Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Australia / Pacific’ Category

Monica Tromp

By John Gibb

oft.co.nz

Dunedin researchers have used 3000-year-old teeth to solve an ancient banana mystery linked to the last part of the planet to be settled by humans.

A discovery by University of Otago scientist Monica Tromp has provided the earliest evidence of humans transporting the banana to Vanuatu, and later cultivating it there, about 3000 years ago.

“It’s quite exciting,” Dr Tromp said.

In an article published this week in Nature Human Behaviour, she reported finding microscopic particles of banana and other plants trapped in the calcified dental plaque of Vanuatu’s first settlers.

“One of the big advantages of studying calcified plaque, or dental calculus, is that you can find out a lot about otherwise invisible parts of peoples lives.”

“Plaque calcifies very quickly and can trap just about anything you put inside of your mouth — much like the infamous Jurassic Park mosquito in amber,” she said.

She used a microscope to look for microparticles in the plaque, scraped from the teeth of 32 skeletons.

Dr Tromp is senior laboratory analyst at the university’s Southern Pacific Archaeological Research (SPAR), and the finds come from 3000-year-old skeletons at the Teouma site on Vanuatu’s Efate Island.

Teouma is the oldest archaeological cemetery in Remote Oceania, a region which comprises Vanuatu and many other islands, including Hawaii and New Zealand.

At Teouma, lime-rich graves have preserved the plaque and archaeological materials often destroyed elsewhere by hot and humid climates.

There has been debate about how the earliest settlers from the Lapita cultural complex survived on Vanuatu, and it was believed plants and animals were brought with them on canoes.

However, Dr Tromp’s study — part of her PhD research through the university’s anatomy department — was the first to find direct evidence of these plants at Teouma.

Among the article’s co-authors were Profs Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith and Hallie Buckley, and Dr Rebecca Kinaston, also of the department.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Telesurenglish.net

Australia’s Budj Bim cultural landscape could become the country’s first Aboriginal cultural value to make it on United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO’s) World Heritage List, after being nominated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites Tuesday.

Budj Bim is a 6,000-year-old aquaculture system located in southwest Victoria that was developed by the Gunditjmara people.

“There are around 200 registered and recorded stone house sites, so people were living a sedentary life,” Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation project manager, Elder Denis Rose, explained.

The Gunditjmara people constructed what is thought to be one of the world’s oldest aquaculture systems, configured into channels and weirs using volcanic rocks to manipulate the water flow of rivers and trap migrating eels for food.

“Budj Bim holds a vast network of wetlands that was constructed by first nation people, it contains evidence of a system used to farm and smoke eels and fish,” Chief Operating Officer of Parks Victoria, Simon Talbot stated. “It was permanent settlement, with huts and house remains that have been protected by Gunditjmara people.”

According to UNESCO, the evidence of construction and farming at Budj Bim “challenges the common perception and assumption of Australia’s First Peoples as having all been hunter-gatherers living in resource-constrained environments.”

 

The Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation has developed a plan for sustainable tourism.

“There’s the economic benefit to the region,” Elder Rose said. “Millions of people travel the Great Ocean Road each year, and if we could attract even a fraction of that to Budj Bim, it would be beneficial to tourism.”

The International Council on Monuments and Sites monitors the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places globally.

“We fought battles to get land back and we had access to very little land 20 to 30 years ago and such little control,” Rose said.

“Today, we have management responsibility of about 10,000 hectares including the Budj Bim national park, and that pride and sense of achievement we have is so important. It’s also nice to look back and really appreciate how our ancestors looked after country so well.”

The nomination of Budj Bim will be formally reviewed by the world heritage committee in July.

“Budj Bim is one of Australia’s most important cultural sites and now it’s a step away from World Heritage Status. We’re supporting the Gunditjmara people in their self-determination as they lead the development of this landscape to share it sustainably with the world,” Victoria’s Aboriginal affairs minister, Gavin Jennings, noted.

