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Research by an international team, led by the University of Bristol, has shed new light on the fate of the ancient people of Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

Source: Diet of the ancient people of Rapa Nui shows adaptation and resilience not ‘ecocide’

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Yeast microbes from the world’s oldest bottle of beer — a 220-year-old bottle found in one of Australia’s earliest shipwrecks — are being used to create a new, modern beer with the characteristic taste of the 18th-century brew.

Source: Oldest Beer Brewed from Shipwrecks 220-Year-Old Yeast Microbes

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CAPTION An illustration of a giant flightless bird known as Genyornis newtoni, surprised on her nest by a 1 ton, predatory lizard named Megalania prisca in Australia roughly 50,000 thousand years ago. CREDIT Illustration by Peter Trusler, Monash University

CAPTION
An illustration of a giant flightless bird known as Genyornis newtoni, surprised on her nest by a 1 ton, predatory lizard named Megalania prisca in Australia roughly 50,000 thousand years ago.
CREDIT
Illustration by Peter Trusler, Monash University

 

Original Article:

eurekalert.org

January, 2016

Ancient extinction of giant Australian bird points to humans

The first direct evidence that humans played a substantial role in the extinction of the huge, wondrous beasts inhabiting Australia some 50,000 years ago — in this case a 500-pound bird — has been discovered by a University of Colorado Boulder-led team.

The flightless bird, known as Genyornis newtoni, was nearly 7 feet tall and appears to have lived in much of Australia prior to the establishment of humans on the continent 50,000 years ago, said CU-Boulder Professor Gifford Miller. The evidence consists of diagnostic burn patterns on Genyornis eggshell fragments that indicate humans were collecting and cooking its eggs, thereby reducing the birds’ reproductive success.

“We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly preying on now-extinct Australian megafauna,” said Miller, associate director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “We have documented these characteristically burned Genyornis eggshells at more than 200 sites across the continent.”

A paper on the subject appears online Jan. 29, in Nature Communications.

In analyzing unburned Genyornis eggshells from more than 2,000 localities across Australia, primarily from sand dunes where the ancient birds nested, several dating methods helped researchers determine that none were younger than about 45,000 years old. Burned eggshell fragments from more than 200 of those sites, some only partially blackened, suggest pieces were exposed to a wide range of temperatures, said Miller, a professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Geological Sciences.

Optically stimulated luminescence dating, a method used to determine when quartz grains enclosing the eggshells were last exposed to sunlight, limits the time range of burned Genyornis eggshell to between 54,000 and 44,000 years ago. Radiocarbon dating indicated the burnt eggshell was no younger than about 47,000 years old.

The blackened fragments were likely burned in transient, human fires — presumably to cook the eggs — rather than in wildfires, he said.

Amino acids — the building blocks of proteins -decompose in a predictable fashion inside eggshells over time. In eggshell fragments burned at one end but not the other, there is a tell-tale “gradient” from total amino acid decomposition to minimal amino acid decomposition, he said. Such a gradient could only be produced by a localized heat source, likely an ember, and not from the sustained high heat produced regularly by wildfires on the continent both in the distant past and today.

Miller also said the researchers found many of the burnt Genyornis eggshell fragments in tight clusters less than 10 feet in diameter, with no other eggshell fragments nearby. Some individual fragments from the same clusters had heat gradient differences of nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, conditions virtually impossible to reproduce with natural wildfires there, he said.

“We can’t come up with a scenario that a wildfire could produce those tremendous gradients in heat,” Miller said. “We instead argue that the conditions are consistent with early humans harvesting Genyornis eggs, cooking them over fires, and then randomly discarding the eggshell fragments in and around their cooking fires.”

Another line of evidence for early human predation on Genyornis eggs is the presence of ancient, burned eggshells of emus — flightless birds weighing only about 100 pounds and which still exist in Australia today — in the sand dunes. Emu eggshells exhibiting burn patterns similar to Genyornis eggshells first appear on the landscape about 50,000 years ago, signaling they most likely were scorched after humans arrived in Australia, and are found fairly consistently to modern times, Miller said.

The Genyornis eggs are thought to have been roughly the size of a cantaloupe and weighed about 3.5 pounds, Miller said.

Genyornis roamed the Australian outback with an astonishing menagerie of other now-extinct megafauna that included a 1,000-pound kangaroo, a 2-ton wombat, a 25-foot-long-lizard, a 300-pound marsupial lion and a Volkswagen-sized tortoise. More than 85 percent of Australia’s mammals, birds and reptiles weighing over 100 pounds went extinct shortly after the arrival of the first humans.

The demise of the ancient megafauna in Australia (and on other continents, including North America) has been hotly debated for more than a century, swaying between human predation, climate change and a combination of both, said Miller. While some still hold fast to the climate change scenario — specifically the continental drying in Australia from about 60,000 to 40,000 years ago — neither the rate nor magnitude of that change was as severe as earlier climate shifts in Australia during the Pleistocene epoch, which lacked the punch required to knock off the megafauna, said Miller.

Miller and others suspect Australia’s first inhabitants traveled to the northern coast of the continent on rafts launched from Indonesian islands several hundred miles away. “We will never know the exact time window humans arrived on the continent,” he said. “But there is reliable evidence they were widely dispersed across the continent before 47,000 years ago.”

Evidence of Australia megafauna hunting is very difficult to find, in part because the megafauna there are so much older than New World megafauna and in part because fossil bones are easily destroyed by the chemistry of Australian soils. said Miller.

“In the Americas, early human predation on the giant animals in clear — stone spear heads are found embedded in mammoth bones, for example,” said Miller. “The lack of clear evidence regarding human predation on the Australia megafauna had, until now, been used to suggest no human-megafauna interactions occurred, despite evidence that most of the giant animals still roamed Australia when humans colonized the continent.”

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Co-authors on the new study include Research Professor Scott Lehman, doctoral student Christopher Florian and researcher Stephen DeVogel of CU-Boulder; Research Fellow John Magee of the Australian National University; and researchers from seven other Australian institutions. The study was funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Australian Research Council.

 

 

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ROCA

Aerial view and location of Roca. Image: Laboratory of Sciences Applied to Archaeology, University of Salento (Italy)

Mycenaean cups from Roca. Image: Laboratory of Sciences Applied to Archaeology, University of Salento (Italy)

Mycenaean cups from Roca. Image: Laboratory of Sciences Applied to Archaeology, University of Salento (Italy)

Original Article:

pasthorizonspr.com

Dec 2015

The sharing of food and alcoholic beverages is extremely important today as in the past because provides a wealth of information on societies where this occurred. So far however, most of these practices known through archaeology have been primarily those undertaken by people from the same individual community or regional district.

The Bronze Age site of Roca (2) in Southern Italy, has produced clear evidence for the existence at this place of one of the earliest inter-cultural feasting ‘party’ in Mediterranean Europe, dating to c.a. 1200 BC.

This small (about 3 hectares nowadays, although it was larger in the past) but monumental fortified settlement (its stone walls measured up to 25m in width), located on the Adriatic coast of Apulia, southern Italy, has been investigated for many years by a team from the University of Salento. Such a research has demonstrated the existence of a long-lasting and intense relationship with Minoan and Mycenaean Greece at least from c.a. 1400 BC and of more sporadic connections since the earliest Bronze Age occupation at the site. One of the areas of the settlement (investigated a few years ago) has produced the largest set of ceramics of Mycenaean type ever found in the same context west of Greece (more than 380 vessels). This pottery was associated with abundant local ceramics, remains of meals and of numerous animal sacrifices. A recent study (1) suggests this was the result of a large-scale feast in which it is possible to recognise the participation of groups of people with two distinct cultural backgrounds.

One is the southern Italian component, hinted by the local ceramic material as well as by the very modality of the sacrifices. Analyses of bones have shown that after the killings, extensive portions (e.g. one entire leg, or the head) were separated from the carcasses and deposited in the ground and covered up with leaves and branches that left impressions on the back of the thick crushed limestone pavement that sealed all this. Such a ritual procedure seems not to be attested in the Mycenaean world, where animal sacrifices normally involve the use of fire, but finds some parallels in other Bronze Age sites in Southern Italy.

The second cultural component was the Aegean one, broadly intended, and this is suggested by the copious presence of Aegean style pottery (both imported and locally made) as well as by the very nature of the feast. Evidence for large feasting events involving the presence of a considerable number of people at the same time (the count of participants estimated on the basis of the consumption of the meat of the sacrificed animals alone was between 530 and 176 people) is lacking in Italian Bronze Age, but these events were relatively common in the Aegean world. Also, the probable use of alcoholic drinks (suggested by the recovery of both Aegean style wine cups and large transport stirrup jars, the ancestors of classical amphorae) is an element that is not present in southern Italy but widespread in the Minoan/Mycenaean world, where this was an important part of Palatial societies.

The broad context in which this event took place provides clues on some of the possible reasons behind it. In the Late Bronze Age, after the fall of Mycenaean palaces, the links between Italy (including the north of the peninsula, rich in metal resources) and the societies that continued to inhabit the Aegean, had increased considerably. East-west connections did not affect only the central Mediterranean region as indeed at the same time many ‘western looking’ artefacts (both ceramics and metal types) started to appear in main sites in Greece.

