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Original article: Greekreporter.com

June 27, 2021

Prehistoric Greece
Ancient grape seeds confirm that Greeks have been drinking wine for millennia. Credit: Nivet Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0

The oldest wine in Europe was discovered recently in ancient Philippi, northern Greece, the Department of History and Archaeology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki announced.

The University presented research that indicates that making and drinking wine in Europe originates from prehistoric Greece.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

Thousands of ancient grape seeds and pomace were found in ancient Philippi house whose contents were preserved in a fire that occurred in 4300 B.C.

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Department of Archaeology has been conducting archaeobotanical research for the last twenty years. The research began with the use of archeological flotation, an archaeobotanical sampling technique where an archaeological deposit is placed in a flotation tank with water that dissolves the deposit until fragments of plants and other material float to the top.

Sultana-Maria Valamoti, professor of Prehistoric Archaeology, director of the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Research in Archaeology/ EDAE and the PlantCult Laboratory at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Innovation of the AUTH,  said that “These first steps were the starting point that led to today’s findings.

“Thousands of liters of soil have been processed by the method of flotation and a variety of archaeological sites have already been or are being researched archaeobotanically.

“Thanks to the work done at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, this data, often neglected by research, provides a wealth of information on the social and economic organization in northern Greece, the daily activities of people, their farming and agricultural practices, as well as specific symbolic activities from the 7th to the 1st millennium BC” Valamoti added.

University has been researching prehistoric Greece for decades

The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Department of Archeology, who conducted the research and where Valamoti is a professor of prehistoric archaeology, has been at the vanguard of archeological research in Greece.

For years the department was led by George Hourmouziadis, the former Professor Emeritus of prehistoric archaeology, who led excavations in many prehistoric settlements in Thessaly and Macedonia (such as Dimini, Arkadikos and Dramas, etc.)

In 1992 he started the excavation of the neolithic lakeside settlement of Dispilio in Kastoria, Northwestern Greece. A myriad of items were discovered, which included ceramics, structural elements, seeds, bones, figurines, personal ornaments, three flutes (considered the oldest in Europe) and the Dispilio Tablet.

The discovery of the wooden tablet was announced at a symposium in February 1994 at the University of Thessaloniki. The site’s paleoenvironment, botany, fishing techniques, tools and ceramics were published informally in the June 2000 issue of Eptakiklos, a Greek archaeology magazine.

“I speak and I write using the soil as raw material… this soil is not similar to that which we put  in our pots every autumn. It is the soil of a strange garden, a garden where, thousands of years before, people like us, walked on the marks of their toil, anger, and of their rush and calm which they left behind. They left the footprints of their lives,” he noted on the occasion of the publication of his book “Logia kai Coma (Words and Soil).”

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Original article phys.org

by  Asociacion RUVID

New research shows that Siberian Neanderthals ate both plants and animals
Domingo Carlos Salazar and associate. Credit: Asociacion RUVID

Neanderthals, extinct cousins of modern humans, occupied Western Eurasia before disappearing and although it was once thought that they traveled as far east as Uzbekistan, in recent years an international research team with the participation of the University of Valencia discovered that they reached two thousand kilometers further East, to the Altai Mountains of Siberia. An international research team led by Domingo Carlos Salazar, CIDEGENT researcher of excellence at the University of Valencia, published today in the Journal of Human Evolution the first attempt to document the diet of a Neanderthal through a unique combination of stable isotope analysis and identification of plant micro-remnants in an individual.

The analysis of Neanderthal bones and dental stones from Siberia sheds light on their dietary ecology, at the eastern limit of their expansion. It is a very dynamic region where Neanderthals also interacted with their enigmatic Asian cousins, the Denisovans. The work refers both to western Siberia, where there are studies that explain that modern humans responded with high mobility, and to the eastern part, where there is a lack of work that analyzes the behavior and subsistence of Neanderthals, who inhabited this Siberian forest steppe, which is drier and colder than the western one. Studying the diets of eastern Neanderthals allows us to understand their behaviors, mobility and potential adaptability.

