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Opium Poppy

Opium Poppy

Cumin plants

Cumin plants

Original article:

sciencedaily.com

Date: August 28, 2015
Source:
Bar-Ilan University

New findings show that Philistine culture had a major and long-term impact on floral biodiversity in Israel and may assist ecologists in dealing with invasive species.

A new study describes the bio-archaeological remains of the Philistine culture in Israel during the Iron Age (12th century to 7th century BCE). The results of this research indicate that the ca. 600 year presence of the Philistine culture had a major and long-term impact on local floral biodiversity.

One of the most pressing issues in modern biological conservation is “invasion biology.” Due to unprecedented contacts between peoples and culture in today’s “global village” certain animal and plant species are spreading widely throughout the world, often causing enormous damage to local species.

Recent studies have shown that alien species have had a substantial impact not only in recent times but also in antiquity. This is exemplified in a study published in the August 25th issue of Scientific Reports by a team led by archaeologists from Bar-Ilan University’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology (Suembikya (Sue) Frumin, Prof. Ehud Weiss and Prof. Aren Maeir) and the Hebrew University (Dr. Liora Kolska Horwitz), describing the bio-archaeological remains of the

Philistine culture during the Iron Age (12th century to 7th century BCE). The team compiled a database of plant remains extracted from Bronze and Iron Ages sites in the southern Levant, both Philistine and non-Philistine. By analyzing this database, the researchers concluded that the Philistines brought to Israel not just themselves but also their plants.

he species they brought are all cultivars that had not been seen in Israel previously. This includes edible parts of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) which originates in western Europe; the sycamore tree (Ficus sycomorus), whose fruits are known to be cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean, especially Egypt, and whose presence in Israel as a locally grown tree is first attested to in the Iron Age by the presence of its fruit; and finally, cumin (Cuminum cyminum), a spice originating in the Eastern Mediterranean. Sue Frumin, a PhD student at Prof. Ehud Weiss’s archaeobotanical lab, Bar-Ilan University, explains that “the edible parts of these species — opium poppy, sycamore, and cumin — were not identified in the archaeobotanical record of Israel prior to the Iron Age, when the Philistine culture first appeared in the region. None of these plants grows wild in Israel today, but instead grows only as cultivated plants.”

In addition to the translocation of exotic plants from other regions, the Philistines were the first community to exploit over 70 species of synanthropic plants (species which benefit from living in the vicinity of man) that were locally available in Israel, such as Purslane, Wild Radish, Saltwort, Henbane and Vigna. These plant species were not found in archaeological sites pre-dating the Iron Age, or in Iron Age archaeological sites recognized as belonging to non-Philistine cultures — Canaanite, Israelite, Judahite, and Phoenician. The “agricultural revolution” that accompanied the Philistine culture reflects a different agrarian regime and dietary preferences to that of their contemporaries.

The fact that the three exotic plants introduced by the Philistines originate from different regions accords well with the diverse geographic origin of these people. The Philistines — one of the so called Sea Peoples, and mentioned in the Bible and other ancient sources — were a multi-ethnic community with origins in the Aegean, Turkey, Cyprus and other regions in the Eastern Mediterranean who settled on the southern coastal plain of Israel in the early Iron Age (12th century BCE), and integrated with Canaanite and other local populations, finally to disappear at the end of the Iron Age (ca. 600 BCE).

The results of this research indicate that the ca. 600 year presence of the Philistine culture in Israel had a major and long-term impact on local floral biodiversity. The Philistines left as a biological heritage a variety of plants still cultivated in Israel, including, among others, sycamore, cumin, coriander, bay tree and opium poppy.

The Philistines also left their mark on the local fauna. In a previous study also published in Scientific Reports in which two of the present authors (Maeir and Kolska Horwitz) participated, DNA extracted from ancient pig bones from Philistine and non-Philistine sites in Israel demonstrated that European pigs were introduced by the Philistines into Israel and slowly swamped the local pig populations through inter-breeding. As a consequence, modern wild boar in Israel today bears a European haplotype rather than a local, Near Eastern one.

