Archive for February, 2012

Topic: Ancient fruit

Arctic squirrel

Scientists in Russia have grown plants from fruit stored away in permafrost by squirrels over 30,000 years ago.

The fruit was found in the banks of the Kolyma River in Siberia, a top site for people looking for mammoth bones.

The Institute of Cell Biophysics team raised plants of Silene stenophylla – of the campion family – from the fruit.

Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they note this is the oldest plant material by far to have been brought to life.

Prior to this, the record lay with date palm seeds stored for 2,000 years at Masada in Israel.

The leader of the research team, Professor David Gilichinsky, died a few days before his paper was published.

In it, he and his colleagues describe finding about 70 squirrel hibernation burrows in the river bank.

“All burrows were found at depths of 20-40m from the present day surface and located in layers containing bones of large mammals such as mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horse, deer, and other representatives of fauna from the age of mammoths, as well as plant remains,” they write.

“The presence of vertical ice wedges demonstrates that it has been continuously frozen and never thawed.

“Accordingly, the fossil burrows and their content have never been defrosted since burial and simultaneous freezing.”

The squirrels appear to have stashed their store in the coldest part of their burrow, which subsequently froze permanently, presumably due to a cooling of the local climate.

The fruits grew into healthy plants, though subtly different from modern examples of the species

Sugar sweet

Back in the lab, near Moscow, the team’s attempts to germinate mature seeds failed.

Eventually they found success using elements of the fruit itself, which they refer to as “placental tissue” and propagated in laboratory dishes.

“This is by far the most extraordinary example of extreme longevity for material from higher plants,” commented Robin Probert, head of conservation and technology at the UK’s Millennium Seed Bank.

“I’m not surprised that it’s been possible to find living material as old as this, and this is exactly where we would go looking, in permafrost and these fossilised rodent burrows with their caches of seeds.

“But it is a surprise to me that they’re finding viable material from this placental tissue rather than mature seeds.

The Russian team’s theory is that the tissue cells are full of sucrose that would have formed food for the growing plants.

Sugars are preservatives; they are even being researched as a way of keeping vaccines fresh in the hot climates of Africa without the need for refrigeration.

So it may be that the sugar-rich cells were able to survive in a potentially viable state for so long.

Silene stenophylla still grows on the Siberian tundra; and when the researchers compared modern-day plants against their resurrected cousins, they found subtle differences in the shape of petals and the sex of flowers, for reasons that are not evident.

The scientists suggest in their PNAS paper that research of this kind can help in studies of evolution, and shed light on environmental conditions in past millennia.

But perhaps the most enticing suggestion is that it might be possible, using the same techniques, to raise plants that are now extinct – provided that Arctic ground squirrels or some other creatures secreted away the fruit and seeds.

“We’d predict that seeds would stay viable for thousands, possibly tens of thousands of years – I don’t think anyone would expect hundreds of thousands of years,” said Dr Probert.

“[So] there is an opportunity to resurrect flowering plants that have gone extinct in the same way that we talk about bringing mammoths back to life, the Jurassic Park kind of idea.”

Original Article:


By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News

February 20, 2012


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Topic: Ancient Methods-Modern uses


Excavation the ash around the silos, view to the west. Photo by Yasser Mahmoud



Overview of the silo building, excavation and recording. View to the west. Photo by Yasser Mahmoud



One of the most interesting things that I noticed in my excavation, in what seems to be a storage building that dates to the Old Kingdom in Giza, is a concentration of ash. This ash surrounded circular mud brick silos that had been constructed beside each other forming an L. The ash itself was very dark, dense and soft. Thinking about the silos and the ash, I remembered my mother and her storage methods for the butter. She put the butter in a big aluminum jar and surrounded the jar with a layer of soft ash to prevent the ants from reaching the butter. My colleague Hussein Rekaby, an excavation supervisor, told me that the people in his village near Aswan still use the same idea in their construction of storage silos.  They start by spreading ash horizontally, then they put clay to make the base of the silo before building the silo itself. Hanan Mahmoud, hearing Hussein’s story, told me that she exposed a layer of ash deposit under a sequence of round mud brick silos when she excavated House E to the East of Queen Khentkawes tomb at Giza. We follow some of our ancestors’ daily life behaviors and customs.

