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Archive for March, 2013

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Topic: ancient farming, China

Some ideas need time to take root. A new analysis suggests it took up to 12,000 years for people in what is now China to go from eating wild plants to farming them. Agriculture elsewhere also took time to flower.

Li Liu of Stanford University and colleagues studied three grinding stones from China’s Yellow River region. They bear residues showing that they were used to process millet and other grains, as well as yams, beans and roots.

The stones date from 23,000 to 19,500 years ago, late in the last ice age. But the earliest archaeological evidence for crop cultivation in China is 11,000 years old, suggesting that farming was slow to emerge from ancient traditions of plant use.

That fits with a wider pattern, says Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick, UK. In the Middle East “we also have evidence of cereals at that 23,000-year point”, he says – which is long before people were farming them. “Although this period is around the late glacial maximum, there is a blip at 23,000 years during which time it was milder.” Millet and the other food plants could have flourished in the warmth, tempting people to start exploiting them.

Some of the plants, like the snakegourd root, are still used in traditional medicines. Karen Hardy at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona, Spain, says she would not be surprised if ancient peoples “knew how to select plant food that benefited their health”. Last year she reported evidence that Neanderthals used medicinal plants.

“We can never know for certain why a plant was ingested, but I think these early people probably had a detailed knowledge of the plants they selected and used,” Hardy says. “This is likely to have included their medicinal as well as their nutritional qualities.”

Original article:

newscientist

By Colin Barras, March 18, 2013

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Topic Ancient farming

AVDAT, Israel — For thousands of years, different groups of people have lived in the Negev desert, building stone walls and cities that survive to this day. But how did they make their living?

The current thinking is that these desert denizens didn’t practice agriculture before approximately the first century, surviving instead by raising animals, said Hendrik Bruins, a landscape archaeologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

But new research suggests people in this area, the Negev highlands, practiced agriculture as long ago as 5000 B.C., Bruins told LiveScience. If true, the finding could change historians’ views of the area’s inhabitants, who lived in the region in biblical times and even before, he added.

A great surprise

Bruins’ findings come from radiocarbon dating of bones and organic materials in various soil layers in an ancient field in southern Israel. He measured the ratio of carbon isotopes (atoms of the same element with a different number of neutrons), which changes as the radioactive carbon-14 isotope breaks down over time, while the stable carbon-12 does not. Within the soil, he found evidence of past cultivation, including animal manure and charred organic material (likely burnt kitchen scraps), both of which have been used as fertilizer around the world for millennia, he said. (Carbon dating has been used to date famous objects, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls). [Gallery of Dead Sea Scrolls: A Glimpse of the Past]

“I found a wonderful radiocarbon sequence of ages,” Bruins said. “And it was for me a great surprise.”

He found three distinct layers in the earth indicating that the field had been cultivated, corresponding to three different periods of activity, with long gaps in between. The first one dated from 5000 B.C. to 4500 B.C., followed by another from 1600 B.C. to 950 B.C. and a final layer dating from A.D. 650 to A.D. 950.

The first group of people that farmed here has no current known name, he said, but developed flint tools that have been found throughout the region.

The Exodus

The second period of agriculture, from 1600 B.C. to 950 B.C., corresponds to the time in which the Jews made their way from Egypt to modern-day Israel, according to Exodus and other books of the Bible, Bruins said.

The site where Bruins conducted his research, south of Beersheba, is likely to the south and east of where historians place the Israelites during this time period, he said. But it could possibly have been home to tribes associated with the Amalekites, a group living in the area at the time that was hostile to the Israelites, Bruins said.

The third layer corresponds to the late Byzantine and early Islamic period, when people were known to practice agriculture in this area, he added.

Bruins is currently submitting his research to a peer-reviewed scientific journal; it hasn’t yet been published.

Graeme Barker, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, said that without having a peer-reviewed paper, it’s difficult to tell how important the finding may be. However, if the research does indeed prove that agriculture has been practiced in the area since 5000 B.C., that finding would be “great, and important.”

A lot of archaeological work has been conducted in the area, but analysis of stones and pottery has limitations when it comes to agriculture, Bruins said. “There is widespread evidence of ancient floodwater farming in the southern Levant in the form of drystone walls across and along wadis (valleys), but whilst there is an enormous literature about the likely periods of the past to which they belong, most of this is speculative… and in principle, examples of floodwater farming structures could date anywhere in time from the Neolithic to the 20th century,” Barker wrote in an email to LiveScience.

These desert peoples used walls and ditches to collect rainwater during the area’s infrequent rainfalls. Later inhabitants of the area, known as the Nabataeans, are known for their skill at collecting and conserving rainwater, which allowed them to establish and run a thriving trade route through the area before the arrival of the Romans, who eventually displaced the Nabataeans, Bruins said.

Ancient farms, like those in the region today, likely cultivated vineyards, olives, wheat and barley, he said.

Editor’s Note: This story was generated during a trip paid for by American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Original article:

livescience

By Douglas Main, march19, 2013

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Topic: Beer

HUMAN beings are social animals. But just as important, we are socially constrained as well.

