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The discarded bone of a chicken leg, still etched with teeth marks from a dinner thousands of years ago, provides some of the oldest known physical evidence for the introduction of domesticated chickens to the continent of Africa, research from Washington University in St. Louis has confirmed.

Based on radiocarbon dating of about 30 chicken bones unearthed at the site of an ancient farming village in present-day Ethiopia, the findings shed new light on how domesticated chickens crossed ancient roads — and seas — to reach farms and plates in Africa and, eventually, every other corner of the globe.

“Our study provides the earliest directly dated evidence for the presence of chickens in Africa and points to the significance of Red Sea and East African trade routes in the introduction of the chicken,” said Helina Woldekiros, lead author and a postdoctoral anthropology researcher in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.

The main wild ancestor of today’s chickens, the red junglefowl Gallus gallus is endemic to sub-Himalayan northern India, southern China and Southeast Asia, where chickens were first domesticated 6,000-8,000 years ago. Now nearly ubiquitous around the world, the offspring of these first-domesticated chickens are providing modern researchers with valuable clues to ancient agricultural and trade contacts.

The arrival of chickens in Africa and the routes by which they both entered and dispersed across the continent are not well known. Previous research based on representations of chickens on ceramics and paintings, plus bones from other archaeological sites, suggested that chickens were first introduced to Africa through North Africa, Egypt and the Nile Valley about 2,500 years ago.

The earliest bone-based evidence of chickens in Africa dates to the late first millennium B.C., from the Saite levels at Buto, Egypt — approximately 685-525 B.C.

This study, published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, pushes that date back by hundreds of years. Co-authored by Catherine D’Andrea, professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University in Canada, the research also suggests that the earliest introductions may have come from trade routes on the continent’s eastern coast.

“Some of these bones were directly radiocarbon dated to 819-755 B.C., and with charcoal dates of 919-801 B.C. make these the earliest chickens in Africa,” Woldekiros said. “They predate the earliest known Egyptian chickens by at least 300 years and highlight early exotic faunal exchanges in the Horn of Africa during the early first millennium B.C.”

Despite their widespread, modern-day importance, chicken remains are found in small numbers at archaeological sites. Because wild relatives of the galliform chicken species are plentiful in Africa, this study required researchers to sift through the remnants of many small bird species to identify bones with the unique sizes and shapes that are characteristic of domestic chickens.

Woldekiros, the project’s zooarchaeologist, studied the chicken bones at a field lab in northern Ethiopia and confirmed her identifications using a comparative bone collection at the Institute of Paleoanatomy at Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich.

Excavated by a team of researchers led by D’Andrea of Simon Fraser, the bones analyzed for this study were recovered from the kitchen and living floors of an ancient farming community known as Mezber. The rural village was located in northern Ethiopia about 30 miles from the urban center of the pre-Aksumite civilization. The pre-Aksumites were the earliest people in the Horn of Africa to form complex, urban-rural trading networks.

Linguistic studies of ancient root words for chickens in African languages suggest multiple introductions of chickens to Africa following different routes: from North Africa through the Sahara to West Africa; and from the East African coast to Central Africa. Scholars also have demonstrated the biodiversity of modern-day African village chickens through molecular genetic studies.

“It is likely that people brought chickens to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa repeatedly over long period of time: over 1,000 years,” Woldekiros said. “Our archaeological findings help to explain the genetic diversity of modern Africans chickens resulting from the introduction of diverse chicken lineages coming from early Arabian and South Asian context and later Swahili networks.”

These findings contribute to broader stories of ways in which people move domestic animals around the world through migration, exchange and trade. Ancient introductions of domestic animals to new regions were not always successful. Zooarchaeological studies of the most popular domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs have demonstrated repeated introductions as well as failures of new species in different regions of the world.

