Archive for May, 2010

Topic: Farming and Trade Relations

Blanche DuBois, Tennessee Williams’ wide-eyed protagonist who relied on “the kindness of strangers,” had nothing on ancient farmers.

In rapidly expanding settlements, early cultivators had no choice but to bargain for daily goods with lots of folks they didn’t know. A fundamental redefinition of a fair deal soon followed, according to a new cross-cultural study.

Around 10,000 years ago, residents of large farming communities had to learn to make fair exchanges with strangers and to retaliate against selfish exploiters, researchers propose in the March 19 Science.

Before the rise of modern agriculture and resulting trade, the researchers contend, people rarely had to behave this way with strangers. During Stone Age days, members of small hunter-gatherer groups exchanged favors only with those they knew.

“Cultural and institutional evolution harnessed and extended our evolved psychology so that we could cooperate and exchange goods in vast communities,” says anthropologist and study director Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

To arrive at this conclusion, the team set up money-swapping games played by people from small societies around the world — farmers, hunter-gatherers, seaside foragers, livestock herders, and wage laborers — and looked at how each group divvied up resources.

Participants who regularly have to deal with outsiders treated strangers more fairly, sharing a pool of money or valuables more equally, the team found.

Game players’ willingness to split up resources fairly with an unknown partner rose sharply with their “market integration,” or the extent that they lived in communities with market economies. The researchers measured market integration by calculating the degree to which families purchased food, rather than hunting or growing it.

Fair play also rose substantially among volunteers who subscribed to Christianity or Islam, as opposed to local religions. Large-scale religions with strict moral codes galvanize a “golden rule” approach to social exchanges, the researchers propose. Supernatural threats, such as the prospect of spending eternity in hell, and community-building rituals jointly promote fairness toward strangers, in their view.

In addition, participants from the largest communities were most likely to punish players whom they regarded as offering unfair deals. That meant canceling the deal and getting nothing or paying part of one’s own pool of money to cause an even bigger loss for the unfair player.

That’s not good news for traditional economic theories that regard self-interest as the engine of commerce. If those theories are right, players should take whatever someone else gives them, because that’s better than nothing.

Neither do the new results bode well for evolutionary psychologists who argue that people in small Stone Age groups evolved brain circuits for kin favoritism, tit-for-tat exchanges and protecting one’s own reputation. In their view, these biologically ingrained social tactics now often lead people astray, Blanche Dubois–style, by inducing excessive trust in strangers.

“This new study powerfully challenges the view in evolutionary psychology that cultural inventions during the last 10,000 years are irrelevant to human cooperation,” remarks economist Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich.

Market economies didn’t exist during the Stone Age, Fehr notes. But Henrich’s study indicates that the relatively recent expansion of market economies inspired a growing concern for dealing fairly with strangers, he says. People living in communities most like those of Stone Age hunter-gatherers — small in numbers and lacking a “moralizing god” — made the most unfair offers to strangers and were least likely to punish stingy partners. Reputation concerns and a focus on give-and-take exchanges can’t explain such behaviors, Fehr asserts.

Henrich’s data suggest that modern economic development has prompted people to find new ways to be selfish within vast markets, comments economist Karla Hoff of the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

Henrich’s new data build on a previous study of fair play in 15 small-scale societies (SN: 2/16/02, p. 104). In each group, a person given a chunk of money or other valuable stuff tended to offer a substantial, but highly variable, share to an anonymous partner. Partners often rejected offers deemed to be too low, resulting in both parties getting nothing.

In the new study, three economic games were played by 2,148 volunteers from 15 small-scale populations, including five communities from the earlier project. Community sizes ranged from 20 to 4,600 people.

One game allotted an amount of money, set at one day’s local wage, to a pair of players who could not see each other. One player decided how much to keep and how much to give to the other player. This provided a basic measure of fair play toward strangers.

A second game worked in much the same way. But the receiving player first decided the amount that he or she considered a minimum acceptable offer. If that minimum was met, the deal went through. If not, both players got nothing.

A third game was similarly framed, but also provided one-half day’s local wage to a third person who observed the action. The observer first determined the amount of a minimum acceptable offer between the other players. If the offer fell short, the observer forked over 20 percent of his or her pot and the offending player lost triple that amount.

Going from a fully subsistence-based society with a local religion to a fully market-based society grounded in Christianity or Islam led to increases in amounts offered by players of about 23 percent in the first game, 20 percent in the second game and 11 percent in the third game.

Original Article:


By Bruce Bower



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Topic-Milk is the ticket!

Glass of Milk

The Romans, as Monty Python famously acknowledged, have done many things for us. Contrary to popular wisdom, however, improving our diet was not one of them.

A study of the remains of almost 20,000 people dating from the 8th century BC to the 18th century AD has found that the Roman empire reduced our level of nutrition, which increased again in the “dark ages”.

