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Original article: eurekalert.org

Long-held eating habits beliefs debunked

UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO

23-Jul-2021

Long-held eating habits beliefs debunked

New research from the University of Otago debunks a long-held belief about our ancestors’ eating habits.

For more than 60 years, researchers have believed Paranthropus, a close fossil relative of ours which lived about one to three million years ago, evolved massive back teeth to consume hard food items such as seeds and nuts, while our own direct ancestors, the genus Homo, is thought to have evolved smaller teeth due to eating softer food such as cooked food and meats. 

However, after travelling to several large institutes and museums in South Africa, Japan and the United Kingdom and studying tooth fractures in more than 20,000 teeth of fossil and living primate species, Dr Ian Towle, an Otago biological anthropologist, working with Dr Carolina Loch, of the Faculty of Dentistry, says this “neat picture is far more complex than once thought”.

“By individually studying each tooth and recording the position and size of any tooth fractures, we show tooth chipping does not support regular hard food eating in Paranthropus robustus, therefore potentially putting an end to the argument that this group as a whole were hard food eaters,” he says.

Dr Towle says the findings challenge our understanding of dietary and behavioural changes during human evolution.

“The results are surprising, with human fossils so far studied – those in our own genus Homo – showing extremely high rates of tooth fractures, similar to living hard object eating primates, yet Paranthropus show extremely low levels of fracture, similar to primates that eat soft fruits or leaves.

“Although in recent years there has been a slow acceptance that another species of Paranthropus, Paranthropus boisei, found in East Africa, was unlikely to have regularly eaten hard foods, the notion that Paranthropus evolved their large dental apparatus to eat hard foods has persisted. Therefore, this research can be seen as the final nail in the coffin of Paranthropus as hard object feeders.”

The fact that humans show such contrasting chipping patterns is equally significant and will have “knock on” effects for further research, particularly research on dietary changes during human evolution, and why the human dentition has evolved the way it has, he says. 

“The regular tooth fractures in fossil humans may be caused by non-food items, such as grit or stone tools. However, regardless of the cause, these groups were subjected to substantial tooth wear and fractures. So, it raises questions to why our teeth reduced in size, especially compared to groups like Paranthropus.”

Dr Towle’s research will now focus on if our dentition evolved smaller due to other factors to allow other parts of the skull to expand, leading to evolution then favouring other tooth properties to protect it against wear and fracture, instead of increased tooth size. 

“This is something we are investigating now, to see if tooth enamel may have evolved different characteristics among the great apes. Our research as a whole may also have implications for our understanding of oral health, since fossil human samples typically show immaculate dental health.

“Since extreme tooth wear and fractures were the norm, our ancestors likely evolved dental characteristics to not just cope with but actually utilise this dental tissue loss. For example, without substantial tooth wear our dentitions can face all sorts of issues, including impacted wisdom teeth, tooth crowding and even increased susceptibility to cavities.”

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Paranthropus robustus tooth chipping patterns do not support regular hard food mastication, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch, was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Tooth chipping prevalence and pattern in extant primates, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Chipping and wear patterns in extant primate and fossil hominin molars: ‘Functional’ cusps are associated with extensive wear but low levels of fracture, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

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reprinted from Exeter.ac.uk

Early Muslim communities in Africa ate a cosmopolitan diet as the region became a trading centre for luxury goods, the discovery of thousands of ancient animal bones has shown.

Halal butchery practices became common when Islam spread through Ethiopia as vibrant communities developed because of the import and export of products around the Red Sea, and to Egypt, India, and the Arabian Peninsula, archaeologists have found.

New excavations at three sites in the east of the country completed by the University of Exeter and the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage have uncovered around 50,000 animal bones dating from the eighth/ninth centuries onwards, and showing people living there at this early time ate a Muslim diet 400 years before major Mosques or burial sites were built in the 12th century.

The team, led by Professor Timothy Insoll, and involving archaeozoologist Jane Gaastra from the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, found the first evidence in Africa for ancient halal butchery during the excavations, at Harlaa, Harar, and Ganda Harla.

