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(Courtesy Bob Dawe, Royal Alberta Museum)Removal of plaster-covered roasting pit, Head-Smashed-In, Canada

 

Source: A Removable Feast

Royal Alberta Museum archaeologist Bob Dawe recently returned to the scene of an unusual discovery he made in 1990. While excavating at Head-Smashed-In, a prehistoric buffalo jump in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, he uncovered an intact 1,600-year-old sandstone-lined roasting pit. Such archaeological features are often found near buffalo jumps and were probably used to cook large quantities of meat for celebratory feasts—but they are always empty. This example was brimming with bones belonging to a buffalo calf, at least two adult buffalo, and a canine, probably a dog-wolf hybrid. The people who had hoped to dine on the meat, likely ancestors of today’s Blackfoot, never retrieved it. Sensing excavation of the pit would be a complicated affair, Dawe covered it up and vowed to return when he had the time to investigate it properly.

Last summer, with the help of paleontologists, Dawe and his team dug around the roasting pit and encased it in a plaster jacket so they could lift it out of the earth intact. Dawe plans to methodically excavate the feature in the laboratory, and eventually put it on display, but he doesn’t expect to ever find out just why the lavish banquet remained in the ground. “It would have been quite a feast,” says Dawe, “so something drastic must have happened. Maybe there was a blizzard, or a prairie fire. Or maybe other people drove them away.”

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Original article:

Nature.com

Changes to flowering times helped the staple crop spread into new areas thousands of years ago.

Genome sequences from nearly 2,000-year-old cobs of maize (corn) found in a Utah cave paint a portrait of the crop at the dawn of its adaptation to the highlands of the US southwest. That maize, researchers found, was small, bushy and — crucially — had developed the genetic traits it needed to survive the short growing seasons of high altitudes.

The team’s study1, published on 3 August in Science, is remarkable in how it tackles complex genetic traits governed by the interactions of many different genes, say researchers. It uses that information to create a detailed snapshot of a crop in the middle of domestication. Such insights could help modern plant breeders to buffer crops against global climate change.

Geneticists of both modern and ancient crops have poured tremendous effort into understanding maize, which was one of the most important subsistence crops in the New World thousands of years ago, and is a cornerstone of global agriculture today.

Maize originated in Mexico and rapidly spread into the lowlands of the southwest United States about 4,000 years ago. But communities at higher altitudes did not fully embrace the crop until 2,000 years later — a delay that has long puzzled archaeologists studying the region, says Kelly Swarts, a quantitative geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. “There was always the question: why wasn’t this catching on? Why weren’t people doing agriculture in the uplands?” she says.

Swarts and her colleagues turned to a site in a Utah cave called Turkey Pen Shelter, where a farming community lived about 2,000 years ago. Inhabitants of the cave raised turkeys, wove intricate baskets and shoes, and had the resources needed to store and process corn. Maize, which they probably served in soups and stews, comprised about 80% of their diet.

Complex crops

Swarts’s team sequenced the genomes of fifteen 1,900-year-old maize cobs found in the shelter and compared their sequences to those in a database of genomes and physical traits from some 2,600 modern maize lines. The researchers then used that information to extrapolate the physical characteristics of the Turkey Pen maize plants, including complex traits such as flowering time. The analysis revealed a crop that was shorter and more branched than modern varieties. “More like little bushes,” says Swarts, though the role of these traits is unclear. The crop also flowered more quickly than lowland varieties — an important adaptation to life in the highlands, which have a shorter growing season than lower elevations.

The analysis could open the way for similar studies of complex traits in other plants and animals, including humans, says Matthew Hufford, who studies evolutionary genomics in maize at Iowa State University in Ames. “We just now have the genetic tools and the analytic tools to make really good use of them.”

Plant evolutionary biologist Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick, UK looks forward to seeing the same approach applied to earlier stages of maize domestication. “That stuff was 1,900 years old, and a lot of the whistles and bangs had already happened,” he says. “It’s going to be really cool to see what a full 5,000-year-old maize phenotype looks like.”

A key finding from the study, says Hufford, was the realization that the genetic variants needed to adapt to highland life were already circulating in maize populations thousands of years ago “The diversity needed for high altitudes was there, but getting it in the right combination took 2,000 years,” he says.

And that diversity could be crucial for breeders as they try to adapt modern maize to a rapidly changing climate, says Swarts. “It’s really promising for maize’s future that it has so much standing variation — assuming we can conserve that diversity,” says Swarts. “If we needed to do this, it wouldn’t take 2,000 years. We could do it a lot faster now.”