Original Article:



Posted on Feb 1, 2012

Posted by Rabee Eissa, SCA archaeologist

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Topic: African Rainforest


Ancient Farmers had Impact on Disappearance of African Rainforests | Popular Archaeology – exploring the past.



Original article:


Feb 2012

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Topic: Pollen reveals ancient palace grew the citrus in its garden.

Ramat Rachel



The earliest evidence of local cultivation of three of the Sukkot holiday’s traditional “four species” has been found at the most ancient royal royal garden ever discovered in Israel.

The garden, at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem, gave up its secrets through remnants of pollen found in the plaster of its walls.

The garden was part of an Israelite palace at Ramat Rachel that has been excavated for many years, most recently in a joint dig by Prof. Oded Lipschits and Dr. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Manfred Oeming of Heidelberg University. The palace existed from the time of King Hezekiah until the Hasmonean period in the second century B.C.E.

The excavations revealed that the garden must have had a beautiful – and strategic – view, but it lacked its own water source. Thus the ancient landscape architects had to build channels and pools to collect rainwater for irrigation.

The archaeologists discovered that the garden’s designers had removed the original hard soil and replaced it with suitable garden soil. But until recently, they had no idea what was grown there.

Then, Lipschits said, he and his colleagues had a “wild thought”: If plasterers had worked on the garden walls in springtime, when flowers were blooming, breezes would have carried the pollen to the walls, where it would have become embedded in the plaster.

Enlisting the aid of Tel Aviv University archaeobotanist Dr. Dafna Langgut, they carefully peeled away layers of the plaster, revealing pollen from a number of plant species.

Most of the plants were wild, but in one layer of plaster, apparently from the Persian period  (the era of the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile in 538 B.C.E. ) they found pollen from ornamental species and fruit trees, some of which came from distant lands.

The find that most excited the scholars was pollen from etrogs, or citrons, a fruit that originated in India. This is the earliest botanical evidence of citrons in the country.

Scholars believe the citron came here via Persia, and that its Hebrew name, etrog, preserves the Persian name for the fruit – turung. They also say royal cultivation of the exotic newcomer was a means of advertising the king’s power and capabilities.

The garden at Ramat Rachel is also the first place in the country to yield evidence of the cultivation of myrtle and willow – two more of the four species used in Sukkot rituals.

Original Article:


By Zafrir Rinat February 20, 2012

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Topic: More on Barley growing in Greenland

Viking Ruin

The Vikings are both famous and notorious for their liking of beer and  mead and archaeologists have discussed for years whether Eric the Red  (ca 950-1010) and his followers had to make do without the golden drink  when they settled in Greenland around the year 1,000:  The climate was mild when they landed, but was it warm enough for growing barley?

Researchers  from the National Museum in Copenhagen say the answer to the question  is ‘yes’. In a unique find, they uncovered tiny fragments of charred barley grains in a Viking midden on Greenland.

The find  is final proof that the first Vikings to live in Greenland did grow  barley – the most important ingredient in making a form of  porridge, baking bread and of course in brewing beer, traditionally seen as the staple foods in the  Vikings’ diet.

“Archaeologists have always believed that the Vikings tried to  cultivate the soil on their farms in fertile southern Greenland,” says  Peter Steen Henriksen, who holds an MSc in agriculture. “But this hasn’t  been proved until now.”

Settling in a harsh environment

Henriksen, an archaeobotanist at  the National Museum’s Environmental Archaeology and Archaeometry  section (NNU) in Copenhagen, led an expedition to Greenland to study how  the Vikings tackled the task of settling in a cold and harsh  environment.

“Now we can see that the Vikings could grow barley, and this was very important for their survival,” he says.

The  find also substantiates a well-known text from about 1250, ‘King’s  mirror (Konungs skuggsjá)’, which mentions in passing that the Vikings  attempted to grow grain on Greenland. It is the only report about  cultivating barley that we have from that time and says: “As to whether any sort of grain can grow there, my belief is that the country draws but little profit from that source. And yet there are men among those who are counted the wealthiest and most prominent who have tried to sow grain as an experiment; but the great majority in that country do not know what bread is, having never seen it.”

Researchers believe the Vikings probably grew barley in small  quantities,  and sowed grain in enclosures that were no bigger than their  ability to irrigate the field and keep hungry animals out.

