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Archive for May, 2010

Topic: Milk

The hunter-gatherers who inhabited the southern coast of Scandinavia 4,000 years ago were lactose intolerant. This has been shown by a new study carried out by researchers at Uppsala University and Stockholm University. The study, which has been published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, supports the researchers’ earlier conclusion that today’s Scandinavians are not descended from the Stone Age people in question but from a group that arrived later.

“This group of hunter-gatherers differed significantly from modern Swedes in terms of the DNA sequence that we generally associate with a capacity to digest lactose into adulthood,” says Anna Linderholm, formerly of the Archaeological Research Laboratory, Stockholm University, presently at University College Cork, Ireland.

According to the researchers, two possible explanations exist for the DNA differences.

“One possibility is that these differences are evidence of a powerful selection process, through which the Stone Age hunter-gatherers’ genes were lost due to some significant advantage associated with the capacity to digest milk,” says Anna Linderholm. “The other possibility is that we simply are not descended from this group of Stone Age people.”

The capacity to consume unprocessed milk into adulthood is regarded as having been of great significance for human prehistory.

“This capacity is closely associated with the transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies,” says Anders Götherström of the Department of Evolutionary Biology at Uppsala University.

He serves as coordinator of LeCHE (Lactase persistence and the early Cultural History of Europe), an EU-funded research project focusing on the significance of milk for European prehistory.

“In the present case, we are inclined to believe that the findings are indicative of what we call “gene flow,” in other words, migration to the region at some later time of some new group of people, with whom we are genetically similar,” he says. “This accords with the results of previous studies.”

The researchers’ current work involves investigating the genetic makeup of the earliest agriculturalists in Scandinavia, with an eye to potential answers to questions about our ancestors.

Original article:

 Anders Götherström
04/01/2010

Eurekalert.org

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Topic: Who knew-pickles could do so much?

People have been eating pickles ever since the Mesopotamians started making them way back in 2400 B.C.E. Here are some even more important things you should know about them.

1. In the Pacific Islands, natives pickle their foods in holes in the ground lined with banana leaves, and use them as food reserves in case of storms. The pickles are so valuable that they’ve become part of the courting process, helping a man prove he’ll be able to provide for a woman. In Fiji, guys can’t get a girl without first showing her parents his pickle pits.

2. Cleopatra claimed pickles made her beautiful. (We guess it had more to do with her genes.)

3. The majority of pickle factories in America ferment their pickles in outdoor vats without lids (leaving them subject to insects and bird droppings). But there’s a reason. According to food scientists, the sun’s direct rays prevent yeast and mold from growing in the brine. Mental Floss: 8 disastrous product names

4. In the Delta region of Mississippi, Kool-Aid pickles have become ridiculously popular with kids. The recipe’s simple: take some dill pickles, cut them in half, and then soak them in super strong Kool-Aid for more than a week. According to the New York Times, the sweet vinegar snacks are known to sell out at fairs and delicatessens, and generally go for $.50 to a $1.

5. Not everyone loves a sweet pickle. In America, dill pickles are twice as popular as the sweet variety.

6. The Department of Agriculture estimates that the average American eats 8.5 lbs of pickles a year.

7. When the Philadelphia Eagles thrashed the Dallas Cowboys in sweltering heat in September 2000, many of the players attributed their win to one thing: guzzling down immense quantities of ice-cold pickle juice.8. If it weren’t for pickles, Christopher Columbus might never have “discovered” America. In his famous 1492 voyage, Columbus rationed pickles to his sailors to keep them from getting scurvy. He even grew cucumbers during a pit stop in Haiti to restock for the rest of the voyage.

9. Speaking of people who get credit for discovering America, when he wasn’t drawing maps and trying to steal Columbus’ thunder, Amerigo Vespucci was a well-known pickle-merchant.

10. Napoleon was also a big fan of pickle power. In fact, he put up the equivalent of $250,000 as a prize to whoever could figure out the best way to pickle and preserve foods for his troops.

11. During the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, H. J. Heinz used pick-shaped pins to lure customers to his out of the way booth. By the end of the fair, he’d given out lots of free food, and over 1,000,000 pickle pins.

