Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category
ByCATHLEEN O’GRADY (US) –
Bones and burial grounds point male children getting better-quality food.
Around 7,000 years ago in China’s Central Plains, the Yangshao culture began to flourish along the Yellow River. It was another example of the same widespread Neolithic culture that was also emerging in Europe around the time, with new developments in pottery and agriculture. In China, it dominated the region for approximately 2,000 years.
Yangshao remains have offered a team of international researchers insight into an interesting question: did gender differences change alongside agricultural practices? They argue that gender inequality emerged along with the new crops among the Yangshao. The archaeological data has some interesting signs, but it’s possible that the researchers are overstating their case: the only evidence they have is of inequality in people’s diets, which doesn’t tell us much about the structure of inequality of societies.
Millet cereals were domesticated in the region as early as 10,000 years ago and were the primary crop of Yangshao cultures. Wheat, barley, and soybeans were introduced to the region after the end of Yangshao, around 4,000 years ago, although archaeological traces of them remain low for centuries. According to historical records, they were thought to be inferior foods, suitable only for protecting the poor against famine. That only changed around 2,000 years ago, when improved technological methods made it easier to refine them.
Agricultural changes aren’t only reflected in artifacts; they show up in excavated bones, too. Millet uses a type of photosynthesis that differs from the vast majority of plants, and it’s the only domesticated plant in Early China to use this type of photosynthesis. The result of this is that the carbon signature in the bones of people who ate primarily millet looks different from that of people who ate other plants. Nitrogen traces in bones can point to the quantity of animal products in an individual’s diet.
The researchers compared Yangshao bones with remains from the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty, which lasted from 771 to 221 BC. In the Eastern Zhou bones, they found evidence that men and women were eating different diets: men’s bones had evidence of higher consumption of animal products and millet, while women’s bones showed evidence of higher consumption of the more recent (and scorned) crops of wheat, barley, and soy. The Yangshao bones, on the other hand, generally didn’t show a significant difference, with the exception of one of the five sites studied. This suggests that “meals were no longer shared at the household level during Eastern Zhou,” the authors write.
On its own, this is not evidence of a bias favoring males. There could be cultural reasons for a gender-based split in diet that weren’t actively bad for women—although the fact that women were eating more of the food that was considered low quality is a bit telling.
But other strands of evidence corroborate the inequality story: women’s bones from Eastern Zhou, but not Yangshao, showed more signs of childhood malnutrition, and size differences between the sexes increased from Yangshao to Eastern Zhou. Both of these signs indicate that male children had better quality food, pointing to greater parental investment in male children. And female graves in Eastern Zhou had fewer burial items and were less likely to have a coffin than male graves, while again, Yangshao graves were more egalitarian.
It’s an interesting result, but it’s always a mistake to draw too many parallels with modern society from archaeological research. It’s also not clear that this is really evidence of the first emergence of gender inequality in this region of China.
It is evidence of a massive cultural change in how the genders related to each other, certainly. But food-based inequality isn’t the only kind of gender inequality that a society might practice—there are plenty of inarguably patriarchal modern societies where families eat meals together. It’s entirely possible that Yangshao did have inequality, but that it took a different shape and would have left a different kind of archaeological presence.
An open question is how the change in gender practices and agriculture are interwoven. Did the change in agriculture itself lead to the change in gender norms? The causal story is likely to be complicated, and the authors of the paper steer clear of suggesting that one led to the other, but the relationship between them is something that future research can hopefully illuminate.
PNAS, 2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1611742114 (About DOIs).
This post originated on Ars Technica
By Mark Miller
Ancient remnants of oxen stew partially preserved in a cauldron, have been found in the tomb of a Chinese nobleman. The tomb, in Henan Province near the city of Xinyang, dates back about 2,000 years in an area of the Chu Kingdom of the Warring States period. Officials are keeping the exact location of the tomb a secret for reasons of security.
The stew or meat soup contains oxen bones, meat and other ingredients, though stories on the Internet did not mention the other contents. The presence of the bones prompted archaeologists to conclude the cauldron contained beef soup or beef stew.
A brief article on the find in China’s Global Times website says the favorite foods of nobility were often buried with them so they could have feasts in the afterlife.
