Archive for March, 2011

Topic:Cacao in the Southwest

Hohokam Pottery


Chocolate may have provided sweet impetus for extensive trade between ancient northern and southern societies in the Americas. Pueblo people living in what’s now the U.S. Southwest drank a cacao-based beverage that was imported from Mesoamerican cultures in southern Mexico or Central America, a new chemical analysis of Pueblo vessels finds.

Pueblo groups and an ensuing Southwest society traded turquoise for Mesoamerican cacao for about five centuries, from around 900 to 1400, proposes a team led by archaeologist Dorothy Washburn of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Surprisingly, large numbers of people throughout Pueblo society apparently consumed cacao, from low-ranking farmers to elite residents of a multistory pueblo, the scientists report online March 4 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“Since cacao was consumed by both Pueblo elites and nonelites, active trading for cacao must have occurred with Mesoamerican states,” Washburn says.

Washburn’s study was inspired by a 2009 report of cacao residue in three jars from an 800-room pueblo, known as Pueblo Bonito, in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon (SN: 2/28/09, p. 14). Pueblo Bonito dates to the 11th century, and Chaco Canyon was a regional center of Pueblo life from about 900 to 1130.

That initial evidence of cacao drinking in Chaco Canyon surprised many archaeologists, who long have assumed that cultures of the Southwest and Mesoamerica had minimal contact. Yet previous Pueblo finds in Chaco Canyon include macaw remains, copper bells and decorative items that must have come from Mesoamerica, remarks archaeologist Ben Nelson of Arizona State University in Tempe.

“To find that cacao consumption was much more widespread strengthens the case for regular exchange with populations in Mesoamerica,” Nelson says.

He has argued that leaders of ancient Southwestern societies appropriated selected aspects of Mesoamerican cultures for their own purposes, perhaps to justify their power and prestige.

Washburn and her colleagues identified traces of theobromine, a chemical found in cacao plants, in 50 of 75 pitchers and bowls from Pueblo Bonito, surrounding Pueblo farming villages and 14th-century graves of high-ranking members of the nearby Hohokam society in Arizona.

Hohokam sites contain ball courts and massive platforms much like those in Maya and other Mesoamerican cities, Washburn says.

Other researchers have matched the chemical signature of turquoise from mines in New Mexico to that of turquoise found at several Mesoamerican sites, including the Maya site of Chichen Itza. In Washburn’s view, mines in the U.S. Southwest, but not Mexico or Central America, contain turquoise of high enough quality for mosaic tiles that were used in Mesoamerican designs.

Mesoamericans built 500- to 800-room pueblos in Chaco Canyon as administrative trading centers, she hypothesizes. Newcomers from the south brought a cacao-drinking habit with them and introduced the beverage to locals.

Excavations at several small Pueblo sites in Chaco Canyon suggest that turquoise was fashioned into jewelry and other luxury items there, Washburn adds. “Turquoise workers may have been paid in cacao, as was the case in Mesoamerica,” she says. “That would have given a nonelite population access to cacao that we found in their bowls and pitchers.”

Washburn plans to examine whether Pueblo groups in other parts of the Southwest used cacao. In particular, she wants to look for theobromine in vessels that display stylistic links to Mesoamerica, such as jars with indented bases. Theobromine-containing cacao plants grow in tropical parts of Mexico and Central America but not in the U.S. Southwest, she says.

Original Article:

By Bruce Bower




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Topic Barley, Cereal Grain

Barley offering

It is said the Ancient Egyptians believed that one day Osiris, god of agriculture, made a decoction of barley that had germinated with the sacred waters of the Nile, and then distracted by other urgent affairs, left it out in the sun and forgot it. When he came back the mixture had fermented. He drank it, and thought it so good that he let mankind profit by it. This was said to be the origin of beer.

Like emmer and einkorn (ancient wheat), barley has been cultivated since the earliest of times. I say this without giving a specific date because archaeologists are at this moment pushing back the beginnings of agriculture with every find they make.

