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 Findings may help illuminate understanding of plant domestication and cultivation in the Andes Mountains. Josue Hermoza, Wikimedia Commons

Findings may help illuminate understanding of plant domestication and cultivation in the Andes Mountains. Josue Hermoza, Wikimedia Commons

Original Article:

popular-archaeology.com

Researchers provide evidence for the early cultivation and use of potato (Solanum tuberosum) at an archaeological site in the Andes Mountains of south-central Peru. Studying the domestication of the potato, an important crop in the high Andes, could help illuminate the development of highland Andean culture, but limited direct botanical evidence of potato domestication in the region has hindered research efforts. Claudia Rumold and Mark Aldenderfer* collected microbotanical samples from groundstone tools from Jisakairumoko, a site situated in the western Titicaca Basin of Peru that reflects a transition from sedentism to food production. On 14 groundstone tools, the authors found 141 starch microremains, and microscope photographs and subsequent taxonomic identification revealed that 50 of the starch granules were of Solanum origin. The potato starches were similar in size to modern potato starches, and anthropogenic wear on the starches was consistent with culinary processing methods. The findings might help us understand the development of food production in Jisakaurumoko, and more broadly, illuminate plant domestication and cultivation in the Andes Mountains.

 

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Yeast microbes from the world’s oldest bottle of beer — a 220-year-old bottle found in one of Australia’s earliest shipwrecks — are being used to create a new, modern beer with the characteristic taste of the 18th-century brew.

Source: Oldest Beer Brewed from Shipwrecks 220-Year-Old Yeast Microbes

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 Humans living in Argentina 14,000 years ago were hunting giant armadillos. This one looks especially grumpy.

Humans living in Argentina 14,000 years ago were hunting giant armadillos. This one looks especially grumpy.

 

Original Article:

By ANNALEE NEWITZ

arstechnica.com

 

A glimpse of the last people on Earth to colonize a continent without humans.

 

For more than a decade, evidence has been piling up that humans colonized the Americas thousands of years before the Clovis people. The Clovis, who are the early ancestors of today’s Native Americans, left abundant evidence of their lives behind in the form of tools and graves. But the mysterious pre-Clovis humans, who likely arrived 17,000 to 15,000 years ago, have left only a few dozen sources of evidence for their existence across the Americas, mostly at campsites where they processed animals during hunting trips. Now a fresh examination of one such campsite, a 14,000-year-old hunter’s rest stop outside the city of Tres Arroyos in Argentina, has given us a new understanding of how the pre-Clovis people might have lived.

Archaeologists are still uncertain how the pre-Clovis people arrived in the Americas. They came after the end of the ice age but at a time when glaciers and an icy, barren environment would still have blocked easy entrance into the Americas via Northern Canada. So it’s extremely unlikely that they marched over a land bridge from Siberia and into the Americas through the middle of the continent—instead, they would have come from Asia via a coastal route, frequently using boats for transport. That would explain why many pre-Clovis sites are on the coast, on islands, or on rivers that meet the ocean.
These early settlers were hunter-gatherers who used stone tools for a wide range of activities, including hunting, butchery, scraping hides, preparing food, and making other tools out of bone and wood. Many of the pre-Clovis stone tools look fairly simple and were made by using one stone to flake pieces off the other, thus creating sharp edges. At the campsite in Argentina, known as the Arroyo Seco 2 site, archaeologists have found more than 50 such tools made from materials like chert and quartzite. They’re scattered across an area that was once a grassy knoll above a deep lake, which is rich with thousands of animal bone fragments that have been carbon dated to as early as 14,000 years ago. There are even a couple-dozen human burials at the site, dated to a later period starting roughly 9,000 years ago. The spot has the characteristic look of a hunter’s camp, used for processing animals, that was revisited seasonally for thousands of years.