12. Berrien Springs, Michigan, has dubbed itself the Christmas Pickle Capital of the World. In early December, they host a parade, led by the Grand Dillmeister, who tosses out fresh pickles to parade watchers. 

Original article:

CNN.com 

By Shannon Cothran

08/07/2009

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Topic:Alcohol’s Neolithic Origins

Did our Neolithic ancestors turn to agriculture so that they could be sure of a tipple? US Archaeologist Patrick McGovern thinks so. The expert on identifying traces of alcohol in prehistoric sites reckons the thirst for a brew was enough of an incentive to start growing crops.

It turns out the fall of man probably didn’t begin with an apple. More likely, it was a handful of mushy figs that first led humankind astray.

Here is how the story likely began — a prehistoric human picked up some dropped fruit from the ground and popped it unsuspectingly into his or her mouth. The first effect was nothing more than an agreeably bittersweet flavor spreading across the palate. But as alcohol entered the bloodstream, the brain started sending out a new message — whatever that was, I want more of it!

Humankind’s first encounters with alcohol in the form of fermented fruit probably occurred in just such an accidental fashion. But once they were familiar with the effect, archaeologist Patrick McGovern believes, humans stopped at nothing in their pursuit of frequent intoxication.  

A secure supply of alcohol appears to have been part of the human community’s basic requirements much earlier than was long believed. As early as around 9,000 years ago, long before the invention of the wheel, inhabitants of the Neolithic village Jiahu in China were brewing a type of mead with an alcohol content of 10 percent, McGovern discovered recently.

McGovern analyzed clay shards found during excavations in China’s Yellow River Valley at his Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

The bearded archaeologist is recognized around the world as an expert when it comes to identifying traces of alcoholic drinks on prehistoric finds. He ran so-called liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry on the clay remnants from Asia and found traces of tartaric acid — one of the main acids present in wine — and beeswax in the shards’ pores. It appears that prehistoric humans in China combined fruit and honey into an intoxicating brew.

Clever Survival Strategy

Additionally, plant sterols point to wild rice as an ingredient. Lacking any knowledge of chemistry, prehistoric humans eager for the intoxicating effects of alcohol apparently mixed clumps of rice with saliva in their mouths to break down the starches in the grain and convert them into malt sugar.

These pioneering brewers would then spit the chewed up rice into their brew. Husks and yeasty foam floated on top of the liquid, so they used long straws to drink from narrow necked jugs. Alcohol is still consumed this way in some regions of China.

McGovern sees this early fermentation process as a clever survival strategy. “Consuming high energy sugar and alcohol was a fabulous solution for surviving in a hostile environment with few natural resources,” he explains.

The most recent finds from China are consistent with McGovern’s chain of evidence, which suggests that the craft of making alcohol spread rapidly to various locations around the world during the Neolithic period. Shamans and village alchemists mixed fruit, herbs, spices, and grains together in pots until they formed a drinkable concoction.

But that wasn’t enough for McGovern. He carried the theory much further, aiming at a complete reinterpretation of humanity’s history. His bold thesis, which he lays out in his book “Uncorking the Past. The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverage,” states that agriculture — and with it the entire Neolithic Revolution, which began about 11,000 years ago — are ultimately results of the irrepressible impulse toward drinking and intoxication.

A Hybrid Swill

Archaeologists have long pondered the question of which came first, bread or beer. McGovern surmises that these prehistoric humans didn’t initially have the ability to master the very complicated process of brewing beer. However, they were even more incapable of baking bread, for which wild grains are extremely unsuitable. They would have had first to separate the tiny grains from the chaff, with a yield hardly worth the great effort. If anything, the earliest bakers probably made nothing more than a barely palatable type of rough bread, containing the unwanted addition of the grain’s many husks.

It’s likely, therefore, that early farmers first enriched their diet with a hybrid swill — half fruit wine and half mead — that was actually quite nutritious. Neolithic drinkers were devoted to this precious liquid. At the excavation site of Hajji Firuz Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of northwestern Iran, McGovern discovered prehistoric wine racks used to store airtight carafes. Inhabitants of the village seasoned their alcohol with resin from Atlantic Pistachio trees. This ingredient was said to have healing properties, for example for infections, and was used as an early antibiotic.

