Archive for November, 2010

Topic: Breakfast made from grain

I found this about bulgur on Wikipedia:

Bulgur (also bulghur or burghul) is a cereal food made from several different wheat species, most often from durum wheat. Its use is most common in Middle Eastern cuisine and in Greece.


Bulgur hot cereal


Bulgur Wheat in a salad


Bulgur Wheat rolls

Breakfast 8000 years ago wasn’t that much different from what we enjoy today, according to a study that describes the world’s oldest known cooked cereal.

Dating from between 5920 to 5730 BC, the ancient cereal consisted of parboiled bulgur wheat that Early Neolithic Bulgarians could refresh in minutes with hot water.

“People boiled the grain, dried it, removed the bran and ground it into coarse particles,” lead author Soultana-Maria Valamoti says.

“In this form, the cereal grain can be stored throughout the year and consumed easily, even without boiling, by merely soaking in hot water,” Valamoti, an assistant professor of archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, says.

She and her colleagues studied the Bulgarian grain, excavated at a site called Kapitan Dimitrievo, as well as 4000-year-old grains of barley and wheat from northern Greece.

Very high magnification by microscope revealed precise details about the individual cereal grains, including their composition.

The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.

Starch modification

The analysis shows that starch within the Bulgarian grains was swollen, twisted and, at times, fused together.

Such starch modifications were more extreme toward the outer layers of the bulgur, consistent with grains that had been penetrated by boiling water.

The grains had also been charred, not in a way indicative of intentional toasting, but rather by a fire that appears to have burnt down the houses where the grain was stored.

The scientists also cooked and processed modern wheat and hulled barley, putting the results through the same analysis.

The fine details and internal structure of the modern boiled, dried and ground cereals matched what the researchers saw in the ancient Bulgarian grains.

“I think bulgur could have well been a staple ingredient of Mediterranean cultures in the past,” Valamoti says. “It is very nutritious and easy to make a meal out of it throughout the year, once it is prepared.”

She says the early southeastern Europeans must have gathered it in the summer, when they could have dried it under the hot sun.

Such early, simple preparations passed down through the generations, leading to dishes still enjoyed in the region and other parts of the world today.

“Bulgur and trachanas (preparations often consisting of ground grain mixed with milk or yogurt) were staple foods of Greek people until very recently,” she says.

Dr Stefanie Jacomet, a leading archaeobotanist at Basel University‘s Institute of Prehistory and Archaeological Science in Switzerland, says that “until now, simply almost nothing was known about this”, explaining that this latest study is the first to explore ancient cooked cereal in such detail.

Other researchers have, however, analysed early evidence for bread-making in the same regions.

The first-known bread predates the cereal, so it’s possible the ancients enjoyed some toast with their hot, cooked bulgur.

Original article:


Jennifer Viegas
Discovery News


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Topic Movement of farmers 



europe historical map-spread of farming Near East to Europe


DNA evidence suggests that immigrants from the Ancient Near East brought farming to Europe, and spread the practice to the region’s hunter-gatherer communities, according to Australian-led research.

A genetic study of ancient DNA, published in PLoS Biology today, adds crucial information to the long-running debate about how farming was introduced to Europe’s nomadic hunter-gatherer societies almost 8000 years ago.

An international research team, led by University of Adelaide experts, compared ancient DNA from the remains of Early Neolithic farmers at a burial site in central Germany with a large genetic database of European and Eurasian populations.

They found that these early farmers had a unique and characteristic genetic signature, suggesting “significant demographic input from the Near East during the onset of farming”.

Sometimes referred to as the Fertile Crescent, the Near East would include modern-day Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, says study leader Dr Wolfgang Haak, genographic project senior research associate at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.

The revolutionary element of this study was the addition of ancient DNA , explains Professor Alan Cooper, director of the Centre for Ancient DNA, as previously researchers could only use genetic data from modern populations to examine this question.

“We have never had a detailed genetic view of one of these early farming populations – there’s been a lot of inference around it… but it’s all been guesswork” he says.