“Our study also supports the African Red Sea coast as one possible early route of introduction of chickens to Africa and the Horn,” Woldekiros said. “It fits with ways in which maritime exchange networks were important for global distribution of chicken and other agricultural products. The early dates for chickens at Mezber, combined with their presence in all of the occupation phases at Mezber and in Aksumite contexts 40 B.C.- 600 A.D. in other parts of Ethiopia, demonstrate their long-term success in northern Ethiopia.”

Source: How the chicken crossed the Red Sea

eurekalert.org

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Madagascar1

 

Original Article:

uq.edu.au

 

Remnants of ancient crops have provided researchers with clues that could help map the movement of humans across the globe more than 1300 years ago.

The University of Queensland-led international study has uncovered the first direct archaeological evidence that Madagascar was colonised by a Southeast Asian community.

UQ School of Social Science archaeologist Dr Alison Crowther said genetic research had confirmed that the inhabitants of Madagascar shared close ancestry with Southeast Asians, but archaeologists had until now struggled to find evidence of their early presence on the island.

“We have now identified 2443 individual crop remains,” she said.

“The remains were obtained through archaeological excavations at 18 ancient settlement sites in Madagascar, the Comoros and coastal eastern Africa dating back to the 7th to 12th centuries.

“What was amazing to us was the stark contrast that emerged between the crops on the east African coast and offshore islands versus those on Madagascar and the nearby Comoros Islands.

“The more we looked, the starker the contrast became.

“The samples taken from sites on Madagascar and the Comoros contained few or no African crops, but were instead dominated by species such as Asian rice, mung bean and Asian cotton,” she said.

By examining where else in the Indian Ocean these crops were grown, and drawing on historical and linguistic data, the team was able to make a strong case that the crops reached Madagascar from Island Southeast Asia.

Fellow researcher and Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History Director of Archaeology Dr Nicole Boivin said there was still a lot to learn about the island’s past.

“But what is exciting is that we finally have a way of providing a window into the island’s highly mysterious Southeast Asian settlement and distinguishing it from settlement by mainland Africans,” she said.

“This means that archaeologists can use those remains to finally start to provide real material insights into the colonisation process.”

The research team plans to return to Madagascar to continue the work. Dr Crowther said much work remains to be done.

“We are keen to understand who these people were and what impact they had,” she said.

The team’s findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Media contacts: Alison Crowther, 0400 636 350, 3365 2757, a.crowther@uq.edu.au

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The fossilized skull of Australopithecus sediba specimen MH1 and a finite element model of its cranium depicting strains experienced during a simulated bite on its premolars. “Warm” colors indicate regions of high strain, “cool” colors indicate regions of low strain. Credit: WUSTL GRAPHIC: Image of MH1 by Brett Eloff provided courtesy of Lee Berger and the University of the Witwatersrand.

Original Article:

popular-archaeology.com

Feb 8, 2016

Research published in 2012 garnered international attention by suggesting that Australopithecus sediba (A. sediba), a possible early human ancestor species discovered in South Africa by anthropologist Lee Berger, had lived on a diverse woodland diet including hard foods mixed in with tree bark, fruit, leaves and other plant products.

But new research by an international team of researchers now shows that A. sediba didn’t have the jaw and tooth structure necessary to exist on a steady diet of hard foods.

“Most australopiths had amazing adaptations in their jaws, teeth and faces that allowed them to process foods that were difficult to chew or crack open. Among other things, they were able to efficiently bite down on foods with very high forces,” said team leader David Strait, PhD, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Australopithecus sediba is thought by some researchers to lie near the ancestry of Homo, the group to which our species belongs,” said Justin Ledogar, PhD, Strait’s former graduate student and now a researcher at the University of New England in Australia. “Now we find that A. sediba had an important limitation on its ability to bite powerfully; if it had bitten as hard as possible on its molar teeth using the full force of its chewing muscles, it would have dislocated its jaw.”

