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Archive for September, 2013

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Topic: Alpine life

 

 

Alpine archaeology reveals high life through the ages.

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Topic: Diet of Easter Island

The inhabitants of Easter Island consumed a diet that was lacking in seafood and was, literally, quite ratty.

The island, also called Rapa Nui, first settled around A.D. 1200, is famous for its more than 1,000 “walking” Moai statues, most of which originally faced inland. Located in the South Pacific, Rapa Nui is the most isolated inhabited landmass on Earth; the closest inhabitants are located on the Pitcairn Islands about 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) to the west.

To determine the diet of its past inhabitants, researchers analyzed the nitrogen and carbon isotopes, or atoms of an element with different numbers of neutrons, from the teeth (specifically the dentin) of 41 individuals whose skeletons had been previously excavated on the island. To get an idea of what the islanders ate before dying, the researchers then compared the isotope values with those of animal bones excavated from the island. [Photos of Walking Easter Island Statues]

Additionally, the researchers were able to radiocarbon date 26 of the teeth remains, allowing them to plot how the diet on the island changed over time. Radiocarbon dating works by measuring the decay of carbon-14 allowing a date range to be assigned to each individual; it’s a method commonly used in archaeology on organic material. The research was published recently online in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The researchers found that throughout time, the people on the island consumed a diet that was mainly terrestrial. In fact, in the first few centuries of the island’s history (up to about A.D. 1650) some individuals used Polynesian rats (also known as kiore) as their main source of protein. The rat is somewhat smaller than European rats and, according to ethnographic accounts, tasty to eat.

“Our results indicate that contrary to previous zooarchaeological studies, diet was predominantly terrestrial throughout the entire sequence of occupation, with reliance on rats, chickens and C3 plants,” the researchers write in their journal article, noting that the resources from C3 plants (or those that use typical photosynthesis to make sugars) would have included yams, sweet potatoes and bananas.

Rats, not fish

The islanders’ use of rats was not surprising to the researchers. Archaeological excavations show the presence of the Polynesian rat across the Pacific. The Polynesian form commonly travels with humans on ocean voyages and, like any other rat, multiplies rapidly when it arrives on a new island. In some cases, the rats were probably transported intentionally to be used as food, something supported by ethnographic accounts stating that, in some areas of Polynesia, rats were being consumed at the time of European contact. Additionally, previous research has suggested the rats were at least partly responsible for the deforestation of Rapa Nui.

What was more surprising to the researchers was the lack of seafood in the diet of the islanders. “Traditionally, from Polynesian cultures you have a heavy predominance of using marine products, especially in the early phase of colonization,” said Amy Commendador, of the Idaho Museum of Natural History at Idaho State University, in an interview with LiveScience.

One reason for the lack of seafood may have to do with the island’s location and topography, Commendador said. The northern end contains steep cliffs and would be difficult to fish from. Additionally, the island’s southerly latitude makes it somewhat cooler and may affect fishing. “Because of their geographic location and climate conditions, there just weren’t as many marine products for them to get,” Commendador said.

Rats should not be underestimated in their value as a resource, study co-author John Dudgeon, also at Idaho State University, told LiveScience. They could eat anything and multiply rapidly within a few generations. For the people who lived on Rapa Nui, “it was probably easier to go get a rat than it was to go get a fish,” Dudgeon said.

Fish elites?

Though the study results showed the islanders’ diet was mainly terrestrial, a few individuals, dating after A.D. 1600, appeared to have been eating more fish than the others. [The 7 Perfect Survival Foods]

These fish eaters may have lived on a part of the island where the fishing was easier, Commendador suggested. Another possibility the team raises in their paper is that access to marine resources varied due to the social and political constraints people faced. For the islanders, eating fish might have been a mark of “higher status” individuals, an elite person who was allowed more plentiful access to seafood.

Statues facing inland

One curious coincidence is that most of the Moai, the statues erected by the islanders, face inland rather than out to sea. Now, this new research suggests the people of the island also turned inland, rather than to the sea, to get their food.

