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Archive for April, 2014

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Topi: Chili peppers

Central-east Mexico gave birth to the domesticated chili pepper — now the world’s most widely grown spice crop — reports an international team of researchers, led by a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis.

Results from the four-pronged investigation — based on linguistic and ecological evidence as well as the more traditional archaeological and genetic data — suggest a regional, rather than a geographically specific, birthplace for the domesticated chili pepper. That region, extending from southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca to southeastern Veracruz, is further south than was previously thought, the researchers found.

The region also is different from areas of origin that have been suggested for common bean and corn, which were presumably domesticated in Western Mexico.

The study findings are published online on April 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, as part of a series of research papers on plant and animal domestication.

Crop domestication, the process of selectively breeding a wild plant or animal species, is of increasing interest to scientists.

“Identifying the origin of the chili pepper is not just an academic exercise,” said UC Davis plant scientist Paul Gepts, the study’s senior author. “By tracing back the ancestry of any domesticated plant, we can better understand the genetic evolution of that species and the origin of agriculture — a major step in human evolution in different regions of the world,” he said.

“This information, in turn, better equips us to develop sound genetic conservation programs and increases the efficiency of breeding programs, which will be critically important as we work to deal with climate change and provide food for a rapidly increasing global population,” Gepts added.

Study co-author Gary P. Nabhan, an ethnobiologist and agroecologist at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center noted: “This is the first research ever to integrate multiple lines of evidence in attempts to pinpoint where, when, under what ecological conditions, and by whom a major global spice plant was domesticated.

“In fact, this may be the only crop-origins research to have ever predicted the probable first cultivators of one of the world’s most important food crops,” Nabhan said.

To determine crop origins, scientists have traditionally studied the plants’ genetic makeup in geographic areas where they have observed high diversity among the crop’s wild ancestors. More recently, they have also examined archaeological remains of plants, including pollen, starch grains and even mineralized plant secretions.
For this chili pepper study, the researchers used these two traditional approaches but also considered historical languages, looking for the earliest linguistic evidence that a cultivated chili pepper existed.

They also developed a model for the distribution of related plant species, to predict the areas most environmentally suitable for the chili pepper and its wild ancestors.

The genetic evidence seemed to point more to northeastern Mexico as the chili pepper’s area of domestication; however there was collectively more evidence from all four lines of study supporting the central-east region as the area of origin.

Source: Edited from a University of California Press Release, Contact Keith Sterling at ksterling@ucdavis.edu

Cover Photo, Top Left: Dried Chili Peppers RameshNG, Wikimedia Commons

Original article:

popular archaeology
April 21, 2014

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wine2If you weren’t careful, you might end up beaten by grape thieves skulking in the darkness.

A University of Cincinnati graduate student writes about the contractual obligations of vineyard guards and researchers from around the world contribute more stories from ancient times in the most recent volumes of the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists (BASP).

UC’s Peter van Minnen, associate professor of classics, has edited the international journal since 2006. BASP is an annual collection of articles and reviews pertaining to important discoveries from around the world in the field of papyrology – the study of ancient texts on papyrus and other materials.

The latest volume of BASP is the 50th in the series and the eighth to have been edited at UC. The recently published journal features 35 contributions from 26 writers from 11 countries. The previous year’s volume features 44 contributions from 41 writers from 14 countries. Each of the past two volumes includes content in three languages.

In “Guarding Grapes in Roman Egypt (P.Mich. inv. 438),” UC graduate student Kyle Helms details what he deciphered from a roughly 3-by-5 inch shred of dark brown papyrus dating back to the fourth century.

In large, cursive script, the hired guard outlines his labor contract: “I agree that I have made a contract with you on the condition that I guard your property, a vineyard near the village Panoouei, from the present day until vintage and transport, so that there be no negligence, and on the condition that I receive in return for pay for all of the aforementioned time” an unknown amount of money, as the papyrus is broken off at the bottom.

In his contribution, Helms references another papyrus record of a vineyard guard who was beaten by “violent and rapacious” criminals while attempting to chase them from the vineyard.

Original article:
Phys.org
March24, 2014

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‘Homo’ is the only primate whose tooth size decreases as its brain size increases.

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From athletes to couch potatoes: Humans through 6,000 years of farming.

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Ancient nomads spread earliest domestic grains along Silk Road, study finds.