Being located at the junction between the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea, Roca acquired a considerable importance in these connections, acting as a mediating node. The feasting practices demonstrated at Roca give us a first concrete snapshot of the details of what these encounters between people possibly coming from distant locales might have looked like.

rock research project

Bibliography

(1) Iacono, F. 2015. ‘Feasting at Roca: Cross-Cultural Encounters and Society in the Southern Adriatic during the Late Bronze Age’. European Journal of Archaeology 18 (2): 259–81. doi:10.1179/1461957114Y.0000000074.
http://www.maneyonline.com/doi/abs/10.1179/1461957114Y.0000000074

(2) Pagliara, C., R. Guglielmino, L. Coluccia, I. Malorgio, M. Merico, D. Palmisano, M. Rugge, and F. Minonne. 2008. ‘Roca Vecchia (Melendugno, Lecce), SAS IX: Relazione Stratigrafica Preliminare sui Livelli di Occupazione Protostorici (Campagne di Scavo 2005-2006)’. Rivista di Scienze Preistoriche, 58: 239–80.
http://digital.casalini.it/10.1400/206245

 

Francesco Iacono
Francesco Iacono is a specialist in Mediterranean prehistory, but his broader research interests include social theory, approaches to ceramics, the history and politics of archaeology, and heritage. He has collaborated with institutions in the UK, Italy, Greece, and Albania. He has a PhD from the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and is currently a postdoctoral fellow (funded by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory) at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.

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A University of Otago PhD student analysing dental calculus (hardened plaque) from ancient teeth is helping resolve the question of what plant foods Easter Islanders relied on before European contact.

Known to its Polynesian inhabitants as Rapa Nui, Easter Island is thought to have been colonised around the 13th Century and is famed for its mysterious large stone statues or moai.

Otago Anatomy PhD student Monica Tromp and Idaho State University’s Dr John Dudgeon have just published new research clearing up their previous puzzling finding that suggested palm may have been a staple plant food for Rapa Nui’s population over several centuries.

However, no other line of archaeological or ethnohistoric evidence supports palm having a dietary role on Easter Island; in fact evidence points to the palm becoming extinct soon after colonization.

Nevertheless, the researchers had found that the vast majority of phytoliths (plant microfossils) embedded within the calculus were from palm trees.

The teeth were from burials excavated in the early 1980s from multiple coastal archaeological sites around the island.

To clear up the mystery, the pair undertook further analysis, newly published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. This included identifying starch grains in the dental calculus removed from 30 teeth.

After removing and decalcifying the plaque from each tooth, Ms Tromp and Dr Dudgeon identified starch grains that were consistent with modern sweet potato. None of the recovered grains showed any similarities to banana, taro or yam, other starchy plants that are hypothesised to be part of the diet.

The researchers went on to test modern sweet potato skins grown in sediment similar to that of Rapa Nui’s and found that as tubers grow, their skins seem to incorporate palm phytoliths from the soil.

“So this actually bolsters the case for sweet potato as a staple and important plant food source for the Islanders from the time the island was first colonised,”Ms Tromp says.

She and Dr Dudgeon are the first biological anthropologists to study dental calculus in the Pacific.

“It is an excellent target for looking at the plant component of ancient diets as microfossils become embedded in dental calculus throughout a person’s life. You can get a good idea of some of the plant foods people were eating, which is not an easy task.

“This research also shows that the plant foods you find evidence for in dental calculus can come from the environment that foods are grown in and not necessarily from the food itself – this finding has the potential to impact dental calculus studies worldwide.”

Determining plants’ role in ancient Oceanic diets is extremely difficult due to the scarcity of plant remains, but this research of microscopic plant remains is providing one more piece of the dietary

Dec 16, 2014

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Original article:
otago.ac.nz

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Epic pre-Columbian voyage suggested by genes

Wooden canoes like this one from Easter Island may have brought Native Americans and Polynesians together.
Polynesians from Easter Island and natives of South America met and mingled long before Europeans voyaged the Pacific, according to a new genetic study of living Easter Islanders. In this week’s issue of Current Biology, researchers argue that the genes point to contact between Native Americans and Easter Islanders before 1500 C.E., 3 centuries after Polynesians settled the island also known as Rapa Nui, famous for its massive stone statues. Although circumstantial evidence had hinted at such contact, this is the first direct human genetic evidence for it.

