, can still be seen embedded in the Gozitan valley and are being studied and documented in a project carried out by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage and the Sannat and Xewkija local councils with the support of Camilleri Wines.

Apart from safeguarding heritage, the project offers an interesting insight into Malta and Gozo’s past.

“What is not seen today is that Mġarr ix-Xini valley was functioning as a main artery, as a seaport… It functioned as a huge agro-industrial area,” explained Superintendent of Cultural Heritage Anthony Pace, who leads the project together with archaeologist George Azzopardi.

He explained how the presses, dug into the ground, were made of a shallow basin upon which an additional structure was mounted to press the grapes.

The juices would flow into the deeper basin and this motion was aided by the fact that the presses were built on an incline. Similar presses are present in Malta in the Mġarr Valley in and near Mnajdra, in an area known as Misqa tanks.

Such presses have also been identified in various parts of the world such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Syria and South Africa.

Mr Pace elaborated that winemakers would have minimised losses through seepage by first filling the basins with water so the rock would soak up the water. Excess water would then be removed shortly before pressing.

He said it was believed that, once pressed, the wine was collected in amphorae and shipped off to Sicily on galleys that came into the harbour.

Since the project started in 2005, 15 presses have been identified, documented and mapped. Pieces of pottery, including drinking glasses, were also found during excavation works that helped date the presses.

Next summer the second excavation will take place, with the help of students and volunteers. The next step, Mr Pace said, would be to publish the data.

On hearing about this project, which has revealed more about the history of local winemaking, Camilleri Wines wanted to support it through its Mystic Araar, vintage 2007.

For each of the 3,333 limited edition bottles produced, Camilleri Wines will donate €1 to the project, Claudio Camilleri, head of sales and marketing, said.

“Each year we would like to pitch our vintage towards corporate social responsibility and, this year, we’re supporting cultural heritage,” he said.

This is the second time Camilleri wines is producing the Mystic Araar wine.

The brand was launched in 2008 when the first batch of limited edition vintage 2006 wines were handed out to the winery’s clients. The aim was to raise awareness about Malta’s national tree which is in danger of extinction – the Sandarac gum tree, more commonly known as Is-Siġra tal-Għargħar, from where the brand gets its name.

That year the company had committed itself to plant 50 trees for three years.

Mystic Araar vintage 2007 – a blend of Syrah, Tempranillo and Merlot – can be bought for €25 a bottle and comes in a silver tin with an information leaflet about the Mġarr Ix-Xini project.

Original article:

Times of Malta.com

Claudia Calleja


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Topic: Ancient Hunting 

Traces of an ancient caribou hunting ground lie buried beneath Lake Huron, according to archaeologist John O’Shea at the University of Michigan. Modern Siberian herders manage reindeer migration by chopping down trees and laying them on the ground, he noted; the animals instinctively follow these “drive lanes.” O’Shea has found evidence that Paleo-Americans did the same thing thousands of years ago, when the climate around the Great Lakes was similarly Arctic-like.

On land, old drive lanes would be quickly disrupted and become unrecognizable. In the middle of Lake Huron, however, such lanes could have been buried when lake water levels rose rapidly about 7,500 years ago, after the end of the last ice age. Equipped with sonar and remote-operated underwater vehicles, O’Shea and a team of University of Michigan colleagues plunged through the dark waters to look around. They found thousand-foot-long lines of rocks peppered with large boulders, which strongly resemble the drive lanes used by prehistoric hunters in the Canadian Arctic. The rocks have been buried there for more than 7,000 years.

“This has potential to fill an important gap in knowledge of cultural development,” O’Shea says. The discovery also leaves him wondering what other relics lie hidden beneath Lake Huron. “The features are subtle,” he says. “I’m sure people have passed over these areas with sonars running and not recognized them for what they are.” O’Shea plans to send divers back to the 28-square-mile site in pursuit of further evidence, including stone tools and preserved animal remains.

Original Article


Amy Barth

December 17, 2009

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Topic: Ancient Kitchens

In a stone-age version of “Iron Chef,” early humans were dividing their living spaces into kitchens and work areas much earlier than previously thought, a new study found.

So rather than cooking and eating in the same area where they snoozed, early humans demarcated such living quarters.

Archaeologists discovered evidence of this coordinated living at a hominid site at Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel from about 800,000 years ago. Scientists aren’t sure exactly who lived there, but it predates the appearance of modern humans, so it was likely a human ancestor such as Homo erectus.

Yet this advanced organizational skill was thought to be a marker of modern human intelligence. Before now, the only concrete proof for divided living spaces dated back to only 100,000 years ago.

“Seeing this at such an early site was surprising,” said archaeozoologist Rivka Rabinovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “This means there was some ability or some need or requirement of organization.”

Rabinovich and her colleagues, led by Nira Alperson-Afil, also of the University of Jerusalem, published their findings in the Dec. 18 issue of the journal Science.

The researchers excavated the remains of an early human encampment on the shores of an ancient lake. They found used pieces of flint, rock tools, crab shells, fish bones, and bits of fruits, seeds, nuts, bark and wood.