Previous excavations led by Professor Insoll have revealed the Mosques and burial sites, as well as the remains of luxury materials such as ceramics from China and Egypt, marine shell from the Red Sea and beads from India.

Harlaa was established in the 6th and 7th centuries before Islam arrived in Ethiopia. It was abandoned in the 15th century when Harlaa and Ganda Harlaa were established, possibly because of plague or environmental change, and with the increasing spread of Islam better places to farm could be lived in.

During the period from which the animal bones date people may have been using smaller Mosques not yet discovered by archaeologists, and built larger buildings for worship as Muslim communities grew.

Professor Insoll said: “We didn’t expect to find bones of this quality and quantity. They are so well preserved that we can clearly see both cuts and evidence of wear. We’ve also found bones in both residential areas and places of work”.

“This is significant new information about people’s religious identity at the time. It shows in the early days of Islam in the region people were just starting to adopt religious practices, so were sometimes pragmatic and didn’t follow all of them.”

Analysis of wear on the bones show cattle were used for ploughing and turning grinding stones, and other species such as camels, horses, and donkeys, may have been used as pack animals to carry trade goods and other commodities. Analysis of the age data of cattle bones at Harlaa indicated 80 to 90 per cent of animals survived beyond 3 years of age, showing they were kept for milk or for work rather than bred to eat.

Archaeologists found the remains of pigs in Harlaa and Ganda Harlaa, which could have been domesticated or wild, unexpected in an Islamic area, as pigs are haram, ot forbidden in Islamic halal diet. This suggests the region was cosmopolitan, with visitors and residents from different areas and with different religions. Another explanation could be that early Muslims in the area ate pork during this period for practical reasons. No pig remains were found at Harar, which was a city of Muslim scholarship and pilgrimage. Similar halal butchery techniques were used in all three sites, showing the influence of Muslim traders who arrived in the area and the spread of Islam to first Harlaa, and then Harar and Ganda Harla.

People also ate and hunted warthog, bushpig, aardvark, porcupine, hare, gennet, mongoose and leopard.

At Harlaa researchers also found evidence of marine fish imported from the Red Sea some 120 kilometres away. These had all been processed prior to being sent to Harlaa, either in dried or salted form to preserve them. This was indicated by the complete absence of fish heads showing these had 2 been removed, probably at the Red Sea coast. No local freshwater fish species were found suggesting the people eating the fish were used to a sophisticated diet.

Similar animal body portions were found at each site, indicating wealth or status may not have been a factor in access to meat.

The study, published in the Journal of African Archaeology, indicates that the discarded remains of meals eaten many hundreds of years ago can provide very important information on diet, but also religious conversion, trade, and the use of animals for transport and work purposes in Islamic societies in Africa which have been largely neglected by archaeologists.

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Prehistoric ancestors

News.mit.edu

Some of the oldest remains of early human ancestors have been unearthed in Olduvai Gorge, a rift valley setting in northern Tanzania where anthropologists have discovered fossils of hominids that existed 1.8 million years ago. The region has preserved many fossils and stone tools, indicating that early humans settled and hunted there.

Now a team led by researchers at MIT and the University of Alcalá in Spain has discovered evidence that hot springs may have existed in Olduvai Gorge around that time, near early human archaeological sites. The proximity of these hydrothermal features raises the possibility that early humans could have used hot springs as a cooking resource, for instance to boil fresh kills, long before humans are thought to have used fire as a controlled source for cooking.

“As far as we can tell, this is the first time researchers have put forth concrete evidence for the possibility that people were using hydrothermal environments as a resource, where animals would’ve been gathering, and where the potential to cook was available,” says Roger Summons, the Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).

Summons and his colleagues have published their findings today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study’s lead author is Ainara Sistiaga, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow based at MIT and the University of Copenhagen. The team includes Fatima Husain, a graduate student in EAPS, along with archaeologists, geologists, and geochemists from the University of Alcalá and the University of Valladolid, in Spain; the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania; and Pennsylvania State University.

An unexpected reconstruction

In 2016, Sistiaga joined an archaeological expedition  to Olduvai Gorge, where researchers with the Olduvai Paleoanthropology and Paleoecology Project were collecting sediments from a 3-kilometer-long layer of exposed rock that was deposited around 1.7 million years ago. This geologic layer was striking because its sandy composition was markedly different from the dark clay layer just below, which was deposited 1.8 million years ago.

