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Original Article:

bbc.com

Ancient Britons were eating dairy, peas, cabbage and oats, according to gunk trapped in their teeth.

Scientists analysed dental plaque found on the teeth of skeletons from the Iron Age to post-Medieval times.

They found evidence of milk proteins, cereals and plants, as well as an enzyme that aids digestion.

In modern samples, they found proteins that reflect a more cosmopolitan diet, including potatoes, soya and peanuts.

The research gives a picture of what people have been eating through the ages, including food that leaves no trace in the archaeological record.

Lead researcher, Dr Camilla Speller, from the department of archaeology at the University of York, said the technique can distinguish between different crops and show whether people were consuming dairy products, like milk or cheese.

Doing porridge

“In the teeth we look at from individuals who lived around the Victorian era, we identified proteins related to plant foods, including oats, peas and vegetables in the cabbage family,” she said.

“Occasionally, we find evidence of milk and oats in the same mouth – I like to think it’s from eating porridge!”

In the new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, researchers analysed 100 archaeological samples from across England, as well as 14 samples from living dental patients and individuals who have recently died.

Dietary proteins were found in about one third of the analysed samples.

Proteins found in ancient dental plaque have already revealed that humans were drinking milk as far back as 6,500 BC.

Co-researcher Dr Jessica Hendy from the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, added: “While there is still a lot we don’t know, this is exciting because it shows that archaeological dental calculus harbours dietary information, including food products that ordinarily do not survive in archaeological sites.”

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Archaeologists have discovered seeds for the brewing of beer

 

Original Article:

tornosnews.gr

Ancient Greeks may be known for their love of wine, but it seems they also had an affinity to beer, according to a study by the Aristotle University of the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Two Bronze Age brewers that were recently unearthed prove that Greeks would brew beer on a regular basis 4,000 years ago.

Archaeologists from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki located several archaeobotanical remains of a cereal that could have been used in beer brewing. Similar remains found in the Archontiko area in the island of Corfu were also discovered in Argissa in Zakynthos.

At Archontiko, archaeologists found about 100 individual cereal seeds dating back to the early Bronze Age from 2100 to 2000 BC. In Argissa, they found about 3,500 cereal seeds going back to the Bronze Age, approximately from 2100 to 1700 BC.

Moreover, archaeologists discovered a two-room structure that seems to have been carefully constructed to maintain low temperatures in the Archontiko area, suggesting it was used to process the cereals for beer under the right conditions.

This discovery is the earliest known evidence of beer consumption in Greece, but not in the planet.

One of the oldest beverages humans have produced

Beer is one of the oldest beverages humans have produced, dating back to at least the 5th millennium BC in Iran, and was recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and spread throughout the world.

As almost any cereal containing certain sugars can undergo spontaneous fermentation due to wild yeasts in the air, it is possible that beer-like beverages were independently developed throughout the world soon after a tribe or culture had domesticated cereal. Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars reveal that beer was produced as far back as about 7,000 years ago in what is today Iran. This discovery reveals one of the earliest known uses of fermentation and is the earliest evidence of brewing to date. In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of beer is believed to be a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicting people drinking a beverage through reed straws from a communal bowl. A 3900-year-old Sumerian poem honouring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing, contains the oldest surviving beer recipe, describing the production of beer from barley via bread. In China, residue on pottery dating from between 5400 and 4900 years ago shows beer was brewed using barley and other grains.

The invention of bread and beer has been argued to be responsible for humanity’s ability to develop technology and build civilization.The earliest chemically confirmed barley beer to date was discovered at Godin Tepe in the central Zagros Mountains of Iran, where fragments of a jug, from between 5400 and 5000 years ago was found to be coated with beerstone, a by-product of the brewing process.

Beer may have been known in Neolithic Europe as far back as 5,000 years ago, and was mainly brewed on a domestic scale.

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A Roman mosaic with fishing scene, found in Hippolytus House in greater Madrid, Spain. Photograph: Alberto Paredes/Alamy Stock Photo

 

Ancient whale bones have been found on three Roman fish processing sites close to the Strait of Gibraltar

original article:

Theguardian.com

Nicola DavisTue 10 Jul 2018 19.01 EDT

Ancient bones found around the Strait of Gibraltar suggest that the Romans might have had a thriving whaling industry, researchers have claimed.

The bones, dating to the first few centuries AD or earlier, belong to grey whales and North Atlantic right whales – coastal migratory species that are no longer found in European waters.

Researchers say this not only suggests these whales might have been common around the entrance to the Mediterranean in Roman times, but that Romans might have hunted them.

They add that Romans would not have had the technology to hunt whale species found in the region today – sperm or fin whales which live further out at sea – meaning evidence of whaling might not have been something archaeologists and historians were looking out for.

“It’s the coastal [species] that makes all the difference,” said Dr Ana Rodrigues, first author of the research from the Functional and Evolutionary Ecology Centre, CEFE, in France.

The right whale was once widespread in the North Atlantic, with breeding grounds off the northern coast of Spain and north west Africa, but was hunted by Medieval Basque whalers among others, and are now only found in the Western North Atlantic. Grey whales disappeared from the North Atlantic some time in the 18th century, and are now only found in the Pacific.

Until the recent discoveries it was unclear whether the whales’ habitat had ever included the Mediterranean: the region is southerly enough for the animals to potentially calve there after feeding in more northerly areas. While there are a handful of historical reports of right whales cropping up in the Mediterranean, the only reliable grey whale sighting in the region was in 2010 and is thought to have been a misguided individual that turned up from the Pacific.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Rodrigues and a team of archaeologists and ecologists, describe how they set out to unpick the issue by examining 10 bones – thought to be from whales – collected during recent archaeological digs or housed in museum collections. These bones came from five sites – four around the Strait of Gibraltar and one site on the coast of north-west Spain, three of which were linked to the Roman fish-salting and fish-sauce making industries.

The team combined previous anatomical analysis with new analyses based both on DNA extracted from the bones and their collagen – a protein whose makeup differs between groups of species, and which degrades more slowly than DNA.

While one of the bones was found to be from a dolphin and another from an elephant – possibly a war animal – three were identified as grey whales, and two as North Atlantic right whales with another also suspected of being from this latter species. All were found by carbon-dating as being from either Roman or pre-Roman times – findings backed up by dating based on information from the archaeological sites.

The team say the discovery suggests grey and North Atlantic right whales were common in the waters around the Strait of Gibraltar during Roman times, since whale bones rarely end up in the archaeological record and they are not prized possessions.

This theory is backed up by writings from the time: Pliny the Elder – a fervent naturalist who died down the coast from Pompeii during the volcanic disaster – appears to reference whales calving in the coastal waters off Cadiz in the winter in his Naturalis Historia. And if the whales were present, the team say, it is possible the Romans hunted them.

The team say the location of the bones, and other evidence, suggests whales might even have entered further into the Mediterranean sea itself to calve.

Dr Vicki Szabo, an expert in whaling history from Western Carolina University said the study offered a rare glimpse into the past habitats of the whales, and backed up ideas that industrial hunting might have happened far earlier than widely thought, although its scale is unclear. “Whales are considered archaeologically invisible because so few bones are transported from shore to site, so I think in that context this concentration of species that they have is meaningful,” she said.

Mark Robinson, professor of environmental archaeology at the University of Oxford, said there have been suggestions for a decade that some Roman sites with fish vats in the region might have been linked to whaling. “The Greek author Oppian, writing in the 2nd century AD, describes whales being hunted in the Western Mediterranean by harpooning them on the surface, also using tridents and axes to kill them, lashing them to a boats and then dragging them to the shore.”

However Dr Erica Rowan, a classical archaeologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, said while the study suggests the habitats of the whales probably extended to include the Gibraltar region, how common the whales were and whether the Romans industrially hunted them as they did fish such as tuna remains unclear – not least because the study included just a handful of bones from a period spanning several hundred years.

“I think that if these whales were present in such numbers and were being caught on an industrial scale that we would have more evidence, perhaps not in the zoo archaeological record but in the ceramic record and in the literary sources,” she said. “The Romans ate and talked about an enormous variety of fish and seafood, and if whale was widely exploited and exported, then it is strangely absent from many discussions.”

But Rodrigues is more hopeful about what the discovery tells us. “I think [this study] can change our perspective of the Roman economy,” she said.

 

 

 

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Researchers sample the contents of Ötzi the Iceman’s stomach to figure out the exact species of plants and animals that made up his final meal.

 

original article:

Nationalgeographic.com

By maya wei-haas

 

5,300 Years Ago, Ötzi the

Iceman Died.

Now We Know His Last Meal.

It took 20 years to find his stomach. Now researchers know what was inside—in excruciating detail.

 

ÖTZI THE ICEMAN’S stomach wasn’t where it was supposed to be. The misplaced organ eluded researchers for some 20 years. But in 2009, while looking at new radiographic scans, they finally found it—inexplicably pushed up under his ribs, where the lower lungs usually sit. What’s more, it was completely full.