Commendador and Dudgeon don’t think any direct relationship between the Moai statues and the islanders’ diet exists. Previous research has suggested the statues were positioned facing inland due to ancestor worship, so that the statues could watch over their descendents.

Another, more speculative, idea is that by having the statues facing inland, the islanders were also “saying we’re turning inwards and not turning outward,” Dudgeon said. While this probably doesn’t relate to the islanders’ decision to eat rats rather than fish, it shows the mindset the people of Rapa Nui may have developed before the arrival of Europeans. Their lifestyle as well as their diet may have become focused on the land rather than the sea.

Original article:
live science
By Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor | September 25, 2013 08:55am ET

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Mitochondrial DNA-based chart of large human m...

Mitochondrial DNA-based chart of large human migrations (Numbers are millennia before present.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Topic: Ancient Genetics

It began with hunter-gatherers, not herders and farmers, says this genetic study.

It seems there is no end these days to what genetics might be telling us about our past. To add to the profusion of new findings are the conclusions of another study that suggest an early human population boom around 60,000 – 80,000 years ago, marking perhaps the first great population expansion of human history, or pre-history, as the case would be.

The prevailing theory is that, as humans transitioned to domesticating plants and animals around 10,000 years ago, they developed a more sedentary lifestyle, leading to settlements, the development of new agricultural techniques, and relatively rapid population expansion from 4-6 million people to 60-70 million by 4,000 B.C.

But hold on, say the authors of a recently completed genetic study. Carla Aimé and her colleagues at Laboratoire Eco-Anthropologie et Ethnobiologie, University of Paris, conducted a study using 20 different genomic regions and mitochondrial DNA of individuals from 66 African and Eurasian populations, and compared the genetic results with archaeological findings. They concluded that the first big expansion of human populations may be much older than the one associated with the emergence of farming and herding, and that it could date as far back as Paleolithic times, or 60,000-80,000 years ago. The humans who lived during this time period were hunter-gatherers. The authors hypothesize that the early population expansion could be associated with the emergence of new, more sophisticated hunting technologies, as evidenced in some archaeolocal findings. Moreover, they state, environmental changes could possibly have played a role.

The researchers also showed that populations who adopted the farming lifestyle during the Neolithic Period (10,200 – 3,000 B.C.) had experienced the most robust Paleolithic expansions prior to the transition to agriculture.  “Human populations could have started to increase in Paleolithic times, and strong Paleolithic expansions in some populations may have ultimately favored their shift toward agriculture during the Neolithic,” said Aimé.

The details of the study have been published in the scientific journal, Molecular Biology and Evolution, by Oxford University Press.

Original article:

popular archaeology

Tue, Sep 24, 2013

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Topic: early hunters
Sep. 19, 2013 — Research by a University of Southampton archaeologist suggests that early humans, who lived thousands of years before Neanderthals, were able to work together in groups to hunt and slaughter animals as large as the prehistoric elephant.