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Among the findings are earth and kiln barbecues, their tools and cookers. AA photo

Pieces of grills, which date back to 2,200 years ago, have been unearthed in the ancient city of Assos in the northwestern province of Çanakkale’s Ayvacık district. The barbecues are made of earth and kiln.

The head of the excavations in the ancient city, Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University member Professor Nurettin Aslan said they had found important clues that locals in the area did not fry fish and meat, but grilled them in barbecues, cooking them in a healthier way. Among the findings are earth and kiln barbecues, their tools and cookers, Aslan said, adding, “These are small portable cookers. We see that some of them have the ‘bearded Hermes’ figure.”

He said people from the ancient era were eating healthier than that of today. “Some barbecues have high carriers. They are directly out on fire. Because earth is the most fire-resistant material, all these barbecues are made of earth. They are also low-cost,” he said.

Aslan said the barbecues were all shaped by hand; some of them were round and some were rectangular in shape. “These barbecues from 2,200 years ago are, in my opinion, healthier and stronger. We think people mostly grilled fish and meat on them, because we know the locals of Assos had never eaten fried foods. They have an abundance of fish because they were living on the coastline. Last year, we found pretty functional plates, where fish was served, as well as hooks,” he said.

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Topic: Ancient clam sites
A three-year study of ancient clam gardens in the Pacific Northwest reveals that coastal First Nations people used to reap superior harvests using rock-walled beach terraces.

The study’s lead author, Amy Groesbeck, was a student in SFU’s School of Resource and Environmental Management when she initiated the research for her master’s thesis. Her supervisors, who all helped with research and authoring the study, included SFU professors Anne Salomon, an ecologist; Dana Lepofsky, an archaeologist; and University of Washington biologist Kirsten Rowell.

In the past, as indigenous coastal communities from Alaska to Washington State grew in numbers, people needed to devise sustainable ways of feeding themselves. One of the ways they did this was by cultivating clams in human-made, rock-walled beach terraces known as clam gardens.

When the researchers transplanted more than 800 baby clams into six ancient clam gardens and five non-walled natural beaches to compare their growth rates they made a groundbreaking discovery.

They found that the ancient clam gardens produced quadruple the number of butter clams and twice the number of littleneck clams as the unmodified clam beaches.

They also found that clams in the ancient gardens grew almost twice as fast and were more likely to survive than baby clams transplanted into unmodified beaches in the same area.

It is the first study to provide empirical evidence of ancient clam gardens’ superior productivity.

“We discovered that by flattening the slope of the beach ancient clam gardens expanded the real-estate for clams at the intertidal height at which they grow and survive best,” explains Salomon, an assistant professor in The School of Resource and Environmental Management.

“Traditional knowledge by coastal First Nations members further revealed that their ancestors boosted these gardens’ productivity by adding ground clam shell and pebbles to them.”

The researchers began their clam garden investigations in 2008. From 2009 to 2011 they focused their efforts on Quadra Island due to the sheer number of clam gardens available to survey and use as experimental replicates.

They surveyed 11 ancient clam gardens and 10 un-walled clam beaches and compared the number, size and weight of clams. They collaborated with indigenous knowledge holders from the Tla’amin First Nation and Laich-kwil-tach Treaty Society.

“Our discovery provides practical insights into sustainable ancient marine management techniques that can inform local food security strategies today,” says Groesbeck, who graduated in 2013. She is now a research assistant at the University of Washington.

According to the study, some of today’s shellfish aquaculture practices have been shown to undermine near-shore ecosystem resilience. They “alter the community composition of near-shore systems, change sediment characteristics, and facilitate the introduction of invasive species.”

Lepofsky says, “On the Northwest Coast we are fortunate to have both the tangible record of clam gardens and the culture-based knowledge of local indigenous people to educate us. The lessons learned here have global implications for food security, and about the way indigenous people interact with their land and seascapes.”

Lepofsky is now leading an archaeological team that is comparing the growth rate of clams prior to and during the time when ancient clam gardens were prevalent. The team has expanded its research to the province’s central coast and elsewhere via the Clam Garden Network, a newly formed group involving Aboriginal people and Parks Canada researchers.

“One of the reasons this study is so compelling is that it combines First Nations knowledge with the tools of archaeology and ecology,” says Lepofsky.

“While archaeologists often work with First Nations, it is somewhat rare in ecology. The combination of these three sources of knowledge is very powerful.”

The study has been published in PLOS One.

Original article:
sfu.ca
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