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Wed, June 15, 2022, 7:06 AM

Wang Xi

A bronze altar and a dragon with a pig’s nose are among a trove of items discovered in sacrificial pits that shed new light on the buried secrets of an ancient Chinese civilization.

Archaeologists on Monday announced the “significant” series of finds at the Sanxingdui ruins in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, according to the team behind the dig and the state-run Xinhua news agency.

A team including academics from Peking University and Sichuan University found thousands of items including intricate bronze, gold and jade items, and what it called the unprecedented discovery of 10 bronzes. Experts say the finds date back 3,000 to 4,500 years.

Discovered in the late 1920s, Sanxingdui is one of the key Chinese archaeological sites. Experts think its treasures once belonged to the ancient Shu kingdom, which dates back 4,800 years and lasted 2,000 years.

The new finds mostly come from what archaeologists call sacrificial pits 7 and 8, the highlight being a bronze box with a tortoise-shaped lid containing jade artifacts, including dragon heads. Traces of silk fabric were found surrounding the box.

China Sichuan Sanxingdui Ruins Discoveries - 01 Jun 2022 (Chine Nouvelle / SIPA / Shutterstock)
China Sichuan Sanxingdui Ruins Discoveries – 01 Jun 2022 (Chine Nouvelle / SIPA / Shutterstock)

“It would not be an exaggeration to say that the vessel is one of its kind, given its distinctive shape, fine craftsmanship and ingenious design. Although we do not know what this vessel was used for, we can assume that ancient people treasured it,” said Li Haichao, a professor at Sichuan University who is in charge of the excavation at pit 7, according to Xinhua.

The role of the pits and their use is contested. One academic, Chen Shen, argued in a 2002 book: “Some believe the pits to be a kind of burial, but without human skeletons; the body might have been reduced to ash as a result of a ritual burning ceremony.”

Burned fragments of ivory were found in one pit and the presence of ash, possibly the remnants of tree and plant matter used as fuel, has led archaeologists to speculate that boxes were placed in the pits to be burned.

In pit 8, archaeologists found yet more elaborate bronze work, including heads with gold masks, an altar and a dragon with a pig’s nose.

A curious three-part sculpture features a snake with a human head with protruding eyes, tusks and horns. The top part of the head resembles an ancient trumpet-shaped wine vessel.

Ran Honglin, from the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, said some elements of the sculpture were typical of the Shu kingdom, while others were seen in items from the Zhou dynasty.

“These three factors are now blended into one artifact, which demonstrates that Sanxingdui is an important part of Chinese civilization,” he told Xinhua.

“More cultural relics unearthed at Sanxingdui have also been seen in other locales in China, giving evidence of the early exchange and integration of Chinese civilization,” Honglin added.

CHINA-SICHUAN-SANXINGDUI RUINS-DISCOVERIES (CN) (Xinhua News Agency / via Getty Images)
CHINA-SICHUAN-SANXINGDUI RUINS-DISCOVERIES (CN) (Xinhua News Agency / via Getty Images)

“The sculptures are very complex and imaginative, reflecting the fairy world imagined by people at that time, and they demonstrate the diversity and richness of Chinese civilization,” Zhao Hao, an associate professor at Peking University who led the excavation of pit 8, told Xinhua.

The institute said some 13,000 items have already been found at Sanxingdui since excavations began in the 1980s.

The 12-square-mile site was accidentally discovered in the late 1920s by a farmer in Sichuan province who was repairing a sewage ditch. It is considered one the most important Chinese archaeological finds and one of the world’s greatest discoveries of the 20th century.

The finds paint a vivid picture of life in ancient China. Small sacrificial pits and the sacrificed remains of cattle and boars were found alongside reeds, bamboo and soy beans.

Most historians and archaeologists previously thought the birthplace of Chinese civilization was the Yellow River Basin in China’s north. But Sanxingdui’s discovery, and its excavation in the 1980s, challenged those assumptions.

The new finds are expected to be displayed at an exhibition at Sanxingdui Museum, near the city of Guanghan, in 2023.

