Archive for February, 2011

Topic: Skull drinking cups



LONDON – Ice age Britons drank from human skulls and may even have eaten flesh and bone marrow, but they were far from barbarians.

That’s the conclusion of experts studying the oldest known examples of “skull cups,” found in a cave in southwest England.

The bowls look almost like works of art, ritual items laced with meaning. Look more closely, however, and it becomes clear they are made from human skulls. Scientists say they are the oldest known carbon-dated skull cups, said by experts to be about 14,700 years old.

British scientists writing in the Public Library of Science journal maintain the cups were fashioned in such a meticulous way that they only credible explanation for their manufacture is that they were used as bowls to hold liquid. If the hunters and gatherers simply wanted to eat the deceased person’s brains, there would have been far easier ways to get at them, scientists said.

Experts believe the rare cups — two made from adults skulls, one from a child thought to be about three years-old — were used in some sort of ritual, as was common in many parts of the world.

“It is likely that this was part of some symbolic ritual and not mere necessity,” said Sylvia Bello, lead author of the study. She said that the artifacts demonstrate how skilled early humans were at the manipulation of human bodies.

The practice of using human skulls as cups or bowls has been well documented in many cultures, and in some cases skull cups have been elaborately decorated and used to adorn temples and in religious ceremonies. The practice was documented by the Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century B.C..

But the three skull cups found in an English cave are the only known examples from the British Isles, scientists said.

The three skulls aren’t the first historic clues to early man found in Gough’s Cave in Somerset. In 1903, the complete skeleton of a man dated to about 10,000 years ago was found at the same site. Explorations of the site, which in human and animal remains, began even earlier.

Although the team found indications that some of the flesh and bone marrow from the skulls was eaten, they concluded that cannibalism was unlikely to have been the main purpose of the modifications.

“It is impossible to say the flesh was consumed,” Bello said. “They could have de-fleshed to have a clean skull to work with, but then did they consume part of the brain or the soft tissue? We can’t prove it. I don’t know if they then consumed the brain, but that wasn’t the first purpose.”

She did say the bone marrow seems to have been consumed.

The use of skulls as cups or bowls in northern Europe is thought to have been fairly common during that time frame, but it is very rare to find actual examples that can be accurately dated by modern techniques, said Rick Schulting, an archaeology professor at the University of Oxford.

“These finds are important because there are so few finds from this period,” he said. “These are fully modern humans like us but we have very little insight into what they thought about themselves and their world. We know they had some burials, we know they cared about their dead. This adds complexity to their world.”

He said they were probably used in the ritual consumption of human remains, but said details cannot be known.

“It’s not some barbaric bloodthirsty example,” said Schulting, who was not involved in the project. “It’s always a ritualistic setting where you eat the remains of the dead, but we can’t know in this case whether you’re eating your own revered ancestors, to keep in contact, or eating the outsider, the enemy, as a way of insulting them and imbibing their power and their spirit.”

He said it was not unusual in that time period for people to consume the brain, which is seen as the seat of an individual’s identity, but it is not clear because of the lack of evidence whether this was done as an act of respect or contempt.

The distribution of cut marks seen on the skulls indicates that they were scrupulously “cleaned” of any soft tissues, and subsequently modified by the removal of the facial region. The skulls were then meticulously shaped into cups by retouching the broken edges, Bello said.

“All in all it was a very painstaking process given the tools available,” she said.

Original article:

By Gregory Katz, Associated press

yahoo news


Read Full Post »

Mead: A bit of History



 In our investigation into the history of Mead (honey-wine), we have to go where time predates written history; to early man bent on survival. Wild honey would have been a dangerous but profitable undertaking. We have cave drawings showing man-raiding beehives from the earliest times and we know “primitive” tribes of today still collect honey this way.

Although we may never have archaeological evidence to point to a single time in any civilization where man first mixed honey with water, forgot it and came back to find honey-wine, we do know it happened and we are still enjoying the Mead made by this happy accident today.

Cave drawings from Paleolithic times show hunters gathering honey. These “honey hunters” had to store the honey in something to transport it and it may well be that they used skins or pouches made from animal hides or stomachs. We know they would have carried water, and we also know they wouldn’t have pass up gathering wild honey either to bring home or to eat along the way.