We can probably thank the latter trait for keeping our fledgling species alive at the dawn of man. Five core social instincts, I have argued, gave structure and strength to our primeval herds. They kept us safely codependent with our fellow clan members, assigned us a rank in the pecking order, made sure we all did our chores, discouraged us from offending others, and removed us from this social coil when we became a drag on shared resources.

Thus could our ancient forebears cooperate, prosper, multiply — and pass along their DNA to later generations.

But then, these same lifesaving social instincts didn’t readily lend themselves to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness and experimentation — the other human drives that make for a vibrant civilization.

To free up those, we needed something that would suppress the rigid social codes that kept our clans safe and alive. We needed something that, on occasion, would let us break free from our biological herd imperative — or at least let us suppress our angst when we did.

We needed beer.

Luckily, from time to time, our ancestors, like other animals, would run across fermented fruit or grain and sample it. How this accidental discovery evolved into the first keg party, of course, is still unknown. But evolve it did, perhaps as early as 10,000 years ago.

Current theory has it that grain was first domesticated for food. But since the 1950s, many scholars have found circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that some early humans grew and stored grain for beer, even before they cultivated it for bread.

Brian Hayden and colleagues at Simon Fraser University in Canada provide new support for this theory in an article published this month (and online last year) in the Journal of Archeological Method and Theory. Examining potential beer-brewing tools in archaeological remains from the Natufian culture in the Eastern Mediterranean, the team concludes that “brewing of beer was an important aspect of feasting and society in the Late Epipaleolithic” era.

Anthropological studies in Mexico suggest a similar conclusion: there, the ancestral grass of modern maize, teosinte, was well suited for making beer — but was much less so for making corn flour for bread or tortillas. It took generations for Mexican farmers to domesticate this grass into maize, which then became a staple of the local diet.

Once the effects of these early brews were discovered, the value of beer (as well as wine and other fermented potions) must have become immediately apparent. With the help of the new psychopharmacological brew, humans could quell the angst of defying those herd instincts. Conversations around the campfire, no doubt, took on a new dimension: the painfully shy, their angst suddenly quelled, could now speak their minds.

But the alcohol would have had more far-ranging effects, too, reducing the strong herd instincts to maintain a rigid social structure. In time, humans became more expansive in their thinking, as well as more collaborative and creative. A night of modest tippling may have ushered in these feelings of freedom — though, the morning after, instincts to conform and submit would have kicked back in to restore the social order.

Some evidence suggests that these early brews (or wines) were also considered aids in deliberation. In long ago Germany and Persia, collective decisions of state were made after a few warm ones, then double-checked when sober. Elsewhere, they did it the other way around.

Beer was thought to be so important in many bygone civilizations that the Code of Urukagina, often cited as the first legal code, even prescribed it as a central unit of payment and penance.

Part of beer’s virtue in ancient times was that its alcohol content would have been sharply limited. As far as the research has shown, distillation of alcohol to higher concentrations began only about 2,000 years ago.

Today, many people drink too much because they have more than average social anxiety or panic anxiety to quell — disorders that may result, in fact, from those primeval herd instincts kicking into overdrive. But getting drunk, unfortunately, only compounds the problem: it can lead to decivilizing behaviors and encounters, and harm the body over time. For those with anxiety and depressive disorders, indeed, there are much safer and more effective drugs than alcohol — and together with psychotherapy, these newfangled improvements on beer can ease the angst.

But beer’s place in the development of civilization deserves at least a raising of the glass. As the ever rational Ben Franklin supposedly said, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Several thousand years before Franklin, I’m guessing, some Neolithic fellow probably made the same toast.

Original article:

nytimes

By JEFFREY P. KAHN
Published: March 15, 2013

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Topic:Ancient stone tools

(Phys.org) —Stone Age man’s gradual improvement in tool development, particularly in crafting stone handaxes, is providing insight into the likely mental advances these early humans made a million years ago. Better tools make for better hunting, and better tools come from more sophisticated thought processes. Close analysis of bits of chipped and flaked stone from across Ethiopia is helping scientists crack the code of how these early humans thought over time.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Fellow Giday WoldeGabriel and a team of Ethiopian, Japanese, American and German researchers recently examined the world’s oldest handaxes and other stone tools from southern Ethiopia. Their observation of improved workmanship over time indicates a distinct advance in mental capabilities of the residents in the entire region, with potential impacts in tool-development skills, and in overall spatial and navigational capabilities, all of which improved their hunting adaptation.

“Even though fossil remains of the tool makers are not commonly preserved, the handaxes clearly archive the evolution of innovation in craftsmanship, acquired intelligence and social behavior in a pre-human community over a million-year interval,” said WoldeGabriel.

The scientists determined the age of the tools based on the interlayered volcanic ashes with the handaxe-bearing sedimentary deposits in Konso, Ethiopia. Handaxes and other double-sided or bifacial tools are known as the first purposely-shaped tools made by humanity and are closely associated with Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans. A paper in a special series of inaugural articles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “The characteristics and chronology of the earliest Acheulean at Konso, Ethiopia,” described their work.

