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IMAGE: AN ANCIENT IRRIGATION SYSTEM ALONG THE TIAN SHAN MOUNTAINS OF CHINA ALLOWED THE CULTIVATION OF CROPS IN ONE OF THE WORLD’S DRIEST CLIMATES. view more
CREDIT: IMAGE COURTESY OF YUQI LI, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS.

 

Using satellite imaging and drone reconnaissance, archaeologists from Washington University in St. Louis have discovered an ancient irrigation system that allowed a farming community in northwestern China to raise livestock and cultivate crops in one of the world’s driest desert climates.

Source: Did ancient irrigation technology travel Silk Road?

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Piles of clamshells with a stone structure above them are seen at an excavation site at the Sakatsuji Shell Midden in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

Original Article:

japantimes.co.jp
Jan 22, 2018
An ancient heap of shells at Sakatsuji Shell Midden in the city of Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, most likely served as a clam processing site in the latter half of the mid-Jomon Period, approximately 4,500 years ago, an investigation conducted by the city’s board of education has revealed.
While there are ruins in eastern Japan that indicate organized production during the mid-Jomon Period — including the Nakazato shell midden, or mound, which is a national historic site in Tokyo’s Kita Ward — it is extremely rare to find one in the Chubu region or further west. This latest discovery will provide important clues about the culinary lifestyle and economic activities conducted in the Jomon Period.
The Sakatsuji shell mound is one of the Muro cluster of seven shell middens in Aichi Prefecture.
An excavation conducted in the 1970s showed a rough scale of activities there, but details had remained unknown.
The mound is located approximately 3.5 km inland of what is now Mikawa Bay. But prior to the bay being filled in to create rice fields in the Edo Period the shell mound had faced the sea, along a stretch of coastland where the shores are shallow.
As a land consolidation project is scheduled to start in the area that includes the mound, the board of education had been excavating approximately 1,000 square meters of land since May.
The mound, made almost entirely of clamshells, measures roughly 1.6 meters high, about 6 meters wide and more than 24 meters long.
At least four layers have been identified, sandwiched between soil streaked with charcoal.
The team also discovered around 55 objects that looked like furnaces assembled from stones, and the members expect to find more as they continue excavating.
“We believe that the clams were boiled in the furnaces, and their meat stripped from the shells. Afterward the shells were piled up, then the ground was leveled and made into a processing site again,” said a member of the excavation team. “That kind of process must have been repeated again and again.”
The excavation team was not able to find any evidence of residences nearby, so it was likely the workers who dug and processed the clams lived in another area.
The volume of shells discovered was so huge it is hard to believe that they were consumed within the region, and the excavation team has said there is a possibility people dried the clams after they were boiled so that they would last longer and could be used for trading.
The shells are of various sizes. “We found many large shells similar to those seen in high-class Japanese restaurants. The clams must have become quite salty when boiled in sea water, so maybe they were used to make soup stock,” a member of the excavation team said. Several hundred furnaces have been found in the other six shell mounds in Muro. They share the same features as the Sakatsuji midden, which indicates the whole area was bustling with clam processing at the time.
However, the other six shell middens were from the late Jomon Period — approximately 2,300 to 3,800 years ago — which means the clam processing site of Sakatsuji was much older.
Most of the furnaces found in the other shell middens were also without stone structures, and were constructed in such a way that earthenware was placed directly on the floor.
“Perhaps they changed to a simpler furnace in order to meet the growing demand for clams,” said one of the team members.
The excavation will continue until the end of March and an on-site briefing is expected to be held in mid-February.
According to Tomonari Osada, a part-time lecturer specializing in archaeology at Chubu University, the Tokai region during the mid-Jomon Period is believed to have been less socially developed compared to the period immediately before the beginning of the Yayoi Period.
“I would be surprised if the production conducted at the Sakatsuji shell midden was for the sake of trading and distribution to other regions. We need to focus on this site and conduct further analysis to determine whether the objects made of stones were indeed furnaces for boiling (clams).”

Piles of clamshells with a stone structure above them are seen at an excavation site at the Sakatsuji Shell Midden in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

 

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Carbonized rice

HANGZHOU, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) — A huge pile of carbonized unhusked rice dating back 5,000 years was found in the ruins of ancient Liangzhu City in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province.
The pile was about 60 cm thick and covered about 5,000 square meters, the provincial institute of archaeology said Wednesday. The pile stored about 100,000 kg of carbonized rice.
Liu Bin, head of the institute, said grain storage was an important symbol of city, and the discovery demonstrated that Liangzhu had a relatively developed paddy agriculture.
The ancient city of Liangzhu was discovered in 2007 in Hangzhou’s Yuhang District. In 2015, archaeologists found a large water project while excavating the neolithic remains of the city. It is believed to be the world’s earliest water conservation system.

