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A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls – a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the builders of nearby Stonehenge during the 25th century BC.

A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls – a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the builders of nearby Stonehenge during the 25th century BC.

Original Article:

heritagedaily.com

 

A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls – a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the builders of nearby Stonehenge during the 25th century BC.

Together with researchers at the University of Sheffield, detailed analysis of pottery and animal bones has uncovered evidence of organised feasts featuring barbeque-style roasting, and an unexpected pattern in how foods were distributed and shared across the site.

Chemically analysing food residues remaining on several hundred fragments of pottery, the York team found differences in the way pots were used. Pots deposited in residential areas were found to be used for cooking animal products including pork, beef and dairy, whereas pottery from the ceremonial spaces was used predominantly for dairy.

Such spatial patterning could mean that milk, yoghurts and cheeses were perceived as fairly exclusive foods only consumed by a select few, or that milk products – today often regarded as a symbol of purity – were used in public ceremonies.

Unusually, there was very little evidence of plant food preparation at any part of the site. The main evidence points to mass animal consumption, particularly of pigs. Further analysis of animal bones, conducted at the University of Sheffield, found that many pigs were killed before reaching their maximum weight. This is strong evidence of planned autumn and winter slaughtering and feasting-like consumption.

The main methods of cooking meat are thought to be boiling and roasting in pots probably around indoor hearths, and larger barbeque-style roasting outdoors – the latter evidenced by distinctive burn patterns on animal bones.

Bones from all parts of the animal skeleton were found, indicating that livestock was walked to the site rather than introduced as joints of meat. Isotopic analysis indicates that cattle originated from many different locations, some far away from the site. This is significant as it would require orchestration of a large number of volunteers likely drawn from far and wide. The observed patterns of feasting do not fit with a slave-based society where labour was forced and coerced, as some have suggested.

Dr Oliver Craig, Reader in Archaeological Science at the University of York and lead author on the paper, said: “Evidence of food-sharing and activity-zoning at Durrington Walls shows a greater degree of culinary organisation than was expected for this period of British prehistory. The inhabitants and many visitors to this site possessed a shared understanding of how foods should be prepared, consumed and disposed. This, together with evidence of feasting, suggests Durrington Walls was a well-organised working community.”

Professor Mike Parker Pearson, Professor at University College London and Director of the Feeding Stonehenge project who also led the excavations at Durrington Walls, said: “This new research has given us a fantastic insight into the organisation of large-scale feasting among the people who built Stonehenge. Animals were brought from all over Britain to be barbecued and cooked in open-air mass gatherings and also to be eaten in more privately organized meals within the many houses at Durrington Walls.

“The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone. The sharing of food had religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity among Britain’s scattered farming communities in prehistory. ”

Dr Lisa-Marie Shillito, who analysed the pottery samples and recently joined Newcastle University, added: “The combination of pottery analysis with the study of animal bones is really effective, and shows how these different types of evidence can be brought together to provide a detailed picture of food and cuisine in the past”.

UNIVERSITY OF YORK

Overhead view of a possible ancient tavern, with three reddish circles marking the bread ovens and pebbles marking built-in benches in the dining room at the right. (Photo: Lattes excavations)

Overhead view of a possible ancient tavern, with three reddish circles marking the bread ovens and pebbles marking built-in benches in the dining room at the right.
(Photo: Lattes excavations)

The kitchen of what looks like an ancient tavern, with three reddish circles where the three ovens -- for baking flatbread and other dishes -- once stood. (Photo: Lattes excavations)

The kitchen of what looks like an ancient tavern, with three reddish circles where the three ovens — for baking flatbread and other dishes — once stood. (Photo: Lattes excavations)

 

Original Article:

Traci Watson, Special to USA TODAY, Feb 2016

usatoday.com

 

Finally a decent place to eat! Archaeologists digging in southern France have found a restaurant-like structure roughly 2,100 years old, making it one of the earliest such taverns in the western Mediterranean.

The dining complex in the ancient town of Lattara was open for business as the Romans conquered the area, bringing with them ideas that would shake up the local economy and way of life. According to the tavern’s discoverers, Lattara’s people were farmers before the Romans marched in; after the Roman takeover, new kinds of jobs likely arose – and so did dining out.

