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Popular archaeology

 

 

Chemical analysis on these storage jars mark the earliest discovery of wine residue in the entire prehistory of the Italian peninsula. Credit: Dr. Davide Tanasi, University of South Florid

 

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA (USF HEALTH)—Chemical analysis conducted on ancient pottery could dramatically predate the commencement of winemaking in Italy. A large storage jar from the Copper Age (early 4th millennium BC) tests positive for wine.
This finding published in Microchemical Journal is significant as it’s the earliest discovery of wine residue in the entire prehistory of the Italian peninsula. Traditionally, it’s been believed wine growing and wine production developed in Italy in the Middle Bronze Age (1300-1100 B.C.) as attested just by the retrieval of seeds, providing a new perspective on the economy of that ancient society

Lead author Davide Tanasi, PhD, University of South Florida in Tampa conducted chemical analysis of residue on unglazed pottery found at the Copper Age site of Monte Kronio in Agrigento, located off the southwest coast of Sicily. He and his team determined the residue contains tartaric acid and its sodium salt, which occur naturally in grapes and in the winemaking process.
It’s very rare to determine the composition of such residue as it requires the ancient pottery to be excavated intact. The study’s authors are now trying to determine whether the wine was red or white.
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Note: some of the details in the photo below were hard to copy clearly due to the colors of the text. please zoom to get a better look.

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Original article:

popular archaeology

BOYCE THOMPSON INSTITUTE—Centuries ago, the ancient networks of the Silk Road facilitated a political and economic openness between the nations of Eurasia. But this network also opened pathways for genetic exchange that shaped one of the world’s most popular fruits: the apple. As travelers journeyed east and west along the Silk Road, trading their goods and ideas, they brought with them hitchhiking apple seeds, discarded from the choicest fruit they pulled from wild trees. This early selection would eventually lead to the 7,500 varieties of apple that exist today.
Researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) have been working hard to excavate the mysteries of the apple’s evolutionary history, and a new publication this week in Nature Communications reveals surprising insights into the genetic exchange that brought us today’s modern, domesticated apple, Malus domestica.
In collaboration with scientists from Cornell University and Shandong Agricultural University in China, the researchers sequenced and compared the genomes of 117 diverse apple accessions, including M. domestica and 23 wild species from North America, Europe, and East and central Asia.
A tale of two roads
The most exciting outcome of this genomic comparison is a comprehensive map of the apple’s evolutionary history. Previous studies have shown that the common apple, Malus domestica arose from the central Asian wild apple, Malus sieversii, with contributions from crabapples along the Silk Road as it was brought west to Europe.
With the results of this new study, the researchers could zoom in on the map for better resolution. “We narrowed down the origin of domesticated apple from very broad central Asia to Kazakhstan area west of Tian Shan Mountain,” explained Zhangjun Fei, BTI professor and lead author of this study.
In addition to pinpointing the western apple’s origin, the authors were excited to discover that the first domesticated apple had also traveled to the east, hybridizing with local wild apples along the way, yielding the ancestors of soft, dessert apples cultivated in China today.
“We pointed out two major evolutionary routes, west and east, along the Silk Road, revealing fruit quality changes in every step along the way,” summarized Fei.
Although wild M. sieversii grows east of Tian Shan Mountain, in the Xinjiang region of China, the ecotype there was never cultivated, and did not contribute to the eastern domesticated hybrid. Instead, it has remained isolated all these centuries, maintaining a pool of diversity yet untapped by human selection. First-author Yang Bai remarked, “it is a hidden jewel for apple breeders to explore further.”
The sour (but firm) side of the story
As the apple traveled west along the Silk Road in the hands of travelers, trees grew from dropped seeds and crossed with other wild apple varieties, including the incredibly sour European crabapple, Malus sylvestris. The sourness of crabapples was once described by Henry David Thoreau as, “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.”
The authors found that M. sylvestris has contributed so extensively to the apple’s genome that the modern apple is actually more similar to the sour crabapple than to its Kazakhstani ancestor, M. sieversii.
“For the ancestral species, Malus sieversii, the fruits are generally much larger than other wild apples. They are also soft and have a very plain flavor that people don’t like much,” Bai remarked.
The hybridization between ancient cultivated apples and M. sylvestris, followed by extensive human selection, gave us new apples that are larger and fuller in flavor, and with a crispy firmness that gives them a longer shelf life.
Bai further explained, “The modern domesticated apples have higher and well-balanced sugar and organic acid contents. That is how the apple started to become a popular and favored fruit.”
A sizeable discovery with big potential
A new flavor and texture may have put the apple into our pies, but size matters a great deal too. In crop breeding, one of the most desirable traits selected for is a larger fruit or seed. In nearly all cases of fruit domestication, the wild ancestor has tiny fruit that were shaped into their large, nutritious cultivated counterpart through centuries of selection. For example, the domesticated tomato is at least 100 times larger than its wild relatives.
“This is not quite the case for apple. Its domestication started with a medium to large-sized fruit,” asserted Bai. “It has great potential for further enlarging fruit size in breeding programs.”
By comparing the many different apple genomes, the researchers were able to find evidence supporting two different evolutionary steps contributing to apple’s size increase – one before, and one after domestication.
The large size of Malus sieversii compared to other wild apples gave it a great advantage for domestication. It had already evolved to a suitable size before it was even cultivated, likely making it more attractive to growers who would then not need to spend much effort selecting for larger fruits.
Such a lack of size selection also means that the genes responsible for size increase still retain a variability that holds potential for future selection. But it can also make identification of the size-associated genes difficult. Despite this, the extensive breadth of the new study allowed the researchers to identify several genetic markers underlying the fruit size increases, which is great news for breeders who might want to further increase the apple’s girth.
The apple (genome) falls far from the tree
While consumers may ask for better apples, breeders are met with difficulty when it comes to polishing apple traits. One major issue is that apple can’t self-pollinate. It can only cross with other varieties, introducing too much genetic variability with each generation. While genetic change is necessary to tweak a trait of interest, too much change will tweak everything. Combined with the several years to get from apple seed to fruit, this makes breeding for desired traits a challenge.
“The genomic regions and candidate genes under human selection for a certain trait identified in this study will be very helpful and inspiring to breeders working on the same trait,” asserted Fei, who expects that the results from this study will, “improve speed and accuracy of ‘marker-assisted selection’ in apple.”
Now with an extensive and diverse collection of representative apple genomes, thorough and careful analyses have allowed Fei’s group to distinguish important genetic markers that will greatly aid breeders in their quest for better apples – be it for disease resistance, shelf-life, taste, or even size.
When asked how big she thinks an apple could get through breeding, Bai responded with a twinkle in her eye, “Well, in my wild imagination, maybe one day it can be as big as a watermelon.”

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One of the ancient Viking cod bones used in the study. The bones, dating from between 800 to 1066 AD, were found on the site of the early medieval Baltic port of Haithabu. Credit: Dr.James Barrett

Original Article:

Popular-archaeology.com

 

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—Norway is famed for its cod. Catches from the Arctic stock that spawns each year off its northern coast are exported across Europe for staple dishes from British fish and chips to Spanish bacalao stew.
Now, a new study published today in the journal PNAS suggests that some form of this pan-European trade in Norwegian cod may have been taking place for 1,000 years.
Latest research from the universities of Cambridge and Oslo, and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig, used ancient DNA extracted from the remnants of Viking-age fish suppers.
The study analysed five cod bones dating from between 800 and 1066 AD found in the mud of the former wharves of Haithabu, an early medieval trading port on the Baltic. Haithabu is now a heritage site in modern Germany, but at the time was ruled by the King of the Danes.
The DNA from these cod bones contained genetic signatures seen in the Arctic stock that swims off the coast of Lofoten: the northern archipelago still a centre for Norway’s fishing industry.
Researchers say the findings show that supplies of ‘stockfish’ – an ancient dried cod dish popular to this day – were transported over a thousand miles from northern Norway to the Baltic Sea during the Viking era.
Prior to the latest study, there was no archaeological or historical proof of a European stockfish trade before the 12th century.
While future work will look at further fish remains, the small size of the current study prevents researchers from determining whether the cod was transported for trade or simply used as sustenance for the voyage from Norway.
However, they say that the Haithabu bones provide the earliest evidence of fish caught in northern Norway being consumed on mainland Europe – suggesting a European fish trade involving significant distances has been in operation for a millennium.
“Traded fish was one of the first commodities to begin to knit the European continent together economically,” says Dr James Barrett, senior author of the study from the University of Cambridge’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
“Haithabu was an important trading centre during the early medieval period. A place where north met south, pagan met Christian, and those who used coin met those who used silver by weight.”
“By extracting and sequencing DNA from the leftover fish bones of ancient cargoes at Haithabu, we have been able to trace the source of their food right the way back to the cod populations that inhabit the Barents Sea, but come to spawn off Norway’s Lofoten coast every winter.
“This Arctic stock of cod is still highly prized – caught and exported across Europe today. Our findings suggest that distant requirements for this Arctic protein had already begun to influence the economy and ecology of Europe in the Viking age.”

Stockfish is white fish preserved by the unique climate of north Norway, where winter temperature hovers around freezing. Cod is traditionally hung out on wooden frames to allow the chill air to dry the fish. Some medieval accounts suggest stockfish was still edible as much as ten years after preservation.
The research team argue that the new findings offer some corroboration to the unique 9th century account of the voyages of Ohthere of Hålogaland: a Viking chieftain whose visit to the court of King Alfred in England resulted in some of his exploits being recorded.
“In the accounts inserted by Alfred’s scribes into the translation of an earlier 5th century text, Ohthere describes sailing from Hålogaland to Haithabu,” says Barrett. Hålogaland was the northernmost province of Norway.
“While no cargo of dried fish is mentioned, this may be because it was simply too mundane a detail,” says Barrett. “The fish-bone DNA evidence is consistent with the Ohthere text, showing that such voyages between northern Norway and mainland Europe were occurring.”
“The Viking world was complex and interconnected. This is a world where a chieftain from north Norway may have shared stockfish with Alfred the Great while a late-antique Latin text was being translated in the background. A world where the town dwellers of a cosmopolitan port in a Baltic fjord may have been provisioned from an Arctic sea hundreds of miles away.”
The sequencing of the ancient cod genomes was done at the University of Oslo, where researchers are studying the genetic makeup of Atlantic cod in an effort to unpick the anthropogenic impacts on these long-exploited fish populations.
“Fishing, particularly of cod, has been of central importance for the settlement of Norway for thousands of years. By combining fishing in winter with farming in summer, whole areas of northern Norway could be settled in a more reliable manner,” says the University of Oslo’s Bastiaan Star, first author of the new study.
Star points to the design of Norway’s new banknotes that prominently feature an image of cod, along with a Viking ship, as an example of the cultural importance still placed on the fish species in this part of Europe.
“We want to know what impact the intensive exploitation history covering millennia has inflicted on Atlantic cod, and we use ancient DNA methods to investigate this,” he says.
Article Source: University of Cambridge news release

 

 

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The advent of farming, especially dairy products, had a small but significant effect on the shape of human skulls, according to a recently published study from anthropologists at UC Davis.

Source: Farming, cheese, chewing changed human skull shape

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Original article:

Livescience.com

By Rossella Lorenzi,

Scientists discovered charred honeycombs, preserved honeybees (shown here) and honeybee products on the floor of a workshop at an Etruscan trade center in Milan, Italy.
Credit: Lorenzo Castellano

 

The charred remains of 2,500-year-old honeycombs, as well as other beekeeping artifacts, have been discovered in an Etruscan workshop in northern Italy.

The findings included the remains of a unique grapevine honey produced by traveling beekeepers along rivers, according to a new study.

“The importance of beekeeping in the ancient world is well known through an abundance of iconographic, literary, archaeometric and ethnographic [or cultural] sources,” Lorenzo Castellano, a graduate student at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University and first author of the new study, told Live Science. (In archaeometry, scientists use physical, chemical and mathematical analyses to study archaeological sites.)

Even so, since honeycombs are perishable, direct fossil evidence of them is “extremely rare,” he added. [24 Amazing Archaeological Discoveries]

Castellano and his colleagues at the University of Milan and the Laboratory of Palynology and Paleoecology of the Institute for the Dynamics of Environmental Processes at Italy’s National Research Council (CNR-IDPA) in Milan found several charred honeycombs, preserved honeybees and honeybee products scattered on the floor of a workshop at the Etruscan trade center of the ancient site of Forcello, near Bagnolo San Vito in the Mantua province.

Dating to around 510 B.C. to 495 B.C., the building had been destroyed by a violent fire and was later sealed by a layer of clay so it could be built over.
“The findings are therefore preserved in situ, albeit heavily fragmented and often warped by the heat of fire,” Castellano and his team wrote in July in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The researchers examined bee-breads (a mixture of pollen and honey), fragments of charred honeycombs, remains of Apis mellifera (honeybees) and a large amount of material resulting from honeycombs that had melted and clumped together.

Chemical analysis and an examination of pollen and spores collected at the site confirmed the presence of beeswax and honey on a large portion of the room. Moreover, they found that pollen from a grapevine (Vitis vinifera) abounded in samples from the melted honey and in the honeycomb fragments, indicating the presence of a unique grapevine honey produced from predomesticated or early-domesticated varieties of grapevine.

“Vitis pollen is missing in bee-breads, suggesting that we are dealing with an unprecedented Vitis honey preserved by charcoalification,” the researchers concluded. (Charcoalification, also called carbonization, is a process in which organic carbon substances are converted into a carbon-containing residue.)
Today, grapevine honey really has nothing to do with bee-produced honey; it is a kind of syrup produced by boiling grape juice.

The analyses revealed other unique aspects about the Etruscan beekeeping.

Pollen composition showed that honeybees were feeding on plants, including grapevines and fringed water lily, from an aquatic landscape, some of which weren’t known to grow in the area.

Such a scenario would have been possible beekeepers who collected bees along a river while aboard a boat, bringing the bees and their hives to workshops to extract the honey and beeswax.

Indeed, the finding confirms what Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote more than four centuries later about the town of Ostiglia, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the site. According to Pliny, the Ostiglia villagers simply placed the hives on boats and carried them 5 miles (8 km) upstream at night.

“At dawn, the bees come out and feed, returning every day to the boats, which change their position until, when they have sunk low in the water under the mere weight, it is understood that the hives are full, and then they are taken back and the honey is extracted,” Pliny wrote.

The finding also shows the Etruscans’ high level of specialization in beekeeping.

“It also provides unique information on the ancient Po Plain environment [a geographical feature in northern Italy] and on honeybees’ behavior in a pre-modern landscape,” Castellano and colleagues concluded.

One of the honeycomb fragments found at the Etruscan workshop showed clearly the structure’s hexagonal, thin-walled cells.
Credit: Lorenzo Castellano

 

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Ibtimes.co.uk

By Martha Henriques

The wooden box still has traces of the grains it carried in 1500 BCE.

An incredibly rare wooden container from the Bronze Age has been discovered on the Lötschberg mountain in Switzerland, still with detectable traces of the grains that the box contained.

The box was found at the summit of the Lötschenpass, a transit through a glacier, at an elevation of about 2,650 metres above sea level. It’s thought to have remained frozen since it was lost or abandoned by its owner in 1500 BCE.

Such discoveries are rare. Only one other similar artefact has been discovered, found in another alpine pass, the Schnidejoch, about 25km to the west of the Lötschenpass. Perhaps the most famous discovery from the ice-packed Alps is Ötzi the iceman, a human discovered dating from about 3300 BCE.

Analysis of the box showed traces of spelt, emmer and barley, according to a study in the journal Scientific Reports. The research is the first time that such detailed information on food contents has been retrieved from a Bronze Age artefact.

“The box has this kind of strange amorphous residue on it. Cereal grains quite rarely survive thousands of years. Sometimes they survive when they’re charred, but then they lose some of their diagnostic traits,” study author Jessica Hendy of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany told IBTimes UK. “Now we have a method to study this in a lot more detail.”

Instead of relying on the preservation of whole grains to identify a species, preserved molecules can be used to trace which grain they came from.

“What we’re doing here is extracting biomolecules from residue and identified a marker for cereals. We’d like to apply this to less well-preserved remains. What’s quite exciting is that it can be applied to lots of different cases.”

This could help shed light on how cereal farming developed in Bronze Age Europe, shedding light on the social and political structures of the time.

“We knew that cereals were around but don’t how important they were in the general economy. Now we’ve developed this, we can try to apply it more widely to understand how important cereals were for these early farmers.”

 

 

 

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Two citron fruits were included in this sixth-century mosaic of a menorah from the Maon Synagogue, located in modern-day Israel’s Negev Desert. Credit: Photograph by Clara Amit/Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

workNo.1

This map shows the likely origin and spread of citrus fruits from Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean region. Credit: Dafna Langgut/HortScience 2017

Livescience.com

 

Lemons were the acai bowls of the ancient Romans — prized by the privileged because they were rare, and treasured for their healing powers. In fact, this coveted fruit, as well as the citron, were the only citrus fruits known in the ancient Mediterranean — it took centuries for other fruits, such as oranges, limes and pomelos to spread westward from their native Southeast Asia, a new study finds.

However, the citrus fruits that followed in later years weren’t as exclusive as lemons and citrons, said the study’s lead researcher, Dafna Langgut, an archaeobotanist at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

“All other citrus fruits most probably spread more than a millennium later, and for economic reasons,” Langgut, told Live Science in an email.

Studying the ancient citrus trade took a lot of work. Langgut examined ancient texts, art and artifacts, such as murals and coins. She also dug into previous studies to learn about the identities and locations of fossil pollen grains, charcoals, seeds and other fruit remains.

Gathering this information “enabled me to reveal the spread of citrus from Southeast Asia into the Mediterranean,” Langgut said.

Citrus Trade

The citron (Citrus medica)was the first citrus fruit to reach the Mediterranean, “which is why the whole group of fruits is named after one of its less economically important members,” she said.

The citron spread west, likely through Persia (remains of a citron were found in a 2,500-year-old Persian garden near Jerusalem)and the Southern Levant, which today includes Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, southern Syria and Cyprus. Later, during the third and second centuries B.C., it spread to the western Mediterranean, Langgut found. The earliest lemon remains found in Rome were discovered in the Roman Forum, and date to between the late first century B.C. and the early first century A.D., she said. Citron seeds and pollen were also found in gardens owned by the wealthy in the Mount Vesuvius area and Rome, she added.

It took another 400 years for the lemon (Citruslimon) to reach the Mediterranean area. Lemons, too, were owned by the elite class. “This means that for more than a millennium, citron and lemon were the only citrus fruits known in the Mediterranean basin,” Langgut said. (The Mediterranean basin would have included the countries around the sea.)

The upper crust of society likely viewed the citron and the lemon as prized commodities, likely “due to [their] healing qualities, symbolic use, pleasant odor and its rarity,” as well as their culinary qualities, Langgut said.

The citrus fruits that followed were more likely grown as cash crops, she said. At the beginning of the 10th century A.D., the sour orange (Citrus aurantium), lime (Citrus aurantifolia) and pomelo (Citrus maxima) made it to the Mediterranean. These fruits were likely spread by Muslims through Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula, Langgut said.

“The Muslims played a crucial role in the dispersal of cultivated citrus in Northern Africa and Southern Europe, as evident also from the common names of many of the citrus types which were derived from Arabic,” she said. “This was possible because they controlled extensive territory and commerce routes reaching from India to the Mediterranean.”

The sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) traveled west even later — during the 15th century A.D. — likely via a trade route established by people from Genoa, Italy; the Portuguese established such a route during the 16th century, Langgut said.

Lastly, the mandarin (Citrus reticulata) made it to the Mediterranean in the 19th century, about 2,200 years after the citron first spread west, she said.

The study was published in the June issue of the journal HortScience.

Original article on Live Science.

 

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