Archive for October, 2010

Topic:Hunter-gatherers on Ancient Cyprus

Cornell archaeologists are helping to rewrite the early prehistory of human civilization on Cyprus, with evidence that hunter-gatherers began to form agricultural settlements on the island half a millennium earlier than previously believed.

Beginning with pedestrian surveys of promising sites in 2005, students have assisted with fieldwork on Cyprus led by professor of classics Sturt Manning, director of Cornell’s archaeology program. The project, Elaborating the Early Neolithic on Cyprus (EENC), has involved undergraduate and graduate students from Cornell, the University of Toronto and the University of Cyprus.

Their findings were published recently in the leading archaeological journal Antiquity, after being reported to Cyprus’ Department of Antiquities and presented at an annual archaeological conference there.

“Up until two decades ago, nobody thought anybody had gone to Cyprus before about 8,000 years ago, and the island was treated as irrelevant to the development of the Neolithic in the Near East,” Manning said. “Then Alan Simmons (now at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas) discovered a couple of sites that seemed to suggest Epipaleolithic peoples went there maybe about 12,000 or 13,000 years ago, much earlier than anyone had thought possible. The big question started to become in the field, well, what happened in between?”

Subsequent finds pushed the Neolithic evidence on Cyprus back to around 10,000 years ago, but “no one has been able to fill in a 2,000-year gap between this possible first evidence of humans ever going near the island and apparent evidence of proper settlement and farming and agriculture,” Manning said.

Based on their survey work since 2006, Manning and colleagues focused efforts on a potentially very early Neolithic site in central Cyprus at Ayia Varvara Asprokremnos (AVA).

“We found this site by doing the opposite of the normal strategy — people had been looking around the coast,” Manning said. “The coast around 11,000 years ago basically is now 50 to a couple hundred meters offshore from the present coastline, because sea level has risen. We [said we] should go inland, and look at the type of place that a hunter-gatherer on the island might try to be a hunter-gatherer or an incipient agriculturalist.”

The AVA site “had early Holocene soils, was near the key resources for a human population about 11,000 years ago, and [our surveys] produced lots of evidence of stone tool production,” he said. “It was right in the bend of the only permanent river in this whole area of Cyprus, so it seemed to be a perfect strategic spot for an early hunter-gatherer.”

There was chert nearby to make stone tools, and hand augur tests found intact soil samples and a single small lithic flake “we thought to be of the right technology to be very early in date,” Manning said.

During seasons of fieldwork in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the team excavated several hundred square meters of the site, and intensively surveyed the surrounding area. Six different charcoal samples from the excavations were carbon-dated and securely estimated to be from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period, the initial phase of the Near Eastern Neolithic — “the very origins of the agricultural revolution,” Manning said.

“The dates came out to be almost 11,000 years old from today, so we’re talking the earlier ninth millennium B.C. … which puts them around half a millennium earlier than any other Neolithic that’s ever been recognized or claimed and dated on the island of Cyprus,” he said. “More dramatically, these dates mean that Cyprus, an island tens of miles off the Levantine coast, was involved in the very early Neolithic world, and thus long-distance sea travel and maritime communication must now be actively factored into discussions of how the Neolithic developed and spread.”

Manning terms the results “part of a field reassessment — these findings, Cyprus and the maritime component to the development of the Neolithic will now all have to be part of the conversation. These and other findings may change how prehistory is taught at universities and colleges.”

The fieldwork and carbon dating were supported by the Department of Classics and the Provost’s Special Research Fund.

Original article:



Cornell University


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Topic Eikorn Wheat



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The wild progenitor of einkorn wheat, one of the first crops to be domesticated (ca. 9000 B.C.), has been identified genetically in southeastern Turkey, according to a report in the journal Science. Manfred Heun of the Agricultural University of Norway, along with Norwegian, German, and Italian colleagues, examined the DNA of 68 lines of cultivated einkorn (Triticum monococcum monococcum), 194 lines of wild einkorn (T. m. boeoticum) from nine geographical regions within the Fertile Crescent, and nine lines of a weedy einkorn (T. m. aegilopoides) found in the Balkans.