As illustrated by these studies, the examination of the ancient bio-archaeological record has the potential to help us understand the long-term mechanisms and vectors that have contributed to current floral and faunal biodiversity, information that may also assist contemporary ecologists in dealing with the pressing issue of invasive species.

###

Journal Reference:

Suembikya Frumin, Aren M. Maeir, Liora Kolska Horwitz, Ehud Weiss. Studying Ancient Anthropogenic Impacts on Current Floral Biodiversity in the Southern Levant as reflected by the Philistine Migration. Scientific Reports, 2015; 5: 13308 DOI: 10.1038/srep13308

 

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Barley Field

Barley Field

 

Ancient mortars holes Native American

Ancient mortars holes Native American THESE MORTARS could well be similar to the ones discussed in the following article.

 

Original article:

Eurkalert.org

PUBLIC RELEASE: 26-AUG-2015

BAR-ILAN UNIVERSITY

 

Team including researchers from Bar-Ilan University and Harvard University unravel the mystery of 12,500-year-old rock-cut mortars found throughout Southwestern Asia.

 

Using 12,500-year-old conical mortars carved into bedrock, they reconstructed how their ancient ancestors processed wild barley to produce groat meals, as well as a delicacy that might be termed “proto-pita” – small loaves of coal-baked, unleavened bread. In so doing, they re-enacted a critical moment in the rise of civilization: the emergence of wild-grain-based nutrition, some 2,000 to 3,000 years before our hunter-gatherer forebears would establish the sedentary farming communities which were the hallmark of the “Neolithic Revolution”.

The research team, consisting of independent researchers as well as faculty members from Bar-Ilan and Harvard Universities, conducted their study in the Late Natufian site of Huzuq Musa, located in Israel’s Jordan Valley. Their findings were published in the journal Plos One on July 31, 2015.

When Did Agriculture Begin?

Most investigators agree that cereal domestication was achieved about 10,500 years ago. The current work demonstrates how groat meals and fine flour were produced from wild barley, two to three millennia before the appearance of domesticated grains.

According to Prof. Mordechai Kislev, an expert in archaeo-botony who is a member of Bar-Ilan University’s Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, the team’s field work resolved a long-standing mystery about thousands of cone-shaped hollows carved into the bedrock throughout the Southern Levant.

“The conical, human-made hollows, found all over Southeast Asia, were noticed by archaeologists decades ago, but there was no agreement about their function,” Prof. Kislev says. “Assuming they were mortars used for the processing of plant food, my colleagues – under the direction of archaeologist Dr. David Eitam – decided to use these ancient stone tools, along with period-appropriate items such wooden pestles, sticks and sieves, to reconstruct how the work was done.”

Along with Eitam and Kislev, additional members of the team were physicist Adiel Karty and Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef, a member of Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology.

From Field to Food Ingredient

The experiment began by collecting spikelets – the coated grains of a cereal ear – from wild barley, the most common wild cereal in the Levant both in prehistory and today. After ripening on the ground to prevent them from scattering in the wind, the grains were then separated from the stalks, first by beating against the threshing floor with a curved stick, and subsequently, by sifting them through a large-holed sieve.

“At this point, the conical mortars were used to complete the transformation of wild grain into groats and flour that could be used for food,” says team member Adiel Karty, explaining that the different-sized mortars served specific agricultural purposes. “Filled with a measure of the raw grain and beaten with a wooden pestle, the wider cones were used for hummeling – removal of the bristle that extends from the edge of the seed,” he explains. “The narrower cones came into play during the next stage, when the same wooden pestle was used to remove the grain husk; the Natufians invented a peeling-milling machine long before the invention of machinery!”

After de-husking, the grain was scooped out of the conical mortar by hand then placed into a small cup cut in the adjacent bedrock. From there, it was transferred for filtering in a small-gauge sieve.