“If you’re not growing your own food, where are you going to eat?” says archaeologist Benjamin Luley of Gettysburg College, co-author of a new study in Antiquity describing the site. “The Romans, in a very practical Roman way, had a very practical solution … a tavern.”

At first the researchers thought they’d uncovered a bakery. In a room near a key intersection in Lattara, excavations over the last five years revealed the remains of three indoor gristmills and a trio of ovens, each three to four feet across, commonly used to bake flatbread. A home cook had no need for equipment on such an industrial scale.

In another room just across a courtyard, earthen benches lined the walls and a charcoal-burning hearth occupied the middle of the floor. Those features suggested a sit-down joint rather than a takeout counter.

The menu must’ve been extensive. Fish bones littered the kitchen, and bones from sheep and cattle were found in the courtyard. The floors were scattered with shards of fancy drinking bowls imported from Italy, as well as debris from large platters and bowls, report Luley and his colleague Gaël Piquès of France’s National Center for Scientific Research.

The interpretation of the site as a tavern is “plausible,” says one scholar who was not associated with the research. The Celtic people of western Europe “were famous (or infamous) in antiquity for their love of wine,” the University of Buffalo’s Stephen Dyson, an expert in Roman archaeology, says via email. The ceramic remains show “they imported the drinking vessels as well as the wine. No guzzling, sotted Celts these.”

But the site did not yield any coins, suggesting the complex could’ve been a private dining room, says Roman historian Penny Goodman of Britain’s University of Leeds. She also says there was ample trade and jobs for artisans in the region even before the Roman conquest, so it wasn’t necessarily the Romans’ arrival that spurred demand for a tavern.

Luley responds that before the Romans, Lattara show no evidence of large workshops that needed lots of labor. He also argues that people tend not to lose coins, so the absence of money in the tavern doesn’t mean diners weren’t paying for their meals.

Broken pottery, however, was regarded as trash, and at Lattara that trash is now providing a window into the carousing that took place. “They’re eating a fair amount,” Luley says, but “the most common ceramic object we found are drinking cups,” making a first-century-B.C. diner sound like the bars of today.

The dining room of what might have been an ancient tavern, showing banks of pebbles where built-in benches once stood against the walls. (Photo: Lattes excavations)

The dining room of what might have been an ancient tavern, showing banks of pebbles where built-in benches once stood against the walls. (Photo: Lattes excavations)

 

 

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The fossilized skull of Australopithecus sediba specimen MH1 and a finite element model of its cranium depicting strains experienced during a simulated bite on its premolars. “Warm” colors indicate regions of high strain, “cool” colors indicate regions of low strain. Credit: WUSTL GRAPHIC: Image of MH1 by Brett Eloff provided courtesy of Lee Berger and the University of the Witwatersrand.

Original Article:

popular-archaeology.com

Feb 8, 2016

Research published in 2012 garnered international attention by suggesting that Australopithecus sediba (A. sediba), a possible early human ancestor species discovered in South Africa by anthropologist Lee Berger, had lived on a diverse woodland diet including hard foods mixed in with tree bark, fruit, leaves and other plant products.

But new research by an international team of researchers now shows that A. sediba didn’t have the jaw and tooth structure necessary to exist on a steady diet of hard foods.

“Most australopiths had amazing adaptations in their jaws, teeth and faces that allowed them to process foods that were difficult to chew or crack open. Among other things, they were able to efficiently bite down on foods with very high forces,” said team leader David Strait, PhD, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Australopithecus sediba is thought by some researchers to lie near the ancestry of Homo, the group to which our species belongs,” said Justin Ledogar, PhD, Strait’s former graduate student and now a researcher at the University of New England in Australia. “Now we find that A. sediba had an important limitation on its ability to bite powerfully; if it had bitten as hard as possible on its molar teeth using the full force of its chewing muscles, it would have dislocated its jaw.”

The study, published Feb. 8 in the journal Nature Communications, describes biomechanical testing of a computer-based model of an A. sediba skull. The model is based on the fossil skull recovered in 2008 from the Malapa fossil site by Berger and his team. Malapa is a cave near Johannesburg, South Africa. The biomechanical methods used in the study are similar to those used by engineers to test whether or not planes, cars, machine parts or other mechanical devices are strong enough to avoid breaking during use.

A. sediba, a diminutive pre-human species that lived about two million years ago in southern Africa, has been heralded as a possible ancestor or close relative of Homo. Australopiths appear in the fossil record about four million years ago, and although they have some human traits like the ability to walk upright on two legs, most of them lack other characteristically human features like a large brain, flat faces with small jaws and teeth, and advanced tool-use.

Humans in the genus Homo are almost certainly descended from an australopith ancestor, and A. sediba is a candidate to be either that ancestor or something similar to it.

Some of the researchers who described A. sediba are also authors on the biomechanical study, including Lee Berger, PhD, and Kristian Carlson, PhD, of the University of the Witwatersrand, and Darryl de Ruiter, PhD, of Texas A&M University. Amanda Smith, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in physical anthropology at Washington University, also participated in the research.

The new study does not directly address whether Australopithecus sediba is indeed a close evolutionary relative of early Homo, but it does provide further evidence that dietary changes were shaping the evolutionary paths of early humans.

“Humans also have this limitation on biting forcefully and we suspect that early Homo had it as well, yet the other australopiths that we have examined are not nearly as limited in this regard,” Ledogar said. “This means that whereas some australopith populations were evolving adaptations to maximize their ability to bite powerfully, others (including A. sediba) were evolving in the opposite direction.”

“Some of these ultimately gave rise to Homo,” Strait said. “Thus, a key to understanding the origin of our genus is to realize that ecological factors must have disrupted the feeding behaviors and diets of australopiths. Diet is likely to have played a key role in the origin of Homo.”

Strait, a paleoanthropologist who has written about the ecological adaptations and evolutionary relationships of early humans, as well as the origin and evolution of bipedalism, said this study offers a good example of how the tools of engineering can be used to answer evolutionary questions. In this case, they help us to better understand what the facial skeleton can tell us about the diet and lifestyles of humans and other primates.

“Our study provides a really nice demonstration of the difference between reconstructing the behaviors of extinct animals and understanding their adaptations.” Strait said. “Examination of the microscopic damage on the surfaces of the teeth of A. sediba has led to the conclusion that the two individuals known from this species must have eaten hard foods shortly before they died. This gives us information about their feeding behavior. Yet, an ability to bite powerfully is needed in order to eat hard foods like nuts or seeds. This tells us that even though A. sediba may have been able to eat some hard foods, it is very unlikely to have been adapted to eat hard foods.”

The bottom line, Strait said, is that the consumption of hard foods is very unlikely to have led natural selection to favor the evolution of a feeding system that was limited in its ability to bite powerfully. This means that the foods that were important to the survival of A. sediba probably could have been eaten relatively easily without high forces.

Source: Subject press release of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

Archaeologists discovered the remains of a large-scale storage for fermented fish dating back to 7,200 BC: a view of the gutter after 50 percent of it had been removed; notice the stark contrast with the surrounding clay under the gutter as well as between the stakeholes and the surrounding clay. Image credit: SHMM / Adam Boethius / Lund University.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of a large-scale storage for fermented fish dating back to 7,200 BC: a view of the gutter after 50 percent of it had been removed; notice the stark contrast with the surrounding clay under the gutter as well as between the stakeholes and the surrounding clay. Image credit: SHMM / Adam Boethius / Lund University.

Original Article:

sci-news.com

Feb 9, 2016 by Enrico de Lazaro

Archaeologists in Sweden say they have uncovered the remains of a 9,200-year-old storage for fermented fish.

Dr. Boethius of Lund University and his colleagues found roughly 200,000 fish bones at Norje Sunnansund, an Early Mesolithic settlement site in the Blekinge province of Sweden.

“The archaeological site of Norje Sunnansund is dated to around 9,600 – 8,600 years before present and is located in south-eastern Sweden, on the shores of the ancient Lake Vesan, next to a 2-km long outlet leading to the Baltic basin,” Dr. Boethius explained.

“We’d never seen a site like this with so many well preserved fish bones, so it was amazing to find,” he added.

The archaeologists also uncovered a long pit surrounded by small stake holes and completely filled with fish bones.

“It was really strange, and because of all the fish bones in the area we knew something was going on even before we found the feature,” Dr. Boethius said.

“At first we had no idea what it was so we rescued it from the area to investigate.”

He analyzed the feature and the contents and discovered the fish bones were from freshwater fish such as cyprinids (the carps, the true minnows, and their relatives), the European perch (Perca fluviatilis), the northern pike (Esox lucius), the ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua), the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), the burbot (Lota lota) and other species.