“Something was changing in the environment, so we wanted to understand what happened and how that impacted humans,” says Sistiaga, who had originally planned to analyze the sediments to see how the landscape changed in response to climate and how these changes may have affected the way early humans lived in the region.

It’s thought that around 1.7 million years ago, East Africa underwent a gradual aridification, moving from a wetter, tree-populated climate to dryer, grassier terrain. Sistiaga brought back sandy rocks collected from the Olduvai Gorge layer and began to analyze them in Summons’ lab for signs of certain lipids that can contain residue of leaf waxes, offering clues to the kind of vegetation present at the time.

“You can reconstruct something about the plants that were there by the carbon numbers and the isotopes, and that’s what our lab specializes in, and why Ainara was doing it in our lab,” Summons says. “But then she discovered other classes of compounds that were totally unexpected.”

An unambiguous sign

Within the sediments she brought back, Sistiaga came across lipids that looked completely different from the plant-derived lipids she knew. She took the data to Summons, who realized that they were a close match with lipids produced not by plants, but by specific groups of bacteria that he and his colleagues had reported on, in a completely different context, nearly 20 years ago.

The lipids that Sistiaga extracted from sediments deposited 1.7 million years ago in Tanzania were the same lipids that are produced by a modern bacteria that Summons and his colleagues previously studied in the United States, in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park.

One specific bacterium, Thermocrinis ruber, is a hyperthermophilic organism that will only thrive in very hot waters, such as those found in the outflow channels of boiling hot springs.

“They won’t even grow unless the temperature is above 80 degrees Celsius [176 degrees Fahrenheit],” Summons says. “Some of the samples Ainara brought back from this sandy layer in Olduvai Gorge had these same assemblages of bacterial lipids that we think are unambiguously indicative of high-temperature water.”

That is, it appears that heat-loving bacteria similar to those Summons had worked on more than 20 years ago in Yellowstone may also have lived in Olduvai Gorge 1.7 million years ago. By extension, the team proposes, high-temperature features such as hot springs and hydrothermal waters could also have been present.

“It’s not a crazy idea that, with all this tectonic activity in the middle of the rift system, there could have been extrusion of hydrothermal fluids,” notes Sistiaga, who says that Olduvai Gorge is a geologically active tectonic region that has upheaved volcanoes over millions of years — activity that could also have boiled up groundwater to form hot springs at the surface.

The region where the team collected the sediments is adjacent to sites of early human habitation featuring stone tools, along with animal bones. It is possible, then, that nearby hot springs may have enabled hominins to cook food such as meat and certain tough tubers and roots.

“The authors’ comprehensive analyses paint a vivid picture of the ancient Olduvai Gorge ecosystem and landscape, including the first compelling evidence for ancient hydrothermal springs,” says Richard Pancost, a professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Bristol, who was not involved in the study. “This introduces the fascinating possibility that such springs could have been used by early hominins to cook food.”

“Why wouldn’t you eat it?”

Exactly how early humans may have cooked with hot springs is still an open question. They could have butchered animals and dipped the meat in hot springs to make them more palatable. In a similar way, they could have boiled roots and tubers, much like cooking raw potatoes, to make them more easily digestible. Animals could have also met their demise while falling into the hydrothermal waters, where early humans could have fished them out as a precooked meal.

“If there was a wildebeest that fell into the water and was cooked, why wouldn’t you eat it?” Sistiaga poses.

While there is currently no sure-fire way to establish whether early humans indeed used hot springs to cook, the team plans to look for similar lipids, and signs of hydrothermal reservoirs, in other layers and locations throughout Olduvai Gorge, as well as near other sites in the world where human settlements have been found.

“We can prove in other sites that maybe hot springs were present, but we would still lack evidence of how humans interacted with them. That’s a question of behavior, and understanding the behavior of extinct species almost 2 million years ago is very difficult, Sistiaga says. “I hope we can find other evidence that supports at least the presence of this resource in other important sites for human evolution.”