Since 1991, when a pair of hikers found the 5,300-year-old hunter in the Ötztal Alps, researchers have been scouring Ötzi’s frozen, shriveled form for clues to life in the past and his violent demise. They’ve studied his sheepskin coat and goat skin tights; scrutinized his tooth decay; ogled his likely frostbite-induced nub on his toe; ruminated over parasitic worm eggs in his gut; and cataloged every tattoo inked on his skin.

And now, after putting the stomach contents through a battery of tests, the researchers determined the ice mummy’s final meal: dried ibex meat and fat, red deer, einkorn wheat, and traces of toxic fern. The results, published this week in the journal Current Biology, offer a stunningly detailed peek into an ancient diet and hint at possible food preparation methods.

The Lost Stomach

In the late 90s, with Ötzi’s stomach nowhere to be found, researchers studied the nitrogen isotopes of the mummy’s hair for dietary clues, which suggested the Iceman was a vegetarian. Later analysis of his colon contents pointed to Ötzi’s omnivorous ways, revealing he ate not only cereals but also red deer and goat meat in the day before his death.

 

They located the wandering organ by examining Ötzi’s gall stones, which form in the gallbladder, a small sack sitting below the liver near the stomach. By lining up the position of surrounding organs in radiographic images, the team finally found the stomach.

To sample it, however, scientists had to first defrost the mummy, which is kept at a chilly 21.2 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent microbial invasion. They then used an endoscopic tool to pull 11 blobs of brownish yellow material from his stomach and intestines.

Unlike the mushy intestinal material, the crumbly stomach stuffs were essentially freeze dried, study author Frank Maixner explains. “It has an interesting appearance, actually,” he says.

The research team first took a peek under magnification. “Already under a microscope it was clear it was an omnivore diet,” says Maixner, who is a microbiologist at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy. Tiny flecks of undigested fibers of plants and meat were visible in the sample, surrounded by a cloudy haze of fat. The team then began their array of tests, which included DNA, proteins, lipids, metabolites, and more.

Ötzi’s Last Meal

Lipids and protein analysis indicate that Ötzi was eating both muscle and fat of the ibex (Capra ibex), a goat still common in the Ötztal Alps. The high-fat stomach contents would have supported energy-intensive treks. “Even though maybe ibex fat tastes horrible,” Maixner jokes.

But curiously, though DNA analysis suggests red deer (Cervus elaphus) was also part of the meal, researchers couldn’t figure out what part of the creature Ötzi ate. One possibility is that he consumed its organs, like the spleen, liver, or brain. Degradation may also be an issue. “It’s really hard to say,” Maixner says.

They could, however, look at meat preparation. By studying the meat’s microstructures and chemistry and comparing it to modern cooked and uncooked meats, they surmised Ötzi’s meat was not heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s most likely the meat was dried for preservation, Maixner says, since fresh meat spoils quickly. The presence of carbon flecks also hint the meat could have been smoked.

Ötzi also ate einkorn wheat and the toxic bracken fern. When eaten in sufficient doses, bracken has been associated with anemia in cattle, and blindness in sheep. It may also have carcinogenic effects. Yet some people still eat small quantities of the plant.

It’s possible Ötzi also indulged in this greenery. “ You can go as far as he might have treated stomach ache with this fern since we knew that he suffered from some stomach pathogens,” says Maixner. But he adds, “this, for me at least, goes a little bit too far.” Another possibility is that he wrapped his food in fern, accidentally ingesting pieces along with his snack—an idea previously proposed for Ötzi’s ingested moss.

Peeking at the Past Through Ötzi’s Stomach

Together, the diet shows a well-prepared meal, with some fiber, protein and lots of energy-rich fat. “They had knowledge on making preparing the proper clothes, the proper hunting equipment, and this is also true for the diet,” Maixner says. “They were clearly well prepared.”

Though it’s just a single sample, the results give a surprisingly detailed look into Ötzi’s final hours. “I don’t know if we’re going to get a whole lot better than this,” says Katherine Ryan Amato, a biological anthropologist at Northwestern University who wasn’t involved in the work.

Researchers have long used indirect methods to look at diet, broadly looking at transitions through time, she explains. “This actually lets us get at it on a finer scale and talk about it in more detail,” she says, “which is really exciting.”

The events surrounding Ötzi’s death are still debated. His many recent wounds point to violent conflict, and some say Ötzi fled into the mountains while being hunted down. But Maixner says that the last meal points to a slightly different story: “I personally think he was prepared for this trek.”

