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A) Modern distribution of the sweet potato family (yellow line) and genus (white line). B) Fossil leaf of Ipomoea meghalayensis. C) Modern leaf of Ipomoea eriocarpa, showing similar size, shape and vein pattern. Credit: Indiana University

 

 

 

Original Article:

physical.org

 

Sweet potatoes may seem as American as Thanksgiving, but scientists have long debated whether their plant family originated in the Old or New World. New research by an Indiana University paleobotanist suggests it originated in Asia, and much earlier than previously known.

IU Bloomington emeritus professor David Dilcher and colleagues in India identified 57-milion-year-old leaf fossils from eastern India as being from the morning glory family, which includes sweet potatoes and many other plants. The research suggests the family originated in the late Paleocene epoch in the East Gondwana land mass that became part of Asia.

“I think this will change people’s ideas,” Dilcher said. “It will be a data point that is picked up and used in other work where researchers are trying to find the time of the evolution of major groups of flowering plants.”

Previous fossil evidence had suggested the morning glory family may have originated in North America about 35 million years ago. But molecular analyses had supported the idea that it originated earlier and in the Old World. The new research provides evidence for that conclusion.

The discovery also suggests the morning glory family and the nightshade family, which includes potatoes and tomatoes, diverged earlier than previously thought. Together with the recent, separate discovery of 52-million-year-old nightshade fossils in Argentina, it suggests that morning glories developed in the East and nightshades in the West.

The 17 fossils analyzed in the study are the earliest recorded fossils for both the morning glory family, known as Convolvulaceae, and the order Solanales, which includes morning glories and nightshades.

Morning glory fossils are rare because the plants’ soft structure was not easily preserved in rocks.

Dilcher’s collaborators, Gaurav Srivastava and Rakesh C. Mehrotra of India’s Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, discovered the fossils in Meghalaya, a state in northeastern India.

The researchers used microscopic analysis of the shape and structure of the leaves, comparing details of the leaf veins and cells with plants in the genus Ipomoea. Using such analysis to examine evolutionary relationships has been a hallmark of Dilcher’s paleobotany research career.

The leaves the researchers studied are in the genus Ipomoea, which includes sweet potato but also hundreds of other plants, most of which don’t produce food for humans.

“We don’t know that these were sweet potatoes,” said Dilcher, emeritus professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and the Department of Biology in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences. “We can’t say there were delicious sweet potatoes there. There may have been, or there may not.”

The morning glory family is widely distributed in tropical and subtropical regions and includes about 57 plant genera and 1,880 species. The sweet potato is the world’s second most important root crop, and other members of the family are medicinally and culturally significant.

The study will publish online May 21 in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

 

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I found the following article written in 2017 while I was researching the post on fish traps I published last week. Some how I missed it last year. JLP

 

Rocks alignments representing the remains of an intertidal fish trap, Kodiak Island, Alaska. (Photo courtesy the Alutiiq Museum)

Original article:

Ktoo.org

A local archaeologist says there may be the remains of a historic Alutiiq fish trap on the north end of Kodiak Island.

Those types of man-made formations are rare to discover in the region, he said.

The Alutiiq Museum is in its second year of documenting ancestral sites on Afognak Native Corporation lands. Museum archaeology curator 

Patrick Saltonstall noticed something while surveying one area on the shoreline at low tide.

He identified it as a fish trap, which he calls a corral.

“They’re like stone walls on the inter-tidal zone so when the tide came in, all the fish went to go up stream, would float in over the corrals or the trap, and then when the tide went out, they’d be stranded in the pens, so then you catch a whole lot of fish.”

He says it can be challenging to determine whether a corral is natural or man-made, but he sees evidence of it being a fish trap.

“I could tell that there were some boulders that they used that there were there already, but almost all of it was bringing boulders in,” he said. “It’s like a wall, like 5 feet across and maybe 2 feet high now, but it was probably much higher (back) in the day.”

corral like this one on the island, but they’re common in southeast, which he said could because the people there used them more frequently.