Writing in PLoS One, the researchers describe a number of reasons why a bunch of sharp-edged rocks and broken animal bones point to a 14,000-year-old human occupation of Argentina. First of all, there are far too many animal bones from a diversity of species grouped in one place for it to be accidental. Yes, there are some natural traps where we find massive numbers of prehistoric bones, but those are almost always in holes or depressions in the ground—and this area was on a rather high hill during the Pleistocene. Second, the stones aren’t just sharp-edged in a way that suggests flaking; many also show signs of wear and tear from scraping hide. “A large majority of the flaked edges were used transversely on dry skin,” the researchers write. “Consequently, it is likely that the skins were brought to the site in a state of intermediate processing.” Also, most of the stone used for the tools, including quartzite and chert, can only be found over 110km from Arroyo Seco. So that piece of evidence also points to human hunter-gatherers carrying tools with them over great distances.
The Pleistocene diet

One question remains. How can we be sure the tools at the site really are 14,000 years old? Archaeologists infer some of this from carbon dates on the animal bones, which have been tested by several labs around the world. The problem is that the site’s stratigraphy, or historical layers, are difficult to read due to erosion at the site. So even if a tool appears right next to a bone in a given layer, it may have come from later and been moved around by wind and water. That said, there is evidence that some of the early bones were broken by stone tools. A 14,000-year-old bone from Equus neogeus, an extinct American horse, bears distinct marks from a hammerstone. “This bone was intentionally broken while still fresh,” note the researchers.

With a firm connection between the human tools and the animal bones found at Arroyo Seco, we can begin to piece together what everyday life was like for these people—at least at mealtime. Analysis of more than 600 bone fragments out of thousands found at the site revealed that a large amount of these people’s meat came from animals that no longer exist. Various extinct horse species were a major part of the pre-Clovis diet, as were other extinct mammals like giant ground sloths, camels, mammoths, and giant armadillos. When these people arrived in South America, they found a land that no human had ever colonized. Many of these species would have been easy pickings for well-organized bands of hunters with sophisticated languages, tools, and tactics. Some paleoecologists hypothesize that these animals went extinct partly due to human hunting, and this campsite definitely provides evidence that extinct animals were part of the pre-Clovis diet for millennia. That said, Arroyo Seco contains far more bones from guanaco (a local relative of the camel) and rodents than it does from extinct mammals.

The absence of certain bones can tell us about how these people lived, too. Though there are bones from megafauna like the giant sloth Megatherium, we see no skulls, chest, or pelvic bones from the animal. The researchers speculate that’s because hunters would have done an initial butchery at the site where they killed or scavenged the animal and then transported parts of it to be processed at camp:

Given the body mass of this species (between 4 and 5 tons), it would have been extremely difficult to transport the entire carcass and even challenging to transport complete hindquarters weighing between 600 and 750 kg, and forequarters weighing between 250 and 300 kg. Taking into consideration these values, the best hypothesis is that the Megatherium was hunted or scavenged near the site, the skeleton was butchered into smaller parts, and these units were then transported to their current location at the site. The larger bones were transported with portions of meat already removed, and the bone may have been used for other purposes such as bone quarrying.

Of the extinct mammals that humans processed at Arroyo Seco, the most common seems to be horse. When people arrived in the Americas, it was full of at least two species of extinct horses. But by the time of the Inca and other great civilizations of South America, those animals were long gone. It wasn’t until Europeans arrived with their steeds that the continent was once again populated with horses.

Still, we can look back and imagine what it must have been like for those pre-Clovis people, entering a world where no human had ever gone before, full of animals that are legendary to us today. In many ways, they lived on a different planet than the one we inhabit now. At the edge of a now mostly vanished lake, on a knoll, those people fed their families, made tools, and strategized about how to hunt for game bigger than anything on land in the modern world. They returned year after year for centuries. Eventually, they buried their dead there among the animal bones left by their ancestors.