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original article:

xinhuanet.com

Photo taken on Nov. 5, 2017 shows the stone arrowheads found in Nanshan ruins, southeast China’s Fujian Province. Chinese archaeologists have found a large amount of carbonized rice grains in caves dating from the New Stone Age, challenging the conventional view that cave dwellers were solely hunter gathers and did not cultivate land for food. (Xinhua/Li He)

 

FUZHOU, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) — Chinese archaeologists have found a large amount of carbonized rice grains in caves dating from the New Stone Age, challenging the conventional view that cave dwellers were solely hunter gathers and did not cultivate land for food.

More than 10,000 grains were discovered at the No. 4 cave in the Nanshan ruins in east China’s Fujian Province, which dates back 5,300 to 4,300 years.

At an ongoing international conference on prehistoric archaeology being held in Fujian, the archaeological team announced that this is the first cave-dwelling agrarian society ever found in China.

The finding is also rare worldwide, said Zhao Zhijun, a member of the team and also from the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The grains are believed to have been grown by the Nanshan cave dwellers, rather than being obtained by other means, because many farmland weeds were also found along with the grains, according to Zhao.

The team’s studies on the remains of the cave-dwellers showed that they suffered dental cavities and other oral diseases that are common among humans in agrarian societies, said Wang Minghui, another team member and researcher with the institute.

“It further proves that Nanshan residents mastered some agricultural techniques,” Wang said.

The finding has raised the question why the Nanshan ancestors continued to live in caves after beginning farming. It is traditionally believed that humans in agrarian societies would move from caves to more spacious homes due to explosive population growth.

“The Nanshan finding offers a new perspective for prehistoric study. We must consider more possibilities when talking about where our ancestors lived and what they lived on,” Zhao said.

Excavation of the Nanshan ruins started in 2012. Scores of caves, thousands of items made from pottery, stone and bones, as well as eight tombs and two reservoirs, have been found at the site.

An archaeologist shows pottery found in the Nanshan ruins, southeast China’s Fujian Province, Nov. 5, 2017. Chinese archaeologists have found a large amount of carbonized rice grains in caves dating from the New Stone Age, challenging the conventional view that cave dwellers were solely hunter gathers and did not cultivate land for food. (Xinhua/Li He)

An archaeologist shows carbonized rice grains in the Nanshan ruins, southeast China’s Fujian Province, Nov. 5, 2017. Chinese archaeologists have found a large amount of carbonized rice grains in caves dating from the New Stone Age, challenging the conventional view that cave dwellers were solely hunter gathers and did not cultivate land for food. (Xinhua/Li He)

 