Global Times mentions other ancient finds of foods dating to antiquity, including:
A pot of lotus root soup from the Han Dynasty of 206 BC to 220 AD was unearthed at Hunan Provinces’ Mawangdui Tombs in 1972.
Dumplings from a Tang Dynasty tomb dating to between 618 and 907 AD in Turpan of Xinjiang region.
About 26 liters (6.87 gallons) of ancient baijiu liquor at Xi’an City of a Shaanxi Province
Rice was used as a ‘summer crop’ by the Indus civilization.
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—The latest research on archaeological sites of the ancient Indus Civilisation, which stretched across what is now Pakistan and northwest India during the Bronze Age, has revealed that domesticated rice farming in South Asia began far earlier than previously believed, and may have developed in tandem with – rather than as a result of – rice domestication in China.
The research also confirms that Indus populations were the earliest people to use complex multi-cropping strategies across both seasons, growing foods during summer (rice, millets and beans) and winter (wheat, barley and pulses), which required different watering regimes. The findings suggest a network of regional farmers supplied assorted produce to the markets of the civilisation’s ancient cities.
Evidence for very early rice use has been known from the site of Lahuradewa in the central Ganges basin, but it has long been thought that domesticated rice agriculture didn’t reach South Asia until towards the end of the Indus era, when the wetland rice arrived from China around 2000 BC. Researchers found evidence of domesticated rice in South Asia as much as 430 years earlier.
The new research is published today in the journals Antiquity and Journal of Archaeological Science by researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Division of Archaeology, in collaboration with colleagues at Banaras Hindu University and the University of Oxford.
“We found evidence for an entirely separate domestication process in ancient South Asia, likely based around the wild species Oryza nivara. This led to the local development of a mix of ‘wetland’ and ‘dryland’ agriculture of local Oryza sativa indica rice agriculture before the truly ‘wetland’ Chinese rice, Oryza sativa japonica, arrived around 2000 BC,” says study co-author Dr Jennifer Bates
“While wetland rice is more productive, and took over to a large extent when introduced from China, our findings appear to show there was already a long-held and sustainable culture of rice production in India as a widespread summer addition to the winter cropping during the Indus civilisation.”
Co-author Dr Cameron Petrie says that the location of the Indus in a part of the world that received both summer and winter rains may have encouraged the development of seasonal crop rotation before other major civilisations of the time, such as Ancient Egypt and China’s Shang Dynasty.
“Most contemporary civilisations initially utilised either winter crops, such as the Mesopotamian reliance on wheat and barley, or the summer crops of rice and millet in China – producing surplus with the aim of stockpiling,” says Petrie.
“However, the area inhabited by the Indus is at a meteorological crossroads, and we found evidence of year-long farming that predates its appearance in the other ancient river valley civilisations.”
The archaeologists sifted for traces of ancient grains in the remains of several Indus villages within a few kilometers of the site called Rakhigari: the most recently excavated of the Indus cities that may have maintained a population of some 40,000.
As well as the winter staples of wheat and barley and winter pulses like peas and vetches, they found evidence of summer crops: including domesticated rice, but also millet and the tropical beans urad and horsegram, and used radiocarbon dating to provide the first absolute dates for Indus multi-cropping: 2890-2630 BC for millets and winter pulses, 2580-2460 BC for horsegram, and 2430-2140 BC for rice.
Millets are a group of small grain, now most commonly used in birdseed, which Petrie describes as “often being used as something to eat when there isn’t much else”. Urad beans, however, are a relative of the mung bean, often used in popular types of Indian dhal today.
In contrast with evidence from elsewhere in the region, the village sites around Rakhigari reveal that summer crops appear to have been much more popular than the wheats of winter.
The researchers say this may have been down to the environmental variation in this part of the former civilisation: on the seasonally flooded Ghaggar-Hakra plains where different rainfall patterns and vegetation would have lent themselves to crop diversification – potentially creating local food cultures within individual areas.
This variety of crops may have been transported to the cities. Urban hubs may have served as melting pots for produce from regional growers, as well as meats and spices, and evidence for spices have been found elsewhere in the region.
While they don’t yet know what crops were being consumed at Rakhigarhi, Jennifer Bates points out that: “It is certainly possible that a sustainable food economy across the Indus zone was achieved through growing a diverse range of crops, with choice being influenced by local conditions.
