Topic Grains& Such
DATELINE: 21K BCE………………………….SUBJECT: When did man first start grinding grains into cereal?
Old thinking was 10K BCE, but archaeologists at hunter-gatherer site Ohalo II in Israel turned up cereal grindings–mostly grass seeds including wild barley and emmer wheat–and burned stones that indicate these early peoples were making and baking bread long before they learned how to cultivate cereal grasses on their own. (Nature, reported in The Economist, 8/7/04)
DATELINE: 6-9K BCE…………………………SUBJECT: Why did early Africans, reversing the Middle Eastern paradigm, domesticate animals before cereal grains?
Nobody really knows, but one theory is that so much grain grew wild that there was no need. Wild cattle was domesticated by 6-9K BCE…but no plants were domesticated until about 2K BCE. And know what that plant was? The ancient ancestor of watermelon, except it was a dry little gourd with seeds that were tasty when roasted. Cattle, on the other hand, was early milked for blood and milk…and used for meat. Plus worshipped by some pastoralists and buried in elaborate graves. (New York Times, by Brenda Fowler, 7/27/04)
DATELINE: 1+ million BCE…………………..SUBJECT: Was Australopithecus robustus, forebear of modern man, a vegetarian or not?
Researchers in South Africa and France challenge the conventional wisdom that the flat teeth and big jaws of this African were designed soley for chewing woody food like leaves, grasses, and roots. Their examination of his bone tools suggests that they were used to break up termite mounds to get at the meaty protein and fat of termites. (The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported in The New York Times, 1/23/01)
DATELINE: 1.8 million BCE………………….SUBJECT: Controversy rages over diet changes that spurred increased brain size in homo erectus
Existing theory that identifies early man’s meat eating as the cause for brain development leading to Homo Sapiens has been challenged by several teams of scientists who have excavated sites with ash and vegetable remains, indicating man used his taming of fire at that point in time to cook roots and tubers that provided key nutritional resources. The “cooked tuber” theory posit that control of fire was central to early human evolution. (New York Times, reported by Mark Derr on 1/16/01)
DATELINE: 5,000 BCE…………………….SUBJECT: First cultivation of root crops in the Americas
Researchers from Temple U. and the Smithsonian found starch grains on the milling stones of an archeological site near the Pacific coast of Panama–and were able to identify them as remnants of cultivated, not wild ancestors of manioc, yams, and arrowroot. The team also found maize starch, indicating that the ancient people were also cultivating seed plants. (New York Times, 10/31/00, reporting on an article in Nature)
DATELINE: 48,000 BCE…………………….SUBJECT: Neanderthal cutting implements manufactured in assembly line production on established cooking sites
Manuel Vaquero of Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, has analyzed the spatial distribution of numerous Neanderthal stone implements from two sediment layers in northeastern Spain’s Abric Romani rock shelter, deducing a kind of workstation assembly line manufacture of small cutting instruments on established cooking sites there (Science News, 10/16/99, reporting on the September issue of Antiquity)
DATELINE: 118,000 BCE…………………….SUBJECT: French proof of Neanderthal Cannibalism
Alban Defleur and his team from Marseille’s CNRS Anthropology Laboratory has unearthed the butchered remains of 6 individuals with animal bones at the Moula-Guercy Cave in southeastern France–all bones showing the exact same signs of meat and marrow removal. Opinions vary on whether the cannibalism was starvation induced or had some deeper meaning for Neanderthal tribes. (Science News, 10/2/99, reporting on 10/1 issue of Science)
DATELINE: 142 million BCE…………………….SUBJECT: Flowering plant progenitors discovered through DNA
Four separate teams of evolutionary biologists have independently answered how flowering plants first evolved on earth–and identified the three most ancient groups in the family tree. The progenitor was an ancient Amborella, some kind of woody, possibly shrubby or viney, plant with a flower bearing an unusual female reproductive structure whose parts were glued together (not fused, as in modern plants). The Amborella group today is represented only by a dumpy little bush on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia. Next oldest groups, though, are water lilies and a group of plants that over time produced today’s star anise spice (Illicium verum). (New York Times, 10/29/99, reporting on the current issue of Science)
DATELINE: 8000 BCE…………………………….SUBJECT: Ontario wheat breeder reproduces the ancient grain that turned Stone Age nomads into farmers
Dexter Sampson, retired wheat breeder, has devoted the last 10 years attempting to reproduce Einkorn, a primitive wheat that grew wild in the fertile crescent in ancient times, then spread to the Balkans, Germany, and France. Because of its tough hull and susceptibility to ergot, Einkorn was allowed to die out in favor of “easier” varietals. In fact, it was considered extinct until Russian scientists discovered a new type of it growing in Turkey in 1926. Sampson used these seeds to develop the new strain–not only to preserve biodiversity, but also to develop a specialty market for fibre-rich ancient grains among those disaffected with genetically engineered plants.