According to Wikipedia:

“Barley was the first domesticated grain in the Near East, approximately  the same time as einkorn and emmer wheat. Wild barley (H. vulgare ssp. spontaneum) ranges from North Africa and Crete in the west, to Tibet in the east.  The earliest evidence of wild barley in an archaeological context comes from the Epipaleolithic at Ohalo II  at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. The remains were dated to about 8500 BC.  The earliest domesticated barley occurs at Aceramic Neolithic  sites, in the Near East such as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B  layers of  Tell  Abu Hureyra, in Syria. Barley has been grown in the Korean Peninsula since the Early Mumun Pottery Period (c. 1500–850 BC) along with other crops such as millet, wheat, and legumes.”

One of the earliest accounts of the distribution of barley can be found on a clay tablet from Mesopotamia, written in Cuneiform dating to 2350 BC. It called for a ration of 30-40 pints for adults and 20 pints for children.

By all accounts whether it was in Mesopotamia, Egypt or later in Greece or Rome barley had a variety of uses as it does today.

Barley is eaten in breads, soups and stews. In ancient Egypt as today it was made into porridge and sprouted barley was used as a base for beer.  Barley was and still is today a major feed crop for domestic animals. Barley was used as a type of currency to pay royal workers in Ancient Egypt.

Barley beer may have been the first fermented drink developed by Neolithic people although there is evidence that another drink,namely honey wine (or Mead as it is known), could have predated barley when man was still a hunter-gather and had not put down permanent roots and turned to agriculture. 

According to Egyptian food and Drink, by Hillery Wilson, because there was no distinction in ancient egypt between barley and wheat it is impossible to be certain which was the oldest cultivated grain; both were generally termed”corn”.

Barley is eaten in breads, soups and stews. In ancient Egypt as today it was made into porridge and sprouted barley was used as a base for beer.  Barley was and still is today a major feed crop for domestic animals. Barley was used as a type of currency to pay royal workers in Ancient Egypt.

Barley and other cereal grains such as emmer, einkorn and later modern wheat and rice (all members of the grass family) were the staples and probably the most important products of the world at that time or any other. The grass family with its many editable species including maze, from the new world, could be said to have created the world we know today.

Original Article:

By Joanna Linsley-Poe

Copyright 3/2011

Ancient Foods

I found this looking for images for Barley:

Ancient beer recipes found in Syria

Barley Beer Recipe-Syria

A Syrian-Belgian-British archaeological mission unearthed 3,800-year-old Babylonian beer-making instructions on cuneiform tablets at a dig in northern Syria.

Abdel-Massih Baghdo, director of the Hassakeh Archaeological Department, told The Associated Press in a telephone call that the 92 tablets were found in the 14th layer of Tell Shagher, a site just north of Hassakeh.

He said the tablets showed beer-making methods and tallied quantities of beer produced and distributed in the region.

Hassakeh, 400 miles northeast of Damascus, is known these days for its wheat production. Recent archaeological discoveries have pushed back the dates for early beer production.

Article found on:


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Topic: Diet and Ritual Neolithic Germany


Thanks to preservation under waterlogged conditions, a well in the federal state of Saxony, Germany,

 has revealed unprecedented information about woodworking skills, diet, and ritual in early Neolithic Europe. Found in early 2008 at Altscherbitz, during construction work on the Leipzig/Halle airport, the well was carefully isolated and extracted from the ground in one block for excavation under laboratory conditions under the direction of Rengert Elburg of the Saxony State Office of Archaeology.

Heavy oak timbers were used to line the well, held together by mortise and tenon joints secured by wedges, the first time this type of keyed tenon joint has been recorded for the early Neolithic. On one piece of wood, the last ring under the bark was present and this allowed the felling of the trees to be dated precisely to the winter of 5102-5101 BC.

Complete ears of emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) and einkorn (Triticum

monococcum) were found in the base sediment, as well as fruits of the bladder cherry or Chinese lantern (Physalis alkekengi) and several complete rose hips, some of them still as red as the day they were picked over 7,000 years ago. Cultivated wheat, barley, peas, lentils, linseed, and poppy seed were all present, as well as weeds associated with human habitation and cultivation, including large quantities of henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), the poisonous solanaceous plant used in very small doses for its hallucinogenic properties.