The water in these pouches could have been dumped but probably not since the group would have been away from their home for long periods and would have needed this water to survive. More likely these hunting parties would mix all or part of the honey with their water. The honey probably carried some of it’s own wild yeast brought in to the hive by the bees or by being exposed to the air itself. Honey laden with wild yeast in water-it’s all you need plus a little time and you have what to man must have seemed like food of the Gods, Mead. In reading The Compleat MeadMaker by Ken Schramm, I see he had a similar thought on the subject. Certainly this method would have come before or at least at the simultaneously with the gathering of wild gains for food.

The process needed to make grains ready for eating, baking or drinking for that matter required heating of some sort. Honey had an advantage for primitive man; it could be used as is.

There is no doubt that the gathering of honey-predated agriculture and ultimately it is agriculture with the abundant cereal grains it produces that make both bread and beer not only possible but also more available than Mead. This in turn elevated Mead to a wine of the few rather than beer, which was to become the drink of choice everyone rich and poor alike. In fact it could very well have been the making of honey into honey-wine that lead to the making of beer.

More to come…

   Original article:

By Joanna Linsley-Poe

copyright 2011

Ancient Foods

Read Full Post »

Topic: Date presses

Dr Andrew Petersen

Date Press


On a lonely stretch of coastline at Ras Al Sharig,  the small peninsula south of the old town of Zubara, a scatter of stones caught the eye of archaeologists exploring the area. There was little to show on the sandy surface – a few rocks, some low, wind-weathered mounds – and most people would have walked past without noticing anything. But to professionals who observe every change on the surface, however small, the signs indicated there was something below the surface.
Dr Andrew Petersen, director of the team from the University of Wales which has just completed a second season of excavations on Qatar’s north-west coast, intrigued his audience at a Qatar Natural History Group meeting on Wednesday when he described the number of enigmatic finds made at Rubaqa, the name of the little settlement. For a start, the inhabitants were not fishermen, nor were they fishing for pearls – there are none of the indications that go with these two common coastal occupations.
So if they were not pearling or fishing, what were they doing, and why did they choose to live on the coast? One answer lies in Rubaqa’s proximity to deep water, and the remains of a small jetty. Another is the extraordinary number of date presses – fifteen at the last count.  Date presses [madbassa in Arabic] are very common in Qatar and occur in almost every Islamic settlement excavated, including Murwab, a large settlement not far from Rubaqa which dates to the Abbasid period of the 9th century. Basically, a date press consists of a rectangular or square area deeply grooved with parallel channels. Sacks of dates were piled onto these, and the weight of the compressed dates caused the sweet, sticky syrup to ooze out, which then trickled down the channels and into a large  jar which was sunk into the ground to receive the syrup.
A curious fact about the Rubaqa date presses is that no two are alike. Some are coated with fine white gypsum plaster, some are not. One has holes and pits for two collecting jars, not one. And one has such a convoluted maze of collecting channels that the archaeologists have no idea of the purpose of such an extraordinary structure.
Does this indicate that the presses were made by people from other countries with their own way of doing things, or by individual local families each with its own traditional method of constructing a press? At present no one knows the answer.
The jetty, and the deep water which would allow ships to approach the coast, suggests that the people might have been producing date syrup on a commercial scale. But where the date plantations were located – whether in Qatar or elsewhere – is at present anyone’s guess.
That the settlement dates back some hundreds of years is known from the name Rubaqa, which is recorded in the 1760s, and from the earliest pottery found –  16th century Julfar ware from Ras al Khaimah in the UAE.
Middens [refuse mounds associated with occupation] contain ash and layers of detritus containing fragments of pottery and animal bone, which indicate a long occupation period. Samples have been taken for Carbon 14 dating, and these should yield more definite information as to the age of the site. The potsherds themselves illustrate how wide was the trade with other countries: besides the Julfar ware there are fragments of glazed pottery from China and Burma and pottery from Iraq and Iran. The ceramic tops of shisha – the local ‘hubbly-bubbly’ pipes — confirm that tobacco was being imported.
A series of small, clay-lined pits filled with ash were perhaps used for cooking, although this is not certain. Analysis of the contents will shed more light on their purpose. 
Two areas of building were excavated this year, one of housing and another constituting a large, irregularly shaped walled area, designated a ‘fort’ by the archaeologists as it was clearly defensive, with what had been a single, well-constructed corner tower – on the land ward, not the seaward side. It had been demolished at some period and the stones taken away to be re-used, but the solid foundations remain. The fortified area appears to be older than the rest of the settlement. 
Embedded in the rubble of the walls of the ‘fort’ was a large cannon ball! History records many instances of attack along this stretch of coast in the 18th and 19th centuries – some a response to piracy, others for political causes – and the discovery of the  cannonball, with another awaiting excavation, demonstrates that life was not always peaceful in Rubaqa. Even more exciting was the discovery of a cache of 19 fine quality Indian silver rupees, wrapped in a cotton bag and pushed into a crevice in the wall of a mosque. Whoever so carefully hid his savings there never returned to reclaim them. The coins, which bear the head of Queen Victoria on one side, date to the 1860-1880s.
Other coins found on the site include some from the Ottoman period of the 19th century, along with some from Iran, and the first Qatari coins from the 1930s, showing how long the site was occupied. In the remains of the mosque, which includes a large open prayer ground and another inner, smaller prayer room, was a fragment of plaster with a verse from the Qur’an written on it.
The archaeologists excavated right down to bed rock, and there they found a number of pits, presumed to be post-holes for buildings, cut right into the rock. To cut these must have been a laborious task, and at present the archaeologist have no clue as to their date or purpose. Further excavations may provide an answer. But meanwhile, Rubaqa guards its secrets.