“We found that de-husking – and the later milling into flour – was significantly aided by the presence of these cup-like depressions, which could be used to deposit material produced in the mortar by repeated hand-scooping from its bottom,” says Dr. Eitam. “This was a kind of labor-saving device, making it easier to transfer the grain and waste material to a sieve or other vessel.”

Evolution and Contribution

Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef, an emeritus faculty member at Harvard who is a world-renowned expert on the origin of modern humans and early farming societies in the ancient Near East, says that the current study complements nearly 80 years of investigations suggesting that the Natufians – although subsisting as a hunter-gatherer society – used sickles to harvest wild, almost-ripe cereals, and were capable of producing large quantities of groat meals from roasted, “half green” barley grain. Moreover, the technological advance from wide-to narrow-cone mortars represented a major dietary change, because de-husked flour made it possible to produce the fine flour needed for what has become the Western world’s most widespread staple food: bread.

“With the development of a new agro-technological system, including threshing floors, peeling utensils and milling devices, the Natufians bequeathed to their Neolithic successors a technical advancement that contributed to the establishment of agricultural societies,” Prof. Bar-Yosef says.

Bon Appetite! Barley Bread for (Nearly) All

Prof. Kislev points out that the barley-processing “facilities” found at the site indicate that stone-utensil-produced flour could have been a significant part of the local Natufian diet.

“Huzuq Musa is estimated to have had a population of about a hundred people,” he says. “If we assume that the historical 35 liters of grain given to a Roman worker during the winter corresponds to a reasonable level of nutrition, the four large threshing floors discovered near the site – and its accompanying tools – could have produced a sufficient quantity of processed barley for its estimated inhabitants.”

“Producing food from wild barley grain was not easy, but the biggest challenge may have been the challenge of not harvesting all the wild grain in the field, and ensuring that there would be something left to eat the following year,” he says. “This Natufian advance was a bridge to the Neolithic revolution, when sedentary farmers developed the discipline needed to plan for the successful planting – and reaping – of domesticated grains.”

According to Dr. Eitam, the majority of scholars agree that Natufian culture was characterized by the first communities that inhabited permanent settlements. “Our discovery of this sophisticated agro-technological system indicates that Natufian society made the shift from hunting-gathering to an agriculture-based economy, which was possibly extant 3,000 years before the domestication of cereal,” he says.

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Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

 

 

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grazing cows. photo from shutterstock

grazing cows. photo from shutterstock

 

Original Article:

sciencenordic.com

By: Kristian Sjøgren

August 17,2015

 

Farming started in Denmark and southern Sweden about 6,000 years ago, and now researchers have discovered that these early farmers were far more advanced than they have previously been given credit for.

According to a new study, settlers from more developed regions of Central Europe moved to Denmark and Sweden, where they introduced advanced farming practices.

They brought knowledge and agricultural experience with them, which they shared with the local hunter-gatherers over the next 300 years, transforming them into a well-developed agrarian society.

In the new study, researchers from England studied cow teeth dated to 3,950 BC from southern Sweden.

The teeth show that the early farmers had mastered the cumbersome task of calving at different times of the year, so that milk was available all year round.

“It’s very interesting that the farmers of the period were able to manipulate the calving seasons, so all the calves did not come in the spring. This is very hard to do, and would not have taken place if the farmers had not intended to do it,” says Kurt Gron, a researcher from the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, UK, and lead-author on the study.

“This means that the earliest farmers were highly skilled from the beginning of the Neolithic period, which suggests immigrants were instrumental in bringing pastoral agriculture to the region,” he says.

The new results are published in PLOS One.

Danish scientist: Completely new insights

Lasse Sørensen, a postdoc at the National Museum of Denmark, studies the transition of early Scandinavian society from hunter-gatherers to a culture dominated by farming.

He was not involved in the new study, but he describes it as exciting work that is part of a larger discussion of the importance of agriculture for the first farmers.

Until now, most researchers believed that early farming was primitive because the farmers held on to many of their hunter-gatherer traditions.

“We know that the first farmers had cows, but we do not know anything about how they managed them, and how much they still had to rely on their ancient hunter-gatherer traditions to hunt and fish,” says Sørensen.

“This study points to a very advanced agriculture, and it gives us a whole new understanding of everyday life in a very interesting transition period in Scandinavian history,” he says.

Studied isotopes in teeth

In the new study, researchers analysed the oxygen isotopes in the teeth of prehistoric cattle from Almhov, in south Sweden.

The isotopes are incorporated into teeth when the young cattle drink water and the chemical signal is then preserved.

Since the isotopes in their drinking water vary over the course of a year, analysing the isotopes in the cows’ teeth can tell the researchers which season the cow was born in.

“This comparison allowed us to conclude that cattle were manipulated by farmers to give birth in multiple seasons,” says Gron.

They Could Make Yogurt And Cheese

Calving in different seasons meant that farmers had access to milk all year round.

According to Sørensen, this means that quite early in the Neolithic period farmers already had the techniques to make milk into yogurt or cheese. Otherwise, why would they produce milk all year round?

They must also have been able to plan and collect food for the cattle to last the winter — a time when the young calves were especially vulnerable.

All these things required buildings, tools, and skills that Danish hunter-gatherers were not able to either invent themselves or learn from others in such a short period.

“It is a giant leap from hunter-gathering to farming, and it is so advanced that one cannot imagine that hunter-gatherers could have learned the necessary skills from newcomers or by themselves for that matter,” says Sørensen.

“It takes many generations to master these techniques so these farmers must have been outsiders. Their presence has spread over the centuries and become integrated with the local populations of hunter-gatherers, who would have had to spend a lot of time learning about the agricultural techniques and the farming lifestyle,” he says.

Exactly how old are the teeth?

Søren Andersen is an archaeologist and senior scientist at Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, Denmark, and studies early farming societies.

Andersen does not agree that the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers happened so suddenly. He suggests it developed gradually — and contrary to the new study — was not introduced by a sudden influx of large groups of immigrants from the south.

He does not believe that the scientists behind the new research have proven adequately that the teeth are actually from 3950 BC, and not, for example, 200 years later.

If the teeth are 200 years younger, then this puts them in a period in which all researchers agree that the agricultural revolution was well established in southern Scandinavia. In which case, it would not be so strange for people to manipulate calving times.

Critic not convinced by the new research

“Before the results can be credible, there must be no doubt that the teeth come from the time that the researchers say they do. I believe, however, this has not been proven,” says Andersen.

“In addition, researchers come up with evidence from several settlements to say that it was a widespread phenomenon. I remain sceptical until I see evidence that migrants brought agriculture to southern Scandinavia,” says Andersen.

Andersen suggests that the agricultural settlements are located in exactly the same places as the hunter-gatherer settlements once lay. According to him, it is illogical that the new migrants should settle in the exact same places where people already lived.

Andersen maintains that the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to a farming society happened more gradually.

 

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20130515-120149.jpg

Wild Emmer

Wild Emmer

 

The importance of dietary carbohydrate in human evolution

Original Article:

PUBLIC RELEASE: 06-AUG-2015
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS JOURNALS

press.uchicago.edu

 

Understanding how and why we evolved such large brains is one of the most puzzling issues in the study of human evolution. It is widely accepted that brain size increase is partly linked to changes in diet over the last 3 million years, and increases in meat consumption and the development of cooking have received particular attention from the scientific community. In a new study published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, Dr. Karen Hardy and her team bring together archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological and anatomical data to argue that carbohydrate consumption, particularly in the form of starch, was critical for the accelerated expansion of the human brain over the last million years, and coevolved both with copy number variation of the salivary amylase genes and controlled fire use for cooking.

With global increase in obesity and diet-related metabolic diseases, interest has intensified in ancestral or ‘Palaeolithic’ diets, not least because – to a first order of approximation – human physiology should be optimized for the nutritional profiles we have experienced during our evolution. Up until now, there has been a heavy focus on the role of animal protein and cooking in the development of the human brain over the last 2 million years, and the importance of carbohydrate, particular in form of starch-rich plant foods, has been largely overlooked.