The study, published Feb. 8 in the journal Nature Communications, describes biomechanical testing of a computer-based model of an A. sediba skull. The model is based on the fossil skull recovered in 2008 from the Malapa fossil site by Berger and his team. Malapa is a cave near Johannesburg, South Africa. The biomechanical methods used in the study are similar to those used by engineers to test whether or not planes, cars, machine parts or other mechanical devices are strong enough to avoid breaking during use.

A. sediba, a diminutive pre-human species that lived about two million years ago in southern Africa, has been heralded as a possible ancestor or close relative of Homo. Australopiths appear in the fossil record about four million years ago, and although they have some human traits like the ability to walk upright on two legs, most of them lack other characteristically human features like a large brain, flat faces with small jaws and teeth, and advanced tool-use.

Humans in the genus Homo are almost certainly descended from an australopith ancestor, and A. sediba is a candidate to be either that ancestor or something similar to it.

Some of the researchers who described A. sediba are also authors on the biomechanical study, including Lee Berger, PhD, and Kristian Carlson, PhD, of the University of the Witwatersrand, and Darryl de Ruiter, PhD, of Texas A&M University. Amanda Smith, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in physical anthropology at Washington University, also participated in the research.

The new study does not directly address whether Australopithecus sediba is indeed a close evolutionary relative of early Homo, but it does provide further evidence that dietary changes were shaping the evolutionary paths of early humans.

“Humans also have this limitation on biting forcefully and we suspect that early Homo had it as well, yet the other australopiths that we have examined are not nearly as limited in this regard,” Ledogar said. “This means that whereas some australopith populations were evolving adaptations to maximize their ability to bite powerfully, others (including A. sediba) were evolving in the opposite direction.”

“Some of these ultimately gave rise to Homo,” Strait said. “Thus, a key to understanding the origin of our genus is to realize that ecological factors must have disrupted the feeding behaviors and diets of australopiths. Diet is likely to have played a key role in the origin of Homo.”

Strait, a paleoanthropologist who has written about the ecological adaptations and evolutionary relationships of early humans, as well as the origin and evolution of bipedalism, said this study offers a good example of how the tools of engineering can be used to answer evolutionary questions. In this case, they help us to better understand what the facial skeleton can tell us about the diet and lifestyles of humans and other primates.

“Our study provides a really nice demonstration of the difference between reconstructing the behaviors of extinct animals and understanding their adaptations.” Strait said. “Examination of the microscopic damage on the surfaces of the teeth of A. sediba has led to the conclusion that the two individuals known from this species must have eaten hard foods shortly before they died. This gives us information about their feeding behavior. Yet, an ability to bite powerfully is needed in order to eat hard foods like nuts or seeds. This tells us that even though A. sediba may have been able to eat some hard foods, it is very unlikely to have been adapted to eat hard foods.”

The bottom line, Strait said, is that the consumption of hard foods is very unlikely to have led natural selection to favor the evolution of a feeding system that was limited in its ability to bite powerfully. This means that the foods that were important to the survival of A. sediba probably could have been eaten relatively easily without high forces.

Source: Subject press release of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

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These are Cenchrinae starch granules from the Haua Fteah archaeological tools compared to modern starch granules of Cenchrus biflorus.

Photo Credit:  Anita  Radini
Original Article:

University of Cambridge 

Eurekalert.org
A box of seemingly unremarkable stones sits in the corner of Dr Giulio Lucarini’s office at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research where it competes for space with piles of academic journals, microscopes and cartons of equipment used for excavations.
These palm-sized pebbles were used as grinding tools by people living in North Africa around 7,000 years ago. Tiny specks of plant matter recently found on their surfaces shine light on a fascinating period of human development and confirm theories that the transition between nomadic and settled lifestyles was gradual.

