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Archive for the ‘Mesoamericia’ Category

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(Courtesy the Smithsonian Institution)

Topic: Corn

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the ancestor plant of modern corn has many long branches tipped with tassels, and its seeds mature over a period of a few months. But when cultivated in a greenhouse under the environmental conditions of 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, teosinte grows into a something recognizable as a corn plant. “Intriguingly, the teosinte plants grown under past conditions exhibit characteristics more like corn: a single main stem topped by a single tassel, a few very short branches tipped by female ears and synchronous seed maturation,” Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History told Science Daily. The Holocene climate, recreated in the greenhouse, was two to three degrees Celsius cooler than today’s temperatures, and the carbon dioxide levels were approximately 260 parts per million. Current carbon dioxide levels are 405 parts per million. “When humans first began to cultivate teosinte about 10,000 years ago, it was probably more maize-like—naturally exhibiting some characteristics previously thought to result from human selection and domestication,” she said. Piperno and colleague Klaus Winter of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute add that past environmental conditions should be taken into consideration by scientists researching evolutionary change and the process of domestication.

For more information: science daily.com

Original article:
archaeology.org
Feb 6, 2014

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  Topic: Early agriculture evidence in Mexico

Ancient corn husks

Ancient corn husks

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The first evidence of proto-agricultural activity in what is now the state of Nuevo Leon in northeastern Mexico, is estimated to date from 3500-3000 BC, based on new research by archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). This proto-agriculture was practised by hunter-gatherers who collected wild variants of what later became the staple domesticated crops of the region. The evidence for this activity comes from seeds, corn cobs and husks found at the small rock shelter site of El Morro. “In Nuevo Leon archaeologists have never before identified any site with this type of evidence. After two seasons in El Morro , Municipality of Aramberri, we recovered approximately a thousand cobs and fragments, ” said Dr. Araceli Rivera Estrada, an INAH researcher for the region. Exploring various rock shelters Araceli Rivera, who in recent years has been devoted to exploring the various rock shelters in the area, highlighted the relevance of this finding saying, “evidence that hunter-gatherers of the region had already begun the initial process of farming from the Archaic period will lead us to reassess the categories to denote indigenous groups in the south of the state. ” The researcher explained that the oldest records of the three major crops domesticated in Mexico (corn, squash and beans) come from only five caves which were excavated in the 1950s and 60s – Romero and Valenzuela near Ocampo (Tamaulipas); Coxcatlán and San Marcos, in the Tehuacan Valley (Puebla) and Guilá Naquitz (Oaxaca), with dates ranging from 7000 to 3000 years BC. A small rock shelter The INAH specialist reported that the recent investigation was conducted in the rock shelter which also contained a large amount of rock art representing human and animal figures. “Inside, systematic excavations have recovered a large quantity of seeds, leaves, stems, fruits and even flowers as well as various species of corn ” said Rivera. The archaeologists also found fragments of basketry and cordage. Middle Archaic period Rivera said “charcoal samples obtained at different stratigraphic levels of the El Morro deposit are in the process of being dated at the Laboratory of the Division of Studies and Academic Support INAH “. He added that by association with two lithics that were recovered in the earlier layers, the agricultural material could be dated to the Middle Archaic period (3000-1500 BC). Original article: Past Horizons November 28, 2013

 

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This photo shows the vessels that tested positive for Capsicum. Each vessel had a culinary use. Credit: Roberto Lopez and Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta

Topic Early use of peppers

Chili peppers may have been used to make spicy beverages thousands of years ago in Mexico, according to new research published November 13 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Terry Powis at Kennesaw State University and colleagues from other institutions.

Capsicum species are usually referred to as chili peppers, and their uses are well known in the history of Spain and Portugal. There are relatively few sites in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America that contain remains of Capsicum, and therefore, we know little about how groups such as the Mayans and the Mixe-Zoquean, inhabitants of the site studied here, used chili peppers in those regions.