Cultivated einkorns proved closely related to one another and to weedy einkorn. Significantly, both cultivated and weedy varieties are closely related to wild einkorn found in one region, the Karacadag Mountains of southeastern Turkey. The wild einkorn from that area proved to be distinct from other wild types and may be the forebear of the domestic variety.

Eleven of 19 lines of wild einkorn from the Karacadag Mountains are particularly close to cultivated einkorn but have clear wild characteristics, including a brittle stalk yielding a few small grains. In cultivated einkorn the stalk is tougher (which makes the grain easier to harvest), and the seeds are larger and more numerous. The weedy einkorn, closely related to both wild and cultivated types, appears to be an intermediate form with some characteristics of cultivation (the stem is somewhat tougher than in wild plants, the seeds are intermediate in weight, and there are comparable numbers of seeds as in cultivated plants).

Wild or cultivated einkorn grains have been found at several early Neolithic sites in Turkey near the Karacadag Mountains, including Cafer Höyük, Cayönü, and Nevali Cori. Wild and cultivated seeds have also been found at Abu Hureya to the south in Syria.

Original article:

by Mark Rose 1998


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Topic:  New discoveries in Ancient Roman Tomb

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UBC archaeologists have made several important new discoveries since unearthing in 2008 a tomb at Kaukana, an ancient Roman and Byzantine village on the south coast of Sicily.

Professor Roger Wilson, Head of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies at UBC, returned to the site in 2009 to direct his students in the successful excavation of a house in this settlement, where a substantial tomb was discovered unexpectedly inside one room. Normally burials are found at this period in the village cemetery on the outskirts, or else around the village church, so the location of the tomb is a puzzle. Inside they had found two skeletons – one of a woman aged about 25, and the other that of a young child.

DNA testing in 2009/10 has now confirmed that the woman and child belong to the same family, and the child has been identified, also through her DNA, as a little girl, about four years old: they were clearly mother and daughter. From the way in which her bones were arranged, it is clear the child was placed in the tomb sometime after the mother had been buried. But the discoveries have now got even more interesting. The mother is now known to have been approximately 30 weeks pregnant (some bones of her foetus survived), and periodic feasting occurred at her graveside: not only were dining plates, amphorae for wine and oil, and cooking pots found alongside the tomb, but also ovens where the food they ate was cooked. Preliminary analysis of carbonized seeds shows that one meal consisted of wheat, barley, millet, peas, eggs and lentils. There was even a bench provided for the diners, and a low table. One of the amphorae had brought wine all the way from Egypt, and a clay lamp of about 550 CE, imported from Tunisia, is thought to show the earliest depiction of a backgammon board ever found. It is known that this game (a descendant of earlier Roman games) was being played by Roman emperors in the fifth century CE. Clearly the woman, whose tomb had a hole in the lid to take libations of wine, was a much-loved person, given the attention paid to her burial and the evidence of ritual feasting in her honour. The team now also knows, from the discovery of an inscription in 2009, that she was definitely a Christian, since a tomb slab was inscribed ‘holy, holy, holy’, an allusion to part of the early Christian liturgy.

But why was she so honoured, and why here inside a home within the settlement, and not at the cemetery or church? One discovery of 2009 was that she possessed a tiny hole in her skull, a natural defect which she had had from birth, with the result that the lining of the brain, the meninges, would have protruded from it. The condition, known as meningocoele, would have given her constant headaches and a tendency to suffer from periodic seizures. Perhaps her miraculous powers of recovery on such occasions, apparently coming back from the ‘dead’, meant that she was seen by some as a holy woman, possibly one possessing special mystical powers. Perhaps she was rejected by her local church as being too scary, given her disabilities – one revered by some but feared by others. Or did she belong to a different, non-catholic Christian sect? The cause of her death is unknown, but it might have been due to complications which arose during her pregnancy. Even if questions surrounding this discovery abound, one thing is certain. The woman remained as remarkable in death as she was once in life.