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Eurekalert.org

Map of China from Wikipedia

WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS—First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year detour along the southern Tibetan Plateau, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.
“The eastern dispersals of wheat and barley were distinct in both space and time,” said Xinyi Liu, assistant professor of archaeology in Arts & Sciences, and lead author of this study published in the journal PLOS One.
“Wheat was introduced to central China in the second or third millennium B.C., but barley did not arrive there until the first millennium B.C.,” Liu said. “While previous research suggests wheat cultivation moved east along the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, our study calls attention to the possibility of a southern route (via India and Tibet) for barley.”
Based on the radiocarbon analysis of 70 ancient barley grains recovered from archaeological sites in China, India, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, together with DNA and ancient textual evidence, the study tackles the mystery of why ancient Chinese farmers would change the seasonality of a barley crop that originated in a latitudinal range similar to their own.
The answer, Liu explains, is that barley changed from a winter to summer crop during its passage to China, a period in which it spent hundreds of years evolving traits that allowed it to thrive during short summer growing seasons in the highlands of Tibet and northern India.
“Barley arrives in central China later than wheat, bringing with it a degree of genetic diversity in relation to flowering time responses,” Liu said. “We infer such diversity reflects preadaptation of barley varieties along that possible southern route to seasonal challenges, particularly the high altitude effect, and that led to the origins of eastern spring barley.”
Liu’s research on the dispersal of wheat and barley cultivation adds a new chapter to our understanding of prehistoric food globalization, a process that began about 5000 B.C. and intensified around 1500 B.C. This ongoing research traces the geographic paths and dispersal times of crops and cultivation systems that expanded across Eurasia and eventually worldwide, from points of origination in North Africa and West, East and South Asia. The eastern expansion of wheat and barley is a key story in this process.
In the hot, arid southwest Asian region where wheat and barley were first domesticated, they were grown between autumn and subsequent spring to complete their life cycles before arrival of summer droughts. These early domesticated strains included genes carried over from wild grasses that triggered flowering and grain production as days grew longer with the approach of summer.
Because of this spring-flowering life cycle, early domesticated varieties of wheat and barley were poorly suited for cultivation in northern European climates with severe winters and a different day length pattern. Previous research by the second author in this study, Diane Lister, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge, has shown that barley and wheat adapted to European climates by evolving a mutation that switched off the genes that made flowering sensitive to increases in day length, allowing them to be sown in spring and harvested in fall.
Liu’s study shows that barley evolved similar mutations on its way to China as farmers pushed its cultivation high into the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau. By the time barley reached central China, its genetic makeup had been altered so that flowering was no longer triggered by day length, allowing it to be planted in both spring and fall.
The ancient movement of wheat and barley cultivation into China offers two distinct stories about the adaption of newly introduced crops into an existing agrarian/culinary system, Liu said.
Ancient wheat that traveled to China along Silk Road routes also was genetically modified by farmers who selected strains that produced small-sized grains more suited to a Chinese cuisine that prepared them by boiling or steaming the whole grains. Larger wheat grains evolved in Europe where wheat was traditionally ground for flour.
Along the southern migration route for barley, the main story is the flowering time—changed by farmers to gain control over the seasonal pressures of high-altitude cultivation, Liu said.
Recovery of these ancient grains has become more routine in the last decade as scholars mastered a flotation technique that allows the separation of seeds and other minute biological material from excavated dirt immersed in a bucket of water. This approach, pioneered in China by the third author of this study, Zhijun Zhao, a professor of archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has transformed the understanding of ancient farming in China.
The PLOS One findings reflect the contributions of 26 co-authors, including archaeologists who recovered the grains and those who analyzed them at leading archaeobotanical laboratories in the U.S., U.K., China and India. The team also includes leading experts for barley archaeogenetics, radiocarbon analysis and agricultural history around the globe.
“We’ve recently realized how much prehistoric crops moved around, on a scale much greater than anyone had envisaged,” said senior co-author Martin Jones, the George Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science at Cambridge. “An intensive study of chronology, genetics and crop records now reveals how those movements laid the agrarian foundations of Bronze Age civilizations, enabling the control of seasons, and opening the way for rotation and multi-cropping.”

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Note: some of the details in the photo below were hard to copy clearly due to the colors of the text. please zoom to get a better look.

jlp

 

Original article:

