Archive for February, 2013


Topic: Maze

For years, archaeologists have debated the economic basis for the rise of civilization in the Andean region of Peru. The prevailing theory advanced the notion that the development and consumption of marine resources was the primary mover. Now, however, a team of research scientists have found evidence to dispel that theory.

Led by the Field Museum curator Dr. Jonathan Haas, a team of researchers examined and evaluated ancient microscopic residues of maize in the form of pollen, starch grains and phytoliths (plant silica bodies) found in soil, on stone tools, and in coprolites (preserved fecal matter) from ancient sites, using 212 instances where Carbon-14 dates were obtained. They focused on 13 desert valley sites of Pativilca and Fortaleza, north of Lima, where they found broad botanical evidence that indicated extensive production, processing and consumption of maize between 3000 and 1800 B.C. The two most extensively studied sites were Caballete, about six miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and consisting of six large platform mounds arranged in a “U” shape, and the site of Huaricanga, about 14 miles inland, featuring one large mound and several smaller mounds. They targeted residences, trash pits, ceremonial rooms, and campsites, but most of the samples were taken from trash pits of residences.

Of 126 soil samples analyzed, 61 contained Z. mays pollen, consistent with the percentage of maize pollen found in pollen analyses from sites in other parts of the world where maize is a major crop and constitutes the primary source of calories in the diet.

The researchers also analyzed residues on stone tools used for cutting, scraping, pounding, and grinding. The tools were examined for evidence of plant residues, particularly starch grains and phytoliths (plant silica bodies). Of the 14 stone tools analyzed, 11 had maize starch grains on the working surfaces and two had maize phytoliths.

But coprolites provided the best direct evidence of prehistoric diet. Among 62 coprolites analyzed – 34 human, 16 domesticated dog, and others from various animals – 43 (or 69 percent) contained maize starch grains, phytoliths, or other remains. Of the 34 human coprolites, 23 (or 68 percent) contained evidence of maize. The second most common grain found was sweet potatoes. The coprolites also showed that fish, mostly anchovies, provided the primary protein in the diet, but not the calories.

While maize is grown in the area today, they were able to rule out modern day contamination because modern maize pollen grains are larger and turn dark red when stain is applied. Also, modern soil samples consistently contain pollen from the Australian Pine (Casuarinaceae Casuarina), a plant which is an invasive species from Australia never found in prehistoric samples.

After years of study, Haas and his colleagues have concluded that during the Late Archaic, maize (Zea mays, or corn) was indeed a primary component in the diet of people living in the Norte Chico region of Peru, an area of remarkable cultural florescence in the 3rd millennium B.C. Moreover, the prevalence of maize in multiple contexts and in multiple sites indicates this domesticated food crop was grown widely in the area and constituted a major portion of the ancient inhabitants’ diet, not confined only to ceremonial occasions.

The research results reinforce the importance of agriculture in providing a strong economic base for the rise of complex, centralized societies in the emergence of civilizations. “This new body of evidence demonstrates quite clearly that the very earliest emergence of civilization in South America was indeed based on agriculture as in the other great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and China,” said Haas.

All of the botanical work conducted on this project was carried out at the new Laboratorio de Palinología y Paleobotánica at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, under the direction of Luis Huamán. Analysis of the botanical remains was a collaboration among Huaman, David Goldstein, National Park Service, Karl Reinhard, University of Nebraska, Cindy Vergel, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia. The Project was co-directed by Haas and Winifred Creamer, Northern Illinois University, with funding from the National Science Foundation.

The detailed report appears in the online Early Edition issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the week of February 25, 2013.

popular archaeology
Feb 25, 2013


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Topic: pagan food?

Catholic guilt first put the British off the idea of eating horses almost 1,500 years ago, archaeologists have concluded.

How a distaste for ‘pagan food’ first put the British off horsemeat

A new study of the eating habits of the Anglo Saxons suggests that they may have developed a strong distaste for horsemeat because they saw it as a “pagan” food.

The findings, published in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology, could help explain the level of revulsion at the recent revelations that consumers have been eating horsemeat uwittingly.

Evidence from animal bones found at settlement sites across England shows that horses appear to have been eaten on special occasions in the early Anglo Saxon period.

But as Christianity was gradually reintroduced to Britain between the Sixth and Eighth Centuries the custom became increasingly rare.