The village’s Neolithic residents lived comfortably in spacious mud brick huts, and the archaeologist and his team found remnants of wine vessels in the kitchens of nearly all the dwellings. “Drinking wasn’t just a privilege of the wealthy in the village,” McGovern posits, and he adds that women drank their fair share as well.

A Mysterious Inscription?

In Iran of all countries, where alcohol consumption is now punishable by whipping, the American scientist found vessels containing the first evidence of prehistoric beer. At first he puzzled over the purpose of the bulbous vessels with wide openings found in the prehistoric settlement Godin Tepe. Previously known wine vessels all had smaller spouts.

McGovern was also perplexed by crisscrossed grooves scratched into the bottoms of the containers. Could it be some kind of mysterious inscription?

But back in the laboratory, he isolated calcium oxalate, known to brewers as an unwanted byproduct of beer production. Nowadays, breweries can filter the crystals out of their brew without any difficulty. Their resourceful predecessors, working 3,500 years B.C., scratched grooves into their 50-liter (13-gallon) jugs so that the tiny stones would settle out there. McGovern had discovered humankind’s first beer bottles.

The ancient farmers in Godin Tepe harvested barley from fields near the village and mashed the crop using basalt stone. Then they brewed the ground grain into a considerable range of varieties, enjoying a sweet, caramel-flavored dark beer, an amber-hued lager-like concoction, and other pleasant-tasting beverages.

Around the same time, the Sumerians were paying homage to their fertility goddess Nin-Harra, whom they considered to be the inventor of beer. The creators of Mesopotamian civilization scratched instructions for brewing beer onto small clay tablets in Nin-Harra’s honor. The main ingredient in their variety of beer was emmer, a variety of wheat that has since nearly disappeared.

Thus the human project that started with the first hominids to stumble around under fruit trees reached completion with these prehistoric beer drinkers. “Moderate alcohol consumption was advantageous for our early ancestors,” McGovern speculates, “and they adapted to it biologically.”

It is a legacy that still burdens humankind today. The archaeologist, however, sees himself as reasonably balanced in this respect. Ancestors on one side of his family, the McGoverns, opened the very first bar in their hometown of Mitchell, South Dakota. On the other side, however, an especially puritanical branch of the family originated from Norway and strictly avoided alcohol consumption.

Original article

Spiegel Online

12.24/2009

By Frank Thadeusz

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Topic: Will men never learn

My thoughts;

There is much in our society that woman were the first to do including making the staples of existence-bread and beer. 

Let’s give credit where it is due-to woman! 

One of man’s great pleasures might be a pint of beer at the local – but an expert has claimed it would never have existed without the entrepreneurial skills of women.

Jane Peyton, 48, an author, said women created beer and for thousands of years it was only they who were allowed to operate breweries and drink beer.

The drink is now almost exclusively marketed to men – with television characters such as Homer Simpson the epitome of the beer-loving male.

Miss Peyton has conducted extensive research into the origins of beer for a new book and reports that a woman’s touch was found on beer throughout the ages.

Nearly 7,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Sumeria, so important were their skills that they were the only ones allowed to brew the drink or run any taverns.

And in almost all ancient societies beer was also then considered to be a gift from a goddess, never a male God.

Between the eighth and tenth centuries AD the Vikings spread terror by rampaging through Europe, fuelled by women-made ale.

Women were the exclusive brewers in Norse society and all equipment by law remained their property.

And Ancient Finland also credits the creation of beer to the fairer sex, with three women, a bear’s saliva and wild honey the apparent first ingredients.

In England ale was traditionally made in the home by women. They were known as brewsters or ale-wives and the sale of the drink provided a valuable income for many households.

It quickly became an essential staple of the diet and even royalty indulged in the tasty beverage.

Queen Elizabeth I, like most people of the era, consumed it for breakfast and at other times of the day.

But by the start of the late 18th century and the Industrial Revolution, new methods of making beer meant women’s contribution slowly started to decline and be forgotten, until now.

Miss Peyton said: “I know men will be absolutely stunned to find this out, but they’ve got women to thank for beer.”