Professor Wilson and his team, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, will return to Kaukana this summer in an attempt to solve some of the riddles and make other discoveries in the house where the tomb was found. Meanwhile lab work in the new facilities of UBC’s Laboratory of Archaeology at the Museum of Anthropology will continue to find out more about the woman and her condition. Late Roman and early Byzantine life in Italy holds a fascination not only for Italians but for historians, archaeologists and scientists worldwide.

“Archaeology is about the painstaking recording of objects and structures, yes,” said Wilson, “but above all it is about people. At Kaukana we have been fortunate to recover part of the particularly poignant life-story of one young woman, and of her little daughter, who lived and died some 1400 years ago”.

Original Article:

University of British Columbia


 By: Loren Plottel

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Topic: More on cattails

Human ancestors may have ground flour from cattails, evidence suggests.

Evidence suggests that human ancestors made bread and soups from cattail flour 30,000 years ago.

Dirty “kitchen” tools reveal that cavemen were grinding their own flour and preparing vegetables for meals at least 30,000 years ago, according to new research.

The discoveries represent the oldest evidence for flour preparation and plant food processing. Since the techniques were already well established during the Mid-Upper Paleolithic Period, it’s likely that modern humans, and possibly even Neanderthals, incorporated far more plant products into their diets than presently believed.

Cavemen were apparently expert cooks too, so enjoyment of tasty prepared food is not unique to modern times. It also boosted the diners’ health.

“Cooking enhances digestibility and also the taste of starch is improved by cooking,” lead author Anna Revedin explained to Discovery News, adding that it also helped to fuel the active lifestyle of hunter-gatherers.

“We are quite convinced that flour enhanced their mobility capacity, since it ensured a good source of energetic food during their travels,” explained Revedin, a researcher in the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory.

She and her colleagues analyzed mortar and pestle-type stones that were found at three sites: Bilancino II in the Megello Valley of Italy, Kostenki 16 at Pokrovsky Valley, Russia; and Pavlov VI in southern Moravia, Czech Republic. Since modern humans as well as Neanderthals inhabited these regions, the researchers think it’s possible that either or both groups had cooking know-how.

The food preparation tools were found to contain the remains of starch grains from various wild plants, including cattail rhizomes, cattail leaves, moonworts, the ternate grapefern, lady’s mantle, burdock, lettuce roots, rye, burr chervil root, parts of edible grasses, edible seeds and more.

Flour made from cattails — which tastes a bit like the plant’s distant cousin, corn — seems to have been particularly popular.

“Our experiments suggest that it is possible to mix this flour with water to obtain a sort of flat bread cooked on hot stones,” Revedin said. “It is also possible that the flour was used in a mixed soup.”

She explained that flour would have increased the “nutritional power” of basic meals common to nomadic populations.

Virtually all of the discovered cattails and ferns are rich in starch and, as such, represent significant sources of carbohydrates and energy, according to Revedin and her team. The foods were chosen, they believe, due to the plants’ proximity to campsites, their prevalence, their size and their appearance, with the latter referring to foods that must have been favored due to years of tried and true eating experience.

These foods aren’t on most menus today, she said, since they don’t grow easily as crops, and are probably less productive than more common counterparts, such as cereals.

The team published their work in this week’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Erik Trinkaus, a professor of physical anthropology at Washington University, told Discovery News that the people at that time, likely members of the Gravettian culture, were “very effective at exploiting lots of resources, making the oldest textiles, having elaborate burials and clothing, and producing a variety of forms of art.”

Archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University said the described method of making flour is similar to what Australian Aborigines and early Israelis did, with evidence for their plant food processing dating to later times. He also does not rule out that Neanderthals prepared flour and cooked with veggies too.

Bar-Yosef hopes archaeologists will now pay more attention to residues embedded in grinding slabs.

“It will help us to create a balanced view of Paleolithic diets of prehistoric humans,” he said. “This may have an impact on suggestions made by nutritionists concerning a meat rich diet as a way for prolonging healthy life.”

