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The Sima del Elefante site. Image: University of York

Original article:

New research conducted by scientists at the University of York and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona reveals for the first time that Europe’s earliest humans did not use fire for cooking, but had a balanced diet of meat and plants – all eaten raw.

Studying dental plaque from a 1.2 million year old hominin (early human species), recovered by the Atapuerca Research Team in 2007 in Sima del Elefante in northern Spain, archaeologists extracted microfossils to find the earliest direct evidence of food eaten by early humans.

These microfossils included traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules indicating consumption of grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine, insect fragments and a possible fragment of a toothpick.

All detected fibres were uncharred, and there was also no evidence showing inhalation of microcharcoal – normally a clear indicator of proximity to fire.

Fiery debate

The timing of the earliest use of fire for cooking is hotly contested, with some researchers arguing habitual use started around 1.8 million years ago while others suggest it was as late as 300,000-400,000 years ago.

Possible evidence for fire has been found at some very early sites in Africa. However, the lack of evidence for fire at Sima del Elefante suggests that this knowledge was not carried with the earliest humans when they left Africa.

The earliest definitive evidence in Europe for use of fire is 800,000 years ago at the Spanish site of Cueva Negra, and at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel, a short time later.

Taken together, this evidence suggests the development of fire technology occurred at some point between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago, revealing a new timeline for when the earliest humans started to cook food.

Diet implications

Dr Karen Hardy, lead author and Honorary Research Associate at the University of York and ICREA Research Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, said: “Obtaining evidence for any aspect of hominin life at this extremely early date is very challenging. Here, we have been able to demonstrate that these earliest Europeans understood and exploited their forested environment to obtain a balanced diet 1.2 million years ago, by eating a range of different foods and combining starchy plant food with meat.

“This new timeline has significant implications in helping us to understand this period of human evolution – cooked food provides greater energy, and cooking may be linked to the rapid increases in brain size that occurred from 800,000 years ago onwards.

“It also correlates well with previous research hypothesising that the timing of cooking is linked to the development of salivary amylase, needed to process cooked starchy food. Starchy food was an essential element in facilitating brain development, and contrary to popular belief about the ‘Paleodiet’, the role of starchy food in the Palaeolithic diet was significant.”

Dr Anita Radini, PhD student at the University of York said: “These results are very exciting, as they highlight the potential of dental calculus to store dietary and environmental information from deep in the human evolutionary past. It is also interesting to see that pollen remains are preserved often in better conditions than in the soil of the same age. Overall this is a very positive step in the discipline, in terms of preservation of material in the calculus matrix.”

Diet and environment 1.2 million years ago revealed through analysis of dental calculus from Europe’s oldest hominin at Sima del Elefante, Spain is published in Naturwissenschaften. To read, visit: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00114-016-1420-x

 

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Original article:

Thelocal.se

Diver Jerry Wilhelmsson was out looking for a different shipwreck altogether off the south coast of the Åland islands (Finland’s autonomous Swedish-speaking islands between Stockholm and Helsinki) when he came across an incredible discovery. Sitting in front of him at a shallow depth was an unusually well-preserved 27 metre long shipwreck, complete with anchor, figurehead and hundreds of unopened bottles.

Wilhelmsson and his diving team Baltic Underwater Explorers now have permission to take some of the bottles back up to the surface in the hope that analysis will provide an explanation for where the mysterious wreck came from.

“It’s quite rare to find a wreck in this condition with cargo intact at a relatively shallow depth,” Magnus Melin of Baltic Underwater Explorers told The Local.

“The coolest thing must be the cargo hold with all the bottles. But the whole relatively small wreck, which has a figurehead, is very interesting. To me, the ship itself and its (currently unknown) story are the most interesting things.”

READ ALSO: Why Sweden’s famous Vasa shipwreck is getting a makeover

Speaking to Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, marine archaeologist Marcus Lindholm speculated that the ship’s style suggests it dates from between 1850 and 1870.

But a better way to know for certain is to analyze the contents of some of the hundreds of bottles still sitting unopened in cargo boxes on the wreck.

“We have contact with the local authorities and they’ll come up with a plan on how to continue. Initially some of the bottles will be salvaged to analyze their content,” diver Melin explained.

“We don’t know at the moment what will happen after that, but more non-destructive documentation will be done to identify the wreck.”

Story continues below…

The waters in and around Sweden’s Baltic coast are something of a hotbed for shipwreck finds.