Hardy’s team highlights the following observations to build a case for dietary carbohydrate being essential for the evolution of modern big-brained humans:

(1) The human brain uses up to 25% of the body’s energy budget and up to 60% of blood glucose. While synthesis of glucose from other sources is possible, it is not the most efficient way, and these high glucose demands are unlikely to have been met on a low carbohydrate diet;

(2) Human pregnancy and lactation place additional demands on the body’s glucose budget and low maternal blood glucose levels compromise the health of both the mother and her offspring;

(3) Starches would have been readily available to ancestral human populations in the form of tubers, as well as in seeds and some fruits and nuts;

(4) While raw starches are often only poorly digested in humans, when cooked they lose their crystalline structure and become far more easily digested;

(5) Salivary amylase genes are usually present in many copies (average ~6) in humans, but in only 2 copies in other primates. This increases the amount of salivary amylase produced and so increases the ability to digest starch. The exact date when salivary amylase genes multiplied remains uncertain, but genetic evidence suggests it was at some point in the last 1 million years.

Hardy proposes that after cooking became widespread, the co-evolution of cooking and higher copy number of the salivary amylase (and possibly pancreatic amylase) genes increased the availability of pre-formed dietary glucose to the brain and fetus, which in turn, permitted the acceleration in brain size increase which occurred from around 800,000 years ago onwards.

Eating meat may have kick-started the evolution of bigger brains, but cooked starchy foods together with more salivary amylase genes made us smarter still.

###

Karen Hardy, Jennie Brand Miller, Katherine D. Brown, Mark G. Thomas, and Les Copeland. “The Importance of Dietary Carbohydrate in Human Evolution.” The Quarterly Review of Biology: September 2015.

For further information contact:
Karen Hardy for the overall context of the study +44 780 976 6164, khardy@icrea.cat or karhardy2@googlemail.com
Mark Thomas for questions related to genetics, +44 020 7679 2286, m.thomas@ucl.ac.uk
Jennie Brand Miller for questions related to nutrition and pregnancy, +61 2 9351 3759, jennie.brandmiller@sydney.edu.au
Les Copeland for questions related to starchy foods and carbohydrates, +61 2 8627 1017 les.copeland@sydney.edu.au

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Fragment of a distillation vessel used for the production of rakia, which is dated back to the 11th century. Photo: National Historical Museum (NIM)

Fragment of a distillation vessel used for the production of rakia, which is dated back to the 11th century. Photo: National Historical Museum (NIM)

 

Original Article:

July 27, 2015

novitine.com

 

Bulgarian archaeologists recently discovered an 11th century fragment of a distillation vessel used for the production of the country’s traditional fruit brandy, which is known as rakia. 

The fragment was uncovered during the excavation works, which are being conducted by the National Historical Museum (NIM) at the medieval Lyutitsa fortress.
The fortress is situated on a hill above the town of Ivaylovgrad and the find was discovered by the team of archaeologist Filip Petrunov, press statement of NIM informs.
This is the second vessel for the distillation of rakia to be uncovered at the fortress and the third one in Bulgaria.
The first vessel at Lyutitsa was found in 2011, while the other one was uncovered in the medieval fortress of Drastar, which is located in the town of Silistra.
All three distillation vessels are dated back to the 11th century, which raises an important point in the ongoing historical debate on tracing back the start of rakia production.
Until recently, historians argued that the production of rakia had started only in the 16th century.
However archaeologist Prof. Konstantin Totev discovered five years ago a fragment of a cup dating back to the 14th century.
The cup bears an inscription of an unknown Bulgarian, who boasted that he had drank rakia at a religious holiday back then.
Another archaeologist, Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov, published the justification of the military commander Lala Sahin Pasha to the Ottoman Sultan for his failure to storm the fortress of Sofia in 1382.
The Ottoman commander complained that Sofia was defended by tough Bulgarians, who would drink rakia before the fight and thus became invincible.
The director of NIM Bozhidar Dimitrov concluded that as long as there is rakia, Bulgaria is invincible.