“It is also possible that there was trade and exchange in staple crops between populations living in different regions, though this is an idea that remains to be tested.”
“Such a diverse system was probably well suited to mitigating risk from shifts in climate,” adds Cameron Petrie. “It may be that some of today’s farming monocultures could learn from the local crop diversity of the Indus people 4,000 years ago.”
The findings are the latest from the Land, Water and Settlement Project, which has been conducting research on the ancient Indus Civilisation in northwest India since 2008.
Article Source: University of Cambridge news release.
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.”
By Anna Liesowska
30 May 2016
When Science journal earlier this year highlighted an ancient woolly mammoth with suspected spear wounds it provoked media interest around the world. Until now, the pictures of the remarkable prehistoric ‘injuries’ were not widely seen outside academic circles.
Today The Siberian Times is publishing the images which respected Russian scientists believe is clear proof of ancient man’s attacks on a creature preserved in the permafrost.
If true, the implications are enormous. It would mean, firstly, that man was present in the frozen Arctic wastes a full 10,000 years earlier than previously understood.
Yet it would also establish that early Siberians were just 2,895 miles (4,660 kilometres) from what was then a land bridge between modern Russia and Alaska. A long distance, for sure, but far from insurmountable, opening the possibility that Stone Age Siberians colonised the Americas at this early point.
The 15-year-old male mammoth died on the eastern bank of the giant Yenisei River in northern Siberia, and its remains were found by a 11 year old schoolboy in 2012. It is known variously as the Zhenya mammoth, after the boy who found it, and the Sopkarginsky mammoth, deriving from the location where it was found.
Forensic analysis of the remains – which included still-preserved soft tissue – found evidence that the animal, now long extinct, was hunted and killed by early man using primitive weapons and tools made of bone and stone.
Dr Vladimir Pitulko, lead author of the study published in Science, told The Siberian Times: ‘Most likely the hunters threw relatively light spears. It is a usual hunting tactic, in particular in elephant hunts, which is still practiced in Africa.
‘An elephant is bombarded with a large number of light spears. Then, pierced with such ‘needles’ like a hedgehog, the animal starts losing blood. Even a light spear can penetrate quite deep and injure the vital organs.
‘The mobility of the animal is seriously limited, and then it is soon possible to finish it with a strait blow. I think that the same happened to the Sopkarginsky mammoth.’
He said: ‘The most remarkable injury is to the fifth left rib, caused by a slicing blow, inflicted from the front and somewhat from above in a downward direction. Although it was a glancing blow, it was strong enough to go through skin and muscles and damage the bone.
‘A similar but less powerful blow also damaged the second right front rib. Such blows were aimed at internal organs and/or blood vessels.
‘The mammoth was also hit in the left scapula at least three times. Two of these injuries were imparted by a weapon, which went downwards through the skin and muscles, moving from the top and side. These markings indicate injuries evidently left by relatively light throwing spears.
‘A much more powerful blow damaged the spine of the left scapula. It may have been imparted by a thrusting spear, practically straight from the front at the level of the coracoid process. The weapon went through the shoulder skin and muscle, almost completely perforating the spine of the scapula.
‘Taking into account the scapula’s location in the skeleton and the estimated height of this mammoth, the point of impact would be approximately 1500 mm high, in other words, the height of an adult human’s shoulder.’
Another injury – possibly evidence of a mis-directed blow – was spotted on the left jugal bone. The blow was evidently very strong and was suffered by the animal from the left back and from top down, which is only possible if the animal was lying down on the ground.
Dr Pitulko, of the Institute for the History of Material Culture in St Petersburg, believes that it was ‘the final blow’, which was aimed to the base of the trunk.
Modern elephant hunters still use this method ‘to cut major arteries and cause mortal bleeding’. Yet in this case the prehistoric hunters obviously missed and struck the jugal bone instead.
Luckily the spear left the clear trace on the bone, making possible to learn what kind of weapon it was.
The bone was studied with X-ray computed tomography – a CT scan – by Dr Konstantin Kuper, from the Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics in Novosibirsk. He also created a 3D model of the injury in the bone. This led to the conclusion that the tip of the weapon was made of stone and had a thinned symmetric outline – and was relatively sharp.