In April, two shipwrecks dating back to at least the 1600s were found in central Stockholm next to the island of Skeppsholmen, once again by chance when divers were examining the seabed before a boating race.

And on a smellier note, in July Swedish scientists discovered what they believe to be 340-year-old cheese on board the wreck of the royal ship Kronan in the waters near Baltic island Öland.

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The ship’s figurehead. Photo: Jerry Wilhelmsson

 

 

 

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Original article:

BBC.com
Britain’s Pompeii” was just a few months old when it burnt down, it has emerged.
Analysis of wood used to build the settlement suggests it was only lived in for a short time before it was destroyed.
Despite this, archaeologists said the site gives an “exquisitely detailed” insight into everyday Bronze Age life.
Evidence of fine fabric-making, varied diets and vast trading networks has been found during the 10-month dig.

in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, has been compared to that seen at Pompeii, a Roman city buried by ash when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79.

At least five circular houses raised on stilts above the East Anglian fens have been found.
David Gibson, of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, University of Cambridge, said the site allowed researchers to “visit in exquisite detail everyday life in the Bronze Age”.
“Domestic activity within structures is demonstrated from clothing to household objects, to furniture and diet,” he said.
“These dwellings have it all, the complete set, it’s a ‘full house’.


‘Pompeii of the Fens’
What the excavation reveals:
The people living here made their own high quality textiles, like linen. Some of the woven linen fabrics are made with threads as thin as the diameter of a coarse human hair and are among the finest Bronze Age examples found in Europe

Other fabrics and fibres found include balls of thread, twining, bundles of plant fibres and loom weights which were used to weave threads together. Textiles were common in the Bronze Age but it is very rare for them to survive today

Animal remains suggest they ate a diet of wild boar, red deer, calves, lambs and freshwater fish such as pike. The charred remains of porridge type foods, emmer wheat and barley grains have been found preserved in amazing detail, sometimes still inside the bowls they were served in

There were areas in each home for storing meat and a separate area for cooking

Even 3,000 years ago people seemed to have a lot of stuff. Each of the houses was fully equipped with pots of different sizes, wooden buckets and platters, metal tools, saddle querns (stone tools for grinding grains), weapons, textiles, loom weights and glass beads.

After the fire, the buildings sank into a river which has helped preserve them.

the oak structures, has suggested the circular houses were still new and had only been lived in for a few months.

The homes were, however, well equipped with pots of different sizes, wooden buckets and platters, metal tools, saddle querns (stone tools for grinding grains), weapons, textiles, loom weights and glass beads.

Archaeologists say beads found at the site originally came from the Mediterranean or Middle East.

chief executive of Historic England, said: “This has transformed our knowledge of Bronze Age Britain.

“Over the past 10 months, Must Farm has given us an extraordinary window into how people lived 3,000 years ago.

“Now we know what this small but wealthy Bronze Age community ate, how they made their homes and where they traded.

“Archaeologists and scientists around the world are learning from Must Farm and it’s already challenged a number of longstanding perceptions.”

Must Farm was named best discovery at the 2016 British Archaeological Awards.

Image caption

The charred remains of porridge type foods, emmer wheat and barley grains have been found preserved in amazing detail, sometimes still inside the bowls they were served in.

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The area surveyed included Lamb Lea scheduled monument, the land within the red line between Hampshire and the Arun river valley

The area surveyed included Lamb Lea scheduled monument, the land within the red line between Hampshire and the Arun river valley

 

Original Article:

bbc.com

July 12, 2016

 

Evidence of a prehistoric “farming collective” has been discovered after aerial laser scanning was carried out in the South Downs National Park.
Large-scale farming from before the Roman invasion suggests a high level of civilisation, archaeologists said.
The survey also revealed the route of a long-suspected Roman road between Chichester and Brighton.
It covered an area between the Arun river valley in West Sussex and Queen Elizabeth Country Park in Hampshire.