Mystery has surrounded the fate of the societies that created the artifacts found at Sanxingdui. Evidence shows that at some point, they left the area and moved to the ancient city of Jinsha, near the modern city of Chengdu.

Some scholars believe the move was caused by an earthquake 3,000 years ago.

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original article: mpg.de

New insights into the diet of our species’ earliest member in the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia

Although there has been evidence of our species living in rainforest regions in Southeast Asia from at least 70,000 years ago, the poor preservation of organic material in these regions limits how much we know about their diet and ecological adaptations to these habitats. An international team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz has now applied a new method to investigate the diet of fossil humans: the analysis of stable zinc isotopes from tooth enamel. This method proves particularly helpful to learn whether prehistoric humans and animals were primarily eating meat or plants.

Traditional assumptions have often seen tropical rainforests as a barrier to early Homo sapiens. However, growing proof shows that humans adapted to and lived in tropical rainforest habitats of Southeast Asia. Some researchers also suggest that, in the past, other human species, like Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis, became extinct because they could not adapt to this environment as our species did. However, we know very little about the ecological adaptation of fossil humans, including what they were eating.

Zinc isotopes reveal what kind of food was primarily eaten

In this study, researchers analysed the zinc stable isotope ratios from animal and human teeth from two sites in the Huà Pan Province of Laos: Tam Pà Ling and the nearby site of Nam Lot. “The site of Tam Pà Ling is particularly important for palaeoanthropology and archaeology of Southeast Asia because it holds the oldest and most abundant fossil record of our species in this region”, explains Fabrice Demeter, researcher at the University of Copenhagen. However, there is little archaeological evidence, like stone tools, hearth features, plant remains, cut marks on bones, in Tam Pà Ling: only teeth and bones. This makes isotopic approaches the only way to gain insight into past dietary reliance.

Nitrogen isotope analysis, in particular, can help scientists learn if past humans were eating animals or plants. However, the collagen in bones and teeth needed to do these analyses is not easily conservable. In tropical regions like the one at Tam Pà Ling this problem is even more acute. “New methods – such as zinc isotope analysis of enamel – can now overcome these limitations and allow us to investigate teeth from regions and periods we could not study before”, says study leader Thomas Tütken, professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University’s Institute of Geosciences. “With zinc stable isotope ratios, we can now study Tam Pà Ling and learn what kind of food our earliest ancestors in this region were eating.”

Diet of fossil humans from Southeast Asia

The fossil human studied in this research dates from the Late Pleistocene, more precisely from 46,000 to 63,000 years ago. With it, various mammals from both sites, including water buffalos, rhinos, wild boars, deer, bears, orangutans, macaques, and leopards, were also analysed. All these different animals show various eating behaviours, making for an ideal background to determine what exactly humans were eating at the time. The more diverse the animal remains found at a particular site are, the more information the researchers can use to understand the diet of prehistoric humans.

When we compare the zinc isotope values from the fossil Homo sapiens of Tam Pà Ling to that of the animals, it strongly suggests that its diet contained both plants and animals. This omnivorous diet also differs from most nitrogen isotope data of humans in other regions of the world for that time period, where a meat-rich diet is almost consistently discerned. “Another kind of analysis performed in this study – stable carbon isotopes analysis – indicates that the food consumed came strictly from forested environments”, says Élise Dufour, researcher at the National Natural History Museum of Paris. “The results are the oldest direct evidence for subsistence strategies for Late Pleistocene humans in tropical rainforests.”

Researchers often associated our species with open environments, like savannahs or cold steppes. However, this study shows that early Homo sapienscould adapt to different environments. Together, the zinc and carbon isotope results may suggest a mix of specialized adaptations to tropical rainforests seen from other Southeast Asian archaeological sites. “It will be interesting, in the future, to compare our zinc isotope data with data from other prehistoric human species of Southeast Asia, like Homo erectus and Homo floresiensis, and see if we could understand better why they went extinct while our species survived”, concludes first author Nicolas Bourgon, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

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April 1, 2010 by Ancientfoods | Edit Topic: Pasta On April 1, 1957 the British news show Panorama broadcast a three-minute segment about a bumper …

The Annual Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

Happy April everyone!