“A lot of the places down there are more protected, they aren’t as open to the ocean as Kodiak is, so maybe the lower energy they tend to be preserved better,” he said. “Whereas in Kodiak after a big storm a lot of these things might get demolished.”

Archaeologists found what looks like petroglyphs nearby, he said, speckled dots and incised lines carved into slate.

“What the cool pattern is is they all seem to be associated with fishing localities,” Saltonstall said. “You look at the typical petroglyphs, you know with faces, whales, drummer, they’re associated more with whaling or with villages.”

It’s hard to determine the age of either the corral or the petroglyphs, but based on nearby archaeological sites, the carvings could be dated back to about 500 years ago.

 

 

 

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Museum archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall and helicopter pilot Keller Wattum document a petroglyph site on Afognak Island. (Photo courtesy Patrick Saltonstall)

Original article:

Mitch Borden, KMXT-KodiakMay 10, 2018

Ktoo.org

A routine assessment of  historical sites on Afognak Island by air turned into a day full of surprises.

Local researcher Patrick Saltonstall usually kayaks when he goes out to find and study archaeological sites around the Kodiak Archipelago.

Paddling can be a pretty slow way to travel. Recently Saltonstall got the chance to take to the air in a helicopter for a change.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so ecstatic after a survey, and it was really quick! You know, it was like one day and we found all this stuff that usually takes weeks.”

Alutiiq Museum archaeology curator Saltonstall made new discoveries on the trip.

One of them being a special Alutiiq fish trap, structures constructed along shorelines to corral fish.

The structure is only the second of its kind to be found in the region. The first was only discovered last year.

“It’s another one of these traps, we found one last summer, where when the fish come in, get over these walls and then when the tide goes out there are trapped.”

The traps are an estimated 500 years old.

Saltonstall said these types of devices can found all over Southeast Alaska. He suspects more and more will be found around Kodiak.

The only reason Saltonstall was able to find the second fish trap was the high vantage point from flying in the helicopter.

“I’d actually been there on survey and had found a village there and hadn’t seen the fish trap,” he said. “When we’re in the air you look down and I was like ‘ oh my god, it’s so obvious.”

The fish trap wasn’t the only big find of the day.

Saltonstall thinks some 100-foot-tall rock spires inhabited by puffins could have been defensive sites where hundreds of years ago people would wait and watch for enemies

It’s impressive to think about someone going out to these rock formations and climbing up so high, Saltonstall said.

“They must’ve had a rope ladder they built to get up and down and, probably, they were hoisting baskets of food up. It was kinda amazing.”

More research will have to be done on these new sites to learn more about them, but Saltonstall knows a lot more discoveries to be made around Kodiak.

He’d like to use helicopters more in the future to find them.

 

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Different varieties of sweet potato on display at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. The sweet potato originated in the Americas and spread across the globe. Robert Scotland

Many botanists argued that humans must have carried the valuable staple to the Pacific from South America. Not so, according to a new study.

Carl Zimmer APRIL 12, 2018

Nytimes.com

Of all the plants that humanity has turned into crops, none is more puzzling than the sweet potato. Indigenous people of Central and South America grew it on farms for generations, and Europeans discovered it when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean.

In the 18th century, however, Captain Cook stumbled across sweet potatoes again — over 4,000 miles away, on remote Polynesian islands. European explorers later found them elsewhere in the Pacific, from Hawaii to New Guinea.

The distribution of the plant baffled scientists. How could sweet potatoes arise from a wild ancestor and then wind up scattered across such a wide range? Was it possible that unknown explorers carried it from South America to countless Pacific islands?

An extensive analysis of sweet potato DNA, published on Thursday in Current Biology, comes to a controversial conclusion: Humans had nothing to do with it. The bulky sweet potato spread across the globe long before humans could have played a part — it’s a natural traveler.