At some stage the well shaft was deliberately filled with a rich mix of pottery, stone and bone tools, bark containers and numerous fragments of string and rope, all mixed in with layers of twigs. Above these layers, a pot was placed, formally closing the well.

This was clearly a vessel of some significance, Rengert Elburg says. Extensive damage to the exterior suggests that it started life as a heavily used domestic pot, with a very slight incised decoration, typical of Linear Pottery Culture. When it broke in two it was mended by gluing the halves together with pitch. The repair was reinforced by binding the two halves together through holes drilled on either side of the break. Then the outside surface of the pot was completely redecorated by covering it with a thin layer of pitch into which narrow strips of birch-bark were stuck in a design completely unrelated to the incised pattern underneath. Traces of wear on the base suggest that the pot continued in use with this new decoration for some considerable time before being carefully placed in the well.

Original Article:


By Chris Catling Sep 6,  2010

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Topic:Blog on Neltithic Hunter/Gatherers



For the first time ever, work by researchers with Penn Museum’s archaeological excavation at the Laikipia Archaeological Project in north-central Kenya is being chronicled in a blog, as well as in photos and film.

Kathleen Ryan, a consulting scholar in the African Section at the Museum, is leading the group of researchers, which includes several Kenyan archaeologists. The excavation is focused on a period 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, Ryan says.

“Our interest is in the transition from the Later Stone Age, when the area was occupied by hunters and gatherers through the Pastoral Neolithic, when pastoralists herding cattle, sheep, and goats entered the area from the north,” she explains.  

The researchers will try to uncover how people and animals co-existed, Ryan says. “Did they interact peaceably? Did they share food resources such as wildlife or domestic livestock, wild plants, honey. Was either group drinking milk? Were the incoming pastoralists already lactose tolerant?”

Amy Ellsworth, Penn Museum’s digital media developer, will blog throughout the trip, which will last until May 13, and film what the researchers uncover. Jennifer Chiappardi will document the expedition in photos.

During the expedition, the team will also travel south to Maasailand where Ryan has been engaged in ethnobotanical research and education since 1993. In an effort to preserve local knowledge and pass it on to future generations, she organized two field schools in 1999 and 2000. Ryan will also work with local Maasai elders in describing traditional medicinal uses of various plants for both humans and animals.
Follow the blog at: http://penn.museum/blog/kenya

Original article:

By Jeanne Leong

April 27, 2010

A Penn archaeological research team studies bone remains during a 2009 excavation in Kenya. Photo credit: Jennifer Chiappardi

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Topic Ancient British Ale

Recreating ancient ale using burnt mounds

David Chapman found an eroding “burnt mound” – a common but unexplained prehistoric mound of fired stones – on the Lleyn peninsula at Hell’s Mouth. Excavations in 2008 revealed an oak trough containing a residue of burnt stones and charred chaff and seeds (News, Mar/Apr 2009). Last summer Chapman and a team from Ancient Arts tested the theory that the trough had been used for brewing. The result was a lot of burnt stone – and 77 pints of light ale.

That burnt mounds had been used for brewing was first suggested by Billy Quinn and Declan Moore, who made an ale using fired rocks in a wooden trough in Co Galway. Chapman set out to replicate the process and compare the resultant debris with that excavated at Hell’s Mouth.

A trough a quarter of the original’s volume, set into a pit and sealed with clay, was filled with water and the area around saturated to stem any leakage. A bonfire of small round wood was lit over a heap of stones, and in a hot, bright and oxidising blaze a strong colour change was noted in the stones as they turned “white” as their temperature rose to red hot.

The stones were raked from the ashes, dropped into the trough and returned to the fire. This way the water was boiled to sterilise it, and all buckets and equipment were “scalded”. Brewer’s malted barley was drenched in boiling water to help release the starches, and then added to the trough after it had cooled to 60°C. The resultant “wort” was held at 60°C for an hour and a half with the addition of a hot stone every 10 minutes.

Elderberries were added – the skin being one of the best sources of wild yeast in Europe – with a small quantity of brewer’s yeast as a backup. The ale was further flavoured with honey, blackberries and rosehips. Once strained through cloth into buckets, the wort was cooled in a stream and then covered and left to ferment for five days. The mash was cooked on the hot stones into bread or biscuits, which Chapman describes as “tasty and nutritious”. This left some of the stones covered in charred barley.

