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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.

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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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On this day ten years ago…
via English megaliths linked to death rites

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On this day ten years ago…
via Digs may throw more light on ancient wine production

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On this day ten years ago…
via Ancient wrecks found off Italy’ west coast

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First posted on Aug 9, 2010
via Palace recreates wine fountain fit for a king

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Stone Age harpoons found in southern Norway speak of perilous fishing. But now the traces from this time are slowly crumbling away.

 
Sciencenorway.no

The whole story starts with a farmer.

Specifically, the farmer at Jortveit farm in southern Norway. Around the beginning of the 1930s he decided to drain a wetland near the farm so he could cultivate new land.

But while he was working on the deep drainage trenches, strange things started to crop up. Bones from a bluefin tuna and a killer whale. And huge fish hooks and harpoons made of bones. In the middle of the wetland!

The tools eventually ended up in the University Museum of Antiquities in Oslo, where they were studied by archaeologists. The bones, on the other hand, were examined by geologists at the Natural History Museum.

But none of the researchers could make sense of what they had.

Putting the tools and bones in context

The archaeologist at the time thinks the tools must have come from a settlement. They are reminiscent of Stone Age finds from elsewhere. But the site is far too low compared to the sea level at that time.

The geologist, for his part, can’t understand what this killer whale was doing so far up on land. Was it stranded there more than 6,000 years ago, during a period when the sea level was dropping?

According to the documentation, none of the researchers ask the obvious question:

Why were these bones and tools in the same place? Was there a connection between them?

Now, Svein Vatsvåg Nielsen, a PhD candidate from the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, has finally put the pieces together – almost 90 years after they were found.

Very rare stone age finds

“In 2017, I wanted to study some artefacts from the storage magazine for my doctoral work,” Nielsen says.

The tools from the Jortveit farm were particularly interesting.

Stone-age objects of bone are very rare because bones easily rot and disappear. Most bone and wood finds date from the Middle Ages and later because of this.

But the fish hooks and harpoons from Jortveit were probably much older. Just extremely well preserved.

Nielsen had read about the old find and knew the gear had originally been discovered along with fish and whale bones. Could the bones and the tools be from the same time? Maybe, combined, they could say something about the find.

But where were the bones?

Bones on the move

Nielsen contacted the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum — which was immediately open to letting him try to date the old fish bones.

Finding the bones in question, however, was another matter.

The museum had just gone through the process of a big move, and the new location of the bones was somewhat unclear. Eventually the bones were found, and Nielsen was able to date material from both the gear and the whale and fish bones.

Fishing site from the Stone Age?

The finds were from the same period — somewhere between 3700 and 2500 years BC.

At that time, the sea was higher than today, and the area where the field is located was probably a lagoon. Maybe this was not a settlement at all, but a fishing area!

“It was known that people had come across a number of bones in the wetland in this area, both before and after the 1931 discovery,” Nielsen says.

But no additional archaeological excavations were ever undertaken on the site.

Might there still be more artefacts there that had not been destroyed by the ravages of time?

“I suggested to my colleagues that we could do an excavation, as part of the field work requirements for students at the University of Oslo,” Nielsen says.

Piles of bones

In the summer of 2018, Nielsen finally put a shovel into the ground.

He and the students dug through layers of arable land and hard clay. They found an arrowhead first, but nothing more.

Further down, the clay became moist and sticky. This was definitely old seabed! It was tough to dig in. It didn’t smell very good either. They dug a metre into the ground, but still found nothing.

“We had almost given up,” Nielsen says.

But then something happened. At around 125 centimetres below the surface, bones appeared. Piles of them.

Mostly bluefin tuna

Today, after three seasons of excavations, Nielsen has made a huge number of discoveries from the field. He recently published a scientific article about them, in the Journal of Wetland Archaeology.

The finds include arrowheads, fish hooks and harpoons. But mostly bones. Some of the bones are from cod or small whales, but they are mainly from bluefin tuna — a giant of a fish.

Together, the bones and the implements tell a story, Nielsen says.

People from nearby settlements fished in the lagoon. Occasionally, bluefin tuna followed schools of herring or mackerel into the lagoon. Then people were probably able to hunt them from boats.

All the bones at the bottom may be due to the fact that the fishermen cleaned the fish before they went ashore. Or they may be the remains of fish that escaped but were too injured to survive.

Coincidence unlikely

“It’s unlikely that so many bluefin tuna just ended up there by chance,” says Nielsen.

If some natural phenomenon had killed the fish in the lagoon, there would be bones from many different species there, not just from bluefin tuna.

The harpoons from the wetland are also very similar to harpoons that archaeologists know were used solely to catch big fish or small whales.

“It would be an incredible coincidence if these rare harpoons and fish bones were just randomly collected there, says Nielsen.

A glimpse of life outside the settlement

Interpreting archaeological finds is always associated with a great deal of uncertainty.

“We haven’t found a fish with a hook in its mouth,” Nielsen says.

Still, he believes the evidence from the wetland gives us insight into a little of the everyday lives of these people, which we didn’t previously have.

“Usually we only see what people did on land, and just right around where they lived. We typically do excavations of a hundred square metres around homes. But as soon as people leave their residences, we have no idea what they are doing. They disappear into in the fog for us,” he said.

“But this gives us an insight into what they did in their boats,” he said.

We even get a hint as to what happened when things went wrong, when an unlucky hunter lost an arrow over a gunwale, or a harpoon snapped and the fish swam away.

Dangerous fishing

The finds clearly raise an interesting question: What else might lie under the Jortveit farm field? In theory, the extremely good conditions in the wetland may have preserved everything.