Dr Francis Wenban-Smith discovered a site containing remains of an extinct straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) in 2003, in an area of land at Ebbsfleet in Kent, during the construction of the High Speed 1 rail link from the Channel Tunnel to London.
Investigation of the area was carried out with independent heritage organisation Oxford Archaeology, with the support of HS1 Ltd.
Excavation revealed a deep sequence of deposits containing the elephant remains, along with numerous flint tools and a range of other species such as; wild aurochs, extinct forms of rhinoceros and lion, Barbary macaque, beaver, rabbit, various forms of vole and shrew, and a diverse assemblage of snails. These remains confirm that the deposits date to a warm period of climate around 420,000 years ago, the so-called Hoxnian interglacial, when the climate was probably slightly warmer than the present day.
Since the excavation, which took place in 2004, Francis has been carrying out a detailed analysis of evidence recovered from the site, including 80 undisturbed flint artefacts found scattered around the elephant carcass and used to butcher it. The pre-historic elephant was twice the size of today’s African variety and up to four times the weight of family car.
Dr Wenban-Smith comments: “Although there is no direct evidence of how this particular animal met its end, the discovery of flint tools close to the carcass confirm butchery for its meat, probably by a group of at least four individuals.
“Early hominins of this period would have depended on nutrition from large herbivores. The key evidence for elephant hunting is that, of the few prehistoric butchered elephant carcasses that have been found across Europe, they are almost all large males in their prime, a pattern that does not suggest natural death and scavenging. Although it seems incredible that they could have killed such an animal, it must have been possible with wooden spears.. We know hominins of this period had these, and an elephant skeleton with a wooden spear through its ribs was found at the site of Lehringen in Germany in 1948.”
These early humans suffered local extinction in Northern Europe during the great ice age known as the Anglian glaciation 450,000 years ago, but re-established themselves as the climate grew warmer again in the following Hoxnian interglacial.
An ability to hunt large mammals, and in particular elephants, as suggested by the Ebbsfleet find, would go some way to explaining how these people then managed to push northwards again into what is now Britain. The flint artefacts of these pioneer settlers are of a characteristic type known as Clactonian, mostly comprising simple razor-sharp flakes that would have been ideal for cutting meat, sometimes with notches on them that would have helped cut through the tougher animal hide.
The discovery of this previously undisturbed Elephant grave site is unique in Britain — where only a handful of other elephant skeletons have been found and none of which have produced similar evidence of human exploitation.
Dr Wenban-Smith explains the Ebbsfleet area would have been very different from today: “Rich fossilised remains surrounding the elephant skeleton, including pollen, snails and a wide variety of vertebrates, provide a remarkable record of the climate and environment the early humans inhabited.
“Analysis of these deposits show they lived at a time of peak interglacial warmth, when the Ebbsfleet Valley was a lush, densely wooded tributary of the Thames, containing a quiet, almost stagnant swamp.”
The layer of earth containing the elephant remains and flints is overlain by a higher level of sediment, rich in so-called Acheulian tool types — handaxes of various forms from later in the same interglacial. Controversy surrounds whether or not these represent a later wave of colonisation of Britain, or whether the Clactonians themselves evolved a more sophisticated tool-kit as they developed a more sustained occupation.

Story source:
University of Southampton (2013, September 19). Giant prehistoric elephant slaughtered by early humans. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­

Original article:
science daily.com

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Paleorivers across Sahara may have supported ancient human migration routes.

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Topic: Salmon

Why did anatomically modern humans replace Neandertals in Europe around 40,000 years ago?

One hypothesis suggests that Neandertals were rigid in their dietary choice, targeting large herbivorous mammals, such as horse, bison and mammoths, while modern humans also exploited a wider diversity of dietary resources, including fish. This dietary flexibility of modern humans would have been a big advantage when competing with Neandertals and led to their final success. In a joint study, Professor Hervé Bocherens of the University of Tübingen, Germany, together with colleagues from the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, Russia and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, Belgium have found at a cave in the Caucasus Mountains indirect hints of fish consumption by Neandertals. The scientists challenge the hypothesis of evolutionary advantage of modern humans on basis of dietary choice. Bone analyses ruled out cave bears and cave lions to have consumed the fish whose remains were found at the Caucasian cave.

The hypothesis on dietary differences between modern humans and Neandertals is based on the study of animal bones found in caves occupied by these two types of hominids, which can provide clues about their diet, but it is always difficult to exclude large predators living at the same time as being responsible for at least part of this accumulation. One such case occurs in a cave located on the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, called Kudaro 3.

There, the bone fragments of large salmon, migrating from marine water to their freshwater spawning places, were found in the Middle Palaeolithic archaeological layers, dated to around 42 to 48,000 years ago, and probably deposited by Neandertals. Such remains suggested that fish was consumed by these archaic Humans. However, large carnivores, such as Asiatic cave bears (Ursus kudarensis) and cave lions (Panthera spelaea) were also found in the cave and could have brought the salmon bones in the caves.