popular archaeology

BOYCE THOMPSON INSTITUTE—Centuries ago, the ancient networks of the Silk Road facilitated a political and economic openness between the nations of Eurasia. But this network also opened pathways for genetic exchange that shaped one of the world’s most popular fruits: the apple. As travelers journeyed east and west along the Silk Road, trading their goods and ideas, they brought with them hitchhiking apple seeds, discarded from the choicest fruit they pulled from wild trees. This early selection would eventually lead to the 7,500 varieties of apple that exist today.
Researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) have been working hard to excavate the mysteries of the apple’s evolutionary history, and a new publication this week in Nature Communications reveals surprising insights into the genetic exchange that brought us today’s modern, domesticated apple, Malus domestica.
In collaboration with scientists from Cornell University and Shandong Agricultural University in China, the researchers sequenced and compared the genomes of 117 diverse apple accessions, including M. domestica and 23 wild species from North America, Europe, and East and central Asia.
A tale of two roads
The most exciting outcome of this genomic comparison is a comprehensive map of the apple’s evolutionary history. Previous studies have shown that the common apple, Malus domestica arose from the central Asian wild apple, Malus sieversii, with contributions from crabapples along the Silk Road as it was brought west to Europe.
With the results of this new study, the researchers could zoom in on the map for better resolution. “We narrowed down the origin of domesticated apple from very broad central Asia to Kazakhstan area west of Tian Shan Mountain,” explained Zhangjun Fei, BTI professor and lead author of this study.
In addition to pinpointing the western apple’s origin, the authors were excited to discover that the first domesticated apple had also traveled to the east, hybridizing with local wild apples along the way, yielding the ancestors of soft, dessert apples cultivated in China today.
“We pointed out two major evolutionary routes, west and east, along the Silk Road, revealing fruit quality changes in every step along the way,” summarized Fei.
Although wild M. sieversii grows east of Tian Shan Mountain, in the Xinjiang region of China, the ecotype there was never cultivated, and did not contribute to the eastern domesticated hybrid. Instead, it has remained isolated all these centuries, maintaining a pool of diversity yet untapped by human selection. First-author Yang Bai remarked, “it is a hidden jewel for apple breeders to explore further.”
The sour (but firm) side of the story
As the apple traveled west along the Silk Road in the hands of travelers, trees grew from dropped seeds and crossed with other wild apple varieties, including the incredibly sour European crabapple, Malus sylvestris. The sourness of crabapples was once described by Henry David Thoreau as, “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.”
The authors found that M. sylvestris has contributed so extensively to the apple’s genome that the modern apple is actually more similar to the sour crabapple than to its Kazakhstani ancestor, M. sieversii.
“For the ancestral species, Malus sieversii, the fruits are generally much larger than other wild apples. They are also soft and have a very plain flavor that people don’t like much,” Bai remarked.
The hybridization between ancient cultivated apples and M. sylvestris, followed by extensive human selection, gave us new apples that are larger and fuller in flavor, and with a crispy firmness that gives them a longer shelf life.
Bai further explained, “The modern domesticated apples have higher and well-balanced sugar and organic acid contents. That is how the apple started to become a popular and favored fruit.”
A sizeable discovery with big potential
A new flavor and texture may have put the apple into our pies, but size matters a great deal too. In crop breeding, one of the most desirable traits selected for is a larger fruit or seed. In nearly all cases of fruit domestication, the wild ancestor has tiny fruit that were shaped into their large, nutritious cultivated counterpart through centuries of selection. For example, the domesticated tomato is at least 100 times larger than its wild relatives.
“This is not quite the case for apple. Its domestication started with a medium to large-sized fruit,” asserted Bai. “It has great potential for further enlarging fruit size in breeding programs.”
By comparing the many different apple genomes, the researchers were able to find evidence supporting two different evolutionary steps contributing to apple’s size increase – one before, and one after domestication.
The large size of Malus sieversii compared to other wild apples gave it a great advantage for domestication. It had already evolved to a suitable size before it was even cultivated, likely making it more attractive to growers who would then not need to spend much effort selecting for larger fruits.
Such a lack of size selection also means that the genes responsible for size increase still retain a variability that holds potential for future selection. But it can also make identification of the size-associated genes difficult. Despite this, the extensive breadth of the new study allowed the researchers to identify several genetic markers underlying the fruit size increases, which is great news for breeders who might want to further increase the apple’s girth.
The apple (genome) falls far from the tree
While consumers may ask for better apples, breeders are met with difficulty when it comes to polishing apple traits. One major issue is that apple can’t self-pollinate. It can only cross with other varieties, introducing too much genetic variability with each generation. While genetic change is necessary to tweak a trait of interest, too much change will tweak everything. Combined with the several years to get from apple seed to fruit, this makes breeding for desired traits a challenge.
“The genomic regions and candidate genes under human selection for a certain trait identified in this study will be very helpful and inspiring to breeders working on the same trait,” asserted Fei, who expects that the results from this study will, “improve speed and accuracy of ‘marker-assisted selection’ in apple.”
Now with an extensive and diverse collection of representative apple genomes, thorough and careful analyses have allowed Fei’s group to distinguish important genetic markers that will greatly aid breeders in their quest for better apples – be it for disease resistance, shelf-life, taste, or even size.
When asked how big she thinks an apple could get through breeding, Bai responded with a twinkle in her eye, “Well, in my wild imagination, maybe one day it can be as big as a watermelon.”

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Original Article:

news.com.au

 

Religious dogma in the Middle Ages helped create the modern domestic chicken, research suggests.

Scientists found traits such as reduced aggression, faster egg-laying and an ability to live in close proximity to other birds emerged in chickens in about AD 1000.

Chicken evolution might have been strongly influenced by the impact of Christian beliefs on what people ate.

During the Middle Ages, religious edicts enforced fasting and the exclusion of four-legged animals from menus.

However, the consumption of chickens and eggs was permitted during fasts.

Increasing urbanisation might have helped drive the evolution of modern domesticated chickens, the study, published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, said.

“Ancient DNA allows us to observe how genes have changed in the past, but the problem has always been to get high enough time resolution to link genetic evolution to potential causes,” Oxford University lead researcher Dr Liisa Loog said.

“But with enough data and a novel statistical framework, we now have timings that are precise enough to correlate them with ecological and cultural shifts.”

Chickens were domesticated from Asian jungle fowl around 6000 years ago.

But the new study, which combined DNA data from archaeological chicken bones with statistical modelling, showed some of the most important features of the present-day chicken arose in the high Middle Ages during a time of soaring demand for poultry.

They traced the evolutionary history of more than 70 chickens, looking for changes in the THSR gene that determines levels of aggression.

Natural selection favoured chickens with THSR variants that helped them cope with living close to one another, the study found.

THSR variants also led to faster egg laying and a reduced fear of humans.

A thousand years ago, just 40 per cent of the chickens studied had this gene, which is present in all modern domesticated chickens.

“We tend to think that there were wild animals and then there were domestic animals rather than thinking about the selection pressures on domestic plants and animals that varied through time,” Dr Loog said.

“This study shows how easy it is to turn a trait into something that becomes fixed in an animal in an evolutionary blink of an eye.”

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