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Courtesy Prof. Danny Nadel

Jewishpress.com

 

The earliest evidence of alcohol production, some 13,000 years ago, was discovered in the Rakefet Cave in Mount Carmel, in a joint study by researchers from the University of Haifa and Stanford University. The alcohol, probably a kind of beer made from fermented grains, was produced by the Natufians, who lived in the region at that time. This brewery precedes by five thousand years the earliest site to date, in northern China.

The Epipaleolithic Natufian culture existed from around 13,050 to 7,550 BCE in the Levant. The culture was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities may be the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements in the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. The Natufians are believed to have founded Jericho, considered by many to be the oldest city in the world. Some evidence suggests deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture, at Tell Abu Hureyra, in northern Syria, the site of earliest evidence of agriculture in the world. The world’s oldest evidence of bread-making has been found at Shubayqa, a 14,500 year old site in Jordan’s northeastern desert.

Mount Carmel was one of the most important and crowded areas in the system of Natufian settlements, and sites in the Carmel and surrounding areas have been studied by archaeologists from the University of Haifa for decades.

“The Rakefet Cave does not stop offering new discoveries about the wonderful Natufian culture,” said Prof. Danny Nadel of the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa, who leads the excavations. “We have already discovered that they buried their dead and that they lined the graves with a bed of flowers. We discovered their technological capabilities through a variety of tools and now we find that they produced beer and consumed it, apparently at special ceremonies.”

Another finding at the Rakefet Cave site were dozens of craters carved several centimeters deep in the rock, dating back 13,000 years.

The new study, a collaboration between Prof. Danny Rosenberg of the ancient stone tools laboratory at the Zinman Institute of Archeology at the University of Haifa and researchers from Stanford University, focused on a microscopic examination of the remains found in these three craters, of starches and phytoliths (rigid, microscopic structures made of silica, found in some plant tissues and persisting after the decay of the plant) containing traces of precipitation.

The first test showed evidence of several different grains stored in the same craters, including wheat, barley, oatmeal, legumes and flax.

A microscopic examination two of the three craters showed microscopic remains of starch grains that underwent morphological changes which correspond to changes in starch during fermentation. The evidence shows that the craters were used to store grains before and after fermentation.

In the third crater, evidence was found that it was used for storage, but also as a receptacle in which grain could be beaten and crushed, a necessary stage in fermentation.

According to the researchers, the grains were apparently stored in baskets that made it easier to remove and feed the grains into the craters, evidenced by the remnants of fibers found at the bottom of the craters. A microscopic examination showed evidence that the fibers were rotated and processed to fit the pattern of woven baskets.

“The creation of these craters in the stone, and then the necessary actions to produce alcohol required great effort and professionalism, which attests to the great ceremonial importance that the Natufian culture related to the production of alcohol,” Prof. Nadel concluded, speculating that “since they were the first to invest considerable effort in their burial rituals, it is not inconceivable that the production and consumption of alcohol were also part of the Natufian burial ceremonies.”

 

 

 

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Knowledge of the diet of people living in the prehistoric settlement of Çatalhöyük almost 8000 years ago has been complemented in astonishing scope and detail by analyzing proteins from their ceramic bowls and jars. Using this new approach, an international team of researchers has determined that vessels from this early farming site in central Anatolia, in what is now Turkey, contained cereals, legumes, dairy products and meat, in some cases narrowing food items down to specific species.

Source: Cuisine of early farmers revealed by analysis of proteins in pottery from Çatalhöyük

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180344_webThis is the site location and artifacts analyzed. (A) The location of Raqefet Cave and three additional Natufian sites in Mt. Carmel; (B) field photos of the studied boulder mortars (BM1,2) and the location of BM3 on the cave floor (scale bar and arrow: 20 cm); (C) a functional reconstruction of the mortars: a boulder mortar used to store plants in a basket with a stone slab on top, and a bedrock mortar used for pounding and cooking plants and brewing beer.

Source: A Prehistoric Thirst for Craft Beer

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In the necropolis of Saqqara, Egypt, researchers discovered a broken jar containing what appeared to be a hunk of 3,300-year-old cheese — possibly the oldest known cheese in the world.
Credit: Courtesy of Enrico Greco, University of Catania, Italy

 

Original article:

Livescience.com

By Brandon Specktor,

 

If you are still disappointed about being denied the opportunity to drink the toxic red mummy juice unearthed in Egypt last month, we have some good news for you. Researchers have just discovered the world’s oldest cheese (also in Saqqara, Egypt), and it is almost certainly cursed… or at least contaminated.

The cheese in question was discovered among a large cache of broken clay jars inside the tomb of Ptahmes, former mayor of Memphis (ancient Egypt, not Tennessee) and a high-ranking official during the reigns of pharaohs Seti I and Ramesses II. The tomb is thought to have been built in the 13th century B.C., making it — and the cheese within — about 3,300 years old.

Researchers from the University of Catania in Italy and Cairo University in Egypt stumbled upon the cache during an excavation mission in 2013-14. Inside one of the fragmented jars, they noticed a powdery, “solidified whitish mass,” according to a study published online July 25 in the journal Analytical Chemistry. Nearby, they found a scrap of canvas fabric that was likely used to preserve and cover the ancient blob of food. The texture of this fabric suggested that the food had been solid when it was interred alongside Ptahmes a few millennia ago — in other words, the find probably wasn’t a jar of ancient spoiled milk.

To be sure about this, the researchers cut the cheese and took a small sample back to the chemistry lab for analysis. There, the team dissolved the sample in a special solution to isolate the specific proteins inside. The analysis revealed that the cheese sample contained five separate proteins commonly found in Bovidae milk (milk from cows, sheep, goats or buffalo), two of which were exclusive to cow’s milk. The researchers concluded that the sample was probably a “cheese-like product” made from a mixture of cow’s milk and either goat or sheep milk.

“The present sample represents the oldest solid cheese so far discovered,” the researchers wrote in their study.

Of course, this being mummy cheese, there must be a curse attached, right? In this case, that curse might just be a nasty foodborne infection. According to the team’s protein analysis, the cheese also contained a protein associated with Brucella melitensis, a bacterium that causes the highly contagious disease brucellosis. The disease is commonly spread from bovine animals to humans through unpasteurized milk and contaminated meat. Symptoms include severe fever, nausea, vomiting and various other nasty gastrointestinal ailments.

If the cheese is indeed infected with Brucella bacteria, that makes the find the “first biomolecular direct evidence of this disease during the pharaonic period,” the researchers wrote. Further study is required to say for sure whether the protein in question came from a contaminated animal, but in the meantime, we offer this obligatory disclaimer: Please, do not eat the mummy cheese.

 

 

 

 

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Beer-drinking cups being excavated at Khani Masi held some of the earliest chemical evidence of beer. Researchers had to take extra precautions to avoid contaminating the cups with modern compounds. (Courtesy Sirwan Regional Project)

Original article:

Smithsonianmag.com

Researchers are working on resurrecting the recipe

 

Archaeologists have long known beer was important in the ancient world, but mainly from writings and drawings—finding actual archaeological evidence of the fermented beverage has been a major challenge.

But archaeologists have now employed a new technique to detect beer residues in nearly 2,500-year-old clay cups dug up in a site in northern Iraq.

“What Elsa [Perruchini] has demonstrated is the chemical signature of fermentation in the vessels that also contains the chemical signatures consistent with barley,” says Claudia Glatz, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Glasgow and a coauthor of a study published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “Putting those together is the interpretation that this is barley beer.”

The use of the technique will likely prove groundbreaking, giving archaeologists a chance to find beer at other excavations. But it is also helping Glatz and Perruchini, a PhD archaeology student at the university and the lead author of the study, understand more about the Babylonian Empire’s outer reaches during a period of cultural upheaval.

Archaeologists have long known beer has been around in Mesopotamia from iconography which showed beer drinking and references to the beverage in old accounting texts describing beer given as rations. Among the best known examples are those found in the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi dating to roughly 1800 BC. A beer recipe in the form of a poem, the text praises the beer goddess Ninkasi for soaking malt in a jar and spreading mash on reed mats, among other things.

Further references to beer can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh – a Mesopotamian poem considered the oldest surviving work of literature—in which Enkidu, a “wild man” who grew up in the forest, drinks seven jugs of beer and decides he likes civilization enough to become Gilgamesh’s sidekick.

“[Beer] is a quintessential Mesopotamian food stuff,” says Glatz. “Everyone drank it but it also has a social significance in ritual practices. It really defines Mesopotamian identities in many ways.”

The earliest physical trace of beer dates back to the late fourth millennium BC in present day Iran at a site called Godin Tepe, where archaeologists found what is known as beerstone, a chemical byproduct related to the brewing process and visible to the eye, on ancient ceramic material.

But Perruchini got downright microscopic, examining the chemicals present in the residues clinging to the clay of old cups and jars. She and Glatz are involved with a larger archaeological project at the site, called Khani Masi, exploring the evidence of imperial expansion of the Babylonians into the Diyala River valley. The area, in present day Kurdistan in northern Iraq, is key because it formed a travel hub, connecting the lowlands where some of the world’s first cities and imperial powers were formed with the resource-rich Zagros Mountains.

“Those are very important long distance exchange routes that are leading through this area,” Glatz says.

The excavated section of Khani Masi Perruchini and Glatz are working on dates from 1415 BC to 1290 BC, the late Bronze Age, according to the material evidence such as pottery and the evidence of burial practices excavated. Perruchini was interested in seeing how the people who lived in the area identified culturally, and what better way to get to the bottom of this than examining the food and drink they consumed?

Perruchini says that she first tried to use more traditional chemistry techniques to test the residues, but found the results had been contaminated.

“During an excavation, usually people are touching everything, so it’s going to leave residuals on it,” she says.

One particularly troublesome contaminant comes from the sunscreen often used in sun-drenched digs. As Perruchini notes, some chemical compounds in sunscreen are similar to wine, which could be confusing archaeologists in some cases.

Perruchini decided to take the lab directly to the field, handling freshly excavated bowls or cups with gloves to get more reliable results before anyone else got their hands on them.

“This isn’t something that is discussed a whole lot in the organic residue work in archaeology,” Glatz says. “So Elsa’s method is actually very important in gaining reliable archaeological results – that is not something that has happened so much in the past.”

Perruchini then analyzed the distinct compounds of the residues using gas chromatography, a technique that separates the various compounds present in a mixture. Gas chromatography had not been used in archaeology to examine a collection of compounds to identify something like beer, and the method allowed her to get very specific in her analysis. The team could ignore any contemporary chemicals, while an analysis of soil samples taken from outside the clay vessels allowed them to rule out any soil contamination which could have affected the residues over the past two millennia and “only focus on archaeologically significant compounds.” They then compared the remaining compounds with residues left from modern-day beer samples and found they matched.

“It’s actually very affordable,” Perruchini says about the process, adding that other archaeologists should be able to repeat her technique to identity beer or other residues in ancient remains.

“They were really able to get a gold mine of information out of these pots,” says Mara Horowitz, an archaeology lecturer at Purchase College at the State University of New York who was not involved in the recent work. “It looks like they have done what we’ve all been dreaming about doing.”

She adds that it’s a pity that so many cups already excavated can no longer be examined in this way, since they have likely already been contaminated by modern chemicals.

Augusta McMahon, a reader in Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Cambridge, agrees that many archaeologists – herself included – haven’t been careful enough when handling old pots and other material evidence, other than keeping certain objects within the protocols required for radiocarbon dating. She added the study was “very exciting” and “good science.”

But both McMahon and Horowitz are also interested in the social aspect of the study and what it means.

According to iconography and excavations from sites older than Khani Masi, Mesopotamians usually drank beer from straws in a larger communal jar around the third millennium BC. But in the subsequent millennium, these larger beer jugs start to give way to individual vessels.

“We have this explosion of a very diverse range of drinking cups,” Glatz says, adding that archaeologists in the past assumed the “daintier vessels” were used for wine. But their chemical analysis shows they held beer.

Horowitz says that the shift to these cups gives archaeologists a sense of social processes, as well as marks of status and power depending on the degree of work that went into their design.

“Interactions at a site like Khani Masi can really give us a sense of what’s going on in a local scale,” she says.

Khani Masi was contemporary with the Kassite rule of the Babylonian empire in Mesopotamia and likely under Kassite control. The Kassites, who likely originated from the Zagros Mountains, assimilated many of the previous Mesopotamian cultural traditions and had diplomatic relations with other empires such as the Assyrians and the Egyptians.

“Khani Masi very much looks like another outpost if you like, or a settlement of Kassite origin in some ways,” Glatz says. But their analysis of the cups shows that while it may have sat near the edges of the empire, the locals drank beer similar to other Mesopotamians, indicating that cultural practices from the center of the empire had spread to the fringes.

Beer was important to the Mesopotamians because the malting process helps to preserve the grains for longer, while fermentation increased the grains’ nutritional value.

Or, in the words of McMahon, “It’s what most people drink because the water is not so good.”

Of course, the mild buzz was a draw, too – even the Hymn to Ninkasi notes the wonderful feeling and blissful mood of drinking beer.

Without a fridge handy, the stuff wouldn’t have lasted very long. “Mesopotamians would have been brewing beer constantly,” Glatz says.

The question on everyone’s minds, of course, is how the beer tasted. Perruchini and more of Glatz’s students are attempting to find out by brewing beer using techniques described in the Hymn to Ninkasi and ingredients which they think would lead to residues similar to those they’ve found at Khani Masi.

The trouble is, there were a number of types of beer described in old Mesopotamian texts, whether golden, red or dark ales, and Perruchini and her colleagues are uncertain of all the ingredients. Unlike other researchers who recently tried to reproduce 4,000-year old Hittite beer with tasty results, Perruchini says that they have not even tasted the stuff they brewed in their class yet.

“It smells so terrible,” she says

 

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Source: Eurekalert.org

Living plant varieties reveal ancient migration routes across Eurasia

The emergence of agriculture is one of the most important transitions in the development of human societies, as it allowed the establishment of settled communities, specialization of labour and technological innovation.

One centre of agricultural origins is the Near East, where barley was domesticated around 10,500 years ago, along with wheat and a number of other crops. Archaeological evidence shows that barley cultivation spread to its ecological limits in Europe, North Africa, and Central, South and East Asia, over a period of approximately 6,000 years.

New results published in PLOS ONE today show that different types of barley, suited to different end uses, ecological conditions and cropping regimes, spread via a variety of routes across Eurasia. In many cases, these routes of spread are backed up by archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence.

According to lead author Dr Diane Lister, researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, “These results are based on the genetic analysis of living crops – traditional farmers’ varieties known as ‘landraces’.”

“These landraces were mostly collected during the early 20th century and are maintained in what are known as ‘germplasm’ collections around the world, with many landraces having precise geographical coordinates recorded. Numerous studies have shown that, remarkably, landraces can preserve an ancient and local genetic signature of the initial spread of farming during prehistory, and this is beautifully illustrated in this current study.”

The results indicate that the different eastward routes of spread of each barley population were distinct from each other in a number of ways, reflecting human choice of particular attributes or the effect of environmental adaptation. These different routes include ones to the north and south of the Iranian Plateau; through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor in Central Asia, possibly connecting up to the Chinese section of the Silk Road; a high altitude spread on the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau; a high latitude spread through the northern steppe; two distinct spreads into Japan; and a maritime route from South Asia. Previous research has provided increasing numbers of direct radiocarbon dates enabling the different routes to be dated.

Lister describes further, “One barley population is widespread, particularly around the coastlines. This population may have travelled eastwards via a maritime route from South Asia, via Southeast Asia. This particular population is made up of winter-sown varieties of barley, which are thought to be important in rice-growing areas of East Asia, where a crop of rice is commonly grown in the summer months, and barley adapted to winter-sowing regimes can be planted after the rice harvest. The development of multi-cropping practices during prehistory is thought to have greatly increased productivity and stability, enabling more complex societies to develop.”

“Another barley population predominates on the high Tibetan Plateau. This barley has a naked grain, making it a particularly attractive staple, as it doesn’t require the pearling process that hulled barley requires for human consumption. Along with the herding of yak, this naked type of barley is an essential for the Tibetan way of life, and their importance are clearly seen in the offerings of naked barley grains and yak butter in Tibetan Buddhist temples around the region. The staple carbohydrate eaten by the Tibetans is tsampa, made from roasted naked barley flour and mixed with salty Tibetan butter tea.”

Previous research carried out through the Food Globalization in Prehistory project at the University of Cambridge showed that barley cultivation appeared in the Chinese Tibetan Plateau 4,000 years ago, and is thought to have been of essential importance in colonizing the ‘roof of the world’. Some scholars have questioned whether this barley was a product of a local domestication of a wild ancestor separate from those in the Near East. This current study also looked at the genetic relationship between landrace barley, it’s wild progenitor, and weedy varieties. The results show that is unlikely that barley was domesticated in this region, and that ‘wild’ barleys on the plateau are probably weedy derivatives of cultivated barley.

What does this mean for today? Lister concludes, “Barley is an extremely hardy crop, able to grow in regions where other crops are unable to grow, and is an important staple in such environments. Understanding the spread of its cultivation during prehistory, and the various factors that affected its establishment in different regions of Eurasia, will contribute towards our understanding of climate change and its current and future effects on agriculture.”

 

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Lets here it for technology. If not for such advancements, we would never have come this far in our discovery of the foods Paelolithic man really ate. Imagine the discoveries that were just thrown on the  trash heap because archaeologist at the time had no idea plant material could survive this long. Think of the grinding stones that were washed, all their valuable information of the past…gone forever!

Original article:

The guardian.com

Nicola DavisMon 16 Jul 2018 15.00 EDT

Tiny specks of bread found in fireplaces used by hunter-gatherers 14,000 years ago, predating agriculture by thousands of years

Charred crumbs found in a pair of ancient fireplaces have been identified as the earliest examples of bread, suggesting it was being prepared long before the dawn of agriculture.

The remains – tiny lumps a few millimetres in size – were discovered by archaeologists at a site in the Black Desert in north-east Jordan.

Using radiocarbon-dating of charred plant materials found within the hearths, the team found the fireplaces were used just over 14,000 years ago.

“Bread has been seen as a product of agriculturist, settled societies, but our evidence from Jordan now basically predates the onset of plant cultivation … by at least 3,000 years,” said Dr Tobias Richter, co-author of the study from the University of Copenhagen, noting that fully-fledged agriculture in the Levant is believed to have emerged around 8,000 BC.

“So bread was being made by hunter-gatherers before they started to cultivate any plants,” he said.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Richter and colleagues from Denmark and the UK describe how during excavations between 2012 and 2015 they found the crumbs in the fireplaces of a site used by hunter-gatherers known as Natufians, who foraged for wild grains.

Among the remains, the team unearthed small, round tubers of a wetland plant known as club-rush, traces of legumes and plants belonging to the cabbage family, wild cereals including some ground wheat and barley – and 642 small charred lumps.

Analysis of 24 of these lumps revealed they are bread-like – with the others expected to be similar.

“They are charred breadcrumbs, sort of what you might find at the bottom of your toaster at home – the sort of stuff that falls off when you put it on high power,” said Richter.

Further analyses revealed that 15 of the 24 crumbs contain tissues from cereal plants – probably, says Richter, from barley, einkorn wheat or oats.

Some of the crumbs were also found to contain ingredients from other plants, with the team saying club-rush tuber is the most likely candidate.

What’s more, the analysis of the crumbs suggests the flour used to make the bread might have been sieved, while the team say the lack of an oven means the bread was probably baked in the ashes of the fire, or on a hot stone.

The team say the crumbs appear most likely to be from a sort of unleavened flat bread.

While the newly discovered crumbs are now the earliest bread remains found so far, taking the title from remains found at the site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey and dated to about 9,100 years ago, the team say the food might have emerged even earlier.

“Food remains have long been ignored in archaeology, and therefore have not been sufficiently studied,” said Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, first author of the study from the University of Copenhagen. “I’m sure that if we look at older sites, we may find bread-like cereal products during the Paleolithic [for example] 25,000 years ago.”

Richter said it is unlikely the bread found at the Natufian site was consumed as a staple, given it would have been very labour intensive to gather and process the grains. While the team suggest the bread could have been made by the hunter-gatherers for their onward journey, they say other evidence adds weight to the idea it could have been part of a feast or ritual event.

“[The older fireplace] also had a number of gazelle [bones] in it from at least a dozen or more animals as well as water birds and hare,” said Richter. “So it looks like a bit of a meal [shared] between a larger group of people, like a little feast that was then discarded in the fireplace.”

Amy Bogaard, professor of Neolithic and bronze age archaeology at the University of Oxford and who was not involved in the research, described the study as fascinating. “We previously knew that these communities were grinding and preparing plants in various ways, but this study is the first to identify actual bread-like remains of this early date,” she said. “ In terms of food history, it suggests that preparation of flatbread-like foods long predates the establishment of agriculture, and that farming in this region emerged within a pre-established culture of grinding and baking.”

While the team have yet to recreate the recipe, Richter says they have tried bread made with club-rush tubers, offering a clue as to how the ancient bread might have tasted.

“It tastes a little bit salty, so it is probably not to our particular tastes in the present,” he said.

 

 

 

 

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