A team of researchers from Spain, Germany, Canada, The Netherlands and Russia, led by physician and historian Domingo Carlos Salazar García from the University of Valencia, took bone samples and dental calculus from Neanderthal remains dated to 60 and 50 ka BP from the site of Chagyrskaya in the Altai Mountains in Southern Siberia, located just 100 km from the Denisova Cave. Analyzes of the stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes from one mandible (Chagyrskaya 6) revealed that this individual had a relatively high trophic level compared to the local food web, indicating that it consumed a large amount of animal protein from hunting large and medium-sized game. Using optical microscopy, the researchers identified a diverse assemblage of microscopic particles from plants preserved in the dental calculus from the same individuals as well as from others from the site. These plant microremains indicate that the inhabitants of Chagyrskaya also consumed a number of different plants.

These results can help us answer a long-standing enigma about the Altai Neanderthals: the region was tempting enough that Neanderthals colonized the area at least twice, but genetic data indicates they were barely hanging on, living only in small groups that were constantly at risk of extinction. The dietary data now indicates that this unusual habitation pattern was probably not due to a lack of adapting their diet to the local environment. Instead, other factors such as the climate or interaction with other hominins should be investigated in future studies.n

“Neanderthals were capable of having a diverse menu even in adverse climatic environments,” says Domingo C. Salazar García, “it was really surprising that these eastern Neanderthals had broadly similar subsistence patterns to those from Western Eurasia, showing the high adaptability of our cousins, and therefore suggesting that their dietary ecology was probably not a disadvantage when competing with anatomically modern humans.”

“These microremains provide some indication that even as Neanderthals expanded onto the vast and cold forest-steppe of Central Asia they retained patterns of plant use that could have been developed in Western Eurasia,” says Robert Power, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Dietary ecology

“A better grasp of Neanderthal dietary ecology is not only the key to better understand why they disappeared, but also to how they interacted with other populations who they coexisted with, like the Denisovans,” says Bence Viola, assistant professor at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto.

“To really understand the diets of our ancestors and cousins, we need more studies like this one that make use of multiple different methods on the same individuals. We can finally understand both the plant and animal foods that they ate,” offers Amanda G. Henry, assistant professor at the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University.

“The steppe lowlands of the Altai Mountains were suitable for the habitation of the Neanderthals 60,000 years ago. Despite the sparse vegetation and its seasonal nature, the absence of tundra elements and relatively mild climate allowed eastern Neanderthals to keep the same food strategies as their western relatives,” says Natalia Rudaya, head of PaleoData Lab of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography Siberian Branch Russian Academy of Science.

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Article from smithsonianmag.com

Scientists suggest 10,000-year-old barbed points washed up on Dutch beaches were made for cultural reasons

Human Bone Carved Into a Barbed Point
One of the human bone points analyzed in the study, found by Willy van Wingerden in January of 2017. (Willy van Wingerden)

By Bridget Alexsmithsonianmag.com 
December 21, 2020

As the Ice Age waned, melting glaciers drowned the territory of Doggerland, the ground that once connected Britain and mainland Europe. For more than 8,000 years, distinctive weapons—slender, saw-toothed bone points—made by the land’s last inhabitants rested at the bottom of the North Sea. That was until 2oth-century engineers, with mechanical dredgers, began scooping up the seafloor and using the sediments to fortify the shores of the Netherlands. The ongoing work has also, accidentally, brought artifacts and fossils from the depths to the Dutch beaches.

Fossil-hunter hobbyists collected these finds, amassing nearly 1,000 of the jagged bone weapons, known to archaeologists as Mesolithic barbed points. Not only known from the North Sea, barbed points have been found at sites from Ireland to Russia, dating between 8,000 to 11,000 years ago, when the last foragers inhabited Europe before farmers arrived. Mesolithic people likely fastened the points to longer shafts to make arrows, spears and harpoons, key for their hunting and fishing livelihoods. But scholars mostly ignored the barbed points dotting Dutch beaches because they weren’t recovered from systematic digs of proper archaeological sites, like the barbed points found in the U.K. and continental Europe.

Now a team, led by Leiden University archaeologists, has analyzed some of the washed-up weapons, performing molecular measurements to determine which species the barbed points were made from. The scientists mainly wanted to test if this kind of analysis, which depends on proteins surviving in bone, was even possible for artifacts buried underwater for millennia. Not only did the method work, it delivered shocking results: While most of the roughly 10,000-year-old points were made of red deer bone two were fashioned from human skeletons.

“As an expert in this field, I really wasn’t expecting that. It’s really cool,” says Newcastle University archaeologist Benjamin Elliott, who was not involved in the research. Never before have archaeologists found unambiguous evidence that ancient Europeans carefully crafted human bones into deadly weapons.

The study scientists puzzled over why Mesolithic people used red deer and human skeletons for their weapons. “What’s going on with these points?” says Virginie Sinet-Mathiot, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who worked on the project. “What does it mean?”

Practical or economic concerns seemed unlikely explanations: Other raw materials like antler would have been more readily available and durable. Rather, the researchers concluded that ancient hunters chose these particular bones for symbolic reasons, related to their social or spiritual beliefs.

“This was not an economic decision,” says archaeologist Joannes Dekker, lead author of the study, forthcoming in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. The economic move would have been for ancient hunter-gatherers to produce strong points, quickly from animal parts leftover from meals. In that case, researchers would expect to find points made from antler as well as bones of aurochs, other deer species and Eurasian elk. These creatures roamed Mesolithic Doggerland, and experiments by modern archaeologists have shown their bones make excellent projectile weapons.

The fact that the scientists found predominately red deer and human bones suggests, “There must have been some other reason, a cultural reason, why it was important to use these species,” says Dekker, a Masters student at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The specific motivations driving this Doggerland fad, though, remain a mystery. “You can measure modern bone to see its properties as a projectile point,” says Dekker. “You can’t measure the thoughts in the head of a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer.”

Still, knowing Mesolithic people used human bones this way is a major discovery. “The human stuff is a complete shock,” says Elliott.

Barbed Points
This graphic shows the barbed points analyzed in the study, the beaches they were found on, and the probable dredging location of the original sediments in the North Sea. (Dekker et al. in press JAS: Reports, original file provided by Dekker)

According to him, earlier researchers had floated the idea that human bone comprised some especially long barbed points found in Ireland. Those speculations were based on the fact that there weren’t many large mammals, besides humans, on the island back when the artifacts were made. But until recently, no technology existed to test those claims.

Generally, archaeologists can eyeball a bone, and based on its size and contours, know the body part and animal type from which it came. But that’s nearly impossible for barbed points because the identifying features have been whittled and worn away through manufacture, use and burial.

Over the past decade, a new technology has been developed that solves this problem. The method, Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry or ZooMS, detects the molecular building blocks of collagen, the main protein in bone. Because these collagen components differ slightly between animal types, measuring them can indicate the species of a bone—even for skeletal bits or sculpted artifacts that can’t be identified by visual features.

During ZooMS, scientists chemically dissolve a dash of powdered bone to extract collagen molecules, which are run through a measurement instrument. The method has proven handy for distinguishing between bones of similar-looking creatures like sheep and goat, or rat and mouse. And for Stone Age sites, the process has been used to scan thousands of matchstick-sized skeletal pieces to find rare Neanderthal, Denisovan and Homo sapiensspecimens among heaps of animal bones. Since its introduction in 2009, ZooMS has been successfully used on remains from dozens of sites worldwide, dating from the Stone Age to modern times.

But scientists questioned whether the method would work on Mesolithic Doggerland points; millennia under the sea may have destroyed the collagen proteins. “The challenge here was would we be able to extract collagen and to perform species identifications from material that had been submerged in water for such a long time,” says Sinet-Mathiot, who works to innovate ZooMS protocols through her research.

In 2018, Dekker decided to try, in a small project for his bachelor’s thesis in archaeology at Leiden University. Dekker got permission from a dozen collectors to scrap or chip a bit of bone from their barbed points. He brought the samples to the Max Plank Institute in Leipzig, Germany and worked with Sinet-Mathiot to run the ZooMS analysis. Collaborators at the University of Groningen measured radiocarbon dates, confirming the artifacts were Mesolithic age.

For scholars of European prehistory, the new results are tantalizing, but present more questions than answers. Because the study only tested ten points, washed ashore, scientists don’t know how often, and under what circumstances, people armed themselves with human bones. “It’s super interesting that they found two humans in there, out of ten analyzed in total,” says Theis Zetner Trolle Jensen, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen, who was not involved in the study. “But it might very well be that they found the needle in the haystack.”

Earlier this year Jensen and colleagues published a much larger ZooMS study, which determined the animal types comprising 120 Mesolithic barbed points recovered from peat bogs of Denmark and Sweden. They found bones from red deer, moose, bovine and a few brown bear—but not one from Homo sapiens. And, they concluded the Mesolithic crafters chose bone types with preferable mechanical properties. The hunters picked their mediums for practical reasons, not cultural considerations.

The differing results raise the possibility that only inhabitants of Doggerland turned human bones into deadly points during the Mesolithic. “It might be that there are strange people there… people that did different things,” Jensen says.

He and other scholars hope these questions will be clarified through more ZooMS work of barbed points. Although the new study analyzed a small number of artifacts, it showed the scientific value of artifacts washed onto Dutch shores.

“Ideally we’d love [the artifacts] to come from securely excavated contexts,” says Elliott. But Doggerland sites lie beneath the North Sea, so out-of-context beach finds offer invaluable, accessible evidence. “We can’t be snobby about it,” he says. “We have to really embrace it and try to get as much information and understanding from those artifacts as we possibly can.”

Everyday more fossils and artifacts appear on Dutch beaches, enticing a growing number of collector hobbyists. The Facebook group for this community now includes some 600 members, according to its moderator Erwin van der Lee of Rotterdam. “The competition is also very large,” he says.

Rick van Bragt, a university student in The Hague, has found about 10,000 ancient items since he began searching nearly ten years ago. Van Bragt and van der Lee entered their barbed points in the ZooMS study. While van der Lee’s artifact failed to produce results, van Bragt’s point was identified as red deer from 8,000 years ago. Both collectors were fascinated by the news that human bone formed two of the points.

Beyond bone points, the tides washing over Dutch beaches drop shark teeth, flint tools made by Neanderthals, fossils from long-extinct mammoths and other treasures. Spotting the finds takes practice though, and most beachgoers are unaware of what’s there. In the summer, “there’s a lot of people on the beach and they just step on everything,” says Van Bragt. “They don’t see it.”

Editor’s Note, December 21, 2020: This article mistakenly stated 21st-century engineers dredged the seafloor; it was 20th century engineers that started the work.

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April 1, 2010 by Ancientfoods | Edit

Topic: Pasta

On April 1, 1957 the British news show Panorama broadcast a three-minute segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. The success of the crop was attributed both to an unusually mild winter and to the “virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil.” The audience heard Richard Dimbleby, the show’s highly respected anchor, discussing the details of the spaghetti crop as they watched video footage of a Swiss family pulling pasta off spaghetti trees and placing it into baskets. The segment concluded with the assurance that, “For those who love this dish, there’s nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti.”

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest hoax generated an enormous response. Hundreds of people phoned the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this query the BBC diplomatically replied, “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

To this day the Panorama broadcast remains one of the most famous and popular April Fool’s Day hoaxes of all time. It is also believed to be the first time the medium of television was used to stage an April Fool’s Day hoax.

The person who came up with the idea of the spaghetti harvest hoax was Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger.

De Jaeger was born in Vienna in 1911. He worked in Austria as a freelance photographer before moving to Britain during the 1930s where he worked for the film unit of General Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Forces. He joined the BBC in 1943.

De Jaeger had a reputation for being a practical joker. Early in his career at the BBC he was sent to the Vatican to interview the Pope. However, scheduling the interview proved difficult. Finally, he was told by a priest that “His Holiness will see you on Tuesday afternoon.” De Jaeger replied, “Yes, but is he a man of his word?”

Another time de Jaeger had to buy some dungarees to protect his clothes during an assignment. He requested compensation from the BBC but was denied. The administration told him that he should have worn old clothes. A month later de Jaeger submitted an expense report in which he included £6, spent on “entertaining press officer, Mr Dungarees.” De Jaeger noted, “They paid without a murmur.”

The idea for the spaghetti harvest hoax grew out of a remark one of his Viennese school teachers often teasingly said to his class: “Boys, you’re so stupid, you’d believe me if I told you that spaghetti grows on trees.” As an adult, it occurred to de Jaeger that it would be funny to turn this remark into a visual joke for April Fool’s Day. He became quite obsessed with the idea, trying a number of times to sell the idea to different bosses. But it was only in 1957 while he was working for Panorama that he found some willing accomplices.

Original Farce:

Museum of Hoxes

April 1, 1957

This post is for my husband who suggested it.

Happy April Fools Day

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Original article in science news.org

Paleoartist Gabriela Amorós Seller draws on recent findings to depict ancient Iberian life

Bruce BowerMarch 9, 2021 at 8:00 am

painting of a Neandertal man and child on the Iberian plains
A Neandertal man and child lounge among ancient Iberian plants and animals near Bolomor Cave (about halfway up the hill on the left) in this painting depicting life in eastern Spain around a couple hundred thousand years ago.G. Amorós, Quat. Sci. Reviews, 2021

Here’s a scene guaranteed to melt the popular stereotype of Ice Age Neandertals as spear-wielding mammoth hunters confined to Eurasia’s frigid inner core.

New illustrations show what’s currently known about the environment inhabited periodically by Neandertals in Iberia, or what’s now Spain and Portugal, from at least 350,000 years ago to nearly 100,000 years ago. Paleoartist Gabriela Amorós Seller of the University of Murcia in Spain, used colored pencils to illustrate an idyllic view of a Neandertal man and child lounging on flat ground downslope from Bolomor Cave, near the Mediterranean coast of what’s now eastern Spain.

Excavations in the cave have produced evidence of the trees, plants and animals shown in the drawing, presented in the March 15 Quaternary Science Reviews. Amorós Seller also illustrated Bolomor Cave’s Neandertal-era entrance and surrounding greenery. She and her colleagues regard these scientifically informed drawings as more than simply appealing to the eye. Art that shows the basic makeup of an ancient environment can inspire scientists to ask new questions. For instance, her group now wants to explore how ancient Iberian plants grew in the wild and what they looked like before being modified over the past few thousand years by farming practices.  

illustration of the entrance to Bolomor Cave in Spain
Eastern Spain’s Bolomor Cave (illustrated) has hosted recent excavations that paint a detailed picture of what life was like for Neandertals who once inhabited that temperate region.G. Amorós, Quat. Sci. Reviews, 2021

Bolomor Cave Neandertals probably ate fruit, nuts and seeds of plants that once grew in the area, says coauthor José Carrión, an evolutionary biologist and botanist at the University of Murcia. Those plants included hazel shrubs, one of which appears just behind the Neandertal male, who is munching on a hazelnut. Strawberry trees, Mediterranean hackberry, myrtle shrubs, carob trees and chestnut trees — all shown in the drawings — were also available, he says.

Insights about local plant life during Neandertal times come largely from pollen grains and spores found in sediment layers in Bolomor Cave, previously reported by coauthor Juan Ochando, an evolutionary botanist also at the University of Murcia, and colleagues. These layers have also yielded remains of fire pits, burned animal bones, scorched tortoise shells and four Neandertal fossils — a piece of a leg bone, two teeth and part of a braincase.

The animal remains inform other parts of the drawings, such as the Neandertal child watching a tortoise inch its way forward. Tortoises were cooked and eaten at Bolomor Cave, along with frequent prey such as hares, rabbits, birds and deer. People also occasionally consumed large animals such as horses and hippos.

Neandertals most likely responded to relatively mild Iberian temperatures by wearing few or no clothes, the researchers suspect.

Whether they were a separate Homo species or an ancient variant of Homo sapiens, Neandertals had a largely unappreciated talent for finding and exploiting resource-rich parts of Iberia (SN: 3/26/20). Amorós Seller’s paintings vividly show some of that mammoth-free bounty.

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first published by archaeology.org

Greece

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

November/December 2020c(Angelafoto/Getty Images)

Symposium painting, Tomb of the Diver, Paestum, ItalyAlcohol Greece Kylix Skyphos(American School of Classical Studies at Athens: Agora Excavations)

Kylix (top), Skyphos (above)Ancient Greek vases frequently depict the revels of men participating in the symposium, an intimate drinking party held in a private home, as well as the consequences of excessive consumption that may have occurred during such gatherings. But just how much wine, mixed with water in a bowl called a krater, would a group have consumed in the course of a typical symposium in early fifth-century B.C. Athens? To answer this question, archaeologist Kathleen Lynch of the University of Cincinnati and independent scholar Richard Bidgood calculated the capacity of serving vessels and drinking cups, including kylikes and skyphoi, excavated from early fifth-century B.C. houses in the Athenian Agora, the city’s main marketplace. Assuming each kylix was filled to just over half an inch below its rim—a level at which reclining guests could swill, but not spill, their wine—they estimated that the average cup’s capacity was roughly equivalent to that of a can of soda. Thus, a single krater could hold a few rounds of drinks for a moderate-size group.

Even if the krater were refilled throughout the night, Lynch explains, this suggests that symposiasts wanted to prolong the evening’s festivities without going overboard. The researchers also discovered that kylikes from a given house held varying amounts, even if they appeared to all be around the same size. “The symposium’s emphasis on equality was underscored by everyone having the perception of the same amount of wine,” says Lynch. “Even if it was technically a bit different, they wanted to look around the room and see people with similar-size cups filled to a similar level, so that no one felt that somebody was getting too much.”

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Original article in Phys.org

by  University of York

Dairy
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A study has tracked the shift from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to early farming that occurred in prehistoric Europe over a period of around 1,500 years.

An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the University of York, analysed the molecular remains of food left in pottery used by the first farmers who settled along the Atlantic Coast of Europe from 7,000 to 6,000 years ago.

The researchers report evidence of dairy products in 80% of the pottery fragments from the Atlantic coast of what is now Britain and Ireland. In comparison, dairy farming on the Southern Atlantic coast of what is now Portugal and Spain seems to have been much less intensive, and with a greater use of sheep and goats rather than cows.

The study confirms that the earliest farmers to arrive on the Southern Atlantic coast exploited animals for their milk but suggests that dairying only really took off when it spread to northern latitudes, with progressively more dairy products processed in ceramic vessels.

Prehistoric farmers colonising Northern areas with harsher climates may have had a greater need for the nutritional benefits of milk, including vitamin D and fat, the authors of the study suggest.

Senior author of the paper, Professor Oliver Craig from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “Latitudinal differences in the scale of dairy production might also be important for understanding the evolution of adult lactase persistence across Europe. Today, the genetic change that allows adults to digest the lactose in milk is at much higher frequency in Northwestern Europeans than their southern counterparts”.

The research team examined organic residues preserved in Early Neolithic pottery from 24 archaeological sites situated between Portugal and Normandy as well as in the Western Baltic.

They found surprisingly little evidence for marine foods in pottery even from sites located close to the Atlantic shoreline, with plenty of opportunities for fishing and shellfish gathering. An exception was in the Western Baltic where dairy foods and marine foods were both prepared in pottery.

Lead author of the paper, Dr. Miriam Cubas, said: “This surprising discovery could mean that many prehistoric farmers shunned marine foods in favour of dairy, but perhaps fish and shellfish were simply processed in other ways.

“Our study is one of the largest regional comparisons of early pottery use. It has shed new light on the spread of early farming across Atlantic Europe and showed that there was huge variety in the way early farmers lived. These results help us to gain more of an insight into the lives of people living during this process of momentous change in culture and lifestyle—from hunter-gatherer to farming.”

‘Latitudinal gradient in dairy production with the introduction of farming in Atlantic Europe’ is published in Nature Communications.

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It fell to the bottom of a loch 2,500 years ago – its story long untold as it remained hidden by the deep, dark waters.
Original article: Scotsman.com

Monday, 20th July 2020, 5:00 pm

Monday, 20th July 2020, 4:58 pm

Updated 

The replica crannog on Loch Tay, where the butter was found.

Now, the wooden butter dish remains one of the most evocative items left behind by Scotland’s ancient water dwellers who made their homes on Loch Tay.

The dish was recovered during earlier excavations on the loch where at least 17 crannogs, or Iron Age wooden houses, were once dotted up and down the water.

Built from alder with a life span of around 20 years, the structures simply collapsed into the loch once they had served their purpose, with an incredible array of objects taken with them.

The 2,500-year-old butter dish and the remains of the butter. PIC: Scottish Crannog Centre.

The 2,500-year-old butter dish and the remains of the butter. PIC: Scottish Crannog Centre.

Among them was the dish which, remarkably, still carried traces of butter made by this Iron Age community.

Rich Hiden, archaeologist at the Scottish Crannog Centre, said the item had helped to illuminate the everyday life of the crannog dwellers who farmed the surrounding land, grew barley and ancient wheats such as spelt and emmer, and reared animals.

The crannogs were probably considered high-status sites which offered good security as well as easy access to trading routes along the Tay and into the North Sea.

Mr Hiden said conditions at the bottom of the loch had offered the perfect environment to preserve the butter and the dish.

He said: “Because of the fantastic anaerobic conditions, where there is very light, oxygen or bacteria to break down anything organic, you get this type of sealed environment.

“When they started excavating, they pulled out this square wooden dish, well around three quarters of a square wooden dish, which had these really nice chisel marks on the sides as well as this grey stuff.”

Liped analysis on this matter found that it was dairy material, with experts believing it likely originated from a cow.

Holes in the bottom of the wooden dish further suggest that it was used for the buttering process.

Cream would have been churned until thickened until it splits to form the buttermilk, with a woven cloth – possibly made from nettle fibres – placed in the dish with the clumps of cream then further pushed through to separate the last of the liquid.Read MoreBreakthrough in study of Scotland’s ancient loch dwellers

The butter then may have been turned into cheese by adding rennet, which naturally forms in a number of plants, including nettles.

Mr Hiden said: “This dish is so valuable in many ways. To be honest, we would expect people of this time to be eating dairy. In the early Iron Age, they had mastered the technology of smelting iron ore into to’s so mastering the technology of dairy we would expect.

“So while it may not surprise us that they are eating dairy, what is so important about this butter dish is that it helps us to identify what life was like in the crannogs and the skills and the tools that they had

“To me, that is archaeology at its finest. It is using the object itself to unravel the story. The best thing about this butter dish is that is so personal and offers us such a complete snapshot of what was happening here.

He added: “It is not just a piece of wood. You look at it and you start to extrapolate so much. If you start to pull one thread, you look at the tool marks and you see they were using very fine chisels to make this kind of object. They were probably making their own so that gives another aspect as to how life was here.”

It is believed that 20 people and animals lived in a crannog at any one time. Many trees were used to fashion the homes, with the Iron Age residents having a solid knowledge of trees with their houses thatched with reed and bracken.

Hazel was woven into panels to make walls and partitions.

Plans are underway to relocate the Scottish Crannog Centre to a bigger site at Dalerb, with three to four crannogs to be built in the water there.

A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers – and consequently the revenue we receive – we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.

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Pottery fragments found at the Havnø kitchen midden, Northern Denmark. Credit: Harry Robson, University of York.

York.ac.uk

Hunter-gatherer groups living in the Baltic between seven and six thousand years ago had culturally distinct cuisines, analysis of ancient pottery fragments has revealed.

An international team of researchers analysed over 500 hunter-gatherer vessels from 61 archaeological sites throughout the Baltic region.

They found striking contrasts in food preferences and culinary practices between different groups – even in areas where there was a similar availability of resources. Pots were used for storing and preparing foods ranging from marine fish, seal and beaver to wild boar, bear, deer, freshwater fish, hazelnuts and plants.

The findings suggest that the culinary tastes of ancient people were not solely dictated by the foods available in a particular area, but also influenced by the traditions and habits of cultural groups, the authors of the study say.

Rich variety

A lead author of the study, Dr Harry Robson from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “People are often surprised to learn that hunter-gatherers used pottery to store, process and cook food, as carrying cumbersome ceramic vessels seems inconsistent with a nomadic life-style.

“Our study looked at how this pottery was used and found evidence of a rich variety of foods and culinary traditions in different hunter-gatherer groups.”

The researchers also identified unexpected evidence of dairy products in some of the pottery vessels, suggesting that some hunter-gatherer groups were interacting with early farmers to obtain this resource.

Dr Robson added: “The presence of dairy fats in several hunter-gatherer vessels was an unexpected example of culinary ‘cultural fusion’. The discovery has implications for our understanding of the transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to early farming and demonstrates that this commodity was either exchanged or perhaps even looted from nearby farmers.”

Cultural habits

Lead author of the study, Dr Blandine Courel from the British Museum, added: “Despite a common biota that provided lots of marine and terrestrial resources for their livelihoods, hunter-gatherer communities around the Baltic Sea basin did not use pottery for the same purpose. Our study suggests that culinary practices were not influenced by environmental constraints but rather were likely embedded in some long-standing culinary traditions and cultural habits.”

The study, led by the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum, the University of York and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Germany), used molecular and isotopic techniques to analyse the fragments of pottery.

Revolutionised understanding

Senior author, Professor Oliver Craig from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “Chemical analysis of the remains of foods and natural products prepared in pottery has already revolutionised our understanding of early agricultural societies, we are now seeing these methods being rolled out to study prehistoric hunter-gatherer pottery. The results suggest that they too had complex and culturally distinct cuisines.”

 

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Around 600 beer bottles were found stacked beneath the stairs of a building next to Scarborough Castle Inn in Leeds. [Image: Archaeological Services WYAS]

Archaeology.co.uk

Excavations on the site of Tetley’s Brewery in Leeds have revealed intriguing insights into the 18th- and 19th-century development of the city. Carried out by Archaeological Services WYAS, the investigation explored buildings along Hunslet Lane, including the location of the Scarborough Castle Inn, adjacent shops, and a side street known as South Terrace.

The well-preserved foundations and basements of these properties were exposed – all brick-built, with the majority having sandstone foundations – below layers of concrete. Far from being mundane footings, they tell stories of alteration, renewal, life, and war.

For example, the footprint of the Scarborough Castle Inn and nearby shops showed signs of significant alterations, including the addition of cellarage and the raising of the floors to match an increase in road level. The pub’s front wall had also undergone extensive work to prevent its collapse, while debris in the enterprise’s cellar included the twisted remains of enamel advertising signs and a single Tetley’s beer bottle. The adjoining shops yielded a small assemblage of shoe nails and leather offcuts, which had fallen down behind a floor slab, traces of the bootmakers that once worked and lived there.

It was the cellar of a building adjacent to the pub that produced the most surprising find, however. Lying in neatly stacked rows beneath the stone stairs of the cellar were around 600 bottles. The distinct smell of beer, on their initial exposure, indicated that they were full when stacked although most of the corks had since degraded. Some, however, still contained liquid and analysis of one tightly corked bottle gave an ABV of 3%. The majority of the bottles were stoneware and stamped with J E RICHARDSON LEEDS. John Edwin Richardson was a grocer and provision merchant who lived in various properties in Leeds; he was recorded in the 1901 census as living on Hunslet Lane. Why he left the bottles and how they were forgotten before the building was demolished, though, remains a mystery.

The row of houses known as South Terrace had also undergone extensive alterations, including the complete realignment of its western wall to allow for the widening of Hunslet Lane. A later basement contained another surprising discovery: a set of six interconnected brick- and stone-built ducts. Could these have been an underfloor heating system? The ducts were accessed via a small basement room, which later seems to have been used as an air-raid shelter, from which four gas masks were recovered in the backfill.
These excavations concluded at the end of March, and it is anticipated that analysis of the recovered artefacts, combined with historical research, will produce illuminating insights into life in developing Leeds.

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