The mix of cereals and meats—and just two completed arrows in his deer hide quiver—suggests he hadn’t just eaten a fresh kill. Instead, in the hours before his death, Ötzi likely consumed the contents of what Maixner calls “a well-prepared doggy bag.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An international team of scientists reports the oldest unambiguous hunting lesions documented in the history of humankind. The lesions were found on skeletons of two large-sized extinct fallow deer killed by Neandertals about 120,000 years ago around the shores of a small lake (Neumark-Nord 1) near present-day Halle in the eastern part of Germany.

Source: Neandertals practiced close-range hunting 120,000 years ago

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eurekalert.org

 

Archaeologists at Lund University in Sweden have found carbonised germinated grains showing that malt was produced for beer brewing as early as the Iron Age in the Nordic region. The findings made in Uppåkra in southern Sweden indicate a large-scale production of beer, possibly for feasting and trade.

“We found carbonised malt in an area with low-temperature ovens located in a separate part of the settlement. The findings are from the 400-600s, making them one of the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Sweden”, says Mikael Larsson, who specialises in archaeobotany, the archaeology of human-plant interactions.

Archaeologists have long known that beer was an important product in ancient societies in many parts of the world. Through legal documents and images, it has been found, for example, that beer was produced in Mesopotamia as early as 4 000 BCE. However, as written sources in the Nordic region are absent prior to the Middle Ages (before ca 1200 CE), knowledge of earlier beer production is dependent on botanical evidence.

“We often find cereal grains on archaeological sites, but very rarely from contexts that testify as to how they were processed. These germinated grains found around a low-temperature oven indicate that they were used to become malt for brewing beer”, says Mikael Larsson.

Beer is made in two stages. The first is the malting process, followed by the actual brewing. The process of malting starts by wetting the grain with water, allowing the grain to germinate. During germination, enzymatic activities starts to convert both proteins and starches of the grain into fermentable sugars. Once enough sugar has been formed, the germinated grain is dried in an oven with hot air, arresting the germination process. This is what happened in the oven in Uppåkra.

“Because the investigated oven and carbonised grain was situated in an area on the site with several similar ovens, but absent of remains to indicate a living quarter, it is likely that large-scale production of malt was allocated to a specific area on the settlement, intended for feasting and/or trading”, explains Mikael Larsson.

Early traces of malt in connection with beer brewing have only been discovered in two other places in the Nordic region. One is in Denmark from 100 CE and one is in Eketorp on Öland from around 500 CE.

“From other archaeological sites in the Nordic region, traces of the bog-myrtle plant have been found, which indicates beer brewing. Back then, bog-myrtle was used to preserve and flavour beer. It wasn’t until later during the Middle Ages that hops took over as beer flavouring”, Mikael Larsson concludes.

Facts: Method

Two-litre soil samples are taken from various archaeological contexts – in houses, in pits, around hearths and ovens. The plant material found is usually preserved in a carbonised state. The soil is mixed with water and the carbon rises to the surface and is sieved through a fine mesh. The particles extracted are dried and studied under a microscope.

Facts: Uppåkra

Uppåkra is currently the largest Iron Age settlements in southern Scandinavia and served as a densely populated political and religious centre of power for more than 1 000 years, from 100s BCE to the 1 000s CE. The many findings made of imported luxury items such as jewellery and glass bowls, and from a developed production of crafts, indicate that the location was both rich and a significant trading centre.

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Original Article:

By JASON URBANUS

Thursday, March 22, 2018

archaeology.org

Pompeii, Italy

Evidence continues to reveal much about the quality of life of the residents of ancient Pompeii. The city created an intricate and robust system for the local production of food and wine. Researchers have long been aware of frescoes, found in many surviving houses and villas, depicting plants and the pleasure of eating and drinking. Remains of triclinia, or dining rooms, and of food stalls, bakeries, and shops selling the fish sauce garum are abundant.

 

 

Garden archaeology as a discipline was pioneered in Pompeii in the 1950s when archaeologist Wilhelmina Jashemski began to excavate areas between the remaining structures. She discovered that homeowners planted flowers, dietary staples, and even small vineyards. “From the oldest type of domestic vegetable garden, the hortus, to ornate temple gardens,” explains Betty Jo Mayeske, director of the Pompeii Food and Wine Project, “you see evidence of cultivation in nearly every available space in Pompeii.” It appears that both grain and grapes were grown in small, local contexts. “There was a bakery on practically every single corner and the mills were there too, as well as a counter room and large ovens,” she says. “The whole production process took place there, and there are also several similar examples of small-scale vineyards.” One of Jashemski’s innovations was to apply the practice of making molds of the dead, known since the 1860s, to making molds of individual plants. “Casting had been done in cement and plaster on human remains for years,” Mayeske says, “but Jashemski used that technology to cast the plants’ roots, which helped definitively identify all of these gardens and vineyards.”

 

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