Original article:



By Fran Gillespie/Doha

Read Full Post »

Topic Four tusked Elephants found with Clovis points:

The discovery took place in early January 2011 in El Fin del Mundo, Sonora by researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), during the third field season at the site identified as a hunting and quartering area during the Pleistocene. Photo: INAH.


Gomphotheres, 4 tusked prehistoric Elephants ancestors

MEXICO CITY.- Mexican Archaeologists discovered 3 Clovis projectile heads associated to remains of gomphotheres with an age of at least 12,000 years, in the northern region of the Mexican state of Sonora. The finding is relevant because these are the first evidences in North America of this extinct animal linked to the human species.

The finding opens the possibility of the coexistence of humankind with gomphotheres, animals similar to mammoths, but smaller, in this region of America, which contrasts with theories that declare that this species disappeared 30,000 years ago in this region of America and did not coexist with humans.

The discovery took place in early January 2011 in El Fin del Mundo, Sonora by researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), during the third field season at the site identified as a hunting and quartering area during the Pleistocene.

This finding completes a scene in which archaeologists visualized how Clovis groups hunted this elephant ancestor. “This is an unprecedented finding in Mexico since it is the first time that projectile heads are found associated to a bone bed of this kind of proboscides.

“There is no other Clovis archaeological site where gomphotheres have been found, not even in the United States, where most important Clovis Culture findings have been registered, and these vestiges are dated between 10,600 and 11,600 years” informed archaeologist Guadalupe Sanchez, director of the Fin del Mundo Research Project.

“The discovery took place in the same archaeological context where in 2008 gomphothere bones and different lithic tools were found on the surface, among them, a quartz crystal Clovis head”.

Clovis people are also known as hunters of mammoths, one of 3 proboscide species that lived in America, being the other 2 the mastodon and the gomphothere. The last was the smallest and the earliest to appear in the Americas.

Gomphotheres have only been found associated to humans in South America, and the southernmost Clovis heads were found in Costa Rica; human evidence associated with proboscides was limited mastodons and mammoths, until now.

The INAH archaeologist Natalia Martinez, head of the field research, explained that Clovis projectile heads were discovered in the point named Localidad 1, the remainder of a swamp with deposits of the Pleistocene and Holocene eras, and were freed by scraping carefully a hard soil block.

The lithic artifacts manufactured by Clovis people to hunt great animals, were located a few centimeters under the gomphothere discovered in previous field seasons part of the research project conducted by the INAH, the University of Arizona and the National Geographic Society.

original article:



PostScript: Mead

I’m sitting at my dining room table listing to the constant bubbling of the mead I posted on the other day. A most satisfying sound indeed! Stay tuned, more on mead history soon…

Read Full Post »


Topic: This years batch:



 Sunday: February 13, 2011

This year I will be making an Oregon Blackberry Mead using White Labs liquid sweet mead yeast # WLP720.  As I mentioned previously it is better to make a larger quaintly of mead because less is lost during the racking process it must go through several times to get rid of dead yeast cells (called the lee) that build up on the bottom of the must as it is turned from honey water into honey wine. I started out to make 3 gallons of mead but ended up making 5 gallons. I use the no boil method but got my must a little warm for the yeast and had to add more cold water to equalize the temperature and of course I had to add more honey.