The excavation proved that the hominids living there were hunting not just land mammals, but sea creatures like fish, crabs and turtles. And these remains were not scattered randomly, but instead concentrated in certain areas. The food remains and stone-tool bits were found in one area, while the flint scraps (likely from cooking tools) were clustered in another region.

The scientists think the camp’s hearth was located in the southeast area of the site, and that food-making and eating took place mostly near there. In addition, most of the stone-tool remains — bits of basalt and limestone rocks that had been shaped into usable instruments — were also clustered near the hearth.

In contrast, the northwestern region held most of the flint remains and evidence of fish preparation. The archaeologists think this could have been a working area for the early human inhabitants.

“The designation of different areas for different activities indicates a formalized conceptualization of living space, often considered to reflect sophisticated cognition and thought to be unique to Homo sapiens,” the researchers wrote in the Science paper.

This skill also indicates the inhabitants had some kind of social organization and coordination between individuals.

“It clearly shows that they’re much more advanced than we previously thought,” co-author Irit Zohar of the University of Haifa told LiveScience.

Original Article:

Live Science

By Clara Moskowitz


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Topic: Ancient Foods

It is believed that one of the reasons behind the mighty growth of Inca Empire was the techniques they developed to store and preserve foods. They had storehouse of foods throughout the Empire. Inca had store three to seven years of foods at their state warehouse.

They stored potato and other tubers by setting out them in dry days and cold nights. So the foods became freeze-dried very soon. They also preserved meat. They dried and slated meat and store them in the state warehouse. So these techniques helped them to combats droughts. Even during the droughts they could feed the standing army for years.

  • Vegetables

There was a great variety of vegetables during those days. Since in that period the vast land under Inca was stretched from north to south, they had different climate zones. Also the altitude was different in different zones. Foods that was grown in mountain zone was totally different than the food that was grown in the coastal zone. Potato was one of the main food of Inca. They had several hundreds varieties of potato. I hope you know potato is actually originated from Inca people. They used potato in different dishes, among them stews and soups were very common. Maize was another very popular food during Inca days. Maize was a common food in those days. Oca was also popular. Oca had two types. sweet and bitter. Sweet one was also preserved and used as sweetener, until the arrival of sugar. Ullucu and arracacha, which were similar like carrot was used in soups and stews. Another sweet, starchy root named Achira was used in those days. Usually they baked Achira in earth oven before they took it.

Some verities of seaweed were also popular in Inca days. They eat them either dried it even fresh. Blue algae was eaten raw. It was also processed raw for Storage. It was also used in making dessert in those days.

One of the favorite staple food of Inca people was Amaranth. Now a days it is called kiwicha in the Andes region. Amaranth was also used to make effigies of animals, which Inca used in different religious ceremonies. Afterwords the Spaniards banned Amaranth for this reasons.

In those days Chili peppers were an important part of Inca Cuisine. Aji Amarillo or yellow pepper was the must ingredient for some of the Inca dishes.


Llamas and Alpacas were the main domesticated animals of Inca. Main source of meat for common people was Guinea pigs. Guinea Pigs are known there as Cuy. Guinea pigs were easy to keep and they multiplied rapidly. So Guinea pigs were popular among general people. If you go to Peru, one of the popular menu is Cuy, which is a fried whole Guinea Pig. Llamas and Vicunas had to be less than three years of old, when taken by the Nobles. Emperor and their family consumed wild ducks. Fishes were brought fresh from the coast by runners for Inca Emperor.

  • Fish

Dried fish was one of the mainstays of the Inca army. Also to the people of coastal regions fish was a common diet.  Skates, Limpets, rays, mullets, small sharks and bonito were some of the popular fished consumed by Inca. Penguins, seabirds,  dolphins and sea lions were also in the list of Inca Cuisine. 

  • Drinks

Chicha was the main drink for the people during Inca period. Chicha was made from jora maize. Chicha could be made from other fruits or grains also. Chicha contained less then 3% alcohol and taken in vast quantities through the whole Inca region. During religious festival Chicha was the only drink supplied.

Original Article:



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Topic: Sunflower

“People sometimes ask “What is the big deal about sunflower?” says David Lentz, professor of biological sciences and executive director of the Center for Field Studies in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Cincinnati (UC). Lentz worked with Mary Pohl from Florida State University, José Luis Alvarado from Mexico’s Institute of Anthropology and History, and Robert Bye from the Independent National University of Mexico.

“First of all, sunflower is one of the world’s major oil seed crops and understanding its ancestry is important for modern crop-breeding purposes,” Lentz says. “For a long time, we thought that sunflower was domesticated only in eastern North America, in the middle Mississippi valley — Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois. This is what traditional textbooks say. Now it appears that sunflower was domesticated independently in Mexico.” 

“The Mexican sunflower discovery suggests that there may have been some cultural exchange between eastern North America and Mesoamerica at a very early time,” Lentz adds. “Now the textbooks need to be rewritten.”