As they worked, says Chapman, the stones began to form “the classic horseshoe shape that is so common in burnt mounds”. The many stones at the mound centre were needed to bring a large volume of water to the boil, but to hold it at a constant temperature it was easier to use stones from either end of the very hot fire. In the nature of the process it is unlikely, he adds, that proper stratigraphy would be forming, so mounds used over many years could appear to indicate a single event.

Original article:

British Archaeology

Jan/Feb 2010

Edited by Mike Pitts

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 Topic: Racking day





Day 28-March 13, 2011

We are a bit short of 30 days but the bubbles in the fermentation lock have slowed to one bubble every 45 seconds or so, making it a good time to rack the mead. Since I made more mead than I intended I am using one 3-gallon carboy as well as two 1-gallon carboys today. I had at the beginning meant to make only 3 gallons but due to an error in my calculations I ended up with 5 gallons of mead in total.

Note: I mentioned using 14 ½ pounds of honey and 4 gallons of water would make a medium sweet mead but after doing more checking I now realize I will need to add more honey to get the sweetness in the mead that I desire. Three more pounds should do it.

This was a good lesson learned for me, and one that can be fixed. After the mead has finished it is possible to sweeten a mead that is not to your taste; which, after tasting this mead while it was being racked, I suspect I will have to do.

Racking is pretty simple using the large fermenter. You can see in one of the pictures the white bucket with siphon hose running from it. This hose went straight into the carboy down to the bottom. Turn on the spigot and fill the carboy until almost full. Put on the airlock with a bit of water in it to act as a barrier and you are done.

There was a great deal of lee in the bottom of the bucket so I suspect fermentation is pretty much over but I will give it at least 1 or two month in the carboy to be sure. I may in that time rack the mead again if there is any lee on the bottom. If left this can cause the mead to pick up an unwanted taste.

I have seen only a bubble or two in the airlocks, which is why I think the fermentation, is pretty much over. The mead can also be aged in the carboy

You can see the mead in the photos has a beautiful golden color and I can tell you it has a lovely has a sweet smell. At this stage it also has a very alcoholic bite when tasted, which will change as it ages. 

Original article:

By Joanna Linsley-Poe

copyright March 2011


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Topic:Early agriculture on Mo’orea

Part of the Nuuroa marae complex in Haapiti, Mo‘orea, French Polynesia.


Mo'orea Island-Illustration by Stephen Rountree.

Walking up the sweltering, steep slopes of Mo‘orea’s gray volcanic peaks, the lumbering banyan trees, bursts of pink blooms, and iconic views of the South Pacific can mesmerize. But if you stop to catch your breath and glance down, a whole new set of wonders reveals itself at your feet.

There, at ankle level, meticulously stacked, moss-shrouded stone blocks outline an ancient way of life on the forest floor.

These are the marae of Mo‘orea, and while now weathered and overgrown, they once were temples—sometimes covering 4,000 square feet (370 square meters)—where the island’s original settlers, the Maohi, came to pray to gods, pay respect to chiefs, and meet on tribal matters.

Much of what the marae stood for has faded over the years, replaced by European and Christian institutions. But archaeologists are taking a closer look at these well-worn platforms and, in doing so, are digging deeper into the island’s history.

One of best-restored and most-studied marae sits in ‘Opunohu Valley, up the slope from the bay where Captain James Cook anchored during the mid-18th century. Cook was considered an “enlightened voyager,” spending more time than his predecessors interacting with the locals. Indeed, Cook’s stories of Tahiti and the surrounding Society Islands, including Mo‘orea, shaped the European concept of the “noble savage.”

When Cook and other European explorers arrived in this part of the world, there may have been anywhere from 6,000 to 40,000 people living on Mo‘orea in complex chiefdoms. It was a culture that expressed itself economically, socially, and religiously at the marae sites, but also through its use and management of the island’s natural resources.

Stake in the Ground

The earliest evidence of humans on Mo‘orea dates back 1,200 years. Those intrepid Polynesian pioneers brought roots and seed stock for breadfruit, Tahitian chestnut, taro, and other introduced species that helped them establish homes and gardens along the coast.