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The food chains recovered more rapidly than previously assumed after Earth’s most devastating mass extinction event about 252 million years ago as demonstrated by the fossilized skull of a large predatory fish called Birgeria americana discovered by paleontologists from the University of Zurich in the desert of Nevada.

Source: Large-mouthed fish was top predator after mass extinction

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More on the Four Corners Potato!

IMG_2912Original article

Salt Lake Tribune

By BRIAN MAFFLY

Delane Griffin’s yard around his Escalante home is filled with a wild potato that his late wife, Leah, transplanted from nearby sites. For decades, some residents in this southern Utah town have enjoyed these tiny potatoes, which have a nutty flavor when prepared properly.

Now, new archaeological research from the University of Utah shows that prehistoric inhabitants of the Escalante Valley could have been nourishing themselves with this tuber for thousands of years, long before potatoes were known to have been domesticated into one of world’s most widespread and vital crops.

“Our study has found the earliest evidence of potato use in North America,” said Lisbeth Louderback, the Natural History Museum of Utah’s archaeology curator. “It’s about the rediscovery of wild potatoes native to North America and [the plant] being a very important food resource for the past 10,000 years up until today.”

She added: “The potato has become a forgotten part of Escalante’s history. Our work is to help rediscover this heritage.”

Her findings, based on analyses of plant residues recovered from grinding tools, were posted Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To develop her hypothesis, Louderback teamed with botanist Bruce Pavlik, conservation director of the U.’s Red Butte Garden, to develop ways to identify potato starch granules and find spots in the Escalante Valley where the Four Corners potato, or Solanum jamesii, grow. Her findings, based on analyses of plant residues recovered from grinding tools, were posted Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The potatoes the world is now familiar with have all descended from tubers native to South America and bred into thousands of varieties.

S. jamesii, by contrast, is a species native to North America and limited mostly to parts of Arizona and New Mexico. On the Colorado Plateau, it is found in small, isolated populations, according to Pavlik. The tuber is highly nutritious, packing twice the protein, zinc and manganese, and three times the calcium and iron, as the standard Solanum tuberosum.

The Four Corners potato may be relatively tiny, but one plant can yield up to 125 tubers, ranging in size up to a silver dollar.

During the course of the U. research, the scientists discovered these populations are closely associated with archaeological sites. This suggests ancient people brought the potato here and planted them. Genetic analysis backs up this hypothesis, although more evidence must be analyzed, said Pavlik.

Asking today’s locals where they could find these plants, U. scientists discovered the trove in Griffin’s garden. He is a 94-year-old descendant of Mormon pioneers who settled the valley in 1876. By then, the area already was known as Potato Valley, according to the journals of U.S. Cavalry men who passed through a decade earlier and ate the wild potatoes.

“We have found wild potatoes growing from which the valley takes its name,” wrote Capt. James Andrus in 1866.

Griffin’s wife was a history buff who was curious why Escalante residents didn’t know why the area had been called Potato Valley. Leah Griffin figured the wild potatoes had something to do with it and started growing them.

“It was a rare thing. It wasn’t found every place and that was one of the things that made it important to her,” Griffin says in a video the U. produced to publicize the research.

The Griffins’ garden was a perfect launching point for Louderback, an assistant professor of anthropology who explores diets of ancient people. Her research interest drew her to the smooth stones ancient people used for grinding plant fibers into something edible.

“Grinding plant tissues with manos and metates releases granules that get lodged in the tiny cracks of stone, preserving them for thousands of years. Archaeologists can retrieve them using chemicals, modern microscopy and advanced imaging techniques,” she said. “It’s a whole other data set that’s been untapped all these years because starch grain analysis hasn’t been widely used until maybe 10 years ago.”

For her doctoral work at the University of Washington, Louderback developed a technique for identifying potato starch grains, which are rare among food plants for having an off-center hila — the point on the granule where the starch layers are deposited. She came up with five criteria for identifying ancient potato starch, then put the methodology to work on the residues found on tools recovered from the oldest archaeological site on the Colorado Plateau.

North Creek Shelter is now on property west of Escalante owned by Joette-Marie Rex, who operates the Slot Canyons Inn and North Creek Grill. A decade ago, a team led by Brigham Young University’s Joel Janetski excavated the site to find stratigraphic layers indicating continuous habitation dating back 11,000 years. These layers yielded numerous manos and metates that are now housed at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures.

Louderback recovered 323 intact granules from 24 tools in this collection. Nine met all five criteria for the potato and 61 met four, offering proof that the potato was part of the ancients’ diet. The oldest tool yielding potato starch dates from 10,900 to 10,100 years ago.