come from a collection held in the store of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) just a couple of minutes’ walk away. In the 1950s the well-known Cambridge archaeologist Sir Charles McBurney undertook an excavation of a cave called Haua Fteah located in northern Libya. He showed that its stratigraphy (layers of sediment) is evidence of continuous human habitation from at least 80,000 years ago right up to the present day. Finds from McBurney’s excavation were deposited at MAA.
In 2007, Professor Graeme Barker, also from Cambridge, started to re-excavate Haua Fteah with support from the ERC-funded TRANS-NAP Project. Until 2014, Barker and his team had the chance to spend more than one month each year excavating the site and surveying the surrounding Jebel Akhdar region, in order to investigate the relationships between cultural and environmental change in North Africa over the past 200,000 years.
Now an analysis of stone grinders from the Neolithic layers of Haua Fteah (dating from 8,000-5,500 years ago), carried out by Lucarini as his Marie Sklodowska-Curie Project ‘AGRINA’, in collaboration with Anita Radini (University of York) and Huw Barton (University of Leicester), yields new evidence about people living at a time seen as a turning point in human exploitation of the environment, paving the way for rapid expansion in population.
Around 11,000 years ago, during the early phase of the geological period known as Holocene, nomadic communities of Near Eastern regions made the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled farming existence as they began to exploit domesticated crops and animals developed locally. The research Lucarini is carrying out in Northern Libya and Western Egypt is increasingly revealing a contrasting scenario for the North African regions.
In a paper published today, Lucarini and colleagues explain that the surfaces of the grinders show plant use-wear and contain tiny residues of wild plants that date from a time when, in all likelihood, domesticated grains would have been available to them. These data are consistent with other evidence from the site, notably those from the analysis of the plant macro-remains carried out by Jacob Morales (University of the Basque Country), which confirmed the presence of wild plants alone in the site during the Neolithic. Together, this evidence suggests that domesticated varieties of grain were adopted late, spasmodically, and not before classical times, by people who lived in tune with their surroundings as they moved seasonally between naturally-available resources.
Lucarini is an expert in the study of stone tools and has a particular interest in the beginning of food production economies in North Africa. Using an integrated approach of low and high-power microscopy in the George Pitt-Rivers Lab at the McDonald Institute, and in the BioArCh Lab at the University of York, he and his colleagues were able to spot plant residues, too small to be visible to the naked eye, caught in the pitted surface of several of the stones from Haua Fteah. Some of the grinders themselves exhibit clear ‘use-wear’ with their surfaces carrying the characteristic polish of having been used for grinding over long periods.
“It was thrilling to discover that microscopic traces of the plants ground by these stones have survived for so long, especially now that we’re able to use powerful high-power microscopes to look at the distinctive shape of the starch granules that offer us valuable clues to the identities of the plant varieties they come from,” says Lucarini.
By comparing the characteristic shape and size of the starch found in the grinders’ crevices to those in a reference collection of wild and domestic plant varieties collected in different North African and Southern European countries, Lucarini and Radini were able to determine that the residues most probably came from one of the species belonging to the Cenchrinae grasses.
Various species of the genus Cenchrus are still gathered today by several African groups when other resources are scarce. Cenchrus is prickly and its seed is laborious to extract. But it is highly nutritious and, especially in times of severe food shortage, a highly valuable resource.
“Haua Fteah is only a kilometre from the Mediterranean and close to well-established coastal routes, giving communities there access to commodities such as domesticated grain, or at least the possibility to cultivate them. Yet it seems that people living in the Jebel Akhdar region may well have made a strategic and deliberate choice not to adopt the new farming practices available to them, despite the promise of higher yields but, instead, to integrate them into their existing practices,” says Lucarini.
“It’s interesting that today, even in relatively affluent European countries, the use of wild plants is becoming more commonplace, complementing the trend to use organically farmed food. Not only do wild plants contribute to a healthier diet, but they also more sustainable for the environment.”
Lucarini suggests that North African communities delayed their move to domesticated grains because it suited their highly mobile style of life. “Opting to exploit wild crops was a successful and low-risk strategy not to rely too heavily on a single resource, which might fail. It’s an example of the English idiom of not putting all your eggs in one basket. Rather than being ‘backward’ in their thinking, these nomadic people were highly sophisticated in their pragmatism and deep understanding of plants, animals and climatic conditions,” he says.
Evidence of the processing of wild plants at Haua Fteah challenges the notion that there was a sharp and final divide between nomadic lifestyles and more settled farming practices – and confirms recent theories that the adoption of domesticated species in North Africa was an addition to, rather than a replacement of, the exploitation of wild resources such as the native grasses that still grow wild at the site.
“Archaeologists talk about a ‘Neolithic package’ – made up of domestic plants and animals, tools and techniques – that transformed lifestyles. Our research suggests that what happened at Haua Fteah was that people opted for a mixed bag of old and new. The gathering of wild plants as well as the keeping of domestic sheep and goats chime with continued exploitation of other wild resources – such as land and sea snails – which were available on a seasonal basis with levels depending on shifts in climatic conditions,” says Lucarini.
“People had an intimate relationship with the environment they were so closely tuned to and, of course, entirely dependent on. This knowledge may have made them wary of abandoning strategies that enabled them to balance their use of resources – in a multi-spectrum exploitation of the environment.”
Haua Fteah continues to pose puzzles for archaeologists. The process of grinding requires two surfaces – a hand-held upper grinding tool and a base grinding surface. Excavation has yielded no lower grinders which made have been as simple as shallow dish-shaped declivities in local rock surfaces. “Only a fraction of the extensive site has been excavated so it may be that lower grinders do exist but they simply haven’t been found yet,” says Lucarini.
The uncertain political situation in Libya has resulted in the suspension of fieldwork in Haua Fteah, in particular the excavation of the Neolithic and classical layers of the cave. Lucarini hopes that a resolution to the current crisis will allow work to resume within the next few years. He says: “Haua Fteah, with its 100,000 years of history and continuous occupation by different peoples, is a symbol of how Libya can be hospitable and welcoming. We trust in this future for the country.”