Dr Kristopher Poole, of Nottingham University, the author of the study, compared dated records of animal bones in former settlements.

He found that almost a third of the sites from the early part of the period contained evidence of butchered horse bones.

Often the heads were found but not other parts of the animal, suggesting that the meat had been shared out for feasting.

But evidence of horse butchery from the later part of the period is much rarer.

He notes that the decline coincided with a period when Christianity was becoming more firmly established.

In Rome Pope Gregory III condemned the consumption of horse meat as and “filthy and abominable practice”.

Dr Poole says that an earlier “laissez faire approach to horse consumption” evident in writings from the Seventh Century had given way to a more rigid line by the Eighth Century.

One reason for its disappearance, according to Dr Poole, could be that horses were associated with various pagan gods in north-west Europe, leading to them being eaten for religious reasons.

“While many ‘pagan’ beliefs became integrated into Christian practices in England, the possible veneration and eating of horse seems to have been too much of a challenge to Christian perspectives,” he writes.

Prof Helena Hamerow, of Oxford University’s Institute of Archaeology, said: “This is an important paper that shows how far back in history the aversion to eating horses seems to go amongst the English.

“Although the custom of eating horseflesh appears to have been widespread in early medieval Northern Europe and early Anglo-Saxons on occasion consumed horse, it disappeared from the diet after the conversion, as church authorities tried to undermine the habit.”

The paper does not attempt to explain how the fashion for eating horsemeat re-emerged in other European countries, notably France.


By John Bingham
Feb 21, 2013


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Topic: Byzantine period wine press

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) exposed the remains of a liquid extraction installation – most likely used for pressing wine from grapes – dating to the Byzantine period.

It is also possible that the installation was used to produce wine or alcoholic beverage from other types of fruit that grew in the region.

The find was made as part of an excavation being conducted in preparation for municipal infrastructure work for the Tel Aviv municipality.

IAA’s excavation director Dr. Yoav Arbel said, “This is the first important building from the Byzantine period to be uncovered in this part of the city, and it adds a significant dimension to our knowledge about the impressive agricultural distribution in the region in this period.”

Yaffo’s rich and diverse agricultural tradition has a history thousands of years old beginning with references to the city and its fertile fields in ancient Egyptian documents up until Yaffo’s orchards in the Ottoman period.

“The installation, which probably dates to the second half of the Byzantine period (6th century – early 7th century CE), is divided into surfaces paved with a white industrial mosaic,” Dr. Arbel explained. “Due to the mosaic’s impermeability, such surfaces are commonly found in the press installations of the period which were used to extract liquid.”

“Each unit was connected to a plastered collecting vat. The pressing was performed on the mosaic surfaces whereupon the liquid drained into the vats. It is possible that the section that was discovered represents a relatively small part of the overall installation, and other elements of it are likely to be revealed in archaeological excavations along adjacent streets which are expected to take place later this year.”

Following the find, the installation was covered as new infrastructures were laid in place above it without damaging it, enabling the continued work on the city’s infrastructure without compromising the preservation of the antiquities for future generations.

The Tel Aviv municipality is modernizing the underground infrastructure, roads and sidewalks. Overhead electrical and telephone wires are being lowered, and street furniture and landscaping are being added.

Jewish press
By Jewish press staff
Feb 20, 2013

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Topic Bronze Age burial find

Lets hope they find more in the way of food stuffs at this site, interesting though.

A rare and “amazing” burial discovery dating back 4,000 years has been described as the most significant find on Dartmoor and has given archaeologists a glimpse into the lives of the people who once lived there.

The discovery of a bronze age granite cist, or grave, in 2011 in a peat bog on White Horse Hill revealed the first organic remains found on the moor and a hoard of about 150 beads.

As the National Park’s archaeologists levered off the lid they were shocked by what lay beneath.

The park’s chief archaeologist, Jane Marchand, said: “Much to our surprise we actually found an intact cremation deposit [human bones] which is actually a burial alongside a number of grave goods.

“What was so unusual was the survival of so many organic objects which you never usually get in a grave of this period, they’ve long since rotted away.”

Amongst the grave goods was an animal pelt, containing a delicate bracelet studded with tin beads, a textile fragment with detailed leather fringing and a woven bag .

The discovery of the White Horse Hill cist has increased the number of bronze age beads found on Dartmoor from eight to more than 150, including two amber beads
Ms Marchand said: “The whole thing was actually wrapped up in an animal pelt of fur. As we lifted it up very carefully a bead fell out and the thrill of realising that actually this is a proper burial, this is a bead which belonged to a burial.

“That’s what’s so exciting, you wouldn’t expect to find any archaeology somewhere like this stuck out on this peak hag. You’ll never be able to top this ever.”

Despite there being about 5,000 remnants of buildings and 200 burial cists on Dartmoor the moor has offered up few of its secrets.

English Heritage archaeologist Win Scutt said: “A lot of it’s to do with robbing, some people have actually robbed the stone, some have robbed the artefacts.

“But the biggest loss we’ve got is all the organic stuff, the bones have all been dissolved by the acid soil up here. The flowers, the gifts of drink and food which would have gone in, most of their life was organic, it was stuff that would rot away.
“If we could get the perishable items, the organic materials, it would really shine a big light into pre-history.”

This discovery has provided a rare glimpse into history with an ear stud or libret found in the bag while it was being examined at the Wiltshire Conservation Lab.

Ms Marchand said: “I don’t remember studs being recorded at any other excavation from this period. I’ve worked on Dartmoor for over 20 years and never anticipated getting anything like this.

“It’s just amazing, it suddenly brings them to life and actually you feel much closer to them because this is someone who likes their jewellery, I like jewellery, and actually you can identify with that side of things.

“We’re only at the beginning really I just can’t wait for the results to start coming in.”

Original article:


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Topic: New find

Not much in the way of food finds yet, but I will keep my eye out for more information. This site looks ripe for ancient food discoveries.

Daily News Photo by MAX UFBERG Construction along Krondprindsens Gade in downtown Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas has been halted after crews uncovered an archaelogical find that is an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 years old.

ST. THOMAS ­- Archaeologists monitoring V.I. Public Works Department’s Market Square construction project in downtown Charlotte Amalie have discovered a site containing thousands of artifacts from a settlement dating back an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 years.

A 200-foot trench on Krondprindsens Gade between Strand Gade and General Gade gives access to a midden, the archaeological term for a dumping ground where people deposited food waste, excrement and discarded broken pots and tools.

The site will be hand-excavated during the next several weeks by a team of archaeologists called in for their expertise in the “Saladoid” period, which dates from 500 B.C. to 545 A.D.

Artifacts already extracted from the dig include hundreds of whelk shells, hundreds of pottery fragments and some bones of fish, birds, hutia and marine mammals.

Strand Gade will be closed to vehicles at its intersection with Curaçao Gade within the next two days and will remain closed for the duration of the dig. The street will remain accessible to pedestrians, according to Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls.

Smalls said his department was erecting signs and fencing to protect the area and that eventually the public would be invited to tour and view the work site.

The discovery has been hailed by local archaeologists, Public Works and the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office as a valuable opportunity to learn more about the people indigenous to St. Thomas during the pre-Columbian period and well worth any delays or expense it creates.

“We have a major site here, one that is rich in the history of St. Thomas,” said David Hayes, the archaeologist hired by Public Works’ contractor to monitor the construction. “It takes priority over everything else because once the water lines are put in, the site will be completely destroyed. We have to extract as much information as possible.”

While a trench for the installation of water lines was being dug on Jan. 22, Hayes noticed hundreds of whelk shells and pottery shards pouring out from the newly disturbed soil. The discovery led him to call a halt to the construction and to begin testing the materials to establish how old they are.

The significance of the find has prompted Public Works to forestall construction around the trench until archaeologists complete their extraction of artifacts, which will be turned over for storage to the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office.

The people associated with the newly discovered site are believed to have migrated from the Orinoco River valley in South America. The first settlers in the Virgin Islands are believed to predate the Saladoid people by 1,000 years.

Archaeological evidence of these first settlers was discovered in Krum Bay. The people of the Saladoid period were more advanced than these first settlers in that they practiced agriculture and had more advanced stone tool technology.

The Saladoid people may have been indirect ancestors of the Taino population native to the islands at the time of Columbus, according to Emily Lundberg, an archaeologist who has done work at the Krum Bay site and the new site.

The Federal Highway Administration funds the downtown infrastructure improvement project and will, because of federal laws regulating the preservation of historic resources, be obliged to pay the extra costs associated with the archaeological work.

The Public Works Department has to comply with the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 in allowing sufficient time for archaeologists to glean as much as they can from the site, according to Sean Krigger, the acting director of the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office.

Hayes said the costs of excavating the site could run “between $100,000 and $1 million” depending on how many artifacts are culled and what kind of research needs to be done on them.

“This is a complex project where the archaeology has to be done and the infrastructure has to be done, and we are all working together to achieve both the knowledge of the past and the infrastructure for a modern St. Thomas,” Hayes said.

In the early 1980s, a small sample of similar artifacts was unearthed in the same area during a much smaller construction project. The findings indicated the area is significant to the history of the Saladoid period, but archeologists had no idea of the wealth of evidence in the area until the recent discovery.

“We had a small peek into this area’s value in terms of the period many, many years ago,” Hayes said. “But nobody realized how big the site was until we started to see the enormous deposits of shells and pottery coming out of the trench.”

In 1990, the construction of Tutu Park Mall unearthed remnants of a village dating to the same period. In about a year of excavation work where the Kmart and the parking lot adjacent to it now exist, archeologists uncovered skeletons and round houses from the Tutu site before the developers began pushing to continue their project.

Experts have said the new Main Street discovery is comparable in terms of significance and size.

Krigger said that the Main Street discovery potentially could be even more fruitful in terms of what could be learned about the culture of the Saladoid residents of St. Thomas because of the number of artifacts and because the archaeological team will not be under pressure from private developers to rush the extraction of artifacts.

The Tutu project became the “banner or poster child” for the V.I. Legislature’s passing the Antiquities and Cultural Properties Act of 1998 to protect archaeological discoveries not connected to federal money and therefore not protected by federal law, according to Krigger.

“We don’t have sufficient information of what their lifestyle was, and what we do have is not specific enough. This is why this is such a golden opportunity for us to conduct this archaeological investigation,” Krigger said. “Circumstances didn’t allow for the full investigation of Tutu Park site. Now we have time to really do it right and to get another snapshot of the lives of these people and what their contribution to island history was.”

Original article:

Published: February 14, 2013


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Topic: Farming

MADISON – For decades, archaeologists have debated how farming spread to Stone Age Europe, setting the stage for the rise of Western civilization.

Now, new data gleaned from the teeth of prehistoric farmers and the hunter-gatherers with whom they briefly overlapped shows that agriculture was introduced to Central Europe from the Near East by colonizers who brought farming technology with them.

“One of the big questions in European archaeology has been whether farming was brought or borrowed from the Near East,” says T. Douglas Price, a University of Wisconsin-Madison archaeologist who, with Cardiff University’s Dusan Boric, measured strontium isotopes in the teeth of 153 humans from Neolithic burials in an area known as the Danube Gorges in modern Romania and Serbia.

The report, which appears this week (Feb. 11, 2013) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, draws on isotopic signatures of strontium found in the tooth enamel of people who died nearly 8,000 years ago, about 6,200 B.C. Strontium is a chemical found in rocks everywhere. It enters the body through diet at or around birth and etches an indelible signature in teeth that accurately documents the geology of an individual’s birthplace.

“The evidence from the Danube Gorges shows clearly that new people came in bringing farming and replaced the earlier Mesolithic hunter-gatherers,” says Price, a UW-Madison professor of anthropology and an expert on early agriculture in Europe.

The Danube Gorges slice through the Carpathian Mountains and in the Stone Age were a heavily forested setting, rich in fish and game, including huge sturgeon, catfish, red deer and wild boar. The bends and twists of the Danube in the Gorges region made it especially important as a source of fish, and thus potentially a desirable entryway to Europe for highly mobile and expanding Neolithic communities accompanied by their domesticates – wheat, barley, flax, goats and cattle.

The new research, explains Price, speaks to the question of colonization versus adoption of transformative technologies such as farming. “It is also useful because it suggests another route across the Black Sea or up the east coast of Bulgaria to the Danube for farmers moving into Europe. This contrasts with movement by sea across the Mediterranean or Aegean, which is the standard picture.”