The plan was for 3 gallons of water and 11 ½ pounds of honey. I ended up with 4 gallons and 14 ½ pounds of honey, which should make a medium sweet,(with the emphasis on sweet), mead. Just to clarify a point I forgot to figure in; the dissolved honey will increase your volume so if 3 gallons is what your looking to make use only 2 gallons of water to start and if you fall below you can always add a little. Of course the more honey, the sweeter the mead.

So— 14 ½ pounds of honey and 4 gallons of water should make the mead I want. Add to this a yeast nutrient called Fernaid K and that’s all the ingredients you need. Now this will make what is known as a show mead, (one without any added fruit, spices etc.).

I also took the specific gravity, which indicates how much sugar is in the must to start. This is taken several times down the line and will let you know by the reading how much of the must has been converted to alcohol at each reading. One important step to not be forgotten-keep a log or journal of the steps you use to make your mead. I have found mine from last year to be invaluable to this years brew. Here is my log for this year:

Mead Log Day 1-Feb 13, 2pm:

Cleaned and sanitized my equipment with One Step-No Rinse and Iodophor. Do this at every stage for the best results!

Dissolved 11 ½ pounds of Blackberry honey in 3 gallons of warm 96 degrees water (won’t do that again it took to long to cool-use water about 75-85 degrees instead). Aerated the must and added 1 1/2 teaspoons of the nutrient and aerated again. Kept aerating for about 30 minutes to cool the mixture down but I finally decided to add 1 gallon more of cold water, about 65 degrees. This brought the must temp down to around 85 degrees. Pitched (added) all the yeast, 35 ml., and aerated vigorously-and I do mean vigorously!

Note: This is the time you want to add oxygen to your must-helps the yeast, later you must leave it alone!

  Covered fermenter bucket with plastic wrap, to watch the initial process like last year.

Day 1- Feb 13, 11 pm:

Uncovered must. A small amount of bubbles are on the surface, honey, musty sweet smell. Aerated with plastic coated wire whip and covered.

Day 2- Feb 14, 9am:

Strong C02 smell. Bubbles on the surface, more than yesterday.

Went to the market to buy more honey. 11 ½ pounds in 4 gallons will make a dry mead and so I bought 3 pounds more Blackberry honey to make medium sweet mead. Added ½ teaspoon more of nutrient.

11am Added 3 pounds of Blackberry honey to the must. Amazing reaction; the must exploded in foam-not sure why but as soon as the yeast start to become active, as I learned last year, the must will have some foam on it, just not this much. I must have had at least 3 inches or more of foam. It dissolved back into the must in a little while. Aerated the must and covered once again.

Day 2- Feb 14, 11 pm:

A good amount of bubbles on the surface. Sweet honey alcohol smell. Foamed again like this morning when I aerated the must.

Covered again with plastic wrap.

Day 3- Feb 15, 10am:

A few bubbles on the surface. Nice honey musty smell. Tiny carbonation bubbles showing just at and below the surface. This looks a lot like both meads last year when they were already in the 1 gallon carboys. Aerated the must once again, and again it foamed. Not much CO2 distention in the plastic but this could be in part because the yeast are just in entering their aerobic (taking on oxygen) stage and also the container I am using to start the fermentation has a larger surface on top and the CO2 gases would be more spread out than last year.


No aeration tonight I will do the final aeration tomorrow before putting on the plastic lid and air lock. Bubbles on surface and a sweet honey smell.

Day 4-Feb 16, 9am:

Waited for the last aeration until today so I could use my blender to give the must one last good kick of oxygen. I am concerned that my plastic-coated wire whisk is not doing a full job since there is so much liquid. Three or four cups, whipped in the blender and sired into the must should do it. 

Bubbles on top-carbonation showing just below the surface and a sweet honey smell.

Put aprox 3 cups of mead into the blender and whipped it into a frenzy. The entire 3 cups turned into foam.

Stirred the foam into the must with a long handled spoon (you will see it in the photos).

Couldn’t get the lid to seal, so back on with the plastic until my husband can help.


With the lid and airlock sanitized for the second time today my husband was able to get the lid on with the help of a hammer!

It’s a good thing the fermenter has a spigot to drain the mead because otherwise we could be in trouble here. I put the air lock with its rubber stopper in the hole on the lid and right away it started bubbling. -Good Sign!