Original article:


By Jennifer Viegas
Mon Oct 18, 2010

Photo by Anna Revedin

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Topic: Cattail Flour

I found two articles on this, very similar but both worth reading so I’ll post the other on Friday. in the meantime I have to wonder if the plant material found on the tools ( such as the cattail) could have been made into a porriage in the begining before being ground into flour as was the case with wheat and barley.  Lets hear it for dirty dishes, without which we would never have found out what outer plants early man made into flour for bread. do you think there may have been beer from the cattail as well? It’s something to think about!

grinding tools used to make flour from cattails and ferns

Starch residues on stone tools suggest early humans ate a balanced diet.

Once thought of as near total carnivores, early humans ate ground flour 20,000 years before the dawn of agriculture. Flour residues recovered from 30,000-year-old grinding stones found in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic point to widespread processing and consumption of plant grain, according to a paper published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1.

“It’s another nail in the coffin of the idea that hunter–gatherers didn’t use plants for food,” says Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study. Work in recent years has also uncovered a handful of Stone Age sites in the Near East with evidence for plant-eating.

The meat-centric view of early modern humans stems partly from the fact that meat-eating leaves a more indelible mark in the archaeological record than omnivory, says Laura Longo, an archaeologist at the University of Siena in Italy and an author on the paper.

Stone blades used for hunting and animal bones bearing cut-marks are common finds, whereas plants leave few relics. Complicating matters, archaeologists typically washed the grinding tools used to process plants, removing any preserved plant matter, says Longo.

Early omnivores

Beginning in the early 2000s, Longo and her colleagues started analysing unwashed stone tools from a 28,000-year-old human settlement in central Italy called Bilancino. Patterns of wear on the sandstone tools suggest that they were used for grinding, like a mortar and pestle. The stones were also coated with several kinds of microscopic starch grains. Longo and her colleagues identified the grains based on their shape as belonging to the root of a species of cattail and the grains of a grass called Brachypodium.

The researchers also found grinding tools coated with cattail and fern residues at human sites in southern Moravia in the Czech Republic and south of Moscow, all dated to roughly 30,000 years old.

Unlike Neolithic humans, who domesticated and cultivated grains such as wheat and barley, these hunter–gatherers relied on wild vegetation. However, many of the plants found by Longo and her team were widely distributed, offering a reliable, even nutritious source of food, she says. For example, once ground and cooked, the cattail grains contain nearly as much energy as domesticated cereals, the researchers calculate.

Bar-Yosef says that the study proves that flour-making was common to early modern humans. “I’m pretty sure that you’re going to have many more cases where there is evidence for the use of plants by humans.”

Bruce Hardy, a paleoanthropologist at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, expects that flour-making dates back even further than 30,000 years. “This is not isolated to a small group of people. It’s a regular part of subsistence for humans,” he says.

After all, humans, ancient or modern, just aren’t equipped to live on a diet of meat alone. “If you get that much meat in your diet not balanced out with other nutrients, you get protein poisoning,” says Hardy. 

Original article:


by Ellen Callaway


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Topic: Prehistoric home in England

Prehistoric home in England-6,000 years before stonehenge

It will be very interesting to follow this excavation and find out if archeologists locate food stores in the house and just what was left behind.

 Archaeologists have uncovered the site of Britain’s oldest house, the waterside home of nomad hunters dating back about 11,000 years.

The dwelling, which has lake views, a thatched roof and very original features, predates the country’s famous Stonehenge monument by around 6,000 years and was built at a time when Britain was still connected to continental Europe.

Teams from the University of York and the University of Manchester working at the site believe the circular shaped home was built in about 8,500 B.C. next to an ancient lake at Star Carr, near Scarborough, in northeastern England.

“This is a sensational discovery and tells us so much about the people who lived at this time,” Nicky Milner from the University of York said Wednesday. “From this excavation, we gain a vivid picture of how these people lived.”

Discoveries made at the site suggest the house was about 3.5 meters wide (11 feet, 6 inches), constructed of timber posts and likely had a roof of thatched reeds. The site was probably inhabited for between 200 and 500 years, and there were possibly several homes built at the site.

