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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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A Bronze Age wooden container found in an ice patch at 2,650m in the Swiss Alps could help archaeologists shed new light on the spread and exploitation of cereal grains following a chance discovery.

CREDIT
Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern

Original Article:

Eurekalert.org

 

The team of archaeologists were expecting to find a milk residue left behind in the container — perhaps from a porridge-type meal wolfed down by a hunter or herder making their way through a snowy Alpine pass.

But instead they discovered lipid-based biomarkers for whole wheat or rye grain, called alkylresorcinols.

The team say the discovery of these biomarkers in the residue could be used as a new tool to help archaeologists map and trace the development of early farming in Eurasia.

The domestication of plants, such as wheat, was one of the most significant cultural and evolutionary steps of our species, but direct evidence of their use in early culinary practices and economies has remained frustratingly elusive.

Plants quickly degrade in archaeological deposits therefore archaeologists are increasingly using molecular techniques to look for their remains.

Dr André Colonese, from BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, said : “We didn’t find any evidence of milk, but we found these phenolic lipids, which have never been reported before in an archaeological artefact, but are abundant in the bran of wheat and rye cereals and considered biomarkers of wholegrain intake in nutritional studies.”

“This is an extraordinary discovery if you consider that of all domesticated plants, wheat is the most widely grown crop in the world and the most important food grain source for humans, lying at the core of many contemporary culinary traditions.

“One of the greatest challenges of lipid analysis in archaeology has been finding biomarkers for plants, there are only a few and they do not preserve very well in ancient artefacts. You can imagine the relevance of this study as we have now a new tool for tracking early culinary use of cereal grains, it really is very exciting. The next step is to look for them in ceramic artefacts,” Dr Colonese added.

The team combined microscopic and molecular analyses to identify lipids and proteins using gas chromatography mass spectrometry, a technique routinely applied to ceramic artefacts. Over the last 30 years, thousands of ceramic artefacts from Europe have been analyzed for their molecular content, most revealing evidence of milk and meat products, but hardly any evidence of cereals.

Dr Jessica Hendy, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said: “The evidence of cereals came from the detection of lipids, but also from preserved proteins. This analysis was able to tell us that this vessel contained not just one, but two types of cereal grains — wheat and barley or rye grains.

Combining these two kinds of molecular analysis, along with microscopy, is strong evidence that cereals were being transported across this alpine pass.”

“Detecting a molecular marker for cereals also has widespread implications for studying early farming. It enables us to piece together when and where this important food crop spread through Europe,” Dr Hendy added.

Dr Francesco Carrer, from Newcastle University, said: “This evidence sheds new light on life in prehistoric alpine communities, and on their relationship with the extreme high altitudes. People travelling across the alpine passes were carrying food for their journey, like current hikers do. This new research contributed to understanding which food they considered the most suitable for their trips across the Alps.”

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The study involved collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern, the Integrative Prähistorische und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie, Newcastle University, the University of Copenhagen and the University of Oxford, and is published in Scientific Reports.

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Analysis of strontium isotopes in teeth from Neolithic cattle suggest that early Europeans used different specialized herding strategies, according to a study published July 26, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Claudia Gerling from University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland, and colleagues.

Source: Isotopes in prehistoric cattle teeth suggest herding strategies used during the Neolithic

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Original Article:

plymouthherald.co.uk

By Keith Rossiter

Photos: Emily Whitfield-Wicks

King Arthur and his knights may – or may not – have lived at Tintagel.

But archaeologists have uncovered evidence that whoever occupied the legendary castle on the North Cornwall coast did live like a king.

Excavations have revealed that the inhabitants feasted on a diet of oysters, roast pork and fine wine, dining and drinking from bowls imported from Turkey and glass goblets from Spain.

As archaeologists returned to Tintagel to continue their investigations today, English Heritage revealed the finds uncovered in last year’s dig by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit.

Part of a glass cup c550AD Photograph by Emily Whitfield-Wicks.

The 2016 work was the first research excavation at Tintagel Castle in decades, and unearthed a feast of historical finds from the centuries that have been called “Cornwall’s First Golden Age”.

During this period, Tintagel was almost certainly a royal site with trading links reaching from the Celtic Sea to the eastern Mediterranean.

The excavation also uncovered a selection of stone-walled structures on the southern terrace of Tintagel Castle’s island area, with substantial stone walls and slate floors, accessed by a flight of slate steps.

Significant finds included a section of a fine Phocaean red slipped ware bowl from Turkey, imported wares and amphorae thought to be from southern Turkey or Cyprus and fine glassware from Spain.

Archaeologists also found evidence which suggests that those living at Tintagel at the time were enjoying a rich diet, as shown by pig, cow and sheep or goat bones with signs of burning and butchering, oyster shells and a cod cranial bone, the first evidence of deep sea fishing at Tintagel.

 Win Scutt from English Heritage said: “These finds reveal a fascinating insight into the lives of those at Tintagel Castle more than 1,000 years ago.

“It is easy to assume that the fall of the Roman Empire threw Britain into obscurity, but here on this dramatic Cornish clifftop they built substantial stone buildings, used fine table wares from Turkey, drank from decorated Spanish glassware and feasted on pork, fish and oysters.

“They were clearly making use of products like wine and oil contained in amphorae traded from the eastern Mediterranean.”

Jacky Nowakowski, project director at the archaeological unit, said: “Our plan in 2017 is to open up a much larger area on the southern terrace so that we get a good look at the scale and size of the buildings and find out exactly when they were built and how they were used.

“All indications to date could suggest that they are residential buildings perhaps lived in by important members of the community who lived and traded at Tintagel more than 800 years ago.

“Visitors and those following the project online will be able to see the excavations in action and hear about new discoveries day by day and to share in the excitement of this new research.”

Archaeologists will be on-site until August 11, and the public can see them in action.

Find out more at english-heritage.org.uk/tintagel

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CAPTION
This is a slice through image of horsegram seed.
CREDIT
Diamond Light Source

Original Article:

eurekalert.org

Scientists from UCL have used the UK’s synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source, to document for the first time the rate of evolution of seed coat thinning, a major marker of crop domestication, from archaeological remains.

Source: Synchrotron light used to show human domestication of seeds from 2000 BC

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