This research was supported, in part, by the European Commission (MSCA-GF), the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and the Government of Spain.

 

 

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150 year old hunting kilt of the Kalahari San People

Science alert.com

From slaying centaurs to biblical mentions, poison-tipped arrows are a staple of cultural stories in the west. But they’ve also proved highly effective in reality, so much so that indigenous peoples around the world are still making use of them today, to successfully feed themselves and their families.

The Kalahari San of southern Africa hunt with small bone- or iron-tipped arrows that may look quite dainty, but when coated with poison, they also prove quite lethal. The hunter-gatherers daub their weapons with larvae entrails of a beetle called Diamphidia nigroonata. The larvae contain a diamphotoxin poison that is capable of bringing down an adult giraffe.

Some of the earliest solid evidence of poison use is traces of the highly toxic compound ricin on 24,000-year-old wooden applicators, found in South Africa’s Border cave. However, archaeologists have long suspected this hunting technique is much older, and new evidence now suggests humans have been shooting poison arrows through the last 72,000 years.

In a new study, archaeologist Marlize Lombard from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa examined the unique properties of known poison arrows, comparing them to those that don’t rely on poison, by analysing 128 bone pointed arrows.

Arrows that don’t use poison need to deeply pierce the bodies of prey to effectively kill or incapacitate, whereas those laced with poison just need to stab through an animal’s skin to access its bloodstream.

Using a measurement called the tip cross-sectional area (the part of the arrowhead important for both cutting into prey hide and the arrow’s flight dynamics) allowed Lombard to compare arrows through time. She focused her study on bone-tipped arrows because a lot of previous work looked only at stone-tipped arrows, given more of these have been preserved.

Lombard then assessed 306 Late Stone Age bone-point arrows, for these established properties.

Six of the bone-pointed arrows dated as far back as 72,000-80,000 years, from the Blombos Cave in South Africa. Three of these arrows have properties consistent with poisoned arrowheads.

“One is smaller, which if used as an un-poisoned arrowhead would have been ineffective,” Lombard wrote, which would make these the oldest known poison arrows in the world.

The sample size for the oldest arrows is small, and Lombard cautions that such a metric approach to weapons function can only tell us what the weapon had the potential to achieve, rather than the way they were actually used. Other clues are also required to establish probable use.

“When dealing with the human past, numbers alone can seldom reveal the nuances necessary for a deep understanding of techno-behaviours – for that a measure of qualitative assessment and interpretation is required,” she wrote.

Another of the bone points found at Klasies River Mouth in South Africa, older than 60,000 years, was found to have micro-cracks, which are consistent with use as an arrow.  This arrow was also found to have a black residue that Lombard and other researchers suspect is either poison, glue, or even both.

In more recent times, humans have made use of poisons from a large variety of life, including plants, poison dart frogs and even venomous lizards. Today, some of these poisons have the potential to be medically useful.

If Lombard’s findings hold true, they go to show how this ancient human technology became such an effective tool – one that has well and truly stood the test of time.

This research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

 

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First posted Aug4, 2010…catching up
via Crocodile and Hippopotamus Served as ‘Brain Food’ for Early Human Ancestors

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First posted Aug 2, 2010
via Researchers: Cavemen feasted on lions

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York.ac.uk

Living specimen of the marine mollusc Conomurex fasciatus. Millions of these shells were found on the Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia a as the food refuse of prehistoric fishers. Photo credit: Dr Niklas Hausmann

Prehistoric pioneers could have relied on shellfish to sustain them as they followed migratory routes out of Africa during times of drought, a new study suggests.

Living specimen of the marine mollusc Conomurex fasciatus. Millions of these shells were found on the Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia as the food refuse of prehistoric fishers. Photo credit: Dr Niklas Hausmann

The study examined fossil reefs near to the now-submerged Red Sea shorelines that marked prehistoric migratory routes from Africa to Arabia. The findings suggest this coast offered the resources necessary to act as a gateway out of Africa during periods of little rainfall when other food sources were scarce.

The research team, led by the University of York, focused on the remains of 15,000 shells dating back 5,000 years to an arid period in the region. With the coastline of original migratory routes submerged by sea-level rise after the last Ice Age, the shells came from the nearby Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia.