“There could have been people out in boats hundreds of times a year. And there are signs that there has been activity on the site over a period of a thousand years,” he says.

What might have been lost during all that time?

Jars, utensils and articles of wood and bones. Yes, even whole boats.

Or in the extreme, dramatic situation, life.

“It’s a risky endeavour to catch a bluefin with harpoon from a boat,” says Nielsen.

The fish are very strong. If the foot of an unlucky fisherman got stuck in the fishing line, it is not unlikely that his story would have ended at a depth of nine metres.

“I’ve been thinking about it — we might suddenly find a skull! But we haven’t found one yet,” he says.

Poorer conditions

Nielsen has stopped feeling frustrated that not everything can be excavated.

“No, we have to take what we get,” he says.

The hope is nevertheless to undertake a slightly more extensive project on the site in the future, with even more analyses of sediments and finds.

However, it might be wise not to wait too long.

“What is a pity is that the drainage in the wetland has resulted in worse conditions for preservation. The finds from 1932 are actually better preserved today than the finds we are making now,” he said.

A picture of two fish hooks clearly shows the difference. The hook found in the 1930s is clearly in better condition than the one recently excavated. Nevertheless, it is not outside of the realm of possibilities that something truly unique still lies under the field.

“It would be fantastic to find a boat,” says Nielsen.

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Pork and possibly chicken became more popular in England after arrival of William the Conqueror

The Norman conquest led to far-reaching and long-lasting political change across England – and new research suggests it also led to the English eating more pork and chicken.

Before 1066, beef, lamb, mutton and goat were among the meats most likely to be served in England, but a study of human and animal bones – as well as fat residue found on fragments of cooking pots – found that pork and possibly chicken became much more popular following the arrival of William the Conqueror.

Experts believe the Normans passed on their love of pork to local people, and pigs and chickens began to be farmed much more intensively.

The study also suggests there were food shortages for a few years after the Norman invasion, but supplies were soon restored and life returned to normal.

Richard Madgwick, an osteoarchaeologist at Cardiff University’s school of history, archaeology and religion, said 1066 was arguably the most famous and important date in English history.

“It’s seen as a grand transition after which nothing was the same again. For the elite, the nobility, everything did change radically – the administration of the country, legal frameworks, the organisation of the landscape. But at a lower level, people adapted to the new normal rapidly.”

The research team used a range of bio-archaeological techniques to study human and animal bones recovered from sites across Oxford, along with fragments of ceramics used for cooking.

They found that pork and chicken became a more popular choice for the cooking pot at the expense of beef, lamb and mutton. Some things did not change, however: cabbage remained a staple.

Elizabeth Craig-Atkins, a senior lecturer in human osteology at the University of Sheffield, said: “Examining archaeological evidence of the diet and health of ordinary people who lived during this time gives us a detailed picture of their everyday experiences and lifestyles.

“There is certainly evidence that people experienced periods where food was scarce. But following this, an intensification in farming meant people generally had a more steady food supply and consistent diet.”

The researchers used a technique called stable isotope analysis on bones to compare the diets of 36 men and women who lived between the 10th and 13th centuries, whose remains were found in various locations around Oxford, including at Oxford Castle.

They found there was not a huge difference between the health of the individuals, who were alive at different points before and after the conquest. Levels of protein and carbohydrate consumption were similar in the group and evidence of bone conditions related to poor diet – such as rickets and scurvy – were rare.

However, detailed analysis of teeth showed evidence of short-term changes in health and diet during the transitional phase after the invasion.

Isotope analysis was also used on 60 animals found at the same sites, to ascertain how they were raised. Studies of pig bones found their diets became more consistent and richer in animal protein after the conquest, suggesting pig farming was intensified under Norman rule. They were probably living in pig sties in towns and being fed scraps instead of being allowed to forage in the countryside.

Fragments of pottery were examined using a technique called organic residue analysis. When food is cooked in ceramic pots, fats are absorbed into the vessel. The 11th-century cook would sometimes roast pork or chicken but most often simply threw it into a pot and turned it into a stew.

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Science in Poland.pap.pl

Szymon Zdziebłowski

Adobe stock

People in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages were largely vegetarian, new research has shown.

Through the analysis of bones of those living in Miechów (Małopolska), scientists found that meat made up only a fraction of their diet, with plants accounting for nearly 50 percent.

Anthropologist Professor Krzysztof Szostek from the Institute of Biological Sciences of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw said: “We were able to determine that the diet of people living in the lands of today’s southern Poland several thousand years ago, in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, consisted of meat only to a small extent. Nearly 50 percent of its composition were plants, and the rest were other foods, probably dairy products.”

In addition, scientists found that there was no statistical change in diet over a period of around 5,000 years

Professor Szostek said: “The use of animals was maximised, for example, to obtain milk or skins. Obtaining meat from animals was not a priority.”

The analyses show that the cereals consumed (probably in various forms) included mainly barley, einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and later also spelt.

The scientists’ findings are a result of extensive comparative research, mainly related to one archaeological site in Miechów (Małopolska). Various groups of people lived in the area covered by the research over the period of nearly 5,000 years, from the first groups of farmers in today’s Poland, defined by archaeologists as the Linear Pottery culture, to the Lusatian culture during the Bronze Age.

Experts took collagen for nitrogen isotope analysis from both their bones and animal remains discovered at this site. Obtaining the full picture was possible after combining these data with data from archaeobotanical analyses (of cereal grains).

Professor Szostek said: “Until now, isotope research on diet reconstruction was performed without taking archaeobotanical analyses into account. This meant that the image of prehistoric people’s diet was incomplete, the models even showed that mainly meat was consumed during that time, which could not be true.”

The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.

 

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