 

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Large pithoi found at Tel Kabri, in what appears to be one of four (maybe five) storage rooms Credit .Eric Cline

Large pithoi found at Tel Kabri, in what appears to be one of four (maybe five) storage rooms Credit .Eric Cline

 

Tel Kabri, the 4,000-year old remains of a Canaanite palace that is more like ones found at Knossos and Mari than the Levant. (Photo: Griffin Aerial Imaging/Skyview Photography)

Tel Kabri, the 4,000-year old remains of a Canaanite palace that is more like ones found at Knossos and Mari than the Levant. (Photo: Griffin Aerial Imaging/Skyview Photography)

 

Original Article:

Haaretz.con

Julia Fridman Jul 28, 2015 2:25 PM

 

New findings at sprawling 4,000-year old Canaanite palace include 120 huge jars – and seeds, from which we may be able to rediscover the ancient grape.

What may be the biggest concentration of storage jars in ancient Canaan has been uncovered at the Tel Kabri palatial complex in northern Israel, dating about 4,000 years ago.
A room full of clay storage jars, dubbed the “wine cellar,” had been found there in the last season. Now the latest excavation season at the site, located in an avocado orchard in the north just five kilometers from the Mediterranean coast, has uncovered three more rooms containing no less than about 70 storage jars.
Altogether, the excavators say, they uncovered at least 120 restorable jars still in situ in four storage rooms in the southern storage area of the palace (including pieces found in the last seasons). They may have also found a fifth storage room in a different building complex located to the northwest. “The rooms have not all been fully excavated,” points out Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa: the number will probably double when that’s done, he adds.
All the jars are undergoing organic residue analysis in order to determine their contents, the excavators told Haaretz. Residue analysis of the jars found in the first storage room during the previous excavation season showed they had contained an aromatic red wine.
Original Canaanite grapes
We don’t know who lived at the Tel Kabri palace, which is a vast 6,000 square meters in area, let alone what the place was called at the time – not a shred of written evidence has been found there. We do know that the palace was inhabited continuously for over 250 years, from about 1850 BCE to the 1600s BCE, and that it featured multiple banquet rooms and halls.
The palace at Tel Kabri is unique in the Levant for this period, and appears to have more affinities to the Aegean than to anything in the more immediate area. It is most similar to the massive palace of Knossos in Crete although a similar palace was found at Mari as well.
The palace at Kabri was a sprawling place with rooms constantly being added to it over the years. The ruler would have lived inside and his subjects would have lived outside, coming to the palace for special occasions like feasts, or to pay taxes or tribute. 
Absent findings of writing at the site, its history is being “glued together” through excavations by Yasur-Landau and Eric H. Cline of George Washington University.

“The goal of this season was to further understand the Canaanite palatial economy, by expanding the excavation beyond the area where the jars were found last season. We were hoping to find additional store rooms, thinking about the palace of Mari and the palaces in Crete from the same period – but to find ones that are actually filled with jars was unexpected,” says Yassur-Landau. “This kind of a find is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about Canaanite economy and rulership.”
It now looks like the ‘wine cellar’ was actually the northernmost room in a storage complex with at least four rooms in a row.
It can also now be said that the storage rooms had plastered floors and contained a range of types of jars. For example, room 2520 had pithoi (handleless storage jars) of two types, one around one meter tall and smaller, more slender pithoi, up to 80 centimeters in height.
In the center of room 2520, the excavators also found a juglet, two shallow bowls, and a chalice, crushed under the weight of a fallen pithos.
Palatial economy
Another unusual find was the middle of room 2533: an installation made of a sunken half of a pithos, still intact, still holding grape seed remnants, as well as pieces of charcoal. The installation appears to have been used to collect liquids spilled in the room.
This particular room had the biggest amount of crushed jars and pithoi, apparently more than 50 jars of various types.
The grape seeds are an incredible find. Not only can they help date the site: their analysis can help us rediscover the original Canaanite grape.
The grapes grown in Israel today are very tasty, but they’re strains brought by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild in the late 19th century. The famed wine industry of the Levant, which had existed for millennia, had been wiped out during Islamic rule of the region, starting in the 7th century CE.
Last season the excavators tested the substance found in the large jars from the first storage room and found, as said, evidence of spiced wine.
“This season yielded 80 organic residue analysis (ORA) samples taken from approximately 70 unique vessels,” says Yassur-Landau. “Last season’s samples were taken from large storage vessels that proved to have contained spiced wine but the 80 samples from this season were more varied, including smaller storage jars with handles possibly used for transport and a larger assortment of fine ware.”
The samples will further the understanding of Canaanite eating habits and augment our understanding of the economy of the time, the archaeologists hope.
“Finding these additional storerooms and the tremendous additional number of jars is wonderful, since it clearly indicates that we are in the storage area of the palace and that it was substantial, and composed of numerous rooms,” Cline commented. “I am eagerly awaiting the results of the Organic Residue Analysis from the jars, so we can see if they also held wine, like the ones that we found in 2013, or if they held something else like olive oil.”