Well-preserved Viking farms

Henriksen and his colleagues were in  Greenland in 2010 and 2011 to search for signs of agriculture at Viking  farms at the island’s southernmost point.

“We carried out several  excavations at 12 different ruined Viking farms, even though they were  abandoned 700 to 800 years ago,” says the researcher. “Many of the farms  were well preserved. The peat and stone walls can still be seen, and in  some places they’re a metre and a half high.”

Midden heaps are a mine of knowledge

The researchers had little  chance of finding the remains they wanted in what was left of the stone  buildings, and Greenland’s soil is too thin to preserve remnants of any Viking agriculture. Further traces that might have existed have been  destroyed by the weather and not least by modern agricultural activities  – today’s Greenland sheep farmers have settled in the same places as  their Viking forebears.

But the Vikings were just like the rest of us, and needed  somewhere to get rid of their rubbish. The researchers found these rubbish  heaps (known as middens) close to the Vikings’ farms.

Barley at the bottom of the heap

Ancient Barley

The middens – containing food remains, household rubbish and ashes from the fires – were quite large,  which was not surprising as the Vikings had inhabited the farms for  many decades. As the contents rotted, the heaps subsided, and  are now only about a metre thick.

The sample we took from the bottom layer of a heap contained cereal grains. The grains had been close to a fire and were charred, which is what preserved them

“We excavated the middens  down to the bottom layers, which date from the time the settlers  arrived,” says Henriksen, whose team took 300 kg of samples for further  analysis. “The sample we took from the bottom layer of a heap contained  cereal grains. The grains had been close to a fire and were charred,  which is what preserved them.”

From their shape and size, the grains were positively identified as barley and they came  from local agricultural production.

Wild barley is not strong enough to grow in Greenland, says  Henriksen, who also rules out imported barley, as even small quantities  of grain would be too much for the cargo hold of the Vikings’ ships.

“If  the cereal grains had been imported, it would have already been threshed, so finding  parts of grains of barley is a very strong indication that the Vikings  grew their own,” he adds. The find also confirms researchers’  theory that they tried to continue the form of life they knew so  well from their original homes.

Little Ice Age stopped cultivation

The Greenland climate  was slightly warmer than it is today, and the southernmost tip of the great  island looked fertile and green and no doubt tempted Eric the Red and his  followers. This encouraged them to cultivate some of the seed they  brought with them from Iceland.

The Vikings also tried to grow  other agricultural crops. Their attempts to grow these crops and barley  did not last long, however, as the climate cooled over the next couple  of centuries until the Little Ice Age started in the 13th century.

“The Vikings couldn’t cultivate very much in the last decades they  were in Greenland because the climate was too bad,” says Henriksen.  “Barley needs a long growing season, and if that season is too short you  can’t harvest seed for the next season.”

At some point the Vikings  were no longer able to maintain the seed production for their food and  drink, and that made it more difficult for them to survive.

The mysterious end of Greenland’s Viking era

The cold climate may have finished off not only the barley but also the Vikings on Greenland themselves.

When  Eric the Red arrived in Greenland, the island’s original inhabitants,  the Inuit, had already died out because of the harsh climate. Perhaps  the Vikings suffered the same fate, or perhaps the cold caused them to  abandon their life on Greenland and move on.

According to written  sources, the Vikings in Greenland were last heard of in 1408. After that  they disappeared; no-one knows when, where or how.

Original Article:


first publisled by

By: Sybille Hildebrandt, ScienceNordic



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Topic: Dig in San Gabriel uncovers food in trash pit


San Gabriel dig site offers new insight into California history – Pasadena Star-News.

Original article:

By Lauren Gold

2/2 2012

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Topic: Brewing Beer in ancient Greenland

Archaeologists from the Danish national museum have finally succeeded in  confirming that Erik the Red and his people could indeed brew beer in Greenland  when they lived there.

There has long been a question mark over whether or not the southern  Greenlandic climate was warm enough in Viking times to grow grain for beer,  mead, gruel and bread.

Now Danish archaeologists have found remains of burnt barley in a dunghill  from the time when Erik the Red and other Icelanders moved to Greenland. The  find is the first evidence of corn cultivation in southern Greenland a thousand  years ago.

According to Jyllandsposten, the archaeologists are very proud of their find  and are even shipping 300 kilogrammes of the dunghill home to Denmark for  further research.

Original article:


Jan28, 2012

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