Some experts suggest that manufacturing three-dimensional symmetric tools is possible only with advanced mental-imaging capacities. Such tools might have emerged in association with advanced spatial and navigational cognition, perhaps related to an enhanced mode of hunting adaptation. Purposeful thinning of large bifacial tools is technologically difficult, the researchers note. In modern humans, acquisition and transmission of such skills occur within a complex social context that enables sustained motivation during long-term practice and learning over a possible five-year period.

Making the right tools for the job

Researchers observed that the handaxes’ structure evolved from thick, roughly-manufactured stone tools in the earliest period of Acheulean tool making, approximately 1.75 million years ago to thinner and more symmetric tools around 0.85 Ma or megaannum, a unit of time equal to one million years. The Acheulean is a stone-age technology named after a site in France where handaxes from this tradition were first discovered.

The chronological framework for this handaxe assemblage, based on the ages of volcanic ashes and sediments, suggests that this type of tool making was being established on a regional scale at that time, paralleling the emergence of Homo erectus-like hominid morphology. The appearance of the Ethiopian Acheulean handaxes at approximately 1.75 Ma is chronologically indistinguishable from similar tools recently found west of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, more than 125 miles to the south.

“To me, the most intriguing story of the discovery is that a pre-human community lived in a locality known as Konso at the southern end of the Ethiopian Rift System for at least a million years and how the land sustained the livelihood of the occupants for that long period of time. In contrast, look at what our species has done to Earth in less than 100,000 years – the time it took for modern humans to disperse out of Africa and impose our voracious appetite for resources, threatening our planet and our existence,” WoldeGabriel said.

More information: http://www.pnas.org/content/110/5/1584.full

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Provided by Los Alamos National Laboratory

Original article:
Phys.org
March 14, 013

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Ritaroberts's Blog

The Medieval period in Britain was a time of much unrest especially during The War of the Roses in l455,a fierce battle fought to protect the crown.

Food however, was as important then as today. At a feast during these times, all manner of dishes were presented. It was popular to have swan or peacock dressed up as a centre piece for the head table.

At each feast, there might be as many as twenty dishes. Other meal choices would be crane, young herons, quail,  plover, blackbird and curlew. Most dishes were served with a strong savoury sauce flavoured with spices such as mace, cayenne pepper, cloves and ginger.

A medieval Kitchen scene

A Medieval Kitchen scene.

Scene of a Medieval Banquet Medieval Banquet.

The poorer people lived mostly on pottage which was a broth or stock in which Chopped meat and vegatables were boiled with herbs and often pulses added. Most  people in Medieval England had to make…

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Topic: Stone Age settlement

Plans to build a new railway line in the north have lead to the discovery of an ancient Stone Age settlement with evidence of flint and stone tools and cultic sexual symbols.

Prior to work on the rail line to Karmiel, east of Haifa, the Israel Antiquities Authority excavated the Ahihud Junction and unearthed remains and artifacts from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period and the Early Chalcolithic period, dating from the seventh to the fifth millennium BCE.

“For the first time in the country, entire buildings and extensive habitation levels were exposed from these early periods, in which the rich material culture of the local residents was discovered,” said excavation directors Drs. Yitzhak Paz and Yaakov Vardi

They found remains of a village and “a large number of pottery vessels indicative of a highly developed pottery industry, flint tools, stone objects, as well as a number of unique artistic artifacts, among them a phallic figurine and a palette on which female genitals are schematically etched – these symbols also represented the fertility of the earth.”

“The ancient settlement remains ascribed to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period were discovered on top of the bedrock in which the ancient inhabitants hew different installations, and even built plaster floors in several spots. We found a large number of flint and obsidian arrowheads, polished miniature stone axes, blades and other flint and stone tools,” the archaeologists added.

One of the materials for the tools is not found in Israel, indicating that trade flourished with other regions, including Turkey.

“Another unique find that can be attributed to this period is the thousands of charred broad bean seeds that were discovered together inside a pit. The Neolithic and Chalcolithic societies were agrarian societies that resided in villages, and it was during these periods that the agricultural revolution took place, when plants and animals were domesticated. This is one of the earliest examples of the proper cultivation of legumes in the Middle East,” they explained.

A preliminary analysis of the animal bones discovered at the site shows that pigs were a principal staple in the diet of the inhabitants.

Original article:
Jewish press
By Tzvi Ben – Gedalyahu

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Happy wearing of the green!

Ancientfoods

Topic: Soda Bread

Happy St Patricks Day

I could’t let the holiday go this year without sharing with you one of my favorite recipes and a small bit of history!

History:

Until recently, for the most families in rural Ireland, travel meant infrequent trips to the nearest livestock market.  So yeast was hard to obtain and bought bread was a rarity. The traditional bread of Ireland was made at home, baked in a he4avy iron pot set over a peat fire, with hot peats covering the lid. These breads are quickly made, with no lengthy kneading or rising requirement. They are given a light texture and a wonderful taste by a combination of acidic buttermilk or soured milk and the alkaline baking soda.

*Soda breads are made to be eaten soon after baking.

Note: In the original recipe self-rising flour is used.

If you go this route you may…

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