 

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Tiffiny Tung excavates at Beringa, Peru (Courtesy Tiffiny Tung)

Tiffiny Tung excavates at Beringa, Peru (Courtesy Tiffiny Tung)

Wari Ale gets its bright pink color from Peruvian molle berries and purple corn. (Courtesy of The Field Museum)

Wari Ale gets its bright pink color from Peruvian molle berries and purple corn. (Courtesy of The Field Museum)

 

Original Article:

news.vanderbilt.edu

by Liz Entman | Feb. 24,2016

After a long, dusty day excavating an archaeological site, nothing quite hits the spot like a frosty beverage. For Tiffiny Tung, associate professor of anthropology, all that hard work is about to pay off twice with the debut of a custom beer inspired by the fruits of her labor.

Wari Ale, a light, delicate beer whose rosy tint derives from bright pink molle berries and purple corn, will soon be available to connoisseurs over 21 at Chicago’s Field Museum and select Chicago retailers. The beer, crafted by Off Color Brewing, is based on a recipe treasured by an ancient Peruvian empire called the Wari and links to the museum’s permanent Ancient Americas exhibit.

“Archaeologists have known for a really long time that corn beer, or chicha, was socially important in the Andes,” said Tung. The Incas used it as a kind of political or social currency to build and solidify relationships with nearby lords.

But, while excavating a site called Beringa associated with the pre-Inca Wari culture, Tung found evidence that the Wari brewed their own version of chicha using the molle berry, the fruit of a local pepper plant.

Tung’s discovery was important, because 117 miles away at a site called Cerro Baúl, Ryan Williams, associate curator of anthropology at The Field Museum and a lead researcher of that excavation, had come upon the remains of a chicha de molle brewery, which he believes would have been able to produce 1,500–2,000 liters of beer in a single batch. Like Tung, Williams found evidence that, as corn beer did for the Incas, chicha de molle played a significant relationship-building role to the Wari.

“Tiffiny’s excavation at Beringa was key to understanding that Wari chicha de molle was a brewing phenomenon that went beyond our work at Cerro Baúl and was part of the larger Wari imperial project,” said Williams.

“It’s also really delicious,” said Tung.

The Field Museum first partnered with Off Color Brewing to produce a lager called Tooth and Claw brewed in honor of Sue, the museum’s Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Williams hopes the museum will continue to be able to offer more beers inspired by the museum’s exhibits, collections and research in the future.

Media Inquiries:
Liz Entman, (615) 322-NEWS
Liz.entman@vanderbilt.edu

 

 

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Arachis ipaensis, left, and Arachis duranensis, right, are the two species of wild peanut that crossed to provide the genetic blueprint for today's modern peanut varieties. (Credit: Merritt Melancon/University of Georgia)

Arachis ipaensis, left, and Arachis duranensis, right, are the two species of wild peanut that crossed to provide the genetic blueprint for today’s modern peanut varieties. (Credit: Merritt Melancon/University of Georgia)

Arachis ipaensis, one of the wild peanut varieties that helped to create the modern peanut, was found in the foothills of the Andes in Bolivia and Argentina in the 1970s. (Credit: Merritt Melancon/University of Georgia)

Arachis ipaensis, one of the wild peanut varieties that helped to create the modern peanut, was found in the foothills of the Andes in Bolivia and Argentina in the 1970s. (Credit: Merritt Melancon/University of Georgia)

 

Original Article:

News.uga.edu

Writer: J. Merritt Melanin, Feb 2016

 

Athens, Ga. – Researchers at the University of Georgia, working with the International Peanut Genome Initiative, have discovered that a wild plant from Bolivia is a “living relic” of the prehistoric origins of the cultivated peanut species.

The peanut that is grown by farmers today is the result of hybridization between two wild species. The hybrid was cultivated by ancient inhabitants of South America and, by selection, was transformed into today’s crop plant.

Comparisons of the DNA sequences of one of the wild species and the cultivated peanut showed that they are almost exactly same; in fact, they are 99.96 percent identical. It’s an unprecedented similarity.

“It’s almost as if we had traveled back in time and sampled the same plant that gave rise to cultivated peanuts from the gardens of these ancient people,” said David Bertioli, an International Peanut Genome Initiative, or IPGI, plant geneticist of the Universidade de Brasília, who is working at UGA.

This discovery forms part of a study that appears in this month’s Nature Genetics journal, published by the UGA-led IPGI. Scott Jackson, director of the UGA Center for Applied Genetic Technologies in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, serves as chair of the IPGI. Bertioli is lead author on the paper.

Because its ancestors were two different species, today’s peanut carries two separate genomes, designated “A” and “B” subgenomes. Their high similarity means they are very difficult to map out separately when sequencing the cultivated peanut genome. So, as a first step, researchers built their models using the two wild, ancestral peanut species collected by botanists in the wooded foothills of the Andes in Bolivia and Argentina decades ago.

The genome of one of them, Arachis duranensis, is about as similar to the A subgenome as could be expected. However, what really caught their attention was that the genome of the other species, A. ipaensis, was found to be virtually identical to the B subgenome.

Soon after its collection in 1971, the botanists who collected A. ipaensis realized that it was peculiar. The population of A. ipaensis was very small and isolated, and its closest relatives grew hundreds of miles to the north. They questioned how it arrived in the location where they found it growing.

Prompted by the extraordinary DNA identity, the scientists used information from decades-old botanical collections, knowledge of the seasonal movements of ancient hunter-gatherer-farmers and molecular DNA clock calculations to work out that the plants’ seeds had almost certainly been transported by humans about 10,000 years ago.

“Everything fit,” Bertioli said. “It’s the only place where A and B genome species have ever been found growing close together. The region is right next to the region where, even today, the most primitive types of cultivated peanut are grown, and the date is right in the time frame that plant domestication was happening in South America.”

The movement of the B genome species into the range of the A genome species meant that the hybridization could happen, probably courtesy of a native bee, and the cultivated peanut species was formed. The rest is history, Bertioli said.

The new peanut genome sequences were released in 2014 to researchers and plant breeders around the globe. Their use is advancing the breeding of more productive and more resilient peanut varieties. The paper in Nature Genetics represents the first official publication of the IPGI.

The effort to sequence the peanut genome took several years. While peanuts have been successfully bred for intensive cultivation, relatively little was known about the legume’s genetic structure because of its complexity, according to Peggy Ozias-Akins, a senior author on the paper and director of the UGA Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics. The sequences provide researchers access to 96 percent of all peanut genes and provide the DNA map needed to more quickly identify and genetically tag genes that confer desirable traits, such as drought- and disease-resistance.

A consortium of peanut growers, peanut shellers, brokers and food manufacturing groups provided $6 million in funding for the genome sequencing effort through The Peanut Foundation.

Victor Nwosu, program manager for Mars Chocolate and chairman of the board of directors of The Peanut Foundation, is enthusiastic about the advances these discoveries will facilitate.

“The peanut genome project will lead to reduction in production costs through development of disease-resistant varieties and improved yield for farmers, speed of selection and release of new varieties for breeders and potential for improvement of nutritional value of peanuts for consumers,” Nwosu said. “We are beginning to see these benefits already.”

The genome sequence assemblies and additional information are available at http://peanutbase.org/.

The International Peanut Genome Initiative brings together scientists from the U.S., China, Brazil, India, Australia, Japan and Israel to delineate peanut genome sequences, characterize the genetic and phenotypic variation in cultivated and wild peanuts and develop genomic tools for peanut breeding. The initial sequencing was carried out in Shenzhen, China, by the BGI, known previously as the Beijing Genomics Institute.

Assembly was done at the BGI, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service in Ames, Iowa, and the University of California, Davis. The project was funded by the peanut industry through The Peanut Foundation and by Mars Inc. and three Chinese academies: the Henan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

A complete list of the institutions involved with the project and the other funding sources is available at http://peanutbioscience.com/.

The study, “The genome sequences of Arachis duranensis and Arachis ipaensis, the diploid ancestors of cultivated peanut,” will be available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ng.3517.

 

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Patricia Landa, an archaeological conservator, painstakingly cleans and untangles the khipus at her house in Lima.Credit William Neuman/The New York Times

Patricia Landa, an archaeological conservator, painstakingly cleans and untangles the khipus at her house in Lima.Credit William Neuman/The New York Times

Khipus before it has been cleaned and untangled. Credit William Neuman/The New York Times.

Khipus before it has been cleaned and untangled. Credit William Neuman/The New York Times.

Original Article:

nytimes.com

By WILLIAM NEUMANJAN. 2, 2016

LIMA, Peru — In a dry canyon strewn with the ruins of a long-dead city, archaeologists have made a discovery they hope will help unravel one of the most tenacious mysteries of ancient Peru: how to read the knotted string records, known as khipus, kept by the Incas.

At the site called Incahuasi, about 100 miles south of Lima, excavators have found, for the first time, several khipus in the place where they were used — in this case, a storage house for agricultural products where they appear to have been used as accounting books to record the amount of peanuts, chili peppers, beans, corn and other items that went in and out.

In some cases the khipus — the first ones were found at the site in 2013 — were buried under the remnants of centuries-old produce, which was preserved thanks to the extremely dry desert conditions.

That was a blockbuster discovery because archaeologists had previously found khipus only in graves, where they were often buried with the scribes who created and used the devices. Many others are in the possession of collectors or museums, stripped of information relating to their provenance.

Khipus are made of a series of cotton or wool strings hanging from a main cord. Each string may have several knots, with the type and location of the knot conveying meaning. The color of the strands used to make the string and the way the strands are twisted together may also be part of the khipus’ system of storing and relaying information.

Researchers have long had a basic understanding of the numerical system incorporated in the khipus, where knots represent numbers and the relation between knots and strings can represent mathematical operations, like addition and subtraction.

But researchers have been unable to identify the meaning of any possible nonnumerical signifiers in khipus, and as a result they cannot read any nonmathematical words or phrases.

Now the Incahuasi researchers hope that by studying the khipus and comparing them with others in a large database, they may find that the khipus discovered with the peanuts contain a color, knot or other signifier for “peanut.” The same goes for those found with chili peppers, beans and corn.

“We can look at how the chili pepper khipu differs from the peanut khipu and from the corn khipu in terms of their color and other characteristics and we can build up a kind of sign vocabulary of how they were signifying this or that thing in their world,” said Gary Urton, a leading expert on khipus who is studying the new trove with Alejandro Chu, the archaeologist who led the excavation.

“It’s not the great Rosetta Stone but it’s quite an important new body of data to work with,” he said, adding, “It’s tremendously exciting.”

For now, the 29 khipus from Incahuasi, which are about 500 years old, are kept in an unassuming brick house in a residential neighborhood in Lima, along with a scattering of artifacts from other excavations, including two mummies (of a child and a dog), some bags of human bones, dozens of fragile textiles rolled up between layers of paper, and numerous pots meticulously reassembled from shards.

The house belongs to Patricia Landa, an archaeological conservator, who also keeps a menagerie of cats and dogs, including three hairless Peruvian dogs of the kind once raised by the Incas for food.

It is Ms. Landa who takes the Incahuasi khipus, some of which were found neatly rolled up and others in snarled jumbles, and painstakingly cleans and untangles them and prepares them for researchers to decipher.

“You have a very special relationship with the material,” Ms. Landa, 59, said. “I talk to them. I say, ‘Excuse me for disturbing your rest but you’re helping us to understand your ancestors.’ ”

Incahuasi, which means “house of the Inca emperor,” was a city used in the late 15th and early 16th centuries as the base of operations for the Inca invasion of Peru’s southern coast, after which it became a thriving administrative center, according to Mr. Chu, the archaeologist. It sat in the arid hills above the green valley of the Cañete River.

“There was probably lots of movement, with llama caravans bringing in farm produce,” he said.

The storehouse where the khipus were found was probably used to keep food needed to maintain the large number of troops deployed in the invasion.

The Incas, who were highly organized and governed a vast area, would have used khipus to keep track of provisions, and copies of the string records were probably sent to an administrative center, such as Cusco, the Inca capital, where they could be read, checked and perhaps filed. The Incahuasi excavation has even turned up what are essentially duplicate sets of khipus tied together, which the researchers believe could have been made when the same products were counted twice — perhaps to guarantee accurate bookkeeping.

One khipu found at the site had its knots untied, suggesting that the information stored there had been “erased” by the accountants so that the khipu could be reused, Ms. Landa said.

The khipus found at Incahuasi appear to be all about counting beans, literally. But colonial-era documents suggest that khipus had many uses in both the pre-Hispanic and colonial period that went beyond accounting, including to keep calendrical information and to tell historical narratives.

Colonial records show that in some cases, such as land disputes, indigenous litigants would bring khipus to court and use them to explain or justify claims of land ownership, Mr. Chu said. He said that scribes would read the khipus and a court clerk would enter the information into the trial record.

Mr. Urton has created a database of all known khipus, about 870 of them, with detailed information on two-thirds of them, recording their configurations, colors, numerical values and other information.

Because the Incahuasi khipus appear to be relatively simple inventories of agricultural products, it may be easier to decipher them than the more complex khipus that record historical information, Mr. Chu said.

And a breakthrough in deciphering the Incahuasi khipus could be a first step in reading more complex versions.

“If we can find the connection between the khipu and the product that it was found with we can contribute to the deciphering of the khipus,” Mr. Chu said.

Mr. Urton said that the difference between the accounting khipus at Incahuasi and more elaborate khipus, “is the difference between, let’s say, your tax form and a novel.” But they may also have key similarities: “They both use the same language, they both use the same numbers when they use numbers, and it’s in the same writing system.”

The excavations at Incahuasi have stopped because of a lack of financing. Much of the vast storeroom complex has yet to be excavated, and Mr. Chu hopes there could be more khipus there.

“It was very exciting to find them,” Mr. Chu said. “We started to find the storerooms and we didn’t think we would find any khipus. Then we started to clear away the dirt and we saw the knots.”

 

 

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(Collections of the R.S. Peabody Museum, Photo: Donald E. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution)Maize cobs (5,300 to 1,200 years old), Tehuacan, Mexico

(Collections of the R.S. Peabody Museum, Photo: Donald E. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution)Maize cobs (5,300 to 1,200 years old), Tehuacan, Mexico

 

Original Article:

archaeology.org

By ZACH ZORICH, April 2015

By about 6,000 years ago, people in Mexico had domesticated a tropical grass called teosinte, beginning a process that would radically alter the plant, turning it into maize, responsible for feeding people across the world today. A team of archaeologists and biochemists recently documented the genetic changes the plant underwent in the southwestern United States. Their results show that the earliest maize in the region was a drought-resistant variety that came from the highlands of Mexico about 4,000 years ago. Sometime between 2,000 and 750 years ago, that highland maize was either accidentally cross-pollinated or intentionally bred with a starchier coastal maize variety, which likely improved its nutritional value. According to Rute da Fonseca, a biochemist at the University of Copenhagen, understanding maize evolution can help us understand how the cultures that consumed maize changed along with it. Cultivated maize can be stored and eaten year-round and requires less work to farm than most other crops. “It frees you, it gives you more free time for other things,” says Fonseca. “Maize allowed for the development of more complex societies.”

 

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