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Original article:phys.org

by Mary Beth King,  University of New Mexico


Research recently published by adjunct assistant professor Cyler Conrad from the Department of Archaeology at The University of New Mexico examines the importance of turkeys to the Ancestral Pueblo people and how they have managed the birds for more than 1,600 years. Evidence of turkeys and various methods of enclosing them is evident in the ancient pueblos all over New Mexico and surrounding areas, making them part of the area’s history.

In “Contextualizing Ancestral Pueblo Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo spp.) Management,” Conrad reviewed the archeological record to focus on three main questions: How turkey pens are identified, if turkey pen construction or evidence for captivity shifts through time, and how the record of turkey penning informs us regarding the long-term human management of these birds and global perspectives on human-bird/human-animal management.

“The research is a large review of archeological evidence for turkey management by Ancestral Pueblo peoples throughout the American Southwest and Mexican Northwest, and by management, I mean keeping turkeys in pens or other enclosed spaces. What I discovered by reading through ethnographic and ethnohistoric descriptions, archeological site reports and publications focused on turkey pen contexts, is that Ancestral Pueblo people participated in a complex relationship with these birds,” Conrad explained. 

In some cases turkeys were penned within rooms in villages; sometimes those rooms were specifically constructed as pens and sometimes they were reused as pens. There is evidence that they were even kept in a room in or near Room 28 in Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon where UNM anthropologist Patricia Crown found cylindrical jars used to consume drinks made of cacao, the first evidence of the consumption of chocolate north of the US-Mexico border. 

“It appears that turkeys were kept in a nearby room, except during the final period of occupation in Room 28 when it may have functioned as a pen itself. This was a really interesting observation which Dr. Crown identified: A possible record of the modification of spaces to fill certain needs at certain times, in this case with turkeys,” Conrad observed.

Turkeys were also allowed to free-range, were kept tied to turkey tethers, and were occasionally held in small cages. Consistent variability in the type of space and context in which Ancestral Pueblo peoples kept turkeys was clearly intentional—an adaptive strategy that allowed flexibility in the management of these birds for a variety of purposes for well over 1,600 years in the Southwest and northwest Mexico.

Conrad also speculates on why turkeys were kept: “Were turkeys raised as pets? For feathers? For food? To increase flock sizes? For egg production? Or perhaps for dozens of other reasons we simply can’t understand as archeologists looking into the past. What I can confirm is that the flexibility in turkey confinement was intentional.”

Turkeys were probably used in more ways than we recognize today. 

“We know at least that their feathers, eggs, bones, meat, and even visual, auditory, and conceptual manifestations were used for a variety of purposes. These include the creation of blankets, paints, tools, musical instruments, food, and art.” 

Indigenous peoples of this region had special and significant relationships with a variety of birds, Conrad noted, such as macaws, eagles, and herons, just to name a few. Chickens were introduced later by the Spanish at contact.

“Birds hold a special place in Pueblo society and we see this record throughout the archeological identification of bird bones, feathers, imagery on ceramics and rock art, and much more. Turkeys are only one of many birds that deserve careful attention when trying to examine human-bird interactions through time,” he added.

To find out more about turkeys and their role in the lives of Ancestral Pueblo people, Conrad examined the record of past excavations and research. 

Turkey pens had a variety of forms and construction in Ancestral Pueblo contexts so it was sometimes challenging to define them. But there is one good way to determine where the birds were kept.

“One of the clearest lines of evidence for identifying a turkey pen within these places is the presence of turkey droppings or dense mats of turkey dung,” Conrad said.

Research has also revealed what turkeys ate, thanks to the UNM Center for Stable Isotopes, where state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation measures certain elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen—proxies for bird diets—in organic and inorganic substances. Free-range poultry isn’t a modern concept.

“We know what turkeys ate based on evidence from botanicals in contexts associated with turkeys such as pollen, and rare examples of preserved foods recovered from desiccated and mummified turkeys from this region. All these records indicate that turkeys consumed domesticated maize. But, there are fascinating examples that contradict this record—including evidence from Tijeras Pueblo identified by [UNM anthropologist] Emily Lena Jones. Those turkeys have diets that appear to be more ‘natural’ or free-range, as we like to say,” he elaborated.

Those ancient turkeys aren’t so very far removed from modern wildlife.

“The DNA of the Ancestral Pueblo domesticated turkey survives in some wild Merriam’s turkey populations within the Southwest. So, when you are hunting for turkeys in New Mexico, or simply experience them in the environment, there is likely an aspect of that turkey that is related to the birds, peoples, and experiences described in this research,” he noted, adding, “There is a direct connection between what we perceive as ‘wild’ turkeys within the environment today and their ancestors of the past who interacted with and were managed by Pueblo peoples. It makes this research important because it was the specific conditions in which Ancestral Pueblo peoples managed these birds that allowed for this current relationship.”

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original article: dailysabah.com

Archaeologists seek clues of the culinary culture and eating habits of the Lydians in the excavations of the ancient city of Daskyleion, located on the shores of Lake Manyas in the Bandırma district of western Balıkesir province, using various dental tools.

The excavation team, headed by Kaan Iren – a lecturer at Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University Faculty of Letters Archaeology Department – continue their work in and around the 2,600-year-old kitchen structure found three years ago in Daskyleion. The team prefers small, sensitive instruments used in dentistry such as forceps and spatulas. With these tools, delicate finds such as pottery, fish spines, seeds and plant remains that have not been destroyed and remained intact can be carefully removed.

Iren told Anadolu Agency (AA) that they named the section where the Lydian kitchen is found “Akro Daskyleion.”

Stating that a Lydian palace was destroyed by a fire and the kitchen was affected by this, Iren said, “Our research and excavations have been continuing in this kitchen for years, without skipping any data. We continue our work by slowly digging with very sensitive tools, fine brushes and needles and documenting all data.”

Büşra Atalar Yeter, a postgraduate in charge of the Lydian kitchen excavation team, said that they investigated the relationship between the kitchen structure and other areas during their work this year. Stating that they had revealed places that could be cellars, according to their research, Atalar said: “We found burned mud brick blocks in these areas. These probably belong to a cellar destroyed by a collapsed wall because we obtained various bones and different types of seeds from the surrounding area.”

“In order to preserve the data, we have analyzed our work in detail and meticulously. Therefore, we continue to work with small dental tools,” she added.

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Original article:https: cenich.es

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

A study led by CENIEH researcher has just been presented looking at the subsistence strategies of Neanderthal groups at the Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter site (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid), whose results indicate that they mainly hunted large bovids and cervids

Abel Moclán, a researcher at the Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), is the lead author of a paper published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews which undertook a zooarchaeological and taphonomic study of the Neanderthal Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter site (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid), some 76,000 years old, whose results indicate that these Neanderthals mainly hunted large bovids and cervids.

Thanks to the taphonomic study, it has been possible to characterize the site as a “hunting camp”, meaning that it was used by these hominins as a staging post between where they caught their prey and the place of final consumption, at which the entire group would have made use of the resources the hunting parties obtained at different times.

Covering over 300 m2, this is possibly the region’s largest Neanderthal camp, and evidence had previously been found of different activities undertaken by these hominins here, such as manufacturing stone tools or the use of fire, at different moments, although little had been known about how important the faunal remains encountered were.

“We’ve been able to show with a high degree of certainty that the Navalmaíllo Neanderthals mainly hunted large bovids and cervids, which they processed there and then carried to a second place of reference. This point is very interesting, as this type of behavior has been identified at very few sites in the Iberian Peninsula. To do all this, we used very powerful statistical tools such as Artificial Intelligence”, says Moclán.

The other collaborators in this study were the researchers Rosa Huguet and Hugues Alexandre Blain, from the IPHES in Tarragona; Belén Márquez, César Laplana and María Ángeles Galindo-Pellicena, of the Museo Arqueológico Regional of Madrid; Nuria García, attached to the Universidad Complutense de Madrid; Diego Álvarez-Lao, of the Universidad de Oviedo, and the three co-directors of the Pinilla del Valle project: the geologist Alfredo Pérez González, the paleontologist Juan Luis Arsuaga and the archaeologist Enrique Baquedano.

Twentieth excavation campaign

The twentieth excavation campaign at the Pinilla del Valle sites is currently under way, from August 15th through September 15th. These excavations are being directed from the Museo Arqueológico Regional of the Comunidad de Madrid, and they are financed by the Comunidad de Madrid. The project is also sponsored by the company Mahou San Miguel and enjoys the collaboration of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, the Ayuntamiento de Pinilla del Valle, the Canal de Isabel II, the Fundación General of the Universidad de Alcalá and the Dirección General de Juventud.

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Pottery vessels which had contained beer, found with human remains in platform moundPeer-Reviewed Publication

DARTMOUTH COLLEGE

original article: eurekalert.org

Alcoholic beverages have long been known to serve an important socio-cultural function in ancient societies, including at ritual feasts. A new study finds evidence of beer drinking 9,000 years ago in southern China, which was likely part of a ritual to honor the dead. The findings are based on an analysis of ancient pots found at a burial site at Qiaotou, making the site among the oldest in the world for early beer drinking. The results are reported in PLOS ONE.

The ancient pots were discovered in a platform mound (80 m x 50 m wide, with an elevation of 3 m above ground level), which was surrounded by a human-made ditch (10-15 m wide and 1.5-2 m deep), based on ongoing excavations at Qiaotou. No residential structures were found at the site. The mound contained two human skeletons and multiple pottery pits with high-quality pottery vessels, many of which were complete vessels. The pottery was painted with white slip and some of the vessels were decorated with abstract designs. As the study reports, these artifacts are probably some of “the earliest known painted pottery in the world.” No pottery of this kind has been found at any other sites dating to this time period.

The research team analyzed different types of pottery found at Qiaotou, which were of varying sizes. Some of the pottery vessels were relatively small and similar in size to drinking vessels used today, and to those found in other parts of the world. Each of the pots could basically be held in one hand like a cup unlike storage vessels, which are much larger in size. Seven of the 20 vessels, which were part of their analysis, appeared to be long-necked Hu pots, which were used to drink alcohol in the later historical periods.

To confirm that the vessels were used for drinking alcohol, the research team analyzed microfossil residues— starch, phytolith (fossilized plant residue), and fungi, extracted from the interior surfaces of the pots. The residues were compared with control samples obtained from soil surrounding the vessels.

The team identified microbotanical (starch granules and phytoliths) and microbial (mold and yeast) residues in the pots that were consistent with residues from beer fermentation and are not found naturally in soil or in other artifacts unless they had contained alcohol.

“Through a residue analysis of pots from Qiaotou, our results revealed that the pottery vessels were used to hold beer, in its most general sense— a fermented beverage made of rice (Oryza sp.), a grain called Job’s tears (Coix lacryma-jobi), and unidentified tubers,” says co-author Jiajing Wang, an assistant professor of anthropology at Dartmouth. “This ancient beer though would not have been like the IPA that we have today. Instead, it was likely a slightly fermented and sweet beverage, which was probably cloudy in color.”

The results also showed that phytoliths of rice husks and other plants were also present in the residue from the pots. They may have been added to the beer as a fermentation agent.

Although the Yangtze River Valley of southern China is known today as the country’s rice heartland, the domestication of rice occurred gradually between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago, so 9,000 years ago, rice was still in the early stage of domestication. At that time, most communities were hunter-gatherers who relied primarily on foraging. As the researchers explain in the study, given that rice harvesting and processing was labor intensive, the beer at Qiaotou was probably a ritually significant drink/beverage.

The residue analysis of the pots also showed traces of mold, which was used in the beermaking process. The mold found in the pots at Qiaotou was very similar to the mold present in koji, which is used to make sake and other fermented rice beverages in East Asia. The results predate earlier research, which found that mold had been used in fermentation processes 8,000 years ago in China.

Beer is technically any fermented beverage made from crops through a two-stage transformation process. In the first phase, enzymes transform starch into sugar (saccharification). In the second phase, the yeasts convert the sugar into alcohol and other states like carbon dioxide (fermentation). As the researchers explain in the study, mold acts kind of like an agent for both processes, by serving as a saccharification-fermentation starter.

“We don’t know how people made the mold 9,000 years ago, as fermentation can happen naturally,” says Wang. “If people had some leftover rice and the grains became moldy, they may have noticed that the grains became sweeter and alcoholic with age. While people may not have known the biochemistry associated with grains that became moldy, they probably observed the fermentation process and leveraged it through trial and error.”

Given that the pottery at Qiaotou was found near the burials in a non-residential area, the researchers conclude that the pots of beer were likely used in ritualistic ceremonies relating to the burial of the dead. They speculate that ritualized drinking may have been integral to forging social relationships and cooperation, which served as a precursor to complex rice farming societies that emerged 4,000 years later.

Jiajing Wang is available for comment at: jiajing.wang@dartmouth.edu. Leping Jiang and Hanlong Sun at Zhejian Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in China, also served as co-authors of the study.
 

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By Andrew CurryAug. 25, 2021

Original article in sciencemag.org


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Herculaneum was covered by Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 C.E., but unlike Pompeii, many human remains there were well preserved.
 
LUCIANO FATTORE/SAPIENZA UNIVERSITY OF ROME

Almost 2000 years ago, a volcanic eruption buried the seaside Roman town of Herculaneum in the same rush of hot ash and gas that decimated Pompeii. The catastrophe didn’t just preserve buildings and bones—it saved clues to the Roman diet. A new analysis of the bones of 17 victims reveals what these ancient villagers were eating, and in what proportions. Residents scarfed a lot of seafood and olive oil, confirming historians’ estimates that average Romans consumed 20 liters (more than 5 gallons) of the oil each year.

Previous studies have only given broad outlines, not the nitty-gritty details, of the ancient Roman diet, says Erica Rowan, an archaeobotanist at the Royal Holloway University of London who was not involved with the new work. “Here they do a good job” of filling in those details.

In 79 C.E., in a desperate attempt to escape the impact of the Mount Vesuvius eruption, the people of Herculaneum huddled in boathouses along the town’s waterfront, situated on the west coast of central Italy. But a sudden blast of 250°C ash and gas killed them instantly, cooking their flesh while preserving their bones almost perfectly.

In previous work, scientists analyzed the collagen in those bones to conclude that men at Herculaneum had a more diverse diet than women. In the new study, researchers isolated specific amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—from the collagen, and determined the ratios of varieties, or isotopes, of nitrogen and carbon atoms. Those isotopes can be traced to specific foods.

Thanks to the remains of plants and animals found at the site, archaeologists know the people of Herculaneum ate grains such as wheat and millet. They also consumed lentils, beans, cherries, peaches, and olives, plus 70 kinds of fish and shellfish from the Bay of Naples. But the proportions remained a mystery.

Using the new method, “We can tell where their calories were coming from,” says study co-author Oliver Craig, an archaeologist at the University of York. “We were able to see foodstuffs we’re usually not able to see because they’re not proteins.”

The analysis held some shocks: People at Herculaneum ate a lot of seafood, especially compared with humans in the Mediterranean region today. Approximately one-quarter of their protein was netted from the nearby sea, nearly triple the amount in the modern Mediterranean diet, the team reports today in Science Advances. “We haven’t been able to see that before in regular isotopic analysis,” Rowan says.

Olive oil was also a big hit. It made up at least 12% of calories consumed at Herculaneum, and perhaps much more. The find supports historical sources indicating the average Roman consumed 20 liters of oil each year, and that the oil was one of the most significant fat sources in the Roman diet. Olives were grown widely all across the Roman Empire, providing ample supplies. “Oil wasn’t a condiment, it was a proper ingredient,” says co-author Silvia Soncin, an archaeologist at Sapienza University of Rome. “They got a lot of energy out of it.”

The women of Herculaneum also ate fewer grains and cereals than did the men. Herculaneum’s men, meanwhile, seemed to down more fish and shellfish. Soncin and Craig suggest men’s varied diets might be a sign that they spent more time outside of the house.

The scientists acknowledge that the Herculaneum diet may not be representative of ancient Rome as a whole. It’s possible the people of the town—situated on the rich Bay of Naples, surrounded by fertile volcanic soil, and near a major port importing goods from across the Mediterranean—had an especially diverse diet.

Still, Rowan says, the approach could shed light on other ancient diets across the globe. “If they could use the same methods at different sites, it would be really interesting.”

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Original article: eurekalert.org

Long-held eating habits beliefs debunked

UNIVERSITY OF OTAGO

23-Jul-2021

Long-held eating habits beliefs debunked

New research from the University of Otago debunks a long-held belief about our ancestors’ eating habits.

For more than 60 years, researchers have believed Paranthropus, a close fossil relative of ours which lived about one to three million years ago, evolved massive back teeth to consume hard food items such as seeds and nuts, while our own direct ancestors, the genus Homo, is thought to have evolved smaller teeth due to eating softer food such as cooked food and meats. 

However, after travelling to several large institutes and museums in South Africa, Japan and the United Kingdom and studying tooth fractures in more than 20,000 teeth of fossil and living primate species, Dr Ian Towle, an Otago biological anthropologist, working with Dr Carolina Loch, of the Faculty of Dentistry, says this “neat picture is far more complex than once thought”.

“By individually studying each tooth and recording the position and size of any tooth fractures, we show tooth chipping does not support regular hard food eating in Paranthropus robustus, therefore potentially putting an end to the argument that this group as a whole were hard food eaters,” he says.

Dr Towle says the findings challenge our understanding of dietary and behavioural changes during human evolution.

“The results are surprising, with human fossils so far studied – those in our own genus Homo – showing extremely high rates of tooth fractures, similar to living hard object eating primates, yet Paranthropus show extremely low levels of fracture, similar to primates that eat soft fruits or leaves.

“Although in recent years there has been a slow acceptance that another species of Paranthropus, Paranthropus boisei, found in East Africa, was unlikely to have regularly eaten hard foods, the notion that Paranthropus evolved their large dental apparatus to eat hard foods has persisted. Therefore, this research can be seen as the final nail in the coffin of Paranthropus as hard object feeders.”

The fact that humans show such contrasting chipping patterns is equally significant and will have “knock on” effects for further research, particularly research on dietary changes during human evolution, and why the human dentition has evolved the way it has, he says. 

“The regular tooth fractures in fossil humans may be caused by non-food items, such as grit or stone tools. However, regardless of the cause, these groups were subjected to substantial tooth wear and fractures. So, it raises questions to why our teeth reduced in size, especially compared to groups like Paranthropus.”

Dr Towle’s research will now focus on if our dentition evolved smaller due to other factors to allow other parts of the skull to expand, leading to evolution then favouring other tooth properties to protect it against wear and fracture, instead of increased tooth size. 

“This is something we are investigating now, to see if tooth enamel may have evolved different characteristics among the great apes. Our research as a whole may also have implications for our understanding of oral health, since fossil human samples typically show immaculate dental health.

“Since extreme tooth wear and fractures were the norm, our ancestors likely evolved dental characteristics to not just cope with but actually utilise this dental tissue loss. For example, without substantial tooth wear our dentitions can face all sorts of issues, including impacted wisdom teeth, tooth crowding and even increased susceptibility to cavities.”

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Paranthropus robustus tooth chipping patterns do not support regular hard food mastication, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch, was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Tooth chipping prevalence and pattern in extant primates, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Chipping and wear patterns in extant primate and fossil hominin molars: ‘Functional’ cusps are associated with extensive wear but low levels of fracture, co-authored by Dr Towle and Dr Loch was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

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Findings on Neanderthal oral microbiomes offer new clues on evolution, health

Original article in eurekalert.org

10-May-2021Peer-Reviewed Publication

Harvard University

Gorillas
image: Grauer’s gorilla specimens at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren (Belgium), showing typical dental calculus deposits on the teeth that are stained dark likely as a result of their herbivorous diet. view more Credit: Katerina Guschanski

A new study looking at the evolutionary history of the human oral microbiome shows that Neanderthals and ancient humans adapted to eating starch-rich foods as far back as 100,000 years ago, which is much earlier than previously thought. 