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Original Article:

Independent
By Ian Johnston, July3,2017

potato’ dating back about 10,900 years have been discovered in Utah.
The “well-preserved starch granules” – discovered in cracks in rocks used to grind up the potatoes – are the oldest evidence of cultivation of the plant in North America, researchers said.
This technique has been used to find the earliest known use of several species, including oats found in southern Italy dating to 32,600 years ago, 23,000-year-old barley and wheat discovered in Israel, and beans and yams from China dated to between 19,500 and 23,000 years ago.
The potato starch was embedded into stone tools found in Escalante, Utah, an area once known to early European settlers as “Potato Valley”.
The ‘Four Corners’ potatoes, Solanum jamesii, were eaten by several Native American tribes, including the Apache, Navajo and Hopi.
However most potatoes eaten around the world today are all descended from one species, Solanum tuberosum, which was domesticated in the South American Andes more than 7,000 years ago. It has been bred into thousands of different types since then.
The Four Corners potato, which may be the first example of a domesticated plant in the American West, could be used to make the current potato crop more resilient to drought and disease, it is believed.
Professor Lisbeth Louderback, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah and a senior author of a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said: “This potato could be just as important as those we eat today, not only in terms of a food plant from the past, but as a potential food source for the future.
“The potato has become a forgotten part of Escalante’s history. Our work is to help rediscover this heritage.”
S. jamesii is also highly nutritious with twice the amount of protein, zinc and manganese and three times the calcium and iron content as S. tuberosum.
Grown in ideal conditions in a greenhouse, a single “mother” tuber can produce 125 progeny tubers in six months.
Early European visitors to the Escalante area remarked on the potatoes.
Captain James Andrus wrote in August 1866: “We have found wild potatoes growing from which the valley takes its name.”
And a soldier, John Adams, wrote in the same year: “We gathered some wild potatoes which we cooked and ate … they were somewhat like the cultivated potato, but smaller.”

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Original article:

News.psu.edu

A’ndrea Elyse Messer
April 10, 2017

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Reconstructed food webs from the Ancestral Puebloan southwestern United States show the complexity and interconnectedness of humans, other animals, crops and the environment, in an area of uncertain climate and resources, according to researchers, who think climate change and human decisions then, may shed light on future human choices.

“As southwestern archaeologists, we know that Ancestral Puebloan people were intrinsically connected to the environment,” said Stefani Crabtree, postdoctoral fellow in human behavioral ecology in the Department of Anthropology, Penn State. “But, most food webs have omitted humans.”

Traditionally, food webs, while they map the interaction of all the animals and plants in an area, usually do not emphasize the human component. Crabtree and colleagues created a digital food web that captures all categories of consumers and consumed, can be defined for specific time periods and can also represent food webs after major food sources or predators disappear from the area. If an area suddenly becomes devoid of deer or humans or corn, for example, a food web of that situation can show where predators went to find prey, or which prey thrived for lack of a predator.

These knockout food webs — webs missing a specific predator or prey — show the changes and pressures on the food sources substituted for the missing ones, or the changes that occur when pressure is removed by removing a major consumer. The researchers report the results of their study today (Apr. 10) in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“When people show up in the area around A.D. 600 they bring corn,” said Crabtree. “It takes a while for critters to get used to it, but eventually, everything that eats vegetation, eats corn and prefers it.”

Humans bringing corn into an area is a major disruption of the existing food web. Planting corn means clearing fields to displace whatever plants and animals were there, creating a high-energy plant source of food and switching plant eaters to the preferred higher-calorie food source.

In the American Southwest, the Ancestral Puebloan people eventually preyed on their deer population enough so that they deer were no longer a reliable source of food. To compensate for this, they began to domesticate turkeys for food. Turkeys need to be fed corn if they are captive and that competes with corn for human consumption. At this time, corn made up 70 to 80 percent of Ancestral Puebloans’ food and so feeding turkeys altered the food web.

To create the food web, the team identified all the common, noninvasive species in the area. They then added species that were found in archaeological sites, but were absent from the modern lists. In some food webs, components are identified by their function, so all humming birds are considered flying pollinators, but in this case each type of humming bird received its own place in the web, linked to what it ate and what, if anything, ate it. This produced a very complicated web, but supplied exceptional redundancy.

 

“In the insect world it is harder to get at the data,” said Crabtree. “We have not been able to get at good databases so we aggregate at the functional level— pollinators or bloodsuckers for example.”

The exception to individual web entries then are invertebrates — insects, spiders, snails, etc. — that were classified by their function. Invertebrates are organized to the level of order and then grouped by function. With insects, for example, the researchers would group butterflies and moths that pollinated and sipped nectar, together in one group.

The overall food web had 334 nodes representing species or order-level functional groups with 11,344 links between predator and prey.

The researchers realize that there are differences in the environment between now and the Ancestral Puebloan period, but many things, such as pinon-juniper woodlands and sage flats are the same. Enough similarity exists for this approach to work.

The team did not produce just one overall food web, but also food webs corresponding to three archaeological locations and three time periods of Ancestral Pueblo occupation in the area — Grass Mesa Pueblo for Pueblo I, Albert Porter Pueblo for Pueblo II and Sand Canyon Pueblo for Pueblo III. They began with using archaeological assemblages from these sites incorporating all human prey and all human predators into the food web. Then they included the prey of the primary prey of humans and then predators of these human-prey species. Prey, in this case, includes animals, insects and plants.

When creating knockout food webs, the researchers included only those species that were found in reasonable quantities in the archaeological assemblages at those times.

“Knockout food webs are one of the best ways to understand how people interact with the environment,” said Crabtree. “Because we can remove something, predator or prey, and see what would happen.”

When major changes in climate variables such as drought, heat and lack of snowpack are factored in, the balance in the food web may become unstable. When food becomes scarce, most mobile creatures, animals and insects move to another location. During the time of the Ancestral Puebloans, this was possible and eventually, these people moved to the area of the Rio Grande in New Mexico and other places in New Mexico and Arizona.

“We didn’t have a long-term plan during the 600 years of Ancestral Pueblo habitation in the Mesa Verde region,” said Crabtree. “We don’t have a long-term plan today either. We don’t even have a four-year plan. Some people are pushing us to look closely at climate change.”

In the past, people migrated, said Crabtree. Unless we figure out better strategies, where are we going to migrate out to? We do not have a place to go, she said.

What people plant and eat has a great effect on the environment and on ecosystems. In the end, those choices will impact human survival, according to the researchers.

This work is part of a collaboration of researchers creating resolved food webs from a variety of places. Crabtree believes that she can compare this project to others that include humans in other geographical areas to help understand ecosystems with humans in them.

Also working on this project were Lydia J.S. Vaughn, graduate student, energy and resources group, University of California, Berkeley; and Nathan T. Crabtree, U.S. Forest Services.

The National Science Foundation and the Chateaubriand Fellowship funded this research.

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Original article:

Smithsonian.com

By Brigit Katz

4/5/17

The discovery of the 14,000-year-old village in Canada lends credence to the theory that humans arrived in North America from the coast.

Northwest Native American Fire Pit

The oral history of the Heiltsuk Nation, an Aboriginal group based on the Central Coast of British Columbia, tells of a coastal strip of land that did not freeze during the ice age, making it a place of refuge for early inhabitants of the territory. As Roshini Nair reports for the CBC, a recent archaeological discovery attests to an ancient human presence in the area associated with the tradition. While digging on British Columbia’s Triquet Island, archaeologists unearthed a settlement that dates to the period of the last ice age.
The archaeological team, supported by the Hakai Institute, sifted through meters of soil and peat before hitting upon the charred remains of an ancient hearth. Researchers painstakingly peeled away charcoal flakes, which were then carbon dated. In November, tests revealed that the hearth was some 14,000 years old, indicating that the area in which it was found is one of the oldest human settlements ever discovered in North America. Or as Randy Shore of the Vancouver Sun contextualizes, the village is “three times as old as the Great Pyramid at Giza.”
Alisha Gauvreau, a PhD student at the University of Victoria and a researcher with the Hakai Institute, presented the team’s findings at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archeology this week. She tells Shore that archaeologists also found a number of artifacts in the area: fish hooks, a hand drill for igniting fires, a wooden device for launching projectiles and a cache of stone tools near the hearth.
“It appears we had people sitting in one area making stone tools beside evidence of a fire pit,” Gauvreau says. “The material that we have recovered … has really helped us weave a narrative for the occupation of this site.”
These findings may have significant implications for our understanding of ancient human migration patterns. As Jason Daley reports for Smithsonian.com, the traditional story of human arrival to the Americas posits that some 13,000 years ago, stone-age people moved across a land bridge that connected modern-day Siberia to Alaska. But recent studies suggest that route did not contain enough resources for the earliest migrants to successfully make the crossing. Instead, some researchers say, humans entered North America along the coast.
In a radio interview with the CBC, Gauvreau says that the ancient settlement on Triquet Island “really adds additional evidence” to this theory. “[A]rchaeologists had long thought that … the coast would been completely uninhabitable and impassible when that is very clearly not the case,” she explains.
The discovery is also important to the Heiltsuk Nation, lending credence to oral traditions that place their ancestors in the region during the days of the ice age. “[I]t reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years,” William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, tells Nair. He added that the validation by “Western science and archeology” can help the Heiltsuk people as they negotiate with the Canadian government over title rights to their traditional territory.

 

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