Now it’s a waiting game, as the mead will stay in its frementer for a couple of weeks during the primary fermentation phase.

I will continue to monitor the mead each day but that is all, until I rack it, or transfer it,(leaving the lee or dregs behind), into a glass carboy (3- 10 gallon glass bottle just like large water bottles, though you can get them in plastic like the fermenter).

Note: The air lock get a small amount of water put in it to act as a barrier to any wild yeast, bacteria etc, while permiting the CO2 to be expelled.

More to come at racking time in a couple of weeks.

In the mean time I have some info you might find helpful.

gotmead.com This is a fantastic site, it helped me a lot.

The Compleat Meadmaker, by Ken Schramm is a great guide and like the gotmead site-very helpful.

ckick on the link and go to Amazon.

Original article:

By Joanna Linsley-Poe

copyright 2011


Read Full Post »

Topic The oldest Fermented Drink? Part 1 

Pictures of Oregon Raspberry Mead and Wild flower Mead. 


 Mead is one of the most ancient of drinks, yes I do realize there is a debate between beer and mead makers as to which is older, but here I will just state that in my humble opinion, mead is by far the oldest-you are welcome to argue the fact if you must, I am open to debate.

Being as how I am admittedly interested if not downright obsessed with all things ancient as it relates to food I felt I should embark on the great adventure of making wine and beer myself. Now I do not have the space to make grape wine and I’m not a great fan of most beers, but I do love my honey-wine; so what a better place to start.

Last year I started with two batches of mead, both 1-gallon sized. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it enough to keep up the hobby and I wanted one of them to be made using wild yeast so I wanted to go small.  The lesson with small (1 gallon as opposed to 3 or 5 gallons) is that you loose to much mead along the way what with racking to eliminate dead yeast cells etc, and it’s a lot of work so if you are interested I would advise at least 3 gallons to start, besides you can always through a mead party! I will post some pictures from last year along with ones from this year as I go along. As to why I didn’t blog on it last time….

The first batch of mead in 2010 was Oregon Raspberry made with commercial sweet mead yeast, and the second, Wildflower made by capturing wild yeast.  Both were a success and produced enjoyable meads but were totally different. The names reflect the honey I used for both. The Oregon Raspberry made medium sweet mead with approximately 10 percent alcohol and the Wildflower made a dry mead with about 13 percent alcohol.

I used 3 ½ pounds of honey for both and the same amount of yeast nutrient so I was able to see what the different types of honey and yeast produced. I won’t go into the procedure for these two but I will be doing so for this year’s batch.

Wild yeast can be unpredictable so I will be using commercial yeasts from now on but as you will be able to see in the photo’s I am posting not only do the meads taste different there variations in the way they look as well-mostly the foam on the wildflower mead. There was a difference in the color as well but it doesn’t show up as much in the photos.

More to come….


Original article:

By Joanna Linsley-Poe

copyright 2011



Read Full Post »

Topic Fruit Trees

Unknown Fruit Tree

Recent research on seed samples gathered over the years at medieval archaeological sites in the historic old quarter of Hondarribia, has that these are the remains of the oldest fruit trees in Southern Europe.

The town of Hondarribia, lies on the coast of the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, Spain.

The research was undertaken by the archaeobiology research team from the CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) under the direction of Doctor Leonor Peña-Chocarro, with the financial aid of the Gipuzkoa Provincial Government.

,,This research has enabled the recording of numerous fleshy fruits such as plums of various types, cherries, peaches, sloes, grapes, apples, figs, quince and medlar and, in a token manner, olives. The overall collection of nuts is interesting, significant being the presence of hazel nuts, acorns, walnuts, pine kernels and, sporadically, beechnuts. As regards cereals, wheat, barley and oats have been identified. Also of particular important are the various seeds of the bottle (or calabash) gourd, a species of water pumpkin, very rarely recorded in archaeological contexts.

While the overall results can be considered relevant for knowledge about nutrition in the Middle Ages, the most striking part refers to the remains of quince and medlar found, being species hitherto unknown in the archaeobotanical register of the Iberian Peninsula.

This area has produced one of the best databases of archaeological seeds within the Spanish State, or indeed in Europe, thanks to the fact that, in many of its excavations, layers of terrain that had been flooded have conserved organic matter due to saturation of water.

Original article:


by Stephen Russell


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: