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Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

 

Pottery containing egg shells

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Archaeology.org

You might have seen a delicacy known as “century eggs” on Chinese restaurant menus or on the shelves of Asian markets and wondered, “Are those eggs really 100 years old?” (Answer: They aren’t. It actually only takes about a month to make them, using a pickling liquid made from lye, salt, and water, and then rolling the eggs in mud and wrapping them in rice husks.) In a recently excavated tomb in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, however, archaeologists found a jar filled with eggs dating all the way back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770–ca. 475 B.C.), making these incredible edibles at least 2,500 years old. Sadly, only the shells remain.

 

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I just had to share this. All about food with amazing photos,envoking both the ancient and modern.  JLP

 

Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of national feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go. – Anthony Bourdain If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. – J.R.R. […]

via Everything We Are — Steve McCurry’s Blog

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Pottery with traces of food and drink

Newscientist.com

By Colin Barras

Was it the lure of beer that encouraged prehistoric humans to begin farming? Archaeological evidence from China suggests it might have been as the region’s first farmers had worked out how to turn millet and other cereals into alcoholic drinks in two distinct ways, hinting at how important alcohol was at the time.

Li Liu at Stanford University and her colleagues analysed the residues left on 8000- to 7000-year-old pottery sherds unearthed at two early farming sites in north China. At both sites, some of the residues contained cereal starch granules with signs of physical damage similar to that caused by fermentation.

A key stumbling block when brewing beer from cereals is to break down the starches into fermentable sugars. Significantly, say Liu and her colleagues, the ancient brewers at the two sites appear to have used different techniques to do this.

At the site of Lingkou, tiny mineral particles from plants – phytoliths – in the residues suggest the brewers simply let the grains sprout, which frees up the sugars. But at the site of Guantaoyuan, 300 kilometres to the west, the mix of phytoliths and fungi suggests an alternative approach. Here, the archaeologists say the brewers triggered the breakdown of starches by using a ‘fermentation starter’ known as , which is made from grains that have been allowed to mould. is still used today to produce cereal wines and spirits.

Collectively, says Liu, the evidence suggests the history of these two distinct fermentation techniques stretches back to the early days of farming in East Asia.

“That would be very exciting,” says Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The origins of are hotly disputed, he says. Traditionally, its roots are traced back to the Shang Dynasty in China, which began about 3700 years ago. But even in that period its questionable when use started, he says.

Honey beer

However, McGovern would like to see stronger evidence that the brewers at Guantaoyuan really were using . In 2004, he and his colleagues described even earlier evidence of fermented drinks in the region, at a 9000-year-old site in central China. The brewers there used honey and fruit as well as rice. It’s an important distinction, says McGovern. Not only are honey and fruit rich in fermentable sugars, they also naturally carry the yeasts that perform fermentation – which cereals do not. If they used honey and fruit as well as cereals, early brewers at Guantaoyuan would not have needed to use to get fermentation started.

But there is agreement that the new study emphasises the important of alcoholic drinks in early farming cultures. Liu suspects the spread of domesticated rice might have been encouraged in part because of its use in such drinks. “Alcohol would be used in feasting which helps some individuals to gain high social status and to form alliances,” she says.

McGovern thinks alcoholic drinks might even have helped encourage humans to adopt farming. The large quantities of grain produced by farming could be stored and turned into beer or bread all year round. Beer might have been seen as the more desirable product. “Bread doesn’t have the mind-altering effect of alcohol, which I think is so important for social and religious reasons,” he says.

Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902668116

 

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Wild apples

 

 

Recent archaeological finds of ancient preserved apple seeds across Europe and West Asia combined with historical, paleontological, and recently published genetic data are presenting a fascinating new narrative for one of our most familiar fruits. The apple was originally spread by ancient megafauna and later as a process of trade along the Silk Road. When previously separated varieties came into contact, hybridization and grafting allowed for the development of the varieties that we know today.

Source: Exploring the origins of the apple

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Prehistoric peasant farmers struggling to put more food on the table fueled the global spread of some of the world’s first and most important domesticated grain crops beginning as early as 7,000 years ago, according to an international study led by anthropologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

Source: Prehistoric food globalization spanned three millennia

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LEFT) A LIVING MAIZE WEEVIL.
(RIGHT) IMAGE OF A MAIZE WEEVIL IMPRESSION FROM THE SURFACE OF A POTTERY FRAGMENT.

Original article:

eurekalert.org

 

Researchers have discovered an ancient Japanese pottery vessel from the late Jomon period (4500-3300 BP) with an estimated 500 maize weevils incorporated into its design. The vessel was discovered in February 2016 from ruins in Hokkaido, Japan. This extremely rare discovery provides clues on the cultivation and distribution of chestnuts, food in the Jomon era, and the spirituality of ancient Japanese people.

Maize weevils are beetles of the Dryophthorinae subfamily, and are destructive pests of stored rice and grains. By 2003*, Jomon-period pottery and pottery fragments containing foreign-body impressions had been collected by various researchers from multiple archeological sites around Japan. Surveys of these impressions exposed hundreds of seed and insect traces on and in the pottery. Over the years, researchers found that maize weevils constituted over 90% of all recorded insect impressions.

In 2010, Professor Obata’s research group from Kumamoto University (KU) in Japan found maize weevil impressions in 10,000 year-old pottery that had been recovered from the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima. They showed that maize weevils, which were thought to have come from the Korean Peninsula, had damaged stored food, such as acorns and chestnuts, long before rice cultivation began in the area.

In 2012*, the KU research group found maize weevils impressions in pottery fragments from the Sannai-Maruyama site in the northern Japanese prefecture of Aomori. The fact that weevils inhabited an area with a cold winter is an indicator for the distribution food by humans and a warm indoor environment that persisted throughout winter. It is presumed that weevil infestation of stored food was well underway in the Jomon period.

Continuing their study of pottery from northern Japan, Professor Obata’s team discovered the first maize weevil impressions from Hokkaido, and in February of 2016 discovered a pottery vessel that contained a large number of maize weevils. X-ray CT scans were taken to count insect cavities and revealed that 417 adult maize weevils were contained in the remaining parts of the pottery. In addition, if all of the missing pieces were accounted for, it is estimated that up to 501 weevils were mixed into the clay and appeared in the vessel when it was whole.

Interestingly, when comparing the body size of 337 maize weevil impressions found nationwide, the team discovered that the body length of maize weevils from eastern Japan was about 20% longer than that of western Japan. It is presumed that this body-length discrepancy is due to the different nutritional values between the types of foods they infested–the sweet chestnuts of eastern Japan vs the acorns of western Japan.

Chestnuts are not native to Hokkaido and previous studies surmised that people carried them to the northern Japanese island. The discovery of weevils at the Tatesaki archaeological site in Hokkaido is evidence that the Jomon people of Tohoku (south of Hokkaido) carried supplies, including chestnuts infested by weevils, over the Tsugaru Strait by ship.

“The meaning of a large amount of adult maize weevils in pottery was not touched upon in detail in my paper,” said Professor Obata. “However, I believe that the Jomon people mixed the weevils into the pottery clay with the hope of having a good harvest.”

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Grape seeds found in ancient Sri Lanka may have been imported by Roman merchants.
iStock.com/RinoCdZ

 

By Lizzie Wade

Science mag.org

 

Visit Mantai, nestled into a bay in northwestern Sri Lanka, and today you’ll see nothing but a solitary Hindu temple overlooking the sea. But 1500 years ago, Mantai was a bustling port where merchants traded their era’s most valuable commodities. Now, a study of ancient plant remains reveals traders from all corners of the world—including the Roman Empire—may have visited or even lived there.

Mantai was a hub on the ancient trade networks that crisscrossed the Indian Ocean and connected the distant corners of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. The port town flourished between 200 B.C.E. and 850 C.E. During that time, it would have been a nexus for the spice trade, which ferried Indonesian cloves and Indian peppercorns to Middle Eastern and Roman kitchens.

But for such a potentially important site in the ancient world, Mantai has been difficult for archaeologists to study. After excavations in the early 1980s, research was halted in 1984 by Sri Lanka’s civil war. “Mantai was firmly in the red zone,” says Robin Coningham, an archaeologist who studies South Asia at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Only after the fighting ended in 2009 could a team led by Sri Lanka’s Department of Archaeology return to continue excavations.

Eleanor Kingwell-Banham, an archaeobotanist at University College London, joined the team to study the plant remains sifted from the excavated soil. She found an abundance of locally grown rice grains, but also more exotic products: charred black pepper dating to 600–700 C.E. and a single clove from 900–1100 C.E.—an exceptionally rare find, because ancient people were very careful with their spices, her team reports today in Antiquity. “Because [spices] are so valuable, people in the past really made sure they didn’t lose them or burn them,” Kingwell-Banham says. “These things were worth more than gold.” The clove, in particular, must have made quite a journey—about 7000 kilometers from its native home in the Maluku Islands of Indonesia.

The team also found remains that could link the port city to the ancient Mediterranean world—processed wheat grains dated to 100 to 200 C.E. and grape seeds dated to 650 to 800 C.E. Neither crop can grow in Sri Lanka’s wet, tropical climate, so they had to be imported, possibly from as far as Arabia or the Roman world. Kingwell-Banham says her team is studying the chemical isotopes absorbed by the plants to determine where they were grown.

But no matter their precise origin, the coexistence of rice and wheat is evidence of Mantai’s “cosmopolitan cuisine,” in which both local and foreign foods were eaten, she says. The discovery of wheat and grapes in Mantai “is entirely new,” and shifts the focus on goods transported from South Asia to the Roman world, to goods that went in the other direction,” Coningham says.

So were there Roman merchants living in Mantai, importing and cooking the foods of their homeland? “It’s certainly a possibility,” says Matthew Cobb, a historian who studies ancient Indian Ocean trade networks at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Lampeter. But no one has yet clinched the case with Roman ceramics. So exactly who in Mantai had a taste for Mediterranean food remains to be seen.

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