Coastal marae were built, but structures don’t appear in Mo‘orea’s valleys until after 1350, when the population started to spread from the coastline into the mountains, according to Jennifer Kahn, associate archaeologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. She has been coming to Mo‘orea for decades to dig for clues to the past.

Kahn says a boom in marae construction that lasted until the 18th century, just before European contact, reflects a population explosion and an increasingly complex society.

There have been approximately 220 marae and ritual shrines uncovered in the ‘Opunohu Valley, and many others dot the coastline and other interior valleys. This is just a small percentage of the number of structures that are estimated to pepper the whole of Polynesia, according to Kahn.

The marae were where ruling chiefs made political, social, and religious decisions, explains Hinano Teavai-Murphy, president of the Association Te Pu Atitia. It’s a community-based nonprofit that aims to bridge the gap between local indigenous knowledge and western science.

“Each family clan had a marae and they were indicative of land ownership. All genealogy is built and attached to a marae,” says Tevai-Murphy. “For us land is very important, it’s a place where you bury your ancestors, and the placenta of your children. We don’t own the land, we belong to the land.”

“You want to be careful in all of this to not paint an idyllic picture of the past,” points out Dana Lepofsky, an archaeology professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who has worked with Kahn. “People are people.” The marae also are where ancient Polynesians made human sacrifices to their war-god ‘Oro. And the elite were self-serving, she explains, extracting resources and demanding agricultural production from the working class for their own ceremonies.

Feast or Famine

At the same time that Mo‘orean (Maohi) society was booming, its approach to agriculture was shifting from erosive land clearing to terraced fields and orchards that could reliably and sustainably feed a growing population. Maohi farmers, through generations of careful observation and trial and error, gained significant ecological knowledge about how best to cultivate that landscape.

Sometime in the past, a top-down land management system called rahui was established, where chiefs restricted harvests to ensure there was enough food for elite feasts on the ruling class’s marae. These top-down restrictions, in combination with the farmer’s ecological knowledge may have led to a kind of conservation ethic.

From 1650 to 1788, some chiefdoms in the ‘Opunohu Valley were at war with coastal chiefs. Local stories and chants tell of battles between those who lived in the less productive “dry” land on the shores and those who settled on the more fruitful “wet” land farther inland. Later the valley became a refuge for coastal chiefs fleeing European influence.

Returning to the Roots

Mo‘orea became a French colony in 1880, and in the 1900s the French introduced species from their own gardens, including Miconia (Miconia calvescens). Miconia, which now fringes most marae sites with its waxy broad leaves, is an invasive species that threatens to shade out the Maohi cultivars and native plants that have grown in Mo‘orea’s forests for centuries.

Today in the ‘Oponohu Valley, instead of terraced fields next to marae and elaborate forest gardens, you see cookie-cutter pineapple plantations with exposed blood red soil. Much of the knowledge of agricultural traditions, along with 80 percent of the population, was wiped out in the 1800s by diseases brought from Europe. The mono-cropped pineapple plantations on Mo‘orea are in sharp contrast to the biologically and structurally diverse agricultural systems of pre-European times. There once were more than a dozen varieties of bananas on Mo‘orea, according to Lepofsky.

Mo‘orea’s population, now about 16,000, is concentrated on the coasts, but there’s a surge of interest in returning to the rich soil of the valleys. There, among the old marae sites in the ‘Opunohu Valley, students like Tearai Marzin, who attends an agricultural high school, are tapping into their roots as they go out of their way to learn how to cultivate traditional Polynesian crops.

The interest in keeping tradition alive is growing, but traditional farming practices are still fairly limited. Marzin has had to turn to community leaders like Teavi-Murphy to connect her with elders who can share knowledge she can’t get at the school. “There is a lot to learn from them that isn’t part of the curriculum,” she says.

This interest in traditional agriculture is an example of a trend Lepofsky has seen in her work around the world—as people reclaim their heritage, they increasingly turn to lessons learned by their ancestors about how to sustainably interact with their environment.

“There is an inextricable link,” she says, “between biological and cultural diversity.

Original article:

Tasha Eichenseher in Mo‘orea

Published February 18, 2011


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