 

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12-oven2-450

Ohalo II site, near the Sea of Galilee

Hunter-Gatherer site recreated, Ohalo II

 

PUBLIC RELEASE: 22-JUL-2015

BAR-ILAN UNIVRSITY

Original Article 

Eurekalert.org

Earliest-known example of plant cultivation in the Levant is 11,000 years before earliest-known agriculture

The Middle East is called the “Cradle of Civilization” because it is where our hunter-gatherer ancestors first established sedentary farming communities. Recently, the traditional dating of humans’ first agricultural attempt was shaken up by the discovery of the earliest-known example of plant cultivation in the Levant, 11,000 years earlier than previously accepted.

The team of archaeologists, botanists, and ecologists from Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, and Harvard University published their work in the scientific journal Plos One on July 22, 2015. The team’s conclusions rest on three inter-connected findings, says the study’s lead researcher, Prof. Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology. First is the higher-than-usual presence at the site of domestic-type, rather than wild-type, wheat and barley dispersal units. Second, the researchers noted a high concentration of proto-weeds – plants of the type known to flourish in fields planted with domesticated crops. Finally, analysis of the tools found at the site revealed blades used for cutting and harvesting cereal plants.

First author is Dr. Ainit Snir, part of whose doctoral research – conducted in Prof. Weiss’ lab – is included in the present study.

An Agricultural “Time Capsule” Hidden Under the Sea

The researchers’ discovery was made at Ohalo II, a 23,000-year-old camp site of a community of hunter-gatherers that lived on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel. The site is located 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) south of the modern city of Tiberias, and was discovered in 1989 when the level of the lake plummeted. The site was then excavated for six seasons by Prof. Dani Nadel from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, the University of Haifa. Excavations at Ohalo II exposed six brush hut dwellings, a human grave, copious and well-preserved remains of both animal and plant foods, beads from the Mediterranean Sea, as well as evidence of flint tool manufacture and use.

According to Weiss, the study represents the earliest example of small-scale cultivation found anywhere in the world.

“The plant remains from the site were unusually well-preserved because of being charred and then covered by sediment and water which sealed them in low-oxygen conditions,” Weiss explains. “Due to this, it was possible to recover an extensive amount of information on the site and its inhabitants – which made this a uniquely preserved site, and therefore one of the best archaeological examples worldwide of hunter-gatherers’ way of life. Here we see evidence of repeated sowing and harvesting of later domesticated cereals.”

From Plant Gathering to Flour Production

In the Ohalo II dwellings was a particularly rich assemblage of some 150,000 plant remains, showing that the site’s residents gathered over 140 different plant species from the surrounding environment. Among these, Weiss’s team identified edible cereals – such as wild emmer, wild barley, and wild oats. These cereals were mixed with 13 species of “proto-weeds” – ancient ancestors of the current weeds known to flourish in cultivated, single-crop fields – indicating that they grew and were subsequently unintentionally gathered together.