Migration from Anatolia and near East

Using the new high-precision ancient DNA analysis, researchers were also able to determine a possible migration route the farmers took from the Near East and Anatolia into Central Europe.

Farming first originated about 11,000 years ago in the Near East and then spread across Europe during the Neolithic period, the researchers explain.

“Whether it was mediated by incoming farmers or driven by the transmission of innovative ideas and techniques remains a subject of continuing debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics,” they write in PLoS Biology.

“[This] really answers this long-running debate about whether people picked up ideas or picked up and moved”, says Cooper.

Haak says these latest findings might not completely settle the debate on the origins of farming in Europe, but they would “push it in a certain direction”.

Haak is keen to see other research teams build on this proof of concept study, building a picture about this transitional period in other regions and helping to put the pieces of the jigsaw together globally.

Meanwhile, Haak and colleagues at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA want to discover how communities in this region in central Germany evolved over the next 3000 to 4000 years leading up to the Bronze Age.

“The early farmers are still quite different to modern day populations from the same region,” he says, “so that means something must have happened after that.”

The project involved researchers from the University of Mainz and State Heritage Museum in Halle, Germany, the Russian Academy of Sciences and members of the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project.

Original article:


By Rebecca Jenkins


Picture found on: aratta.wordpress.com

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Topic Early Pilgrim Dinner

Mistress Rebecca Spray shows dried corn being processed into flour or meal


Something to think about and be greatful we do not have to go out and catch, kill and dress out turkeys before we can cook them-but it’s nice to remember on where we come from as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Step into the kitchen at the Godiah Spray Plantation at Historic St. Mary’s City, and the year becomes 1661.

As Mistress Rebecca Spray prepared the midday meal Nov. 12 by the open hearth for her family and the workers connected with the farm, one of the indentured servants and a hired hand debated the quality of their food in the Maryland colony, compared to meals they had back in England.

“It’s made of Indian corn here,” said William Felstead, the hired hand, referring to the crust of the meat pasty, a kind of baked meat turnover, that will be part of the upcoming meal.

“It’s bland and gritty,” he said, making a face.

“I prefer wheat” flour, agreed John Prentiss, the indentured servant.

Mistress Spray chided them for grumbling. “It keeps you from starving, doesn’t it?” she asked, looking up from her work, patting a handful of cornmeal crust mixture into a circle.

But even she noted later that the corn meal that has become so prevalent in her family’s diet, since arriving in the New World nine years earlier, has some characteristics she and other colonial cooks have had to overcome to continue preparing foods like the meat pasty that was part of their diet in England. Corn is easier to grow in the colony than wheat, she said.

In fact, to assure that the colonists don’t neglect growing food because they are so focused on the money-making tobacco plant and that they will provide for their household, by law, colonists during this period are required to grow at least two acres of corn per each man in their household who works in the field, Felstead noted.

But the pasty (pronounced “pass-tee”) crust doesn’t hold together as well using corn instead of wheat flour, Mistress Spray said, demonstrating by crumbling off the edge of an uncooked pasty waiting to be cooked with her fingers.

“Wheat doesn’t break apart like that,” she said.

Felstead and Prentiss decide to heat up a couple of completed pasties that had been sitting on the table as they wait for their meal. They put the hand-sized, chicken-and-turnip-filled crusts, in a skillet over the fire and watch as they warm.

The crust is thick and made with lard and is very filling — one of the main goals of the colonial diet, Mistress Spray said.

A meat pasty is a way to stretch meat a little further. This was particularly helpful in England, because meat was more dear there, due to restrictions on hunting. In the Maryland colony, however, pork, beef, fish, fowl and a variety of game are more available, Felstead said.

“You can hunt all you want here in Mary-land … not like in England.”

It was in England that Mistress Spray first learned how to cook, she said. How to create different dishes was information passed down from generation to generation, although the writing down of recipes was practiced by some, and books of these recipes did exist for literate, wealthy people, she said.