  
The view of the Mediterranean sea from inside the cave.

Photo from:

Temehu.com 

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Teff

Teff

injera bread

injera bread

 

Original Article:

cnn.com
From Earl Nurse, CNN, Dec 18, 2015

Gluten-free and rich in protein, fiber and minerals, Teff is starting to gain a foothold as a new “superfood”, along the likes of quinoa and spelt.

The grain has been grown in Ethiopia for thousands of years, but its export was banned by the government until this year. Now it is appearing on supermarket shelves worldwide.

It’s also the main ingredient of injera, the flat pancakes that are the centerpiece of Ethiopian food and the source of livelihood for around 6.5 million small farmers.

“When you look across Ethiopia, Teff is the most important commodity for Ethiopia, both on the production side as well as the consumption side,” says Khalid Bomba, the CEO of the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency. “Teff is native to the country, but is also a huge part of our culture.”

The Ethiopian government ended the export of raw teff in 2006, as rising grain prices prompted fears of a food crisis. Processed teff — in the form of injera — was still exported, mainly to the Ethiopian diaspora in northern Europe, the Middle East and North America.

The export ban was partially lifted this year, after investments in mechanization and better farming techniques increased yields by 40%.

“The concern that the Ethiopian government had in the past about exporting was in making sure that there was sufficient amount of supply for the domestic market — for urban consumers, as well as the rural poor,” Bomba says. “[Rising yields] have given the government confidence that systematic exports of Teff can gain smallholder farmers in Ethiopia… increased income, without harming the domestic consumers.”

Lifting the ban could create a new and lucrative export industry for Ethiopia, as consumers in Europe and North America latch onto the nutritional properties of teff. Teff flour sells for around $6-10 per pound, and the gluten-free seeds are now in high demand at health food shops the world over.

Hailu Tessema, CEO of Mama Fresh, which exports injera to the US and Scandinavia, says that the demand is growing, and importers from countries across Europe and Africa have approached him looking to secure supplies.

“Every year, the demand increases by foreigners from 7-10%,” he says. “So that is good for us, we have got the business in our hands; we have a market.”