Some agricultural experts are skeptical. “This paper does not settle the matter,” said Logan J. Kistler, the curator of archaeogenomics and archaeobotany at the Smithsonian Institution.

Alternative explanations remain on the table, because the new study didn’t provide enough evidence for exactly where sweet potatoes were first domesticated and when they arrived in the Pacific. “We still don’t have a smoking gun,” Dr. Kistler said.

The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is one of the most valuable crops in the world, providing more nutrients per farmed acre than any other staple. It has sustained human communities for centuries. (In North America, it often is referred to as a yam; in fact, yams are a different species originating in Africa and Asia.)

Scientists have offered a number of theories to explain the wide distribution of I. batatas. Some scholars proposed that all sweet potatoes originated in the Americas, and that after Columbus’s voyage, they were spread by Europeans to colonies such as the Philippines. Pacific Islanders acquired the crops from there.

As it turned out, though, Pacific Islanders had been growing the crop for generations by the time Europeans showed up. On one Polynesian island, archaeologists have found sweet potato remains dating back over 700 years.

A radically different hypothesis emerged: Pacific Islanders, masters of open-ocean navigation, picked up sweet potatoes by voyaging to the Americas, long before Columbus’s arrival there. The evidence included a suggestive coincidence: In Peru, some indigenous people call the sweet potato cumara. In New Zealand, it’s kumara.

A potential link between South America and the Pacific was the inspiration for Thor Heyerdahl’s famous 1947 voyage aboard the Kon-Tiki. He built a raft, which he then successfully sailed from Peru to the Easter Islands.

Genetic evidence only complicated the picture. Examining the plant’s DNA, some researchers concluded that sweet potatoes arose only once from a wild ancestor, while other studies indicated that it happened at two different points in history.

According to the latter studies, South Americans domesticated sweet potatoes, which were then acquired by Polynesians. Central Americans domesticated a second variety that later was picked up by Europeans.

Hoping to shed light on the mystery, a team of researchers recently undertook a new study — the biggest survey of sweet potato DNA yet. And they came to a very different conclusion.

“We find very clear evidence that sweet potatoes could arrive in the Pacific by natural means,” said Pablo Muñoz-Rodríguez, a botanist at the University of Oxford. He believes the wild plants traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific without any help from humans.

Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez and his colleagues visited museums and herbariums around the world to take samples of sweet potato varieties and wild relatives. The researchers used powerful DNA-sequencing technology to gather more genetic material from the plants than possible in earlier studies.

Their research pointed to only one wild plant as the ancestor of all sweet potatoes. The closest wild relative is a weedy flower called Ipomoea trifida that grows around the Caribbean. Its pale purple flowers look a lot like those of the sweet potato.

Instead of a massive, tasty tuber, I. trifida grows only a pencil-thick root. “It’s nothing we could eat,” Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

The ancestors of sweet potatoes split from I. trifida at least 800,000 years ago, the scientists calculated. To investigate how they arrived in the Pacific, the team headed to the Natural History Museum in London.

The leaves of sweet potatoes that Captain Cook’s crew collected in Polynesia are stored in the museum’s cabinets. The researchers cut bits of the leaves and extracted DNA from them.

The Polynesian sweet potatoes turned out to be genetically unusual — “very different from anything else,” Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

The sweet potatoes found in Polynesia split off over 111,000 years ago from all other sweet potatoes the researchers studied. Yet humans arrived in New Guinea about 50,000 years ago, and only reached remote Pacific islands in the past few thousand years.

The age of Pacific sweet potatoes made it unlikely that any humans, Spanish or Pacific Islander, carried the species from the Americas, Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

Traditionally, researchers have been skeptical that a plant like a sweet potato could travel across thousands of miles of ocean. But in recent years, scientists have turned up signs that many plants have made the voyage, floating on the water or carried in bits by birds.

Even before the sweet potato made the journey, its wild relatives traveled the Pacific, the scientists found. One species, the Hawaiian moonflower, lives only in the dry forests of Hawaii — but its closest relatives all live in Mexico.

The scientists estimate that the Hawaiian moonflower separated from its relatives — and made its journey across the Pacific — over a million years ago.

But Tim P. Denham, an archaeologist at the Australian National University who was not involved in the study, found this scenario hard to swallow.

It would suggest that the wild ancestors of sweet potatoes spread across the Pacific and were then domesticated many times over — yet wound up looking the same every time. “This would seem unlikely,” he said.

Dr. Kistler argued that it was still possible that Pacific Islanders voyaged to South America and returned with the sweet potato.

A thousand years ago, they might have encountered many sweet potato varieties on the continent. When Europeans arrived in the 1500s, they likely wiped out much of the crop’s genetic diversity.

As a result, Dr. Kistler said, the surviving sweet potatoes of the Pacific only seem distantly related to the ones in the Americas. If the scientists had done the same study in 1500, Pacific sweet potatoes would have fit right in with other South American varieties.

Dr. Kistler was optimistic that the sweet potato debate would someday be settled. The world’s herbariums contain a vast number of varieties that have yet to be genetically tested.

“There are more than we could look at in a lifetime,” Dr. Kistler said.

For his part, Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez plans on searching for more wild sweet potato relatives in Central America, hoping to get more clues to how exactly a thin-rooted weed gave rise to an invaluable crop.

Working out the history of crops like this could do more than satisfy our curiosity about the past. Wild plants hold a lot of genetic variants lost when people domesticated crops.

Researchers may find plants they can hybridize with domesticated sweet potatoes and other crops, endowing them with genes for resistance to diseases, or for withstanding climate change.

“Essentially, it’s preserving the gene pool that feeds the world,” Dr. Kistler said.

Caption1 The distribution of the sweet potato plant has baffled scientists. How could the plant arise from a wild ancestor in the Americas and wind up on islands across the Pacific? Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Caption2 Different varieties of sweet potato on display at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. The sweet potato originated in the Americas and spread across the globe. Robert Scotland

Link https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/science/sweet-potato-pacific-dna.html

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Researchers stored 17th-century foodstuffs aboard the 19th-century tall ship Elissa as part of an investigation into how well food preservation worked during the age of discovery. Photo by age fotostock/Alamy Stock Photo

 

An unprecedented archaeology experiment is putting historical shipboard food and drink to the test.

Original article:

Hakaimagazine.com

by Jeremy Hsu

In 1619, a hurricane sank the English merchant ship Warwick in Bermuda’s Castle Harbor. The struggling settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, were desperately awaiting the shipload of fresh supplies, and keenly felt the loss. Almost 400 years later, artifacts from the wreck are helping archaeologist Grace Tsai uncover if unrefrigerated food and drink remained edible and nutritious during long sea voyages.

Since 2012, Tsai, a doctoral candidate in nautical archaeology at Texas A&M University, has been studying archaeological records of provisions from three different shipwrecks from the 16th and 17th centuries and analyzing shipboard diets based on modern nutritional guidelines.

Now, Tsai and her colleagues are going one step further: for two months, they stored period-accurate provisions aboard the closest thing to the Warwick they could find—the 19th-century tall ship Elissa, docked in Galveston, Texas.

“The whole premise is to see how things age aboard ships,” Tsai says. Researchers, including her, have typically studied how to prepare food based on historical recipes, “but nobody has been testing how well they lasted on a transatlantic voyage.”

The two-month shipboard study took place from August to October 2017, and included its own hurricane scare, when Harvey swept through just a week into the experiment.

Now, Tsai and her colleagues are back in the lab, analyzing the provisions’ surviving nutritional value and investigating the microbes that grew on them. Chemical analyses could even reveal any remaining—or acquired—flavors.

Yet before they could get to this point, Tsai and her team had to make all the foodstuffs that would have sustained a 17th-century English sailor, such as salted meats, peas, oatmeal, tough ship biscuits, beer, wine, and a barrel of natural spring water. The project also included a variety of heirloom rice, which was more common in the diets of Spanish or Portuguese sailors.