Archaeologists have also uncovered a 11,000-year-old tree trunk, with its bark still intact, and found traces of a wooden jetty-like platform on the bank of the ancient lake that could be the first evidence of carpentry in Europe.

The house is about 500 to 1,000 years older than a building in Howick, northern England, previously thought to have been the country’s oldest home.

“This changes our ideas of the lives of the first settlers to move back into Britain after the end of the last Ice Age. We used to think they moved around a lot and left little evidence. Now we know they built large structures and were very attached to particular places in the landscape,” said Chantal Conneller, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester.

Artifacts found at the site — which include part of an oar, arrow tips and deer skulls — offer clues to the lives of the settlers. It’s thought they kept domestic dogs, hunted deer, wild boar and elk, fished on the lake and had rituals that involved the use of headdresses fashioned from animal skulls.

Science minister David Willetts said the building was an important discovery.

“It brings out the similarities and differences between modern life and the ancient past in a fascinating way, and will change our perceptions for ever,” he said.

The Star Carr site, which dates back to 9,000 B.C., was first discovered in 1947. Archaeologists began work to uncover the house about two years ago.

Original Article:


by David Stringer

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Topic: Maze

Experimental planting scheme has insufficient controls to prevent gene flow to native crops, critcs say.

Mexico doesn’t have an adequate system to monitor or protect natural maize (corn) varieties from transgenes, say prominent scientists concerned about the experimental planting of genetically modified crops.

In the past month, Monsanto and Dow AgriSciences have received government permission to plant transgenic maize across 24 plots, covering a total of nearly 13 hectares, in the northern states of Sonora, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Coahuila and Tamaulipas. The planting of transgenic maize had been prohibited for 11 years in Mexico, where maize was first domesticated.

The experiments are meant to test hardier varieties of the crop, and federal officials say that they are implementing controls to prevent gene flow.

Ariel Álvarez Morales, executive secretary of the Mexican Inter-Secretarial Commission on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, described the experimental planting as a compliance trial to see how the companies and the plants perform. “We want to see how the planting will work in these conditions,” he says. Plots will be less than half a hectare in area, seed-planting will occur at different times from that of natural varieties, and farmers will be surveyed about the effect on native maize.

In Sonora, where Monsanto has begun planting, transgenic maize is kept 500 metres away from conventional maize fields, says Eduardo Perez Pico, the firm’s chief of research and regulatory affairs for the Latin American region.

However, nearly 2,000 scientists have signed a petition to block the experiments. “There is no way to stop gene flow to the native crops,” says signatory Montgomery Slatkin, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley. Greenpeace and other groups filed a legal challenge, which the government has rejected.

“If Mexico experimentally plants transgenic maize, it should be done with ideal experiments and a great capacity to monitor them — but we don’t have either,” adds José Sarukhán Kermez, a Mexican biologist who has served in top ministerial posts and is a former rector of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City.

One facet of the debate surrounds the US firm being used by the Mexican government to train and equip staff at two reference labs for transgene testing in Mexico City. The firm, Genetic ID, is a spin-off by John Fagan of the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, which favours organic crops and transcendental meditation.

Álvarez Morales says the firm was chosen because of its widely known analytical techniques. But geneticist Elena Alvarez-Buylla, of UNAM’s Institute of Ecology in Mexico City, questions whether the company’s methods are sensitive enough to detect transgenes after several generations of plant growth. Earlier this year, her group reported that Genetic ID failed to detect transgenes in blinded samples1. Genetic ID responded that Alvarez-Buylla’s results were due to sample contamination2, which she challenged3.

Jay Reichman, an authority on transgenic testing with the US Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis, Oregon, says that “overall the combined evidence suggests” that at least two transgenes “were present within the plant tissues” in question. In particular, Reichman noted that Alvarez-Buylla showed newly grown test plants believed to harbour transgenes were resistant to herbicide, indicating that they bore transgenes just like commercial seeds modified to be herbicide resistant.

Fagan disputes the criticism. Still, he too is against transgenic planting, citing the potential contamination of native maize: “It is very, very unacceptable.

Original article:


By Rex Dalton


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