In the genomes of 27 living Rapa Nui islanders, the team found dashes of European and Native American genetic patterns. The European genetic material made up 16% of the genomes; it was relatively intact and was unevenly spread among the Rapa Nui population, suggesting that genetic recombination, which breaks up segments of DNA, has not been at work for long. Europeans may have introduced their genes in the 19th century, when they settled on the island.

Native American DNA accounted for about 8% of the genomes. Islanders enslaved by Europeans in the 19th century and sent to work in South America could have carried some Native American genes back home, but this genetic legacy appeared much older. The segments were more broken and widely scattered, suggesting a much earlier encounter—between 1300 C.E. and 1500 C.E.

But did Polynesians land on South American beaches, or did Native Americans sail 3500 kilometers into the Pacific to reach Rapa Nui? “Our studies strongly suggest that Native Americans most probably arrived [on Rapa Nui] shortly after the Polynesians,” says team member Erik Thorsby, an immunologist at the University of Oslo. He thinks that could support the controversial theory, posited by Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl more than a half-century ago, that Native Americans had the skills to move west across the Pacific.

But many scientists say that Pacific currents and Polynesian mastery of the waves make it more likely that the Polynesians were the voyagers. They may have sailed to South America, swapped goods for sweet potatoes and other novelties—and returned to their island with South American women.

Sweet potato was domesticated in the Andean highlands, and researchers recently determined that the crop spread west across Polynesia before Europeans arrived. Another hint of trans-Pacific exchange comes from chicken bones—unknown in the Americas before 1500 C.E.—excavated on a Chilean beach, which some believe predate Christopher Columbus.

Skeptics say that genetic evidence from modern human populations is not enough to prove ancient contact. The genetic clock is often uncertain, says anthropologist Carl Lipo of California State University, Long Beach. “We need ancient DNA from skeletal evidence—not modern evidence—to resolve this question.”

*Clarification, 27 October, 11:50 a.m.: Erik Thorsby is described as supporting the hypothesis that Native Americans voyaged on their own to Easter Island. Thorsby, like most scientists, believes it much more likely that Polynesians brought Native Americans to the island.

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By Andrew Lawler 23 October 2014 12:00 pm 9 Comments

news.sciencemag.org

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Evidence of early Polynesian settlement dating back to the early 1300s has been uncovered within a stone’s throw of central Whitianga, in a discovery of national significance.

A team of five archaeologists has spent two months at one of the Coromandel Peninsula’s largest excavation sites by the Taputapuatea stream, at a housing development on the outskirts of the Coromandel town.

According to archaeologist Andrew Hoffman, the site has been identified as a Polynesian settlement from the 1300s used for cooking and gardening. It also had a specialist working area for making tools and repairing waka. Among the hundreds of artefacts unearthed are rare large sized hangi oven stones, moa fish hooks, basalt and chert rock tools, a large midden, and flakes of unused rock.

The site revealed a sequence of flooding events that enabled archaeologists to establish that Polynesians would use the site for a season and then move on.

Trenches dug up to 1.5m deep reveal profiles of layers of varied sediments and radiocarbon dating of site artefacts suggest the settlement was occupied between 1310 and 1490, said Hoffman.

A large deep hole lined with large black rocks revealed an earth oven that was still greasy. Hoffman said it was rare to find earth ovens of this size and it was probably used for cooking animals like seals.

Heritage New Zealand Maori heritage advisor, Makere Rika-Heke said this discovery was a reaffirmation of some of the old traditions kept by local people which have been played out along the landscape.

The site beside Taputapuatea stream is at the base of a hill that is home to Te Wahine Moeroa o Taputapuatea Pa.

The location has significant links to Taputapuatea Marae on the coast of Raiatea, Tahiti, the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the waka- voyaging ancestors who crossed the Pacific and established themselves in Aotearoa.

It is said that Kupe, the great Polynesian explorer who voyaged to Aotearoa from Hawaiki bathed in the hot springs of Te Whitianga a Kupe after he moored his waka in Mercury Bay. He named the stream and pa after the Tahitian Taputapuatea marae because of its similar natural flora and fauna.

Rapanui (Easter Island), Hawaii, Arahurahu Island in Tahiti, Moorea Island and a reef in the Kermedec Islands all have sites of significance referring to Taputapuatea.

The artefacts and 4000 photographs taken will be analysed and recorded over the next two months.

However, the public will not be able to view the site as it is in the middle of re-filling for a subdivision block.

Original article:
By CLAIRE FITZJAMES
stuff.co.nz

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DIG THIS: Archaeologist Andrew Hoffman displays a stone adze recovered from an archaeology dig on a new housing development at Whitianga.

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