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Popular archaeology

CNRS—At the foot of the hill on which sits the ancient city of Cumae, in the region of Naples, Priscilla Munzi, CNRS researcher at the Jean Bérard Centre (CNRS-EFR), and Jean-Pierre Brun, professor at the Collège de France, are exploring a Roman-era necropolis. They now reveal the latest discovery to surface in the archaeological dig they have led since 2001: a painted tomb from the 2nd century B.C. In excellent condition, the tomb depicts a banquet scene, fixed by pigments.

Twice the size of Pompeii, the ancient city of Cumae is located 25 km west of Naples on the Tyrrhenian Sea facing the island of Ischia, at the Campi Flegrei Archaeological Park. Ancient historians considered Cumae the oldest Ancient Greek settlement in the western world. Founded in the latter half of the 8th century B.C. by Greeks from Euboea, the settlement grew quickly and prospered over time.

In recent years, French researchers have focused on an area where a Greek sanctuary, roads and a necropolis were found. Among the hundreds of ancient sepulchers unearthed since 2001, they have discovered a series of vaulted burial chambers made of tuff, a volcanic stone found in the area. People entered the tomb through a door in the façade sealed with a large stone block. The space inside was generally composed of a chamber with three vaults or funerary beds. The tombs were raided in the 19th century, but recovered remains and traces of funerary furnishings, which archaeologists have used to date the tombs to the second century B.C., indicate the high social status of those buried within.

Until now, only tombs painted red or white had been found, but in June 2018 researchers discovered a room with exceptionally executed figure painting. A naked servant carrying a jug of wine and a vase is still visible; the banquet’s guests are thought to have been painted on the side walls. Other elements of the banquet can also be distinguished. In addition to the excellent state of conservation of the remaining plaster and pigments, such a décor in a tomb built in that period is rare; its “unfashionable” subject matter was in vogue one or two centuries earlier. This discovery is also an opportunity to trace artistic activity over time at the site.

To preserve the fresco, archaeologists removed it, along with fragments found on the ground, in order to re-assemble the décor like a puzzle.

The digs were carried out with financial support from the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Ecole française de Rome and the Fondation du Collège de France. This research is part of a concession granted by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Assets and Activities in partnership with the Phlegraen Fields archaeological site.

 

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Analysis of fatty residue in pottery from the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia revealed evidence of fermented dairy products — soft cheeses and yogurts — from about 7,200 years ago, according to an international team of researchers.

Source: Evidence of 7,200-year-old cheese making found on the Dalmatian Coast

the above article is similar to the post yesterday but I thought it worthwhile to give everyone both to read. JLP

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The dig site where the traces of cheese were found

 

original article:

By Kenneth Macdonald

BBC.com

Scientists have found traces of what they believe is the world’s oldest cheese.

It was made 7,000 years ago in what is now Croatia.

An international team, including Heriot-Watt university researchers, say it led to the transformation of Europe.

It is neither a sturdy cheddar nor a cheeky brie, rather some traces of fatty acids found on fragments of pottery from an archaeological site at Pokrovnik on the Dalmatian coast.

But it is enough for the researchers from Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh and Pennsylvania State universities, Rochester Institute of Technology, and the Šibenik City Museum to conclude the sieve-like pottery objects were used for straining curds out of whey to make cheese.

Traces of ancient milk fats have been found before but the new study has used carbon dating to produce a definitive chemical diagnosis that the Pokrovnik samples are from the cheese making process.

The team says their discovery means humans were making cheese 2,000 years earlier than previously thought, pushing the date back from the Bronze Age to the Neolithic era.

Cheese making was a breakthrough technology which transformed humanity.

More portable and longer lasting than liquid milk, it enabled early farming to spread into cooler central and northern areas.

Dr Clayton Magill, a research fellow at the Heriot-Watt’s Lyell Centre, says the discovery is both astounding and delightful.

‘Reduced infant mortality’

He is sure cheese lovers everywhere will be interested to find out more about the origins and antiquity of their cheese.

“We know that the consumption of milk and dairy products would have had many advantages for early farming populations because milk, yogurt and cheese are a good source of calories, protein and fat,” Dr Magill said.

“They could have even been reliable food between harvests or during droughts and famines.”

Previous archaeological finds have offered tantalising clues that humans made cheese in the New Stone Age.

Some Neolithic objects have been tentatively identified as strainers or cheese graters but this is the first direct evidence that milk was being fermented.

Pennsylvania State’s associate professor of anthropology Dr Sarah McClure says that while young children of the era could drink milk, many adult farmers were lactose intolerant.

Cheese changed that because adults could digest it.

“We suggest that milk and cheese production among Europe’s early farmers reduced infant mortality,” Dr McClure says, “and helped stimulate demographic shifts that propelled farming communities to expand to northern latitudes.”

How cheese was first produced is lost in prehistory. One theory is that before pottery vessels were developed, milk was stored in bladders made from animals’ stomachs. The rennet in the skins would have reacted with the milk to create curds and whey.

 

 

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East side of the Barbegal mill complex looking north. The buildings on the left are the millbuildings where the grain was milled, the higher walls and basins on the right are the waterbasins of the mill complex that housed the water wheels. Robert Fabre, Saint Etienne du Grès, France

original article:

Populararchaeology

New information about one of the first industrial complexes in history revealed.