She smiles when asked how much time she spends preparing food to feed her husband, seven children and the farm’s two hired hands and four indentured servants.

“Sun-up to sundown,” she said.

For the filling for a meat pasty, this day she has chosen to mince chicken meat and cut up some turnips, although she noted that pork and beef also work well. “You can add onions, garlic,” she said.

Even starting with the corn already grown and dried and the chicken already raised and slaughtered, the chicken meat must be cooked and the corn pounded into a meal or flour.

“We have the children grind the corn,” Felstead said.

“They pound it with an iron bar,” she explained, stepping out into the yard to show the bar her children use for that everyday chore. “Then you sift that meal that you’ve crushed.”

Mistress Spray has seven children, thus plenty of hands for that task.

Mistress Spray, William Felstead and John Prentiss will be sharing more about the foods they eat and how it is prepared at Historic St. Mary’s City’s Hearth and Home in Early Maryland event on Nov. 26 and 27.

The event, which vies with Woodland Indian Discovery Day in September as the most-visited event for the museum, is designed to offer visitors a glimpse of the work colonists were required to do just to eat, said Susan Wilkinson, director of marketing and communications for Historic St. Mary’s City.

“For this event, the focus is food and visitors will leave with a recipe booklet for colonial dishes adapted for the modern kitchen,” she wrote in an e-mail. “After seeing open hearth cooking, watching the chickens run in the garden, and grinding corn, I think many will find a new appreciation for their microwaves, refrigerators, sinks and grocery stores.”

Mistress Spray, Felstead and Prentiss, who are based on actual Maryland colonists, are portrayed by Roberta Smith, site supervisor at Godiah Spray Plantation; Peter Friesen and John Harvey, all residents of St. Mary’s City.

They field questions about their lives as colonists from 40,000 to 50,000 visitors to the museum every year, according to Wilkinson.

The most common questions? “What do you eat? When do you eat? Does is taste good? What do you do with all the food you grow?”

Part of their job is being willing to learn. For instance, they take recipes from the time period and try to replicate them with what they have available at the plantation. “It’s sort of experimental archaeology,” Smith said.

Some of the experiments were dismal failures. “Stuffed turnip. Ugh. It was terrible,” Friesen said.

“Battered yarrow … really strong stuff,” Smith said.

They have found that the colonists were heavy handed with herbs and spices. But sugar was used sparingly, as it was more rare and expensive.

They noted that nothing was wasted. “They would use the whole animal, face and all … everything but the squeal,” Friesen said.

A dish that was a hit in the museum’s experiments was a colonial recipe for turkey, which directed the cook to boil the carcass in a mixture that was mostly butter.

“So good,” Harvey said.


Meat pasty with fowl Dough

3 cups flour

1 1/2 sticks butter (cold)

1 1/2 tsp. salt

6 tablespoons water

In a large bowl, combine flour, butter and salt. Blend flour, butter and salt until well combined. Add water slowly, to form dough. Knead the dough to distribute the butter evenly throughout.

Form into a ball, dust with flour, cover and chill for 30 minutes.


1 pound chicken, ground

5 turnips, cubed

2 large onions, cubed

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Combine all ingredients in large bowl.


Divide the dough into six pieces, and roll one of the pieces into a 10-inch round on a lightly floured surface. Put 1 1/2 cups of filling on half of the round. Moisten the edges and fold the unfilled half over the filling to enclose it. Pinch the edges together to seal them and crimp with your thumb and forefinger. Transfer pasty to lightly buttered baking sheet and cut a few slits in the top. Continue to make more pasties with the remaining dough. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Put one teaspoon of butter through a slit in each pasty and continue baking for 30 minutes more. Remove from oven and cool.

The above recipe was adapted for the 21st-century palate from a 17th-century pasty recipe and was provided by Roberta Smith, site supervisor at Godiah Spray Plantation at Historic St. Mary’s City..