If you go to the CNN link there is a video as well. Check it out.

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It may not be an implausible leap to imagine a small band of hunter-gatherers composed of extended family and friends having a seasonal picnic on the beach about 100,000 years ago on what is today’s western South African Atlantic coast. It is a picture that could be painted with the help of results from a recent research study conducted by archaeologist Katharine Kyriacou of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and colleagues from the University of Tübingen and the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Following renewed excavations in 2011 under the University of Tûbingen’s N. J. Conard at the open-air coastal site of ‘Hoedjispunt 1’ (HDP1) located on a peninsula jutting out into the Saldanha Bay of South Africa’s southwestern Cape, Kyriacou and her colleagues performed extensive analysis and additional dating on assemblages of lithic artifacts and associated shellfish remains systematically collected from that site and other related sites in the region, such as the nearby sites of Lynch Point and Sea Harvest. These are sites that have yielded evidence of human occupation during the Middle Stone Age (MSA, or 280,000 – 50,000 BP), a time range within which anatomically modern humans (AMH), or early modern humans, were present on the African landscape. Their results showed clear collection and consumption/preparation of selected types of high meat-yielding shellfish using stone artifacts, some made locally and others transported from distant locales, within a pattern of short-term periodic encampments or stays. The HDP1site has been tentatively dated, based on past uranium series, infrared stimulated luminescence, and electron spin resonance dating, including new dating that is yet to be completed, to as early as 115 – 130 ka.

Kyriacou and colleagues reinforce an emerging view among scholars on the nature of early modern human habitation and movement in the coastal areas and their diets, which has significant implications for human evolution during this time period.

“Small groups of foragers engaged in the selective exploitation of a narrow range of mussels and limpets, particularly large species from the mid-intertidal, during relatively short excursions to the coast,” concluded the authors. “The integration of simple marine resources into the diets of people visiting the Atlantic west coast probably had major implications for the evolution of modern humans in this region. Shellfish represent an easily accessible and reliable source of nutrition on a landscape characterized by seasonal fluctuations in the availability of terrestrial resources [other prey further inland]. The consumption of even small quantities of mussels and limpets would have helped prehistoric people meet their requirements for essential nutrients, especially trace elements and polyunsaturated fatty acids [critical for brain development].”*

saldanha bay, South Africa

 

 

Original article:

Popular Archaeology

march 23, 2015

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Plant particles found during the excavation of this Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan) turned out to be traces of domestic cereals when analysed in a lab. copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

A research team successfully identified ancient barley and wheat residues in grave goods and on teeth from two Neolithic cemeteries in Central Sudan and Nubia, showing that humans in Africa were already exploited domestic cereals 7,000 years ago and thus five hundred years earlier than previously known.

The results of the analyses were recently published in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Barley and wheat crops

Dr. Welmoed Out from Kiel University said, “With our results we can verify that people along the Nile did not only exploit gathered wild plants and animals but had crops of barley and wheat.”

These types of crops were first cultivated in the Middle East about 10,500 years ago and spread out from there to Central and South Asia as well as to Europe and North Africa – the latter faster than expected.

The diversity of the diet was much greater than previously assumed,” states Out and adds: “Moreover, the fact that grains were placed in the graves of the deceased implies that they had a special, symbolic meaning.”

The research team, coordinated by Welmoed Out and the environmental archaeologist Marco Madella from Barcelona, implemented, among other things, a special high-quality light microscope as well as radiocarbon analyses for age determination. Hereby, they were supported by the fact that mineral plant particles, so-called phytoliths, survive very long, even when other plant remains are no longer discernible. In addition, the millennia-old teeth, in particular adherent calculus, provide evidence on the diet of these prehistoric humans due to the starch granules and phytoliths contained therein.



One of the graves at the Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan), containing a skeleton and plant material deposited behind the skull (white area at the left picture margin). Copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

Original article:

Past horizons



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