The findings suggest such foods became important in the human diet well before the introduction of farming and even before the evolution of modern humans. And while these early humans probably didn’t realize it, the benefits of bringing the foods into their diet likely helped pave the way for the expansion of the human brain because of the glucose in starch, which is the brain’s main fuel source.

“We think we’re seeing evidence of a really ancient behavior that might have been part encephalization — or the growth of the human brain,” said Harvard Professor Christina Warinner, Ph.D. ’10. “It’s evidence of a new food source that early humans were able to tap into in the form of roots, starchy vegetables, and seeds.”

The findings come from a seven-year study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday that involved the collaboration of more than 50 international scientists. Researchers reconstructed the oral microbiomes of Neanderthals, primates, and humans, including what’s believed to be the oldest oral microbiome ever sequenced — a 100,000-year-old Neanderthal.

The goal was to better understand how the oral microbiome — a community of microorganisms in our mouths that help to protect against disease and promote health — developed since little is known about its evolutionary history.

“For a long time, people have been trying to understand what a normal healthy microbiome is,” said Warinner, assistant professor of anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Sally Starling Seaver Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute. “If we only have people today that we’re analyzing from completely industrialized contexts and that already have high disease burdens, is that healthy and normal? We started to ask: What are the core members of the microbiome? Which species and groups of bacteria have actually co-evolved with us the longest?”

The scientists analyzed the fossilized dental plaque of both modern humans and Neanderthals and compared them to those of humanity’s closest primate relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, as well as howler monkeys, a more distant relative. 

Using newly developed tools and methods, they genetically analyzed billions of DNA fragments preserved in the fossilized plaque to reconstruct their genomes. It’s similar in theory to how archeologists painstakingly piece together ancient broken pots, but on a much larger scale.

The biggest surprise from the study was the presence of particular strains of oral bacteria that are specially adapted to break down starch. These strains, which are members of the genus Streptococcus, have a unique ability to capture starch-digesting enzymes from human saliva, which they then use to feed themselves. The genetic machinery the bacteria uses to do this is only active when starch is part of the regular diet. 

Both the Neanderthals and the ancient humans scientists studied had these starch-adapted strains in their dental plaque while most of the primates had almost no streptococci that could break down starch.

“It seems to be a very human specific evolutionary trait that our Streptococcus acquired the ability to do this,” Warinner said. 

The findings also push back on the idea that Neanderthals were top carnivores, given that the “brain requires glucose as a nutrient source and meat alone is not a sufficient source,” Warinner said.

Researchers said the finding makes sense because for hunter-gatherer societies around the world, starch-rich foods –underground roots, tubers (like potatoes), and forbs, as well as nuts and seeds, for example — are important and reliable nutrition sources. In fact, starch currently makes up about 60 percent of calories for humans worldwide.

“Its availability is much more predictable across the annual season for tropical hunter-gatherers,” said Richard W. Wrangham, Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology and one of the paper’s co-authors. “These new data make every sense to me, reinforcing the newer view about Neanderthals that their diets were more sapien-like than once thought, [meaning] starch-rich and cooked.”

The research also identified 10 groups of bacteria that have been part of the human and primate oral microbiome for more than 40 million years and are still shared today. While these bacteria may serve important and beneficial roles, relatively little is known about them. Some don’t even have names.

Focusing on Neanderthals and today’s humans, the analysis surprisingly showed the oral microbiome of both groups were almost indistinguishable. Only when looking at individual bacterial strains could they see some differences. For example, ancient humans living in Europe before 14,000 years ago during the Ice Age shared some bacterial strains with Neanderthals that are no longer found in humans today.

The differences and similarities from the study are all part of what makes us human, Warinner said. It also touches on the power of analyzing the tiny microbes that live in the human body, she said.

“It shows that our microbiome encodes valuable information about our own evolution that sometimes gives us hints at things that otherwise leave no traces at all,” Warinner said.

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