Oricinal article:


 Text and photo’s by Susan Craton


Farm scene at Godiah Spray Plantation at Historic St. Mary's City,

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Topic: Myan agriculture


Maya irrigation canals at "Birds of Paradise" site in northwest Belize


The sophistication of the civilization’s agricultural systems rivalled their pyramids.

The ancient Maya civilization is widely recognized for its awe-inspiring pyramids, sophisticated mathematics and advanced written language. But research is revealing that the complexity of Maya agricultural systems is likely to have rivalled that of their architecture and intellect.

Using new techniques and extensive excavations, researchers have found that the Maya coped with tough environmental conditions by developing ingenious methods to grow crops in wetland areas. “The work shows that this intensive agriculture is more complicated and on a par with these other areas of intellectual development,” says Timothy Beach, a physical geographer at Georgetown University in Washington DC, who presented his findings on Wednesday at the Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting in Denver, Colorado.

The Maya civilization, considered one of the most advanced ancient societies, lived in sprawling and densely populated pockets from the Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico to Honduras in Central America. The civilization arose before 1000 BC and reached its height from about 400 BC to 900 AD.

The Maya’s home was a tough environment replete with recurring droughts and rising sea levels, and the land that they farmed was rough, rocky terrain interixed with vast swamps, or wetlands. So one of historians’ biggest questions about the Maya civilization is how they managed to feed their huge populations.

Ancient avocados

It has long been suspected that the Maya relied heavily on agriculture. In the 1970s, researchers began characterizing the remains of elaborate irrigation canals found in wetland areas. But it has not been clear how widespread these canals were or whether the use of wetlands for farming was an important part of the Maya agricultural system.

At the GSA meeting, Beach presented the results of two decades’ work aimed at answering these questions1,2. During that time, he and his wife, Sheryl Luzzadder-Beach, a physical geographer specializing in water quality from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and their colleagues, have performed more than 60 excavations to study and map the different earth layers, or strata, in field sites in northern Belize.

Working in low-lying wetlands, which are difficult to access and navigate, the team dug trenches some 3 metres deep and 10–20 metres long to study soil and water chemistry. They performed carbon-isotope analyses on soil layers and studied fossilized plant materials to work out how the land was used.

The soil layers revealed signs of rising water tables and the remnants of flood deposits. Fossilized plant remains at these sites show that the Maya were growing crops such as avocados, grass species and maize. Their research suggests that the Maya built canals between wetlands to divert water and create new farmland, says Beach.

As the Maya mucked out the ditches, they would have tossed the soil onto the adjacent land, creating elevated fields which would kept the root systems of their crops above the waterlogged soil, while allowing access to the irrigation water. Beach says that surveys carried out using Google Earth and remote sensing techniques suggest that this wetland system was probably around 100 kilometres across.

Archaeological elitism

Although about 40% of the Yucatán Peninsula is swamp today, the idea that the Maya farmed wetland areas extensively has been controversial among archaeologists. But the new work is “very suggestive that the Maya were modifying these swamps intensively to make a living”, says Vernon Scarborough, an anthropological archaeologist at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, who was not involved with the research. “It’s hard to project across the entirety of every swamp area because there are so many of them. But it’s certainly intriguing.”

Stephen Houston, an expert on Maya civilization at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who recently began collaborating with Beach, says that because so much archaeological work on the Maya civilization has focused on its architecture and written records, relatively little attention has been given to understanding its agriculture. “Usually in archaeology there’s an elite focus on the majestic cities that we can wonder at,” says Houston. “But the burning question is always how did they feed these populations.”

Beach’s arduous excavations have filled “a crucial gap”, he adds. “They’ve confirmed that many of these swamplands in that area were being used for that kind of intensive agriculture and large-scale manipulations of the landscape.”

One of the reasons some scholars dismissed the idea that wetlands were fundamentally important to the Maya is that they are often far from famous sites such as Tikal and Chichen Itza. But there must have been dense populations living in rural areas near wetlands, far from the glitzy urban centres, says Beach.