To test this hypothesis, the possible contribution of marine fish in the diet of these carnivores was evaluated using carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopes in faunal bone collagen, comparing these isotopic signatures between predators and their potential prey. The results indicate that salmons were neither part of the diet of cave bears (they were purely vegetarian, like their European counterparts) or cave lions (they were predators of herbivores from arid areas).

“This study provides indirect support to the idea that Middle Palaeolithic Hominins, probably Neandertals, were able to consume fish when it was available, and that therefore, the prey choice of Neandertals and modern humans was not fundamentally different,” says Hervé Bocherens. He assumes that more than diet differences were certainly involved in the demise of the Neandertals.

More information: Bocherens, H., Baryshnikov, G. and van Neer, W. Were bears or lions involved in salmon accumulation in the Middle Palaeolithic of the Caucasus? An isotopic investigation in Kudaro 3, Quaternary International. doi 0.1016/j.quaint.2013.06.026

Original article:
phys.org
Sep 17, 2013

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Topic: Clovis points- multipurpose tool

Clovis spearpoints, named for Clovis, N.M., where they were found among the bones of mammoths, represent the epitome of North American Stone Age weaponry.

They tend to be large, finely crafted and made from high-quality flint. Although they were long thought to be specialized mammoth-killing weapons, new research suggests they were more like general purpose Boy Scout knives.

If Clovis points were specialized tools designed specifically to kill big-game animals such as mammoths and mastodons, then the special kinds of flint used in their manufacture along with the exquisite craftsmanship simply might have been practical necessities for producing a reliable instrument used to kill big game.

It also is possible that the special qualities of Clovis points were due to ritual practices the makers believed would help to ensure the success of high-risk hunting ventures.

Clovis points certainly were used at times to kill both mammoths and mastodons. In addition to the original site, Clovis points have been found at 11 other sites with mammoth remains and two sites with mastodon bones. Nevertheless, some doubt was cast on the idea that Clovis points were made expressly to kill mammoths and mastodons a few years ago when Mark Seeman, who was a Kent State University researcher, and colleagues identified blood residue from rabbits on Clovis points from the Nobles Pond site in Stark County. Now Logan Miller, an Ohio State University graduate student studying archaeology, has observed microwear traces on a Clovis point from the Paleo Crossing site in Medina County. His results, which indicate the tool was used to cut soft plants, were recently published in the journal Lithic Technology.

Using high-power magnification, Miller examined a sample of 10 stone tools, including two Clovis points, and identified a variety of polishes that are indicative of different uses. This microwear reveals both the ways in which the tools were used, such as cutting versus scraping, and also the type of material on which they were used, such as meat, hide, bone or soft plant.

Miller reported that one of the Clovis points exhibited “linear striations near the tip” — the type of microwear pattern you would expect to find on a spearpoint used to kill an animal. Unfortunately, the microwear can’t tell us whether that animal was a mastodon, a rabbit or a deer.

The other Clovis point had two kinds of microwear on its sides and edges — a “dull greasy polish,” which indicates that it was used to cut meat or fresh hide, and an overlay of a “very bright, smooth polish,” which indicates that it was last used to cut soft plant material.Finding evidence that a Clovis point was used to cut soft plants does not necessarily mean that Paleoindian hunters were stalking wild asparagus. The point might have been used to process plant fibers to make cordage or basketry.

Nevertheless, it does suggest that far from being specialized mammoth-hunting weapons, Clovis points were the equivalent of Paleolithic all-purpose utility knives.

Such a versatile tool would have been handy for hunter-gatherers, who had to carry all their possessions around with them as they roamed across their Ice Age world.

Original article:
dispatch.com
September 8, 2013

By Bradley T. Lepper

Bradley T. Lepper is curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society.

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Clovis points

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