Budj Bim Landscape are recognized and protected by the Victorian Government under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and by the Commonwealth Government under the National Heritage List, and was added to Australia’s Tentative World Heritage List in 2017.

Australia has 19 world heritage sites, including Sydney Opera House, Kakadu national park and the Great Barrier Reef.

 

 

Read Full Post »

This post is about more recient  food trends than I normally post but it is timely and very interesting.

jlp

————————

Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world. Resettlement of indigenous communities resulted in the spread of invasive species, the absence of human-set fires, and a general cascade in the interconnected food web that led to the largest mammalian extinction event ever recorded. In this case, the absence of direct human activity on the landscape may be the cause of the extinctions, according to a Penn State anthropologist.

Source: Indigenous hunters have positive impacts on food webs in desert Australia

Read Full Post »

 

Original Article:

By Karen Michelmore

abc.net.au

Archaeologists have uncovered a treasure trove of ancient artefacts — including evidence of a kangaroo cook-up — inside a remote cave in the far north-west of Australia.

An archaeological dig is underway in this cave, located about 10km from BHP Billiton’s Mining Area C iron ore mine in the West Australian Pilbara region.

The site in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is being leased by mining giant BHP Billiton, but of late a different kind of digging has been going on.

A team of scientists from Scarp Archaeology and BHP, led by Michael Slack, has already uncovered hundreds of ancient artefacts from the small cave in the Hamersley Ranges.

“The guys have just uncovered an ancient campfire that, given the depth below the surface and the relationship with the stones around it, we think is potentially around 20,000 years old,” Dr Slack said.

The remnants of the ancient camp fire consist of about 20cm of fine white ash and contains pieces of charcoal which will be sent off for radiocarbon dating.

“To make it even better, they found flake stone artefacts right next to the charcoal,” he said.

“So we’ll get a really good association between people and the campfire itself, and we’ll have a really clear idea of how old it is.”

It was possible the stone tools were used to cut the meat for the fire, as remnants of kangaroo bone were also found.

“We’ll have to have a look at them under the microscope, but they are the pieces that people were using in the site,” Dr Slack said.

“A family sitting around a campfire having a meal probably.”

Using garden trowels, the scientists are painstakingly digging centimetre by centimetre, through thousands of years of history.

“You only have to look at the ground in this cave and you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of little chips of stone, and these were all coming off stone artefacts that were used as tools,” Dr Slack said.

“Some of them just look really pretty, others you can see have lots of evidence of wear on the side.

“This little cave has hundreds of them on the surface which is very rare for the Pilbara.

“Quite often the caves have nothing … but they are lying around.

“We looked at a bunch of caves out here and as soon as we got to this one we thought, ‘wow we really want to come and do some archaeology here’ — it’s going to be really rich and there’s the potential there to tell a good story about what the Aboriginal people were doing here over possibly the last 40,000 years.”

Banjima man and traditional owner Garren Smith, who is working with the archaeologists, said stories about the site have been passed down over time.

“It’s good that they are doing this and getting the records, having a look at how old things are,” Mr Smith said.

“A lot of other young fellas and older people come out.

“A lot of stories have been passed on to us and now they’re just finding out about it.”

The site was discovered a decade ago by a survey party made up of Aboriginal traditional owners working with BHP Billiton as part of their mine compliance requirements.

Years later scientists returned to do a test dig in a 1m-square patch, and in the process uncovered a cache of stone tools, some of which are up to 32,000 years old, making it one of the oldest sites in the region.

“The artefacts span what’s known as the last glacial maximum, or what most people know as the last ice age, between 18000 years ago and 28,000 years ago,” Dr Slack said.

“It’s one of those jobs where you never know what the next hour or minute is going to find for you.

“It might be nothing, but every time you put a little trowel in the ground and touch something, it could be something really exciting,” he says.

Dr Slack, who is also president of the Australian Archaeological Association, said there are around 600 archaeologists working around Australia.

Fittingly, the Pilbara excavation coincides with National Archaeology Week, and is just one of many sites of archaeological interest around the country.

“There’s a growing number of these sorts of sites in Australia because there’s been a lot more research that’s been going on over the last 10 years in particular,” he says.

“But in terms of the size in Australia and the number of places that we know to be over 10,000 years, we are still only looking at dozens of places in the continent, in the period of up to 65,000-70,000 years [old].

“So they are really significant places to study and understand.”

 

Read Full Post »

 

 

 

Different varieties of sweet potato on display at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. The sweet potato originated in the Americas and spread across the globe. Robert Scotland

Many botanists argued that humans must have carried the valuable staple to the Pacific from South America. Not so, according to a new study.

Carl Zimmer APRIL 12, 2018

Nytimes.com

Of all the plants that humanity has turned into crops, none is more puzzling than the sweet potato. Indigenous people of Central and South America grew it on farms for generations, and Europeans discovered it when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean.

In the 18th century, however, Captain Cook stumbled across sweet potatoes again — over 4,000 miles away, on remote Polynesian islands. European explorers later found them elsewhere in the Pacific, from Hawaii to New Guinea.

The distribution of the plant baffled scientists. How could sweet potatoes arise from a wild ancestor and then wind up scattered across such a wide range? Was it possible that unknown explorers carried it from South America to countless Pacific islands?

An extensive analysis of sweet potato DNA, published on Thursday in Current Biology, comes to a controversial conclusion: Humans had nothing to do with it. The bulky sweet potato spread across the globe long before humans could have played a part — it’s a natural traveler.

Some agricultural experts are skeptical. “This paper does not settle the matter,” said Logan J. Kistler, the curator of archaeogenomics and archaeobotany at the Smithsonian Institution.

Alternative explanations remain on the table, because the new study didn’t provide enough evidence for exactly where sweet potatoes were first domesticated and when they arrived in the Pacific. “We still don’t have a smoking gun,” Dr. Kistler said.

The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is one of the most valuable crops in the world, providing more nutrients per farmed acre than any other staple. It has sustained human communities for centuries. (In North America, it often is referred to as a yam; in fact, yams are a different species originating in Africa and Asia.)

Scientists have offered a number of theories to explain the wide distribution of I. batatas. Some scholars proposed that all sweet potatoes originated in the Americas, and that after Columbus’s voyage, they were spread by Europeans to colonies such as the Philippines. Pacific Islanders acquired the crops from there.

As it turned out, though, Pacific Islanders had been growing the crop for generations by the time Europeans showed up. On one Polynesian island, archaeologists have found sweet potato remains dating back over 700 years.

A radically different hypothesis emerged: Pacific Islanders, masters of open-ocean navigation, picked up sweet potatoes by voyaging to the Americas, long before Columbus’s arrival there. The evidence included a suggestive coincidence: In Peru, some indigenous people call the sweet potato cumara. In New Zealand, it’s kumara.

A potential link between South America and the Pacific was the inspiration for Thor Heyerdahl’s famous 1947 voyage aboard the Kon-Tiki. He built a raft, which he then successfully sailed from Peru to the Easter Islands.

Genetic evidence only complicated the picture. Examining the plant’s DNA, some researchers concluded that sweet potatoes arose only once from a wild ancestor, while other studies indicated that it happened at two different points in history.

According to the latter studies, South Americans domesticated sweet potatoes, which were then acquired by Polynesians. Central Americans domesticated a second variety that later was picked up by Europeans.

Hoping to shed light on the mystery, a team of researchers recently undertook a new study — the biggest survey of sweet potato DNA yet. And they came to a very different conclusion.

“We find very clear evidence that sweet potatoes could arrive in the Pacific by natural means,” said Pablo Muñoz-Rodríguez, a botanist at the University of Oxford. He believes the wild plants traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific without any help from humans.

Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez and his colleagues visited museums and herbariums around the world to take samples of sweet potato varieties and wild relatives. The researchers used powerful DNA-sequencing technology to gather more genetic material from the plants than possible in earlier studies.

Their research pointed to only one wild plant as the ancestor of all sweet potatoes. The closest wild relative is a weedy flower called Ipomoea trifida that grows around the Caribbean. Its pale purple flowers look a lot like those of the sweet potato.

Instead of a massive, tasty tuber, I. trifida grows only a pencil-thick root. “It’s nothing we could eat,” Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

The ancestors of sweet potatoes split from I. trifida at least 800,000 years ago, the scientists calculated. To investigate how they arrived in the Pacific, the team headed to the Natural History Museum in London.

The leaves of sweet potatoes that Captain Cook’s crew collected in Polynesia are stored in the museum’s cabinets. The researchers cut bits of the leaves and extracted DNA from them.

The Polynesian sweet potatoes turned out to be genetically unusual — “very different from anything else,” Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

The sweet potatoes found in Polynesia split off over 111,000 years ago from all other sweet potatoes the researchers studied. Yet humans arrived in New Guinea about 50,000 years ago, and only reached remote Pacific islands in the past few thousand years.

The age of Pacific sweet potatoes made it unlikely that any humans, Spanish or Pacific Islander, carried the species from the Americas, Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

Traditionally, researchers have been skeptical that a plant like a sweet potato could travel across thousands of miles of ocean. But in recent years, scientists have turned up signs that many plants have made the voyage, floating on the water or carried in bits by birds.

Even before the sweet potato made the journey, its wild relatives traveled the Pacific, the scientists found. One species, the Hawaiian moonflower, lives only in the dry forests of Hawaii — but its closest relatives all live in Mexico.

The scientists estimate that the Hawaiian moonflower separated from its relatives — and made its journey across the Pacific — over a million years ago.

But Tim P. Denham, an archaeologist at the Australian National University who was not involved in the study, found this scenario hard to swallow.

It would suggest that the wild ancestors of sweet potatoes spread across the Pacific and were then domesticated many times over — yet wound up looking the same every time. “This would seem unlikely,” he said.

Dr. Kistler argued that it was still possible that Pacific Islanders voyaged to South America and returned with the sweet potato.

A thousand years ago, they might have encountered many sweet potato varieties on the continent. When Europeans arrived in the 1500s, they likely wiped out much of the crop’s genetic diversity.

As a result, Dr. Kistler said, the surviving sweet potatoes of the Pacific only seem distantly related to the ones in the Americas. If the scientists had done the same study in 1500, Pacific sweet potatoes would have fit right in with other South American varieties.

Dr. Kistler was optimistic that the sweet potato debate would someday be settled. The world’s herbariums contain a vast number of varieties that have yet to be genetically tested.

“There are more than we could look at in a lifetime,” Dr. Kistler said.

For his part, Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez plans on searching for more wild sweet potato relatives in Central America, hoping to get more clues to how exactly a thin-rooted weed gave rise to an invaluable crop.

Working out the history of crops like this could do more than satisfy our curiosity about the past. Wild plants hold a lot of genetic variants lost when people domesticated crops.

Researchers may find plants they can hybridize with domesticated sweet potatoes and other crops, endowing them with genes for resistance to diseases, or for withstanding climate change.

“Essentially, it’s preserving the gene pool that feeds the world,” Dr. Kistler said.

Caption1 The distribution of the sweet potato plant has baffled scientists. How could the plant arise from a wild ancestor in the Americas and wind up on islands across the Pacific? Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Caption2 Different varieties of sweet potato on display at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. The sweet potato originated in the Americas and spread across the globe. Robert Scotland

Link https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/science/sweet-potato-pacific-dna.html

Read Full Post »

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’

Read Full Post »

oldest-beer-1-oba1

 

 

 

 

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: