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Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

on this day ten years ago…
via Squash Cultivated 10,000 Years Ago

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On this day ten years ago…

via Maize may have fueled ancient Andean civilization

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On this day ten years ago…

via Ancient humans left evidence from the party that ended 4,000 years ago

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Maximilian Blackley
Adding the liquid yeast sample to flour made from ancient grains

Maximilian Blackley
The final product had a “cake-like” crumb, Mr Blakeley says

 

By Alix Kroeger BBC News

BBC.com

I have to say this is an exciting article for bread and ancient food lovers. My only wish is that they used Emmer grain, which is what the ancient Egyptian’s would have used, instead of Einkorn. JLP

 

The yeast microbes had been asleep for more than 5,000 years, buried deep in the pores of Egyptian ceramics, by the time Seamus Blackley came along and used them to bake a loaf of bread.

An amateur Egyptologist and one of the inventors of the Xbox game console, he’s also a keen hobby baker who routinely posts pictures of his breadmaking projects on social media.

He has, he admits, made his fair share of “horrible, rock-like loaves”. But this experiment was in a different league altogether.

The first step was to extract the yeast without destroying the vessels where it was held. With the help of archaeologist Dr Serena Love, Mr Blackley gained access to the collections of Egyptian beer- and bread-making vessels held in two museums in the US city of Boston.

And he enlisted the help of microbiologist Richard Bowman, a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa, to extract and identify the strains of yeast.

Mr Bowman injected nutrients into the ceramics, feeding the dormant yeasts and extracting the resulting liquid. Most of the samples were sent off for laboratory analysis, but Mr Blackley kept one back.

Using water, ancient grains and sterilised containers, he cultivated the starter for a week.

In order to get as close as possible to what the Egyptians would have recognised as bread, Mr Blackley fed the yeasts with grain he’d milled himself from barley and einkorn, an early form of wheat domesticated about 10,000 years ago.

“While this culture was sleeping, modern wheat was invented,” Mr Blackley explains. The oldest of the pyramids at Giza was built about 4,500 years ago – by that time, these yeast strains were already about 700 years old.

“It smelled very different from modern starters,” he says. “The bubbles were smaller: less pungent, but more active.”

But as any sourdough baker will tell you, yeasts are in the air and only need a suitable host or starter to multiply. So how to make sure that this really was Egyptian yeast, and not some modern interloper?

Previous experiments had used yeast samples scraped off the surfaces of pots, but these could easily be contaminated. An Israeli experiment had succeeded in extracting yeast from inside, but only by using methods destructive of the vessels themselves.

To rule out contamination, the yeast samples were sent off for genome sequencing. Some modern yeast strains have already been sequenced, making it possible to identify markers of modernity.

Mr Bowman admits he was surprised to get results so quickly from the first sampling, but the ability of yeast to lie dormant is well-known.

“The culture can go to sleep and be brought back,” he told the BBC. “Yeasts are very robust creatures.”

The ancient grains are more difficult to bake with, because they contain very little gluten, but Mr Blackley says the yeast “loved” them: “They created a nice structure and a cake-like crumb – very soft.”

The bread had a caramel aroma – sweeter than a modern sourdough. Mr Blackley scored the risen dough with a hieroglyph representing a loaf of bread.

This loaf was baked in a conventional kitchen oven, but as archaeologist Dr Love explains, the ancient Egyptians actually baked in heated ceramic pots.

In the next stage of the project, she and Mr Blakeley will work with ceramicists to recreate ancient Egyptian-style pots and start baking in them.

The impromptu research team already have permission from one more museum to extract yeast samples and have approached two other collections.

The idea is to collect yeast samples from the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, which are each separated by 500 to 700 years, and bake with all of them.

Mr Bowman will sequence the genomes to track the genetic drift across the centuries.

“This is exactly the kind of stuff that archaeology is intended to do,” Dr Love enthuses. However, she adds: “This is grounded in science. This will be published in an academic journal.”

So are there any plans to develop the ancient yeasts for a wider audience?

“I was telling my fiancee about this – she went all quiet, but she works in marketing and she was trying to figure out a way to market this,” Mr Bowman says. “We’d like to do something to sell it – perhaps collect ancient recipes.”

For his part, Mr Blackley – who has studied hieroglyphs in sufficient depth to be able to translate them – robustly defends ancient Egypt from calumnies upon its cooking methods.

“This was a great civilisation and gastronomic tradition. The Pharaoh was the emperor of all the known earth. Now we can recreate their methods and share bread with them.”

 

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Lama

Forbes.com

 

An archaeologist working at a site along the north coast of Peru recently discovered a cooking pot carefully buried under a house floor. The simple, well-used pot contained portions of a llama’s face as well as a mishmash of other ingredients that may have been chosen for what they represented rather than how they tasted.

The pot was discovered at Wasi Huachuma, a site dating to between 600-850 AD. This period of history involved increased urbanization, irrigation, and other changes to the Moche culture in Peru. By the end of the era, environmental and political instability had led to interpersonal conflict. Wasi Huachuma was positioned just a few kilometers from three different centers of power in this unstable environment, and itself had seven distinct sectors. The most complex part of the site included residential structures, terraces, and a cemetery.

Underneath one house floor in this complex sector was a standard cooking pot, “on its side, with the mouth opening to the east and splash zone of botanical and faunal materials surrounding it,” found by archaeologist Guy Duke of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who published his analysis in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Its shape, he noticed, was similar to those found elsewhere in this time period in Peru, often used for boiling and brewing chicha (corn beer) and stews.

The pot was not a new one; Duke saw evidence of burning on the outside and inside that suggested it had been used before. And the contents of the pot were surprising. Duke reports that he found bones from domestic animals in the pot, including guinea pig and llama that had been raised locally. Additionally, maize, common beans, squash, potato, and chili pepper were found, along with crabs, flathead mullet, and the plant coca.

“While the method of cooking was simple – add ingredients plus water to the pot, heat to boil,” Duke says,  “understanding how and whether to apply particular knowledge was dependent on the material.” For example, butchering the llama to extract the jaw piece requires different skills than cleaning a deep sea fish or preparing potatoes and squash. Even more importantly, most of the stew’s ingredients had ritual significance based on what archaeologists know about the Moche culture. Camelids like llamas produced wool, were eaten, and were also ritually important; maize or corn figures into Moche iconography; fish were sometimes burial offerings.

All of these ingredients, while commonly eaten, did not add up to any known Moche stew recipe. Because the stew pot was buried underneath a house, purposefully marked by a stone, Duke surmises that “the vessel and its contents were a dedicatory offering of some sort.” He explains that “this deposit, in this location, was purposeful, intentional, and laden with meaning. Each element of it was chosen from an array of materials available, some from the local fields and seas, some from much further afield, though not necessarily any less familiar. The materials assembled in this dedicatory deposit neatly bundle together the various geographic and environmental regions accessed by the Moche.”

Zooarchaeologist Tanya Peres of Florida State University is impressed by Duke’s work, telling me that his research “is critical in teaching us about the nuanced ways in which food items, cookware, and culinary tools, when analyzed contextually, lend us information about foodways, social and ceremonial meanings.” Peres is particularly intrigued by what the pot may have meant to the person or people who put it there. “Were the animal and plant remains placed in the vessel at different points in the Moche calendars? Might this be evidence of an older generation maintaining the old customs? Or a younger generation adopting new ways of practicing Moche culture?”

Duke essentially sees the pot and its stew as an “amalgam of products with a variety of social significances, from the practical to the supernatural, all of which were part of the everyday lived experience of a Moche person.” Peres agrees and notes that “the way Duke tells the story of the pot, the entirety of Moche culinary knowledge is wrapped up in this one vessel. It is a compelling, evidence-based foodways story.”

While the discovery of the stew pot and its contents is unique in ancient Peru, Duke believes that “the convergences of these foods, these practices, at this obscure site highlight the intricate interconnectedness of the surrounding area and the regions beyond. This singular deposit encapsulates the role of the everyday in the special and, perhaps even more importantly, the special in the everyday.”

 

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Wari brewed beer with pepper berries. Donna Nash

 

The Wari empire, an ancient Peruvian civilization that predated the Inca, made advances in agriculture, art, architecture, and warfare. They also drank a ton of beer.

According to archaeologists, Wari breweries—largely managed by women—played a major role in spreading the empire’s influence across diverse communities throughout Peru during its height between 450 and 1,000 C.E.

“We’re trying to understand how Wari civilization sustained itself for so long,” says Ryan Williams, an archaeologist at the Field Museum in Chicago. At their peak, Wari controlled a strip of land in modern-day Peru between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific coast. It stretched the same length as the distance between Jacksonville, Florida, and New York City. While the empire collapsed before European colonizers arrived in South America, they had an early influence on the development of the Inca—Williams compares it to the Greeks settling in Italy and helping give rise to the Roman Empire.

Because Wari people never had contact with Europeans and didn’t have their own written language, much of what we know about them comes from archaeological records. Williams says it wasn’t until 1950 that archaeologists were able to identify the Wari capital city, which allowed them to understand the scope of the empire. Now, researchers have excavated sites hundreds of miles away, and one thing has stood out: breweries—they’re everywhere. Williams’ team’s study, published this past Thursday in Sustainability, focuses on one at Cerro Baúl, a town at the southern edge of the empire hundreds of miles from the capital.

Williams says his team was interested in how Wari created a unique culture around beer to unify otherwise disparate groups of people throughout their territory. It’s a classic case of bringing people together through drinking and merriment, but scaled way, way up.

“Institutions around beermaking played a role in creating the glue that binds societies together,” Williams says.

Civilizations began producing alcoholic beverages, in some cases, before they created written languages. Archaeologists believe early hominids first got a taste for booze by eating fruits that had fallen from trees and naturally fermented over time. In 2018, researchers unearthed 13,000 year-old mortars from a cave in Israel that suggested humans were even making beer before they cultivated cereal crops for bread.

Archaeologists have found evidence of fermented beverage production in sites around the globe, and most of these processes are believed to have sprung up independently from each other. From rice wine in China to barley beer in Iran, it seemed you weren’t a real civilization until you had your own proverbial liquor label.

The Wari variety was chicha: a slowly brewed, beer-like fermented beverage typically made from corn that’s still produced today in South America. The brewery at Cerro Baúl made it for four centuries, surviving any environmental or social problems that may have arisen to become what Williams calls the best-preserved Wari brewery found to date. Brewers would produce 1,500 to 2,000 liters of the stuff at a time and throw multi-day, community-wide drinking festivals to consume it.

The team believes that these breweries were so resilient because they produced their own materials instead of importing them from a central capital. By completing a chemical analysis of pottery fragments found at Cerro Baúl, they found that the clay came from local sources while still retaining common Wari iconography.

The chemical analysis was also able to find tiny traces of biomarkers on the pottery associated with chicha de molle, a specific type of chicha made from fermented pepper berries. Excavators also found remnants of discarded pepper berries that had previously been used for brewing. While today’s chicha is usually corn-based, the majority of samples analyzed at Cerro Baúl are the pepper berry variety. Williams says this wasn’t a coincidence: pepper berry trees can survive droughts, making them ideal for the wide range of environments that the Wari empire would’ve encompassed.

Williams says the pepper berry is a common ingredient in most chicha brewing practices, along with the pottery the chicha would be served in, became the Wari brand. The envy of marketing departments everywhere, the beer was cohesive enough to communicate a shared political experience but adaptable enough for communities to sustainably produce it for centuries.

“Even in environmentally bad times, [Wari] could continue to kind of maintain this interaction with their population through this production of beer,” Williams says.

But, of course, researchers couldn’t be sure until they tried making the beer themselves. That’s where Donna Nash, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, got to unleash the beermaker within: She needed to reproduce the chicha to provide something to compare with the biomarkers found in the pottery fragments. She also wanted to see if Wari would’ve been able to make chicha at a smaller, household scale, which would’ve made the process even more accessible and, therefore, more widespread.

Nash worked with a local woman for about a month, who taught her how to brew both the corn and pepper berry chicha varieties using a process very similar to how Wari would’ve done it. She then compared the final product and the materials used to what the team found at the archaeological site.

“Making molle, you can actually do it in a single day,” Nash says. They first had to pick and winnow pepper berries that were ripe enough to have turned a caramel color. Then, they put the berries in a pot of boiling water and allowed it to steep like tea, taste-testing it every so often for optimal sweetness. They drained the berries out with cheesecloth and allowed the steeped water to sit in a cool, dark place for about five days.

“People who were brewing the chicha were probably also making thin, gauzy textiles to do the straining,” Nash says, though fabrics made out of organic material in archaeological ruins typically decay before they’re excavated. Some scholars, she says, have suggested that the relatively low-commitment pepper berry chicha brewing process could have been adopted by individual households, cementing Wari identity beyond the breweries.

The research wouldn’t have been complete without tasting the chicha. Nash says it’s surprisingly sweet, more like a cider than, say, a craft beer—there are no hops, and boiling the berries releases pockets of sugary resin. Whatever the taste, Nash and the rest of the team’s research suggests that chicha was instrumental in keeping the Wari empire together for so long.

“If you’re a little tipsy, most people are friendlier. And the experience of drinking together certainly does make those social bonds,” Nash says. “Also, we can’t ignore the way that ritual beliefs and behaviors are embedded in a lot of other things that these folks would have been doing.”

Archaeologists excavating civilizations around the globe have found that alcohol wasn’t just a way for our ancestors to get buzzed—in many cases, it occupied a significant place in society. Beer and wine were present in myths and offerings to the gods in Greece, and Rome, and were even used to pay the workers who built Ancient Egypt’s pyramids. Nash says that even when her team began research at Cerro Baúl, they performed a ceremonial offering to the land with beer in order to respect local traditions.

John W. Arthur, an anthropology professor at the University of South Florida, wrote in a piece for Anthropology Now, “Beer binds people together and serves to reinforce social hospitality and communality during ceremonial and everyday activities.”

Williams says archaeologists have yet to find Wari breweries that were still in use after the empire collapsed, which he believes points to their crucial role in fostering connections between what would have otherwise been politically fragmented groups.

“When the Wari state collapses, in these areas there are no big brewing facilities left,” he says. “People tend to start to move up into small, fortified hilltop villages, they’re starting to raid against each other.”

Nash says the research speaks to how seemingly small features of a society can help hold it together. Pepper berries could be easily propagated and grown throughout differing environments in Peru, and household chicha was simple enough to make in small batches without the need for too much fuel to brew it. Nash says this wasn’t a coincidence, and that the Wari were aware of how adaptable (and therefore influential) this practice could be for communities that would’ve otherwise had little in common with them.

“It shows us that local sourcing based on large shared ideas can provide the sustainable resources for political unification over very long periods of time,” Williams says.

Were Wari so successful because being constantly tipsy off homemade beer helped them get along better? Probably not—this research suggests beer may have been more potent as a cultural concept rather than an alcohol. But a few Peruvian brewskis couldn’t have hurt.

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A network of fish ponds supported a permanent human settlement in the seasonal drylands of Bolivia more than one thousand years ago, according to a new study published May 15, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriela Prestes-Carneiro of Federal University of Western Para, Brazil, and colleagues.

Source: Ancient fish ponds in the Bolivian savanna supported human settlement

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