In this study, the authors used chemical extractions to reveal the presence of Capsicum residues in pottery samples from a site in southern Mexico. Some of these pottery vessels were over 2000 years old, dating from 400 BC to 300 AD.

They found Capsicum residue in multiple types of jars and vessels, which suggests that those cultures may have been using chili peppers for many different culinary purposes. For instance, Capsicum was found in a vessel called a sprouted jar, which is used for pouring a liquid into another container. The authors suggest that chili peppers may have been used to prepare spicy beverages or dining condiments. Powis elaborates, “The significance of our study is that it is the first of its kind to detect ancient chili pepper residues from early Mixe-Zoquean pottery in Mexico. While our findings of Capsicum species in these Preclassic pots provides the earliest evidence of chili consumption in well-dated Mesoamerican archaeological contexts, we believe our scientific study opens the door for further collaborative research into how the pepper may have been used either from a culinary, pharmaceutical, or ritual perspective during the last few centuries before the time of Christ.”

More information: Powis TG, Gallaga Murrieta E, Lesure R, Lopez Bravo R, Grivetti L, et al. (2013) Prehispanic Use of Chili Peppers in Chiapas, Mexico. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79013. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0079013

Original article:
Phys.org
November 13, 2013

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Topic: it’s been 4 years!!!
For all of you who are keeping track and for you who don’t, this is the four year anniversary for ancient foods! Technicality it was yesterday September 1 st but who’s counting? I don’t seem able to reblog that first post but here is a link for any who are interested. I have been pleased with the overall response to my endeavor and hope to bring everyone more on my favorite topic for many years to come.
new world cereal- maze

Now on to today’s topic:Shell Middens in the Amazon

10,000-yr-old remains of hunter-gatherer settlements identified in ‘forest islands’

Previously unknown archeological sites in forest islands reveal human presence in the western Amazon as early as 10,000 years ago, according to research published August 28 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Umberto Lombardo from the University of Bern, Switzerland and colleagues from other institutions.

The study focuses on a region in the Bolivian Amazon thought to be rarely occupied by pre-agricultural communities due to unfavorable environmental conditions. Hundreds of ‘forest islands’- small forested mounds of earth- are found throughout the region, their origins attributed to termites, erosion or ancient human activity. In this study, the authors report that three of these islands are shell middens, mounds of seashells left by settlers in the early Holocene period, approximately 10,400 years ago.

Samples of soil from these three mounds revealed a dense accumulation of freshwater snail shells, animal bones and charcoal forming the middens. The mounds appear to have formed in two phases: an older layer composed primarily of snail shells, and an overlying layer composed of organic matter containing pottery, bone tools and human bones. The two are separated by a thin layer rich in pieces of burnt clay and earth, and the uppermost layer of deposits was also seen to contain occasional fragments of earthenware pottery. Radiocarbon analysis of two middens indicates that humans settled in this region during the early Holocene, approximately 10,400 years ago, and shells and other artefacts built up into mounds over an approximately 6,000 year period of human use. The sites may have been abandoned as climate shifted towards wetter conditions later. Lombardo adds, “We have discovered the oldest archaeological sites in western and southern Amazonia. These sites allow us to reconstruct 10,000 years of human-environment interactions in the Bolivian Amazon.”

Cited article:
eurekalert.org
August 28, 2013

Original article:
plosone.org

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Figure 4. Details of recovered burnt earth, shells and bone remains from excavations at SM1.
This photo is from the original article

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Photo Reuters

Topic:Petroglyphs of ancient hunter-gathers

Archaeologists in Mexico have catalogued thousands of etchings carved into stones that they believe were made by hunter-gatherers 6,000 years ago.

The carvings, known as petroglyphs, mostly consist of wavy lines and concentric circles, with some images representing deer tracks.

Some 8,000 images were found at the site in Narigua in northern Mexico.

Experts say the etchings may be part of hunter-gatherer initiation rites, or representations of stars.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) says it is now preparing to allow tourists into the site, some 100km (60 miles) west of the city of Monterrey.