To better understand the salted meats, Tsai traveled to Bermuda to study animal bones recovered from the Warwick’s wreck. Her examination of butcher marks on cattle bones helped her identify the best size to cut beef to enable preservation. The team also imported sea salt from Guérande, France, a region that has been producing salt for more than 1,000 years, which remains a chefs’ favorite.

Previously, scientists have tried to re-create food and drink from various historical periods. But independent experts agree that this project is an unprecedented experiment in maritime archaeology.

“[The experiment] would certainly be the closest we could come to replicating the stowage conditions of a sailing ship in that environment,” says Chuck Meide, director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program in Florida.

James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist and senior vice president at SEARCH, an independent archaeological consultancy in Florida, agrees. “While we’ve studied food waste and food based on archaeological remains, this is the first time, as far as I know, that someone has done experimental archaeology with shipboard provisions from that period.”

After their stint in the Elissa’s hold, many of the provisions still seem edible. For safety reasons, nobody will actually be tasting the experimental results, but the baked ship biscuits are in the best shape by far, a testament to their legendary hardiness. The salted beef, however, has taken on a pinkish center resembling prosciutto. It has a pungent smell, says Tsai, though it isn’t rotten.

A big exception is the natural spring water, which has turned cloudy with greenish bits and “smelled pretty disgusting,” Tsai says. Sailors may have preferred quenching their thirst with beer and wine, which remained more palatable. Still, a surprising amount of lingering yeast fermentation and carbonation caused the beer barrel to leak and grow mold.

Yet the biggest surprise came from the diversity of microbes found in some of the food. Early genomic sequencing analyses, mostly from the salted beef, suggest that many of the bacteria are neither illness-causing pathogens nor beneficial probiotics—most seem to be relatively neutral. The unexpected microbial bounty, however, has forced the researchers to expand their genomic sequencing efforts.

Even though no one is eating the food and drink stored aboard the Elissa, the team is organizing a fundraising event aboard the ship later this month to sample beer based on the historical recipe.

The event illustrates the project’s benefits beyond the research findings by getting more people interested in history and archaeology, says Meide. “There is something compelling about literally re-creating the past in order to learn about it.”

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Beer made an old-fashioned way is shown at Barn Hammer Brewing Company in Winnipeg on Tuesday. (David Lipnowski/Canadian Press)

 

Barn Hammer Brewing Company head brewer Brian Westcott, left to right, University of Winnipeg associate professor and chair of classics Matt Gibbs, and Barn Hammer owner Tyler Birch pose Tuesday for a photo after they teamed up to recreate an ancient beer the old-fashioned way. (David Lipnowski/Canadian Press)

This Article was brought to my attention by a reader in Winnipeg!

My greatful thanks, this is indeed impressive. 

JLP

 

Original Article:

Cbc.ca

The brewers were able to stay close to the original process and the ingredients were available — and legal
An idea that began when a classicist went to a brewery to sip beers and ponder the history of hops has brought to life an ancient ale.
It took hours of translating, milling and baking, but ale experimenters in Winnipeg have finally sipped a beer created from a fourth-century Egyptian alchemist’s recipe.
“If you expect this to taste like a modern beer, you are not going to find that,” said Matt Gibbs, chair of the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Classics.