A grinding slab set firmly on a brush hut floor, a stone tool from which microscopic cereal starch granules were extracted, as well as a unique distribution pattern of seeds around this tool, provided additional, unequivocal evidence that cereal grains were brought into the hut and processed into flour. This flour was probably used to make dough, maybe by baking it on an installation of flat stones, found just outside one of the shelters.

Plants’ Statistics Show Genetic Change Linked with Cultivation

Examination of the cereals found at the site shows an unusual percentage of domesticated-type, rather than wild-type, ear morphology. As Weiss explains, this change in the plant population is characteristic of a genetic mutation triggered when wild-type plants are sown repeatedly in cultivated fields.

“The ears of cereals like wheat and barley – in their wild form – are built from separate units that break off and are easily dispersed, allowing the seeds to reach the ground, germinate, and grow into a new plant without any human intervention,” he says. “When humans cultivate these grains over a number of successive seasons, however, a change occurs. They develop a rough scar that locks the seed dispersal units together. Such plants cannot sow themselves. This is the hallmark of domesticated, rather than wild-type plants.”

As part of Snir’s thesis, Weiss and Snir undertook field tests around Israel, establishing that stands of wild-type barley are characterized by a low level of this rough-scar appearance – about 10% of the total population. The study of Ohalo II’s plant remains, however, revealed a greatly-increased incidence of 36% mutated domestic-type disarticulation units – proving that planned cereal sowing and harvesting in this ancient community had been underway for years.

Tools for Harvesting

Another intriguing finding relates to a number of sickle blades – harvesting tools composed of sharp flint implements inserted in wood or bone handles – found at the site; these are among the oldest of their kind ever found.

“We found several sickle blades at Ohalo II, and the study under the microscope of the gloss along their cutting edge indicates that they were used for harvesting cereals just before their complete ripening,” says Prof. Dani Nadel. “Analysis showed the presence of silicon, transferred from the wheat and barley plants at the time of cutting. This is another indication that the presence of a high percentage of domestic-type cereals was not random, but rather is a sign of the long-term cultivation practices of the site’s residents.”

Weeds and Planted Fields

When studying the plants found at Ohalo II, the researchers were surprised to find a large number of plants similar to weeds previously seen only 11,000 years later than Ohalo II, at the traditional date for the beginning of agriculture. Does this indicate that agriculture indeed began much earlier than historians, archaeologists and botanists have traditionally believed? Weiss says that the isolated example on the shores of the Sea of Galilee is an insufficient basis for such a claim.

“From what we see at Ohalo II, it is clear that cultivation occurred at this surprisingly early point in time, but we have no evidence that it continued in the region,” Weiss says. “This is why we term our findings to be evidence of trial cultivation only. Moreover, since weeds are defined by botanists as plants that developed in response to human agriculture, we call the plants that share characteristics with weeds ‘proto-weeds’.”

A Trial that Preceded Later-Adopted Practice

Prof. Marcelo Sternberg, a co-author of the paper who is an ecologist at the Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants at Tel Aviv University, claims that the findings are exceptional. “We are witnessing the earliest trial of cultivation combined with land-use changes that led to the appearance of the earliest weeds. The findings are a clear indication of early human disturbance of the natural ecosystem.”

Weiss agrees, adding that the current study provides reason to rethink our ancestors’ abilities. “Even prior to full-scale cultivation, humans clearly had some basic knowledge of agriculture and even more importantly, exhibited foresight and planning,” Weiss says. “The current research results from this site, situated in the cradle of ancient civilizations, show our ancestors were cleverer and more skilled than we had assumed. Although full-scale agriculture did not develop until much later, the attempt had already begun.”

Paper co-author Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef, a prehistorian from Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology, notes that “the history of the evolution of technology is littered with new inventions that were either not accepted by their society or simply failed. An historical example is Leonardo da Vinci, who, in his notebooks, designed several flying machines during the early 15th century. Even though da Vinci was on the right track, we had to wait until the 19th century before the Wright brothers got their first plane off the ground.”

 

 

 

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