Plentiful

The researchers found that populations of marine mollusks were plentiful enough to allow continuous harvests without any major ecological impacts and their availability would have enabled people to live through times of drought.

Lead author, Dr Niklas Hausmann, Associate Researcher at the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “The availability of food resources plays an important role in understanding the feasibility of past human migrations – hunter-gatherer migrations would have required local food sources and periods of aridity could therefore have restricted these movements.

“Our study suggests that Red Sea shorelines had the resources necessary to provide a passage for prehistoric people.”

Healthy population

The study also confirms that communities settled on the shorelines of the Red Sea could have relied on shellfish as a sustainable food resource all year round.

Dr Hausmann added: “Our data shows that at a time when many other resources on land were scarce, people could rely on their locally available shellfish. Previous studies have shown that people of the southern Red Sea ate shellfish year-round and over periods of thousands of years. We now also know that this resource was not depleted by them, but shellfish continued to maintain a healthy population.”

Fossil reefs

The shellfish species found in the archaeological sites on the Farasan Islands were also found in abundance in fossil reefs dating to over 100 thousand years ago, indicating that these shellfish have been an available resource over longer periods than archaeological sites previously suggested.

Co-author of the study, Matthew Meredith-Williams, from La Trobe University, said: “We know that modelling past climates to learn about food resources is extremely helpful, but we need to differentiate between what is happening on land and what is happening in the water. In our study we show that marine foods were abundant and resilient and being gathered by people when they couldn’t rely on terrestrial food.”

 

 

 

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On this day ten years ago…
via Humans made fire 790,000 years ago

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By

Newsweek.com

Researchers have found a vast number of animal remains—including those of fish—at a site in the Sahara Desert, casting new light on the ancient peoples who used to live there.

Recent investigations at the Takarkori rock shelter in southwestern Libya’s Acacus Mountains revealed nearly 18,000 individual specimens, almost 80 percent of which were fish—such as catfish and tilapia—according to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The remains have been dated to between 10,200 and 4,650 years ago, covering much of the early middle and Holocene period—the current geological epoch. The rest of the remains consisted of mammals (around 19 percent,) while the team also found a small quantity of bird, reptile, mollusk and amphibian remains.

The researchers say that the animal remains were human food waste given that they displayed cut marks and signs of burning. This has implications for our understanding of the people who used to live in the area, indicating that fish was an important food.

“The key findings are no doubt the fish remains. Although not uncommon in early Holocene contexts across North Africa, the quantity of fish we have found and studied are unprecedented in the central Sahara,” Savino di Lernia, from the Sapienza University of Rome and University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, told Newsweek. “The study adds fresh information about climate change as well as cultural adaptations. It is particularly intriguing that fish was common also in the diet of early herders.”

“I believe that the quantity of fish remains in the earliest layers of occupation is really stunning. I particularly liked the fact that early herders were quite good fishers, and fish was an important staple food,” he said.

Today, the environment of the Acacus Mountains is windy, hot and extremely dry. But the fossil record here indicates that for large parts of the early and middle Holocene, the region—like other areas of the Central Sahara—was humid and rich in water, as well as plants and animals. During this period, the area was also home to prehistoric humans who left behind several notable rock art sites.

But over thousands of years, the area became increasingly dry and, thus, less capable of sustaining standing bodies of water that are home to fish. This change in the climate is reflected in the study results. Around 90 percent of all the animal remains dated to between 10,200 to 8,000 years ago were fish. However, this figure decreases to 40 percent for those dated to between 5,900 and 4,650 years ago.

This changing environment forced the hunter-gatherers who once relied on the fish to adapt and alter their diet, with the researchers documenting a shift towards eating more mammals over time.

According to the authors, the results provide, “crucial information on the dramatic climate changes that led to the formation of the largest hot desert in the world.”

“Takarkori rock shelter has once again proved to be a real treasure for African archaeology and beyond: a fundamental place to reconstruct the complex dynamics between ancient human groups and their environment in a changing climate,” they said in a statement.

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On this day ten years ago…
via Tools show ancient human diet

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