“This beer is very, very sour. It’s good. It’s much better than I thought it was when we first did it, I will say that much, but it’s different.”
Gibbs got the idea while sitting at a bar talking about old beers with a pair of brewmasters.
The original recipe was found in the book, The Barbarian’s Beverage: A History of Beer in Ancient Europe, by Max Nelson at the University of Windsor. It was chosen because Gibbs figured he could stay close to the original process and, unlike some of the other recipes, the ingredients were available and legal.
Gibbs received permission to translate the recipe out of ancient Greek and then got to work with brewers Tyler Birch and Brian Westcott, co-owners of Barn Hammer Brewing Co. in Winnipeg.
First, they made a sourdough bread from water and barley flour milled by hand. It took 18 hours to bake the loaves at a heat low enough that the enzymes essential for beer-making stayed alive.
The loaves were then submerged in a fermenter at Barn Hammer.
The only major differences from the original recipe was that a stainless steel fermenter was used and the barley wasn’t malted on a roof in the sun.
Weeks went by and the experiment slowly turned from a murky mix to a pristine pint.
“After tasting the bread they made, I thought we were going to have something really disgusting, but it turned out really well,” Birch said.
“I’m actually blown away by how good it is. It’s actually very drinkable.”
It’s not what most people would consider a beer and tastes more like a sour cider with hints of raisin or apple. The drink is flat because there was no carbonation more than 1,000 years ago. The brewers figure the alcohol content is about three per cent, similar to modern light beer.

The brew is not for sale — yet — but they are open to marketing an ancient batch in the future.
The ale is the beginning of research into how it and other beers were consumed by ancient societies. The initial batch has demonstrated how much brews have changed as technology around beer-making developed, Gibbs said.
“There were things we learned in terms of taste and technology and in processing, but I think the most important one was taste,” he said.
“The simple taste of that makes it quite clear how much the palate has changed over 2,000 years.”

 

 

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The 4,000-year-old complex may have been used to house important officials visiting from the royal capital in Memphis.

Original Article :

ibtimes.co.uk

The excavation site at Tell Edfu (with the temple of Horus and the modern town of Edfu in the background)G Marouard/University of Chicago

The excavation site at Tell Edfu (with the temple of Horus and the modern town of Edfu in the background)G Marouard/University of Chicago

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered two large buildings that they believe may have been the earliest major structures in the Tel Edfu region. Led by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, researchers found the structures while engaged in a long-term dig at the site located on the west bank of the Nile River.

Located 400 miles south of Cairo, the well-preserved buildings date back around 2400-2350 BCE in the late Fifth Dynasty of Egypt and indicate a turning point in the pharaoh’s interest in developing provincial regions outside of the major cities.

The large complex may have been used to accommodate important officials from the capital Memphis, who visited the area to oversee mining of precious metals and gems from the surrounding deserts. Archaeologists have been able to identify that parts of the structure were used for making beer and bread as well as for smelting copper.

“It’s a wonderful find because we have so little information about this era of settlement in the southern provinces,” Nadine Moeller, associate professor of Egyptian archaeology, who leads the excavation together with Oriental Institute research associate Gregory Marouard, said. “We don’t know any such similar complex for the Old Kingdom.”

The Oriental Institute has been conducting excavations at Tel Edfu for the past 16 years, and late last year discovered two other mud structures that may have been used as an administrative complex. The buildings which were discovered in December 2017 were surrounded by open courtyards and workshops. The complex itself had storage spaces where over 200 broken clay sealings used to mark boxes, containers and letters were discovered.

“It’s just about this time that the Egyptian royalty, until then focused on the northern area directly around the capital Memphis, began to expand its reach after a period of contraction during the fourth and much of the fifth dynasties,” Moeller said. “This is a first sign that the ancient city of Edfu was evolving into an important departure point for large expeditions leaving for the Eastern desert regions, and possibly the Red Sea shore, located about 125 miles to the east.”

Researchers believe the buildings may also have had religious or cult ties, given their proximity to a temple 20 yards away.

While archaeologists continue to identify and study the urban planning of the region, they are puzzled by the level of preservation of the structures. Unlike most other sites that were raided for their bricks, the eight-foot thick walls of this complex were never recycled. Additionally, given the scarcity of wood in Egypt, the entrance door was also left intact.

Another subject of interest is the architectural style used. The largest building in the area has outer façades with a very distinct slope, a style that was not popular in ancient Egypt.

“It’s very well-constructed and so the slope is certainly intentional, which highlights the architectural peculiarity of this monument,” Marouard said. “We don’t know of any other structure within an urban context in Egypt that looks like this.”

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