INAH archaeologist Gerardo Rivas said there was evidence of hunter-gatherer tribes having lived in the area.

He said many of their settlements were temporary, but evidence of cooking implements and stoves still remained.

He said the petroglyphs may reveal clues as to the level of sophistication of the tribes, and the kinds of tools they were able to manufacture.
Original article:
BBC.co.uk</a
July 9, 2013

Read. Related article below:

Cave paintings in Mexico: Carvings uncovered in Burgos

Archaeologists in Mexico have found 4,926 well-preserved cave paintings in the north-eastern region of Burgos.

The images in red, yellow, black and white depict humans, animals and insects, as well as skyscapes and abstract scenes.

The paintings were found in 11 different sites – but the walls of one cave were covered with 1,550 scenes.

The area in which they were found was previously thought not to have been inhabited by ancient cultures.

The paintings suggest that at least three groups of hunter-gatherers dwelled in the San Carlos mountain range.

Experts have not yet been able to date the paintings, but hope to chemically analyse their paint to find out their approximate age.

‘No objects’
“We have not found any ancient objects linked to the context, and because the paintings are on ravine walls and in the rainy season the sediments are washed away, all we have is gravel,” said archaeologist Gustavo Ramirez, from the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (Inah).

In one of the caves, the experts found depictions of the atlatl, a pre-Hispanic hunting weapon that had not yet been seen in other paintings in the Tamaulipas state.

The paintings are being considered an important find because they document the presence of pre-Hispanic peoples in a region where “before it was said that nothing was there”, Mr Ramirez said.

Another archaeologist involved in the Inah study, Martha Garcia Sanchez, said that very little is known about the cultures who dwelled in Tamaulipas.

“These groups escaped the Spanish rule for 200 years because they fled to the Sierra de San Carlos where they had water, plants and animals to feed themselves,” she said.

The findings were presented during the second meeting of Historic Archaeology, in Mexico’s National History Museum.
Original article:
BBC.co.uk
May 22, 2013

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Photo Reuters
Archaeologists found more than 1,500 paintings in one cave of the Burgos region

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Ancient Maya pyramids tower above the forest at Tikal, Guatemala, during a rain storm

Topic: Mayan farming

(Phys.org) —BYU researchers have dug up new evidence from an ancient Maya city that may help solve the mystery of just how many people lived in the civilization.

Using soil chemistry, combined with advanced remote sensing and satellite imagery, the researchers have pinpointed for the first time where Maya farmers in Tikal, Guatemala, carried out some of their most significant crop production.

The location of the prime farmland indicates that the Maya population at Tikal may have been much different than previously thought.

“Our soil analysis is finding that Mayas did not grow maize heavily on the hillsides, but rather along the borders of the low-lying wetlands called bajos,” said BYU soil scientist Richard Terry. “Knowing where they grew corn gives us a clearer picture about their civilization unknown until now.”

The finding in Guatemala comes at the same time separate researchers have discovered a lost Maya civilization in the Mexican jungle.

Terry and his team analyzed the carbon isotope signatures of 185 soil cores taken in and around Tikal. Combined with data from radar and satellite imagery, the carbon signatures allowed researchers to create a model that maps the areas where the Maya planted – and didn’t plant – corn.
One of the most unexpected findings was the lack of maize residue in the fertile upland soils, said coauthor David Webster, a professor of anthropology at Penn State. Archeologists have long believed the Maya used the hillsides primarily for corn (maize) agriculture, much like modern inhabitants of the region.

Relying primarily on the deep soil zones near the wetlands (called bajos) for maize production, as the research indicates, has significant bearing on the amount of people that could be supported. Experts currently estimate Tikal’s population was between 30,000 and 62,000 inhabitants.

Next spring Terry and his team will pursue additional research in Tikal to determine if the bajos themselves were used for maize agriculture.

“We’ve discovered an important piece of data that was missing in the equation to determine the size and scope of the Maya population,” said BYU grad student Chris Balzotti, lead author of the study published in the International Journal of Remote Sensing. “Archeologists will be able to take our model and apply it to what they know to determine better population estimates.”

Terry has led environmental science students to ancient Maya ruins annually for the past 15 years. Six years ago, research led by Terry used soil chemical residues to detect a large marketplace in a Maya city on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The findings were the first strong evidence that the ancient Maya had a market economy similar to societies today.

The latest round of research also suggests new information about how the ancient Maya managed their rainforests.

While some experts believe the forests were cleared for farming, and others believe they were left and crops were grown beneath the canopy, the model shows it was a combination of both: Portions of the forest were cleared while larger portions of the forest were left standing.

“Dirt analysis may not be as sexy as digging up a jade mask from a former Maya king, but now we can answer more questions about the regular people that made up this ancient civilization,” Balzotti said.

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Ancient Maya pyramid at Tikal, Guatemala.

Original article:
Phys.org
June 26, 2013

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Topic: Cave find, ancient campfire

Mexican Archaeologists Discover Items From Mezcala, Olmec Cultures in Abandoned Cave

Mexican archaeologists have found traces of the Mezcala and Olmec cultures, as well as human remains, in a cave in the southern state of Guerrero, indicating that the site was inhabited at different times and served as a funerary center, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, said.

Specialists found a Mezcala-type figure and campfire remnants dating to 700 A.D. in a cave in Cocula, a city in Guerrero, the INAH said in a statement.

The figure is complete and important because of the limited number of finds of this type, INAH-Guerrero Center archaeologist Miguel Perez Negrete said.

The Mezcala culture is one of the civilizations that developed along the Balsas River and is mainly identified on the basis of its architectural style and anthropomorphic figures.

The discovery was made during construction of a road in Oxtotenco, a hamlet outside the community of Atzcala, Perez Negrete said.

“The most surprising thing was that when we started digging, we also found Olmec ceramics estimaed to date to the year 1000 before our era, as well as pre-Olmec (1200 B.C.), that is, it is more than 3,000 years old,” the archaeologist said.

The human remains consist of fragments and have not been dated yet, but they could be Olmec because of the ceramics associated with them, Perez Negrete said.

Original article:
hispanically speaking
June 5, 2013

Mezcala culture:

The Mezcala culture (sometimes referred to as the Balsas culture) is the name given to a Mesoamerican culture that was based in the Guerrero state of southwestern Mexico,[1] in the upper Balsas River region.[2] The culture is poorly understood but is believed to have developed during the Middle and Late Preclassic periods of Mesoamerican chronology,[1] between 700 and 200 BC.[2] The culture continued into the Classic period (c.250-650 AD) when it coexisted with the great metropolis of Teotihuacan.[3]
Archaeologists have studied the culture through limited controlled excavations, the examination of looted artifacts, and the study of Mezcala sculptures found as dedicatory offerings at the Aztec complex of Tenochtitlan.
Wikipedia

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Mezcala Mask

Olmec Culture

The Olmec were the first major civilization in Mexico. They lived in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the modern-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco.
The Olmec flourished during Mesoamerica’s Formative period, dating roughly from as early as 1500 BCE to about 400 BCE. Pre-Olmec cultures had flourished in the area since about 2500 BCE, but by 1600–1500 BCE Early Olmec culture had emerged centered around the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán site near the coast in southeast Veracruz.[1] They were the first Mesoamerican civilization and laid many of the foundations for the civilizations that followed.[2] Among other “firsts”, the Olmec appeared to practice ritual bloodletting and played the Mesoamerican ballgame, hallmarks of nearly all subsequent Mesoamerican societies.
The most familiar aspect of the Olmecs is their artwork, particularly the aptly named “colossal heads”.[3] The Olmec civilization was first defined through artifacts which collectors purchased on the pre-Columbian art market in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Olmec artworks are considered among ancient America’s most striking.[4]

wikipedia

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Olmec Head

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