“It’s a very thoughtful, clever way of utilizing the environment,” says Scarborough. “When a Westerner goes into a wetland today, they see nothing but trouble. It’s difficult to tame, capture and modify. But in the past they were considered real breadbaskets in many parts of the world.” 

Original article:


Amanda Mascarelli


Ps having trouble with new linking so you will have to copy and paste for now:


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Topic: Quern stone found at English golf course

Stone Quern for grinding grain



 An archaeological treasure has been unearthed on a golf course in Bedfordshire.

A quern stone was found by greenkeepers at Leighton Buzzard golf course as they dug out a new tee.

Club Captain Neil Bagshawe told BBC Three Counties Radio how they found it.

“The guys were digging the fourth tee to renew it and about a metre down they found this flat round object around 14 inches in diameter which turned out to be a quern stone” he said.

Quern stones were used for grinding corn before the introduction of mill stones, but despite this, it’s not actually that common to find one.

“Apparently only three have ever been discovered in the south of England so it is quite rare” said Mr Bagshawe, “and even rarer to find one that is completely intact.

“It’s in very good condition” he added.

“You can still see the marks that are necessary to actually effect the grinding mechanism to make sure that you do get the corn out at the end, so it’s obviously been made by man as opposed to being a natural object.”

Mr Bagshawe is an amateur archaeologist, but said that while he is very interested in the subject, he took advice from local expert Bernard Jones to assess what had actually been found.

He also explained how the stone could date back over 2,000 years from what was already known about the golf course land.

“There’s evidence going way back that there were Iron Age settlements on that land” he said, “basically small holdings after herder gatherers gave way to settlements. So it’s been inhabited from the late Iron Age which was the last century BC.”

Despite its rarity, the stone has no intrinsic value but Mr Bagshawe revealed that it will be displayed in the club house.

“It’s part of our heritage so we’re very proud of it.” he said.

Original article:



Large Quern-modern

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Topic: Seafood from the China Coast

location map of Hanyangling

Figures in Hanyang excavation pit

Hanyang excavation pit


Ancient Chinese emperors in inland China may have dined on seafood that came from the eastern China coast more than one thousand miles away, archaeologists said Friday, after investigating an imperial mausoleum that dates back 2,000 years.

“We discovered the remains of sea snails and clams among the animal bone fossils in a burial pit,” said Hu Songmei, a Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology researcher.

“Since the burial pit appears to be that of the official in charge of the emperor’s diet, we conclude that seafood must have been part of the imperial menu,” Hu said.

The discovery was made in the Hanyang Mausoleum in the ancient capital of Chang’an, today’s Xi’an City in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province.

The monument is the joint tomb of Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-8 AD) Emperor Jing and his empress. Archaeology at the mausoleum began in the 1980s.

Since 1998, researchers from the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology have been excavating the burial pit east of the mausoleum.

Of the 43 animal fossils discovered in the pit, archaeologists found more than 18 kinds of animals, including three kinds of sea snails and one kind of clam.

“The ancient people believed in the afterlife. They thought the dead could possess what they had when they were alive,” said Hu.

Many royal tombs were designed and constructed like the imperial palace. The burial pits usually represented different departments of the imperial court, Hu said. “The discovery of animal fossils in this particular pit may shed light on what the emperor ate everyday.”

Ge Chengyong, the chief editor of Chinese Culture Relics Press, said, “The seafood may have been tribute offered to the emperor by imperial family relatives living on the Chinese coast. It may also have been businessmen that brought them inland to the capital city.”

Xi’an is more than one thousand miles away from the Chinese coast, so how could it have arrived in the capital without first spoiling?

“During the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), Chinese people used vehicles with refrigeration,” said Ge. “It is thought they may have put ice in the vehicles to preserve perishable cargo.”

“The seafood may also have been dried before it was transported,” Ge added.

Alongside the fossilized seafood shells, fossils of various other kinds of animals — rabbit, fox, leopard, sheep, deer, cat and dog — were also discovered.

Hu said, “The cat was kept in the imperial kitchen to catch rats, and so the other animals were all part of the imperial diet.”