DATELINE: 1600 BC…………………………….SUBJECT: the origin of chocolate
John S. Henderson of Cornell University and Rosemary A. Joyce of the University of California at Berkeley have gathered evidence that chocolate originated in what is now the Ulua River valley in northwestern Honduras. How? They found shards of pottery from ceremonial chocolate bowls that date to 1600 BC–the oldest artifacts ever found of such bowls. Next stop, the lab–to check for telltale traces of chocolate syrup. (Washington Post report, 2/99)
DATELINE: 7600 BC, Noah’s Flood…………..SUBJECT: the origin of European & Asian farming
In Noah’s Flood (Simon & Schuster, 1999) Columbia University marine geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman III have strengthened their 1996 case of a catastrophic flood in the Black Sea causing local Stone Age settlers to take their farming skills to dry lands in Europe and Asia. Using archeological, geological, and climate data to support their provocative thesis, they argue that the flood that inspired the Epic of Gilgamesh and the story of Noah may also have spurred a global farming revolution. (New York Times, 1/5/99)
DATELINE: Iron Age…………….SUBJECT: Dairying
When did Ancient Britons start to drink the milk of domesticated animals? Definitely by the Iron Age, between 1,500 BCE and 500 BCE. Why? Because Stephanie Dudd and Richard Evershed, University of Bristol, have discovered evidence of fatty acids from milk preserved in the remains of pottery shards that date back to that time. While what seem to be ceramic cheese graters, dating to 4,500 BCE, were earlier unearthed in Britain–this is the first time prehistoric milk products themselves have been found and analyzed. (Science, 11/20/98)
DATELINE: 142 million years ago…………..SUBJECT: Flowering Plants
David Dilcher, University of Florida, and William Crepet, Cornell, report the discovery from rockbeds near Beijing, China, of a flower fossil dating to 142 million years ago, 12 million years earlier than the last discovered oldest flower. Plants first developed seeds some 350 million years ago, then worked up to developing flowers as a way to attract insect pollinators as the next great leap in its evolution. The next step was bright blossoms, sweet odor, and flowing nectar…but that didn’t happen until about 55 million years ago. The newly discovered fossil shows a 3-inch twig with a pea pod-shaped fruit that enclosed seeds. (Science, 11/27/98)
DATELINE: Neolithic Age……..SUBJECT: Inventing Soup
Carson I.A. Ritchie in Food in Civilization makes the most comprehensive case for the Neolithic invention of soup. “Evidence suggests that the Neaderthalers had evolved quite sophisticated cooking techniques. They were able to keep alive members of the group who were apparently either very elderly or lifelong invalids. The remains of one young man found near La-Chapelle-aux-Saints in France were those of a cripple who could have been of no use in hunting for the group. Another skeleton was that of an old man who had his teeth worn down to such an extent that he would have found it impossible to chew meat. There was no milk in those days, the food on which, in later times, old toothless people were kept alive. It seems at least likely that people of this sort were nourished on a diet of soup. Now the invention of soup making opened the door for all kinds of other sophisticated cookery.
What went on in the Neanderthal kitchen is a matter for conjecture, but one sensible suggestion is that he boiled animals in their skins. The hide of a flayed animal would be suspended on forked sticks, filled with meat and water, and a fire lighted beneath it. After some time the water would boil, the meat would be cooked, and the broth could then be eaten by invalids. The skin would not catch fire with the heat because it would be cooked by the water. The experiment of boiling water in a bag made of fairly thick paper demonstrates that this kind of cooking is a practical idea. There can be no doubt that cooking in a skin took place in many parts of the world, and it was still being done in Ireland as late as the sixteenth century. …Until recently, Icelanders used to steam their bread in the boiling water of the hot springs by simply wrapping it in some waterproof substance and then dangling it in the hot spring at the end of a rope….
Another way in which Neanderthal extended his list of recipes was by using hot stones. The hot-stone technique meant the invention of frying. In addition, stones, heated to great heat on a campfire, could be transferred to any receptacle filled with water. A sufficiency of hot stones would induce the water to boil. [While] anthropologists have doubted the feasibility of primitive man’s being able to pick the hot stones out of the fire…two stout poles, tied together with a thong, provide a pair of tongs with which even the hottest objects can be removed from a fire. This was the technique used by gun founders in Southeast Asia to remove pieces of slag from a furnace….” (Beaufort Books, 1981)