Archaeologists have long wrestled with the question of how farming spread across Europe, ushering in a host of technologies, including the use of pottery, that ultimately led to the rise Western civilizations. Two big ideas have dominated the debate: Did the technology arrive with colonizers from Asia, notably Anatolia or modern Turkey? Or did the technology, including newly domesticated plants and animals, simply diffuse across the European landscape through networks of local foragers?

There is some evidence for the importation of early agriculture along the shores of the Mediterranean and in Central Europe, Price notes, “but elsewhere in Europe it is not clear whether it was colonists or locals adopting.”

Isotopic studies of strontium and other chemicals found in the teeth and bones of Neolithic humans, however, are now helping archaeologists better track the movement of ancient peoples across the landscape. Strontium signatures last not just a lifetime, but potentially thousands of years as tooth enamel, the densest tissue in the body, resists decomposition and contamination after death. It is now commonly used by archaeologists to determine if an individual was local or foreign to the place where their remains were discovered.

An interesting finding of the study is that 8,000 years ago, when Neolithic farmers were beginning to migrate into the Danube Gorges and overlap with Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, more women than men were identified as foreigners. A possible explanation for the variance, according to the study, is that women came to these sites from Neolithic farming communities as part of an ongoing social exchange.

In the Danube Gorges, the overlap of colonizing early farmers and hunter-gatherers lasted perhaps a couple of hundred years before the forager societies were completely absorbed by the beginning of the sixth millennium B.C.

The new study was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Terry Devitt, 608-262-8282, trdevitt@wisc.edu
Original article:
Feb 11, 2013


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Topic: Hunting, agriculture and domestication

A new study on the populations of wild cattle and boars in the Levant Valley by Nimrod Marom, Guy Bar-OzLaboratory of Archaeozoology, University of Haifa, Israel has been published in PLOSone online Journal. The research helps reshape our present understanding on the beginning of agriculture and domestication of animals.

The faunal assemblage from the 9th-8th millennium BP site at Sha’ar Hagolan, was used to study human interaction with wild suids (pigs) and cattle in a time period just before the appearance of domesticated animals of these species in the Jordan Valley.

Sha`ar Hagolan: A Neolithic transition

The early Neolithic village was occupied ca. 8000-7500 years during what is known in the region as the Yarmukian Culture. The site is already famous for the remarkable assemblages of figurines with one of the structures yielding approximately 70 made of stone or fired clay. It is also one of the first sites in the area that pottery is found.

No other single site of this period has produced so many figurines in a single building, and among the outstanding art objects from Sha’ar HaGolan are figurines in human form made of fired clay (above) or stylistic carved pebbles.

At the centre of the village stood a large, well-constructed building, serving what may be assumed to be a communal function. It has a courtyard reached from the narrow, winding alley which runs between the domestic structures of the settlement. Several rectangular rooms with thick mudbrick walls and one circular room, which served as a silo, were built around the courtyard.

Crossing into domestication

The results, based on demographic and osteometric data, indicate that full domestication of both cattle and suids occurred at the site during the 8th millennium. Importantly, domestication was preceded in both cow and suids demographics indicating severe overhunting.

The possible role of overhunting in shaping the characteristics of domesticated animals and the social infrastructure to ownership of herds is seen as plausible.

The most common marker used to document domestication are demographic, bio-geographic and morphological changes that occur in the transformation of a wild species into a domesticated one.

The onset of this process can be found in sheep, goat, cattle and pigs in certain parts of the Near East from the 12th millennium BP onwards.

Age-at-death and sex ratio analyses of early livestock show increasing departure from the prime-adult pattern that typified Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic hunting to a selective culling of younger male animals which suggests domesticated herds.

DNA extraction from Neolithic zooarchaeological specimens in the region has so far been unsuccessful and so the researchers limited the inquiry to morphometric and demographic data which are to date the most commonly used methods for documenting the transition from hunting to controlled selection (the first step to full domestication).

Body-size in cattle and suids was recorded as significantly smaller than that of the reference specimens from local wild populations during the earliest phase of settlement at the site, in the PPN (Pre Pottery Neolithic)

By documenting the sex, age at death and general body mass, it becomes clearer that the access to wild animals is decreasing and more pressure is placed on smaller, younger and mainly male animals.

These demographic markers can be directly linked to an evolving human-animal relationship and show perhaps a foundation of domestication in a growing need, based on overhunting.

Original article:


Feb 11, 2013

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