Analyzing carbonate deposits from a second century AD Roman watermill site – thought to be one of the first industrial complexes in human history – has revealed characteristics of the mill, including its nonuse for several months of the year. These findings suggest that the Barbegal mill site was not the Roman city of Arelate’s main flour supplier as hypothesized, but rather it was likely used to produce non-perishable “ship’s bread” for the many ancient ships that visited the major ports of Arles during certain times of the year. These findings shed light on the variable uses of ancient mills, as well as on their maintenance and on the destruction of the related sites, information that has otherwise been hard to decipher for these ancient formations. Over the past decades, the unearthing of Roman mill sites has offered proof of notable innovation during the Roman times, especially in the field of hydraulics. A key example of such a watermill is located at Barbegal, in southern France. However, since its discovery in 1937, little has been revealed about its unique history. Gül Sürmelihindi and colleagues sought to discern more about the mill’s use by analyzing 142 carbonate deposits from the complex. Formed on the now decayed wooden parts of the watermill that had been in contact with karst springs, these carbonates can preserve information of the environment of the complex. The fragment samples can be split into two groups: large carbonate slabs that formed in water channels that turned the wheel (millrun flumes) and deposits that had formed on the wooden part of the wheel. Stable isotope analyses of oxygen and carbon showed a distinct, cyclical pattern in the deposits, suggesting interruptions of the water flow during the late summer and autumn, a pattern of activity in accordance with Roman shipping activities, the authors say. Roman shipping usually halted in late autumn, meaning flour production to support shipping could have subsided then, too. Thus, they propose that the mill’s main use was not for widely consumed flour but specifically to produce non-perishable ship’s bread.

 

Mill basin of the Barbegal mill with carbonate deposits.
Robert Fabre, Saint Etienne du Grès, France

 

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Source: The Neolithic PalatePrint

Europe’s historical hunger for tasty food—spices, specifically—helped drive the Age of Exploration. When did flavorful food become so important that it would eventually change the course of human history? It is difficult to say because plant remains rarely last, and it can be a fool’s errand to speculate how they were used thousands of years ago. Now, however, in 6,000-year-old pottery from Denmark and Germany, a team of researchers has found phytoliths, small bits of silica that form in the tissues of some plants, from garlic mustard seeds, which carry strong, peppery flavor but little nutritional value.

Because they were found alongside residues of meat and fish, the seed remnants represent the earliest known direct evidence of spicing in European cuisine. According to researcher Hayley Saul of the University of York, “It certainly contributes important information about the prehistoric roots of this practice, which eventually culminated in globally significant processes and events.”

 

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Towering over a natural lake—today frequented by masses of tourists, particularly from Asia, who come to admire the picture-perfect Alpine scenery—the Hallstatt mine lies more than 800 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level

Original article:

August 24, 2018 by Philippe Schwab

Phys.org

All mines need regular reinforcement against collapse, and Hallstatt, the world’s oldest salt mine perched in the Austrian Alps, is no exception.

But Hallstatt isn’t like other mines.

Exploited for 7,000 years, the mine has yielded not only a steady supply of salt but also archaeological discoveries attesting to the existence of a rich civilisation dating back to the early part of the first millennium BC.

So far less than two percent of the prehistoric tunnel network is thought to have been explored, with the new round of reinforcement work, which began this month, protecting the dig’s achievements, according to chief archaeologist Hans Reschreiter.

“Like in all the mines, the mountain puts pressure on the tunnels and they could cave in if nothing is done,” Reschreiter told AFP.

Hallstatt was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and the work aims to protect it for “future generations”, said Thomas Stelzer, governor of Upper Austria state where the mine is located.

Towering over a natural lake—today frequented by masses of tourists, particularly from Asia, who come to admire the picture-perfect Alpine scenery—the Hallstatt mine lies more than 800 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level.

Among the most striking archaeological discoveries was that of an eight-metre-long wooden staircase dating back to 1100 BC, the oldest such staircase found in Europe

 

3,000-year-old stairs

Among the most striking archaeological discoveries was that of an eight-metre-long wooden staircase dating back to 1100 BC, the oldest such staircase found in Europe.

“It was so well preserved that we could take it apart and reassemble it,” Reschreiter said.

Other items date back much further. Excavated in 1838, an axe made from staghorn dating from 5,000 BC showed that as early as then, miners “tried hard to extract salt from here,” Reschreiter said.

In the mid-19th century, excavations revealed a necropolis that showed the site’s prominence during the early Iron Age.

The civilisation became known as “Hallstatt culture”, ensuring the site’s fame.

“Thousands of bodies have been excavated, almost all flaunting rich bronze ornaments, typically worn by only the wealthiest,” Reschreiter said. “The remains bore the marks of hard physical labour from childhood, while also showing signs of unequalled prosperity.”

Priceless ‘white gold’

Salt—long known as “white gold”—was priceless at the time. And Hallstatt produced up to a tonne every day, supplying “half of Europe”, he said, adding that the difficult-to-access location “became the continent’s richest, and a major platform for trading in 800 BC”.

Testifying to this are sword handles made of African ivory and Mediterranean wine bowls found at the site.

A second series of excavations—started by Vienna’s Museum of Natural History some 60 years ago—produced more surprises.

In tunnels more than 100 metres below the surface, archaeologists discovered “unique evidence” of mining activity at an “industrial” scale during the Bronze Age, Reschreiter said.

As well as revealing wooden retaining structures more than 3,000 years old which were perfectly preserved by the salt, the excavation unearthed numerous tools, leather gloves and a rope—thick as a fist—as well as the remains of millions of wooden torches.

Continuously active

Also used by Celts and during the Roman era when salt was used to pay legions stationed along the Danube River—it is the origin of the word “salary”—the mine has never stopped working since prehistoric times.

Today, about 40 people still work there, using high-pressure water to extract the equivalent of 250,000 tonnes of salt per year.

“Salt doesn’t have the same value as in antiquity anymore. But some of its new uses, such as in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, are still highly profitable,” said Kurt Thomanek, technical director of salt supplier Salinen Austria.

Tourism linked to the archaeological discoveries is also “a pillar of our activities”, Thomanek added.

Last year, some 200,000 people visited the Hallstatt mine

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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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