More than just a matter of pride over which part of America can claim a flower, the debate centers on when sunflower was domesticated and which civilization first cultivated it. Now there is solid evidence that two similar events took place thousands of years and hundreds of miles apart.

Lentz and his fellow researchers have documented archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic and ethnohistoric data demonstrating that the sunflower had entered the repertoire of Mexican domesticates by 2600 B.C., that its cultivation was widespread in Mexico and extended as far south as El Salvador by the first millennium B.C., that it was well known to the Aztecs, and that it is still in use by traditional Mesoamerican cultures today. (People of the Americas made huge contributions to today’s society in terms of agriculture, including the development of a number of valuable crops such as corn, peppers, beans, cotton, squash, chocolate, tomatoes and avocadoes, as well as sunflower.)

But it is unknown if the Mexican domestication and North American domestication are related. So is it coincidence? Did one cause the other? Or did they both happen because of some other common outside factor?

“Whatever conclusions we draw, the evidence clearly shows that sunflower as a Mexican crop goes back far into antiquity,” says Lentz.

In addition to the biogeographic study of sunflower, the researchers conducted archaeological, linguistic, ethnographic and ethnohistorical research, collecting data from many fields of study.

Archaeological evidence of sunflower in Mexico has been rare, probably for a number of reasons. First, the way it was used may not have been conducive to deposition in archaeological sites. Second, climatic conditions, especially in the Neotropics, have bad properties of preservation for plant parts so most things just rot away. Finally, archaeological research strategies in many areas of Mesoamerica focus more on monumental architecture and less on agricultural developments. That is, you are unlikely to find something if you are not looking for it.

Nevertheless, sunflower achenes (this is what most of us call the seed, but it is actually the fruit of the sunflower, containing the seed) were found in Mexico in situations where the preservation was especially good. Cueva del Gallo was a dry cave and the sunflower achenes there were in pristine condition. San Andrés was a waterlogged site and the sunflower remains from that site were also well preserved. Using accelerator mass spectrometry, the sunflowers at San Andrés were found to be older than 2600 B.C.

The researchers also asked indigenous people in Mexico what terms they used for the sunflower.

“They described how they used sunflower and told us the name in their native language,” says Lentz. “The names they used for sunflower were all unique, not related to Spanish. That tells us the use of sunflower is older than the Spanish expeditions of the 15th and 16th centuries.”  

The Otomi, one of the Mexican indigenous groups interviewed, use the name “dä nukhä,” which translates to “big flower that looks at the sun god,” a reference to pre-Columbian solar worship. The sunflower is commonly still used as an ornament in their churches.

“When asked about sunflowers, people of the Nahua culture in Mexico, descendants of the Aztecs gave us a clue to help interpret early historic texts,” describes Lentz. “The modern Nahua use two words for sunflower: ‘chimalxochitl,’ which means ‘shield flower,’ or ‘chimalacatl,’ which means ‘shield reed,’ which is also a reference to its hollow stem and large,  disk-like head (that resembles an Aztec shield). These terms led us to sunflower references to listed in early chronicles of 16th century Aztec society, including ‘The Florentine Codex,’ written by Fray Bernardino de Sahagun. In the Florentine Codex, the sunflower is described as part of an offering to the Sun God, ‘Huitzilopochtli.'”

The researchers point out, the sunflower’s association with solar worship and warfare in Mexico may have led to its suppression after the Spanish Conquest.

“Sunflower was believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac, which could have also contributed to its being banned by the Spanish priests,” Lentz says with a smile. “Of course, it is not but this belief was probably part of the case against sunflowers.”

“Mesoamerica had a thriving culture, a grand civilization,” Lentz notes. “They had irrigation systems, monumental construction, agriculture and a complex society.

The group’s research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) as “Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) as a Pre-Columbian Domesticate in Mexico” with UC’s David Lentz as lead author and co-authors Mary Pohl from Florida State, José Luis Alvarado from Mexico’s Institute of Anthropology and History and Robert Bye from the Independent National University of Mexico. (Lentz’s student, Somayeh Tarighat, is also a co-author on the paper.)

“The discovery of ancient sunflower in Mexico refines our knowledge of domesticated Mesoamerican plants and adds complexity to our understanding of cultural evolution,” the authors state in the paper.

Lentz’s research on the biogeography of sunflower is also being published at the same time as the cover story for the International Journal of Plant Sciences, “Ecological Niche Modeling and Distribution of Wild Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) in Mexico,” with co-authors Robert Bye and Victor Sánchez-Cordero from the Independent National University of Mexico (UNAM).

“Beyond the recognition of the great cultures due these early peoples, there are very real lessons that we can learn from them. As we deal with our modern-day issues of global warming and as we evaluate and examine what crops will survive and thrive in warmer climates, the ancient Aztecs might have some valuable lessons to teach us — and the descendants of the Aztecs may have valuable sunflower seed stocks to help improve our modern agricultural capability.”

Original article;

University of Cincinnati


Wendy Beckman


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