The “Lidar” survey technique uses an aircraft-mounted laser beam to scan the ground and produce a 3D model of features that survive as earthworks or structures in open land or woodland.
Images of land between Lamb Lea Woods and Charlton Forest showed that a field system already protected as a scheduled monument was just a small part of a vast swathe of later pre-historic cultivation extending under a now wooded area.
James Kenny, archaeological officer at Chichester District Council, said it suggested a civilisation closer to ancient Greece, Egypt or Rome than what is known of prehistoric Britain.
‘Organised farming’
“One of our biggest findings is the discovery of a vast area farmed by pre-historic people on an astonishing scale,” said Trevor Beattie, chief executive of the South Downs National Park Authority,
Mr Kenny added that the evidence raised questions about who was growing the crops, who was eating the food and where they were living.
“The scale is so large that it must have been managed, suggesting that this part of the country was being organised as a farming collective,” he said.
The route of the road suggests the Romans would have headed out from their settlement at Chichester on Stane Street, the road to London, before branching east towards Arundel.

“The recognition of the ‘missing link’ in the Roman road west of Arundel was a highlight in a project full of exciting results,” said Helen Winton, aerial investigation manager at Historic England.

 

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zagrosmountains

 

Original Article:

cbsnews.com

 

BERLIN – Scientists say a previously unknown group of Stone Age farmers may have introduced agriculture to South Asia, challenging earlier theories that attributed the spread of farming to a different population.

Previous research held that a single group of hunter-gatherers developed agriculture in the Middle East some 10,000 years ago and then migrated to Europe, Asia and Africa, where they gradually replaced or mixed with the local population.

But scientists who analyzed ancient human remains found in the Zagros mountains of present-day Iran say they belonged to a completely separate people who appear to have taken up farming around the same time as their cousins further west in Anatolia, now Turkey.

“There was this idea that there’d been one group of genius inventors who developed agriculture,” said Joachim Burger, one of the authors of the study published online Thursday in the journal Science. “Now we can see there were genetically diverse groups.”

Scientists from Europe, the United States and Iran who examined the DNA of 9,000 to 10,000-year-old bone fragments discovered in a cave near Eslamabad, 600 kilometers (370 miles) southwest of the Iranian capital of Tehran, found they belonged to a man with black hair, brown eyes and dark skin.

Intriguingly, the man’s diet included cereals, a sign that he had learned how to cultivate crops, said Fereidoun Biglari of National Museum of Iran, who was also involved in the study.

Along with three other ancient genomes from the Zagros mountains, researchers were able to piece together a picture of a population whose closest modern relatives can be found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and among members of Iran’s Zoroastrian religious community, said Biglari.

The Zagros people had very different genes than modern Europeans or their crop-planting ancestors in western Anatolia and Greece, said Burger, an anthropologist and population geneticist at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

He said the study’s authors calculated that the two populations likely split at least 50,000 years ago, shortly after humans first ventured out of Africa.

Burger said even though the two ancient farming populations didn’t mix, it’s probable that they knew of – and even learned from – each other, given that the development of agriculture is highly complex and therefore unlikely to have spontaneously occurred twice around the same time.

“You have to build houses, clear forests, cultivate several plants and ensure a plentiful supply of water. You also have to domesticate several animals, be able to grind flour, bake bread,” said Burger. “This is a huge process that takes several thousand years.”

Burger said the findings could help shed light on important developments in human history that have been neglected due to researchers’ long habit of focusing on ancient migratory movements into Europe.

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A Georgian-Italian archaeological expedition has discovered vine pollen in a zoomorphic vessel used in ritual ceremonies by the Kura-Araxes population.

Source: Wine used in ritual ceremonies 5000 years ago in Georgia, the cradle of viticulture

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A 22-pound lump of bog butter. (Photo courtesy of Cavan Museum)

A 22-pound lump of bog butter. (Photo courtesy of Cavan Museum)

Original Article:

By Travis M. Andrews June 14

washingtonpost.com

 

Finding buried treasure is a dream as old as stories themselves. Treasure chests overflowing with gold doubloons, shiny lamps containing genies, gargantuan lumps of butter that are thousands of years old.

Okay, maybe most don’t dream of unearthing enormous chunks of butter, but that’s exactly what Jack Conway discovered in the Emlagh bog in County Meath, Ireland, at the beginning of June, Atlas Obscura reported.

Conway is a turf cutter, meaning he harvests “turf” or peat — it’s a type of moss — from a bog to burn for warmth during the winter. He was chopping turf at the bog when he came across a 22-pound chunk of butter, the Irish Times reported. Researchers at the Cavan Museum estimated it to be more than 2,000 years old.

Bog butter is just that: butter made from cow’s milk that’s been buried in a bog, though, after thousands of years, it often has the consistency of cheese.