“Ancient Chinese people valued diversity in their diet. The imperial diet would have include multiple nutrients, multiple flavors and a vast number of dishes.”

“Just from the animal fossils discovered so far, we cannot know the whole story of the emperor’s diet. There will be more findings.”

Original article:

Editor Zhang Xiang



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Topic: Beer for what “ales” you

Ancient Nubians drank beer made from grains contaminated with antibiotics

People have been using antibiotics for nearly 2000 years, suggests a new study, which found large doses of tetracycline embedded in the bones of ancient African mummies.

What’s more, they probably got it through beer, and just about everyone appears to have drank it consistently throughout their lifetimes, beginning early in childhood.

While the modern age of antibiotics began in 1928 with the discovery of penicillin, the new findings suggest that people knew how to fight infections much earlier than that — even if they didn’t actually know what bacteria were.

Some of the first people to use antibiotics, according to the research, may have lived along the shores of the Nile in Sudanese Nubia, which spans the border of modern Egypt and Sudan.

“Given the amount of tetracycline there, they had to know what they were doing,” says lead author George Armelagos, a biological anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta. “They may not have known what tetracycline was, but they certainly knew something was making them feel better.”

Armelagos was part of a group of anthropologists that excavated the mummies in 1963. His original goal was to study osteoporosis in the Nubians, who lived between about 350 and 550 A.D. But while looking through a microscope at samples of the ancient bone under ultraviolet light, he saw what looked like tetracycline — an antibiotic that was not officially patented in modern times until 1950.

At first, he assumed that some kind of contamination had occurred.

“Imagine if you’re unwrapping a mummy, and all of a sudden, you see a pair of sunglasses on it,” says Armelagos. “Initially, we thought it was a product of modern technology.”

His team’s first report about the finding, bolstered by even more evidence and published in Science in 1980, was met with lots of scepticism. For the new study, he got help dissolving bone samples and extracting tetracycline from them, clearly showing that the antibiotic was deposited into and embedded within the bone, not a result of contamination from the environment.

The analyses also showed that ancient Nubians were consuming large doses of tetracycline — more than is commonly prescribed today as a daily dose for controlling infections from bad acne. The team, including chemist Mark Nelson of Paratek Pharmaceuticals, reported their results in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Contaminated grain

They were also able to trace the antibiotic to its source: grain that was contaminated with a type of mold-like bacteria called Streptomyces. Common in soil, Strep bacteria produce tetracycline antibiotics to kill off other, competing bacteria.

Grains that are stored underground can easily become moldy with Streptomyces contamination, though these bacteria would only produce small amounts of tetracycline on their own when left to sit or baked into bread. Only when people fermented the grain would tetracycline production explode. Nubians both ate the fermented grains as gruel and used it to make beer.

The scientists are working now to figure out exactly how much tetracycline Nubians were getting, but it appears that doses were high that consumption was consistent, and that drinking started early. Analyses of the bones showed that babies got some tetracycline through their mother’s milk.

Then, between ages two and six, there was a big spike in antibiotics deposited in the bone, Armelagos said, suggesting that fermented grains were used as a weaning food.

Today, most beer is pasteurised to kill Strep and other bacteria, so there should be no antibiotics in the ale you order at a bar, says Dennis Vangerven, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

But Armelagos has challenged his students to home-brew beer like the Nubians did, including the addition of Strep bacteria. The resulting brew contains tetracycline, tastes sour but drinkable, and gives off a greenish hue.

There’s still a possibility that ancient antibiotic use was an accident that the Nubians never knew about, though Armelagos has also found tetracycline in the bones of another population that lived in Jordan. And VanGerven has found the antibiotic in a group that lived further south in Egypt during the same period.

Finding tetracycline in these mummies, says VanGerven, is “surprising and unexpected. And at the very least, it gives us a very different time frame in which to understand the dynamic interaction between the bacterial world and the world of antibiotics.”

Original article:


Emily Sohn at discovery news

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