That is because the key factor in determining average height over the centuries – an indicator of nutritional status and wellbeing – has been an increase in milk consumption due to improved farming. Higher population densities and the need to feed the army during Roman times may have worked against this.

The “anthropometric” approach pursued by Nikola Koepke of Oxford University, which combines biology and archaeology, suggests longer bone length is indicative of improved diet. Koepke’s study, presented at the Economic History Society’s 2010 annual conference, also challenges assumptions about the effect of the industrial revolution. Urbanisation did not improve wellbeing, she argues, at least as measured by height.

Rather, Koepke says, the key factor in determining average height growth over the past 2,500 years has been the increased consumption of milk as a result of the spread of, and improvements in, farming. She found that overall European living conditions improved slightly in the past 2,500 years even in the centuries prior to the industrial revolution.

Her study is based on data compiled from analysing the skeletal remains of more than 18,500 individuals of both genders from all social classes, from 484 European archaeological dig sites. “Higher milk consumption as indicated by cattle share had a positive impact on mean height,” Koepke writes. “Correspondingly, this determinant is the key factor in causing significant European regional differences in mean height.”

Original article

By Jamie Doward



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Topic: Ancient Framing sites in Syria

Farming site in Syria 10th Millennium BC


Excavations began in the various archaeological sites that once housed farming communities, including Tel al-Abar 3 sites on the left bank of the Euphrates River (northern Syria) which dates back to the 10th millennium BC.

Assistant Director of the Syrian Department of Archaeology and Museums Thaer Yerte said excavations at the site revealed information about the communities that settled on the banks of the Euphrates, uncovering two different areas that include three communal buildings and dozens of circular houses built from limestone and paved with pebbles from the river.

The structures contained various flint tools such as blades, knives, sickles, arrow tips and hatchets, tools used for leatherwork and crafting straw mats, stone mills and pestles, pottery fragments and animal bones and horns, Yerte added.

He pointed out that the first communal building in the site contains a circular hole in the ground 15 meters deep with a diameter of 12 meters, with a clay terrace inside the building containing limestone blocks decorated with engravings of animals, geometrical shapes and the sun. The floor is made of clay tiles painted with lime, while the ceiling is supported by wooden pillars.

The second communal building is circular with a diameter of 7 meters, consisting of five chambers with a square stone support pillar in its center. It contained flint and stone tools, stone pottery, a flint figurine representing a mother goddess, a clay figurine representing a half-human half-animal creature, and ox horns.

The findings indicate that the two communal buildings had a social and ritualistic role, Yerte noted.

He also said that site plays an important role in answering questions regarding the emergence of farming in ancient times, as it clearly shows the characteristics of an organized village with a multitude of structures serving various purposes where people practiced farming, hunting and the manufacture of flint and stone tools.

Original article:


By H Sabbagh

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Grapes from a vineyard in Leeds

Topic: Ancient Roman Wine Guide in Britian


Aerial photography, remote sensing, and large-scale excavation have revealed the remains of Romano-British vineyards in eastern and southeastern England, suggesting that the island produced its own wine 1,600 years ago. To date, a team led by Ian Meadows of Northamptonshire County Council and Tony Brown of Exeter University’s School of Geography and Archaeology has identified the remains of seven vineyards–one in Cambridgeshire, one in Lincolnshire, one in Buckinghamshire, and four in Northamptonshire.

“It is clear that the Romans concentrated their wine-making efforts in Northamptonshire’s Nene Valley, near the village of Wollaston,” says Brown, “where we found ancient vineyards covering nearly 30 acres.” In Roman times, Britain had a slightly warmer climate than it has today. With 19 to 24 inches of annual rainfall, the Northamptonshire region was at the low end of the British precipitation range, which would have posed few fungal problems. The area’s rich, limy soils also made it ideal for grape production.

At one Northamptonshire site, the team documented remains of nearly four miles of bedding trenches that they estimate could have supported some 4,000 vines, the fruits of which would have yielded more than 2,600 gallons of wine a year. According to Meadows and Brown, the grapes were grown in the Mediterranean Roman style, that is between parallel sets of poles, a manner that has been described in detail by classical authors such as Pliny the Elder and Columella.

Most of the wines the Romans produced were probably fruity, sweet, and brownish in color. The grapes would have been harvested early, before they were fully ripe, around late September. After pressing, large amounts of honey would have been added to the wine for both sweetness and to raise the alcohol content to ten or 12 percent. The wine would then have been placed in amphoras or barrels to ferment for about six months, ready for enjoyment in late winter or early spring.

Original article:


by Angela M.H. Schuster

March/April 2000

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Topic: Ancient Champagne

My thoughts:

I have other examples of wine presses on previous posts.

Wine press from france

Ancient Romans were the first makers of “bubbly,” not the French, says viticulturist Mario Fregoni of Catholic University in Piacenza. According to Fregoni, the ancient authors Virgil, Lucan, and Propertius describe in detail how the Romans fermented grapes twice to produce a fizz, the starting point for making champagne, 2,000 years ago. Champagne, he argues, was simply not invented by Dom Perignon, a seventeenth-century monk, as the French would have you believe.