Paleontologist Dr Alexei Tikhonov, from the Zoological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg, who lead the excavations, said: ‘It’s hard to say which blow was the mortal one, at least judging by the traces on the bones.
‘There was quite a strong blow to the scapula, yet I think it was rather the totality of wounds that caused the death. It is interesting that the most of the injuries are on the left side of the animal.
‘I would suppose that the hunters could attack the mammoth which was already lying on the ground. When we examined the skull, we noticed the abnormal development of the upper jaw.
‘We believe that this mammoth got a kind of injury at a very young age, which impacted on its left side. There was no left tusk and I presume that the left side was weak, so it could help the hunters kill the animal.’
The injuries found on the bones also gave clues what did the hunters with the mammoth after they killed it. The right tusk had the traces of human interference on the tip of the tusk.
They did not try and pull the entire tusk off the killed mammal but instead tried to remove ‘long slivers of ivory with sharp edges, which were usable as butchering tools’, said Dr Pitulko.
A butchery mark was also found on the fifth left rib, seen as evidence that the hunters cut meat from the carcass to take it with them. Ancient man also extracted the mammoth tongue, seen as a probable delicacy to these hunters.
Yet the theory that the animal was butchered does not convince all experts.
Dr Robert Park, a professor of anthropology at the University of Waterloo in Canada, wrote in an email to Discover, that the skeleton is not consistent with other evidence from early human hunters.
He wrote: ‘The most convincing evidence that it wasn’t butchered is the fact that the archaeologists recovered the mammoth’s fat hump. Hunter-gatherers in high latitudes need fat both for its food value and as fuel. So the one part of the animal that we would not expect hunters to leave behind is fat.’
But Dr Pitulko countered: ‘Yes, ancient man – and not so ancient, in fact – has used and uses animal fat as fuel and food, nothing to argue about here. Why in this very case they did not use their prey in full is impossible to say.
‘There may be dozens of reasons, for example – they could not – the carcass was lying at the water’s edge, and it was late autumn. Or they did not have time: the carcass fell into the water on thin coastal ice. Or it did not correspond to their plans – they killed the poor animal just to have a meal and replenish the supply of food for a small group.’
They might have killed another animal nearer to their camp, and so abandoned this one. He said ‘a thousand and one reasons’ might explain not purloining the fat.
The expert added: ‘I believe that the main reason for hunting mammoths were their tusks. Mammoth as a source of food wasn’t very necessary although I believe they were useful.
‘People needed tusks because they were living in landscapes free of forests, so called mammoth steppe. In the course of time, a technology to produce spears out of tusks was developed.’
On the significance for the New World, he told Discovery the human role in killing the mammoth ‘is especially important’ because ‘now we know that eastern Siberia up to its Arctic limits was populated starting at roughly 50,000 years ago’.
Archaeologists discover evidence for a 5,000-year-old beer concoction and the earliest known occurrence of barley in China.
Archaeological artifacts from a site in northern China suggest a 5,000-year-old recipe for beer, according to a study*. The time of onset of beer brewing in ancient China remains unclear. Jiajing Wang and colleagues report the discovery of brewing artifacts in two pits dated to around 3400-2900 BC and unearthed at Mijiaya, an archaeological site near a tributary of the Wei River in northern China. Yellowish remnants found in wide-mouthed pots, funnels, and amphorae suggest that the vessels were used for beer brewing, filtration, and storage. Stoves found in the pits likely provided heat for mashing grains. Morphological analysis of starch grains and phytoliths found inside the artifacts revealed broomcorn millets, barley, Job’s tears, and tubers; some starch grains bore marks reminiscent of malting and mashing. The presence of oxalate, a byproduct of beer brewing that was identified using ion chromatography, in some of the artifacts further supported their use as brewing vessels. Together, the lines of evidence suggest that the Yangshao people may have concocted a 5,000-year-old beer recipe that ushered the cultural practice of beer brewing into ancient China. According to the authors, the identification of barley residues in the Mijiaya artifacts represents the earliest known occurrence of barley in China, pushing back the crop’s advent in the country by approximately 1,000 years and suggesting that the crop may have been used as a beer-making ingredient long before it became an agricultural staple.