It’s actually not that uncommon of a find for turf cutters in Ireland, either. As Smithsonian magazine noted, a 3,000-year-old, three-foot-wide barrel stuffed with 77 pounds of bog butter was found in 2009. Even more shocking, turf cutters found a 5,000-year-old wooden keg containing 100 pounds of the butter in 2013.

People have actually been stumbling upon bog butter for at least two centuries. In the 1892 edition of the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, the Rev. James O’Laverty recounts finding a lump that “still retains the marks of the hand and fingers of the ancient dame who pressed it into its present shape” and that “tastes somewhat like cheese.”

In her article “Bog Butter: A Two Thousand Year History” in the Journal of Irish Archaeology, Caroline Earwood wrote: “It is usually found as a whitish, solid mass of fatty material with a distinctive, pungent and slightly offensive smell. It is found either as a lump, or in containers which are most often made of wood but include baskets and skins.”

The earliest discoveries of bog butter date to the Iron Age, but she wrote that it may have existed earlier.

No one is sure exactly why the butter was buried in bogs — some think it was sometimes an offering to the gods — but evidence strongly suggests it was a method of preservation.

Most bog butter doesn’t contain salt, which was often used as a means of preserving food before modern refrigeration. The bogs, which are essentially cold-water swamps, and their native peat do a fine job of keeping food fresh. A University of Michigan researcher found that meat left in a bog for two years was just as preserved as meat kept in his freezer, the University Record reported in 1995.

Peat is compressed plant matter, which Nature reported is both cool and contains little oxygen while remaining highly acidic, allowing it to act as a sort of refrigerator. It seems to work — Savina Donohoe, curator of Cavan County Museum who sent Conway’s butter lump to the National Museum of Ireland, said it smelled just like, well, butter.

“It did smell like butter. After I had held it in my hands, my hands really did smell of butter,” Donohoe told UTV Ireland. “There was even a smell of butter in the room it was in.”

In fact, peat bogs are such wonderful environments for preserving organic matter, they’ve been known to almost perfectly mummify corpses.

Hundreds of “bog bodies” have been found during the past two centuries, according to the USA Today. The oldest one unearthed is a preserved skeleton called the Koelbjerg Woman, which dates to about 8000 B.C.

Other bodies, though, retain their skin and internal organs. The Tollund Man, for example, still had his leathery skin intact when he was found in the Bjaeldskovdal bog in Denmark and is considered by some to be the most well preserved body ever found from prehistoric times. He was so well preserved that the men who found him thought they had stumbled on a modern murder scene, PBS reported. He was actually about 2,400 years old.

Given that level of preservation, most of the butter is edible. Irish celebrity chef Kevin Thornton, who owns the Michelin-starred Thornton’s Restaurant in Dublin, claimed to have tasted a 4,000-year-old sample of bog butter.

“I was really excited about it. We tasted it,” he told the Irish Independent in 2014. “There’s fermentation but it’s not fermentation because it’s gone way beyond that. Then you get this taste coming down or right up through your nose.”

Andy Halpin, assistant keeper in the Cavan Museum’s Irish antiquities division, said one could probably eat the butter, though he’s not sure why one would.

“Theoretically the stuff is still edible, but we wouldn’t say it’s advisable,” Halpin told the Irish Times.

Curious what it might taste like, Ben Reade, head of culinary research and development at Nordic Food Lab created his own bog butter, albeit one aged for a bit less time than the aforementioned.

Echoing the lines from James Farewell’s 1689 poem “The Irish Hudibras” — “butter to eat with their hog, was seven years buried in a bog” — they buried one large birch barrel of butter in the ground, where it will remain for seven years. The other remained in the ground for only three months, before it was tasted at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen and at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in 2012, in Britain.

He wrote of the flavors:

In its time underground the butter did not go rancid, as one would expect butter of the same quality to do in a fridge over the same time. The organoleptic qualities of this product were too many surprising, causing disgust in some and enjoyment in others. The fat absorbs a considerable amount of flavor from its surroundings, gaining flavor notes which were described primarily as “animal” or “gamey,” “moss,” “funky,” “pungent,” and “salami.” These characteristics are certainly far-flung from the creamy acidity of a freshly made cultured butter, but have been found useful in the kitchen especially with strong and pungent dishes, in a similar manner to aged ghee.

Even so, if you happen to find a lump of butter buried in the back yard, it may be best to forgo it for the store-bought variety.

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