Scholars have known that sparkling wine was enjoyed in ancient Rome; Lucan, writing in the first-century A.D., tells of it being served by Julius Caesar at a banquet in honor of Cleopatra. During such festive occasions, sparkling wines were not diluted as was the custom with ordinary wine. Until now, however, it was assumed that the wine’s effervescence was produced by natural fermentation, perhaps as a result of poor storage.

“Lucan,” says Fregoni, “described how winemakers in the region of Falernum, produced a sweet, sparkling wine by adding must pressed from withered Ethiopian grapes.” The wine was then sealed in terra-cotta amphoras and stored underground, often close to streams of cold water. A similar wine was later produced in Provence when the area was under Roman rule. Roman sparkling wine was somewhat different from that made today, with a higher alcoholic content and lower acidity.

Original Article:


By Angela M.H. Schuster

2000-July/August issue-

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Topic: More on the Last Supper

My Thoughts:

Why leavened bread? As far as I know unleavened bread was the subject of the Exodus and the fast departure of the Jews from Egypt but nothing that I have read has said anything about unleavened bread being the only kind the Israelites could eat. Once they were settled they could have recaptured wild yeast to leaven their bread, and remember Da Vinci himself would have been eating bread that was leavened. Salt too was and will continue to be an important item as the book I’m currently reading makes clear. Salt, A World History by Mark Kurlansky is a good read and I highly recommend it. The fish in the painting was a staple and perhaps it to was salted. Wine is a bit ciourse perhaps as is the citrus. Beer would have been a mor common drink but seeing the occasion was a special one, wine can be explained. I would have to know which kind of citrus-because many come from the new world.

Universite de Montreal researchers decode food served in legendary painting

Montreal, March 30, 2010 – The Last Supper – relentlessly studied, scrutinized, satirized and one the world’s most famous paintings – is still revealing secrets. Researchers Olivier Bauer, Nancy Labonté, Jonas Saint-Martin and Sébastien Fillion of the Université de Montréal Faculty of Theology have found new meaning to the food depicted by Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous artwork.

“We asked ourselves why Da Vinci chose those particular foods, because they don’t correspond to what the Evangelists described,” says Bauer. “Why bread, fish, salt, citrus and wine? Why is the saltshaker tipped over in front of Judas? Why is the bread leavened?”

The four researchers don’t buy into the farfetched hypotheses introduced by Dan Brown in his best-selling book, The Da Vinci Code, yet they agree the artist included symbols and commentary in his depiction. He purposely attempted to confuse and fool the observer with contradictory symbols and double-meanings.

For instance, a fallen saltshaker is traditionally a sign of bad luck. The researchers question if instead of indicating the mischief of Judas, the fallen saltshaker could suggest his rehabilitation. He could have been chosen to play the role of the traitor. And why is he the only one with an empty plate? It could mean he is full and mischievous or that he is the only one who isn’t fooled?

The fish has also been the topic of several studies. It is clearly a reminder that Jesus spent most of his life around Lake Tiberias and that he selected his Apostles among local fishermen. Yet it isn’t clear whether the fish is herring or eel. Some argue Da Vinci was deliberately ambiguous about the species of fish. Eel in Italian is aringa, although when it is spelled arringa it means indoctrination. And herring in northern Italy is renga, meaning he who denies religion.

The painting continues to fascinate and mystify. Its restoration, which took place between 1979 and 1999, has brought to light new details that along with new technology has spurred a new wave of research and interpretation of one of the world’s most famous artworks.

Original Article:



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Topic: One Subject Two views-Last Supper


ITHACA, NY. Were the twelve apostles guilty of overeating at the Last Supper? Two brothers—an eating behavior expert and a religious studies scholar—are publishing findings that might make you think twice at your Easter dinner.

Brian and Craig Wansink teamed up to analyze the amount of food depicted in 52 of the best-known paintings of the Last Supper. After indexing the sizes of the foods by the sizes of the average disciple’s head, they found that portion size, plate size, and bread size increased dramatically over the last one thousand years. Overall, the main courses depicted in the paintings grew by 69%, plate size by 66%, and bread size by 23%.

The study’s findings will be published in the April 2010 issue of the International Journal of Obesity and released in the online version of the journal on Tuesday, March 23.

“I think people assume that increased serving sizes, or ‘portion distortion,’ is a recent phenomenon,” said Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “But this research indicates that it’s a general trend for at least the last millennium.”

“As the most famously depicted dinner of all time, the Last Supper is ideally suited for review,” said Craig Wansink, professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College.

“The method we used created a natural crossroads between our two divergent fields and a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with my brother,” he added.

Portion size and spatial relationships are familiar topics in Brian Wansink’s work in food and eating behavior. In his book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, he explores the hidden cues that determine what, when, and how much we eat.

Original article



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