Original Article:

Telegraph.co.uk

Nick Britten

3/30/2010

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Topic: Charred plants-Neolithic period

Ancient houses unearthed in SyriaTal Bokrous is a sample of the first agricultural village built according to the architectural style of the Stone Age in Deir Ezzor, (432 kms northeast of Damascus, Syria).

The site is the only archaeological discovery at the Middle Euphrates Region which belongs to the booming phase of the Neolithic era.

The Neolithic era (New Stone Age), was a period in the development of human technology, begining about 9500 BC in the Middle East that is traditionally considered the last part of the Stone Age.

The adjacent houses built along the two sides of the village yard show the greatness of the architectural style at that period.

Archaeologist Yarub al-Abdullah said “The number of the unearthed houses has amounted to 188, each house includes three rooms built of dry brick while the floors and walls were painted with mud or plaster.”

Some walls were decorated with colorful paintings representing ducks and goose, he added.

The remains of charred plants were found at plaster-made louvers as a farming community used to live there depending on agriculture and keeping livestock.

Studies showed that barley used to grow naturally at the site, after that the local inhabitants developed agriculture and started to sow grain and lentils.

Handicrafts mainly depended on the available raw materials such as alabaster and obsidian stones.

Many stone-made needles, drills, sculptures and utensils were unearthed at the site.

Tow sculptures of naked women and a man’s head made of baked mud were the most important discoveries at the site.

The archeological findings fill an important gap in our understanding of the Middle Euphrates Region which mainly depended on agriculture.(SANA)

Original Article:

GlobalArabNetwork
By Ruaa Al-Jazaeri

3/26/2010

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Topic: Man’s Early Diet

Image of what Lucy might have looked like

Peter Ungar, professor of anthropology, will present their findings on Oct. 20 during a presentation at the Royal Society in London, England, as part of a discussion meeting about the first 4 million years of .

“The Lucy species is among the first hominids to show thickened enamel and flattened teeth,” an indication that hard, or abrasive foods such as nuts, seeds and tubers, might be on the menu, Ungar said. However, the microwear texture analysis indicates that tough objects, such as grass and leaves, dominated Lucy’s diet.

“This challenges long-held assumptions and leads us to questions that must be addressed using other techniques,” Ungar said. Researchers thought that with the development of thick enamel, robust skulls and large chewing muscles, these species had evolved to eat hard, brittle foods. However, the microwear texture analysis shows that these individuals were not eating such foods toward the end of their lives.

The researchers used a combination of a scanning confocal microscope, and scale-sensitive fractal analysis to create a microwear texture analysis of the molars from 19 specimens of A. afarensis, the Lucy species, which lived between 3.9 and 2.9 million years ago, and three specimens from A. anamensis, which lived between 4.1 and 3.9 million years ago. They looked at complexity and directionality of wear textures in the teeth they examined. Since food interacts with teeth, it leaves behind telltale signs that can be measured. Hard, brittle foods like nuts and seeds tend to lead to more complex tooth profiles, while tough foods like leaves generally lead to more parallel scratches, which corresponds with directionality.

“The long-held assumption was that with the development of thick enamel, robust skulls and larger chewing muscles marked the beginning of a shift towards hard, brittle foods, such as nuts, seeds and tubers,” Ungar said. “The Lucy species and the species that came before it did not show the predicted trajectory.”

Next they compared the microwear profiles of these two species with microwear profiles from Paranthropus boisei, known as Nutcracker Man that lived between 2.3 and 1.2 million years ago, P. robustus, which lived between 2 million and 1.5 million years ago, and Australopithecus africanus, which lived between about 3 million and 2.3 million years ago. They also compared the microwear profiles of the ancient hominids to those of modern-day primates that eat different types of diets.

The researchers discovered that microwear profiles of the three east African species, A. afarensis, A. anamensis and P. boisei, differed substantially from the two south African species, P. robustus and A. africanus, both of which showed evidence of diets consisting of hard and brittle food.

“There are huge differences in size of and shape of teeth between the species in eastern Africa, but not in their microwear,” Ungar said. “This opens a whole new set of questions.”

Ungar’s colleagues include Robert S. Scott, assistant professor of anthropology at Rutgers University; Frederick E. Grine, professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University; and Mark F. Teaford, professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University.

Original article

PHYSORG.com

10/22/209

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