He also showed the fish had been fermented – a skillful way of preserving food without using salt.

“The fermentation process is also quite complex in itself,” said Dr. Boethius, who is an author of a paper published online February 6 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“Because people did not have access to salt or the ability to make ceramic containers, they acidified the fish using, for example, pine bark and seal fat, and then wrapped the entire content in seal and wild boar skins and buried it in a pit covered with muddy soil. This type of fermentation requires a cold climate.”

“The discovery is unique as a find like this has never been made before,” he added. “That is partly because fish bones are so fragile and disappear more easily than, for example, bones of land animals. In this case, the conditions were quite favorable, which helped preserve the remains.”

“The amount of fish we found could have supported a large community of people,” the archaeologist said.

The findings are important as it is usually argued that people in the north lived relatively mobile lives, while people in the Levant became settled and began to farm and raise cattle much earlier.

“These findings suggest that people who survived by foraging for food were actually more advanced than assumed,” Dr. Boethius said.

 

 

Original Article:

eurekalert.org

PUBLIC RELEASE: 8-FEB-2016

Amsterdam, February 8, 2016 – 200,000 fish bones discovered in and around a pit in Sweden suggest that the people living in the area more than 9000 years ago were more settled and cultured than we previously thought. Research published in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests people were storing large amounts of fermented food much earlier than experts thought.

The new paper reveals the earliest evidence of fermentation in Scandinavia, from the Early Mesolithic time period, about 9,200 years ago. The author of the study, from Lund University in Sweden, say the findings suggest that people who survived by foraging for food were actually more advanced than assumed.

The Mesolithic period, which spanned around 10,000-5,000 BC, marked the time before people started farming in Europe. At this time, researchers previously believed groups of people in Scandinavia caught fish from the sea, lakes and rivers and moved around following the sources of food they could find.

“This is a really exciting and surprising finding that gives us a completely new picture of how the group lived,” said Adam Boethius, author of the study and historical osteology PhD student at Lund University in Sweden. “We’d never seen a site like this with so many well preserved fish bones, so it was amazing to find.”

For the first time, the new research suggests the foraging people actually settled much earlier than previously thought. They stored huge amounts of fish in one place by fermenting them, suggesting the people had more advanced technology and a more sedentary life than we thought.

If the people were more sedentary, they would have been better able to develop culture. This, say the authors, makes the culture more comparable to the Neolithic people in the Middle East, who were traditionally thought to have settled much earlier than their northern European counterparts.

Boethius and his colleagues had been excavating a site at Norje Sunnansund to rescue any artifacts from Mesolithic settlements before a road was built. As they started to dig, they found lots of fish bones, which indicated people had lived there. They then uncovered an elongated pit or gutter surrounded by small stake holes and completely filled with fish bones.

“It was really strange, and because of all the fish bones in the area we knew something was going on even before we found the feature,” said Boethius. “At first we had no idea what it was so we rescued it from the area to investigate.”

The excavation involved 16 archaeologists during five months. Boethius analyzed the feature and the contents and discovered the fish bones were from freshwater fish. He also showed the fish had been fermented – a skillful way of preserving food without using salt.

The amount of fish they found could have supported a large community of people. Given the amount and type of fish found at the site, Boethius believes freshwater sources played a more important role in the development of culture in the area than we thought. He is now working on further research to find out exactly what people were eating, and how this knowledge impacts our understanding of these ancient societies.

Follows in the next post is the first article from Sci-News.com

 

 

Qesem Cave

Qesem Cave

Original Article:

eurekalert.org

AMERICAN FRIENDS OF TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY, Feb 2016

 

New discovery at Tel Aviv University excavation of Qesem Cave reveals tortoises played a supplementary role in the diets of early humans 400,000 years ago

Grilled, boiled or salted? Turtles, or tortoises, are rarely consumed today, but a select few cultures, primarily those in East Asia, still consider turtle soup, made from the flesh of the turtle, a delicacy.

According to a new discovery at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv, the site of many major findings from the late Lower Paleolithic period, they are not alone in their penchant for tortoise. Tel Aviv University researchers, in collaboration with scholars from Spain and Germany, have uncovered evidence of turtle specimens at the 400,000-year-old site, indicating that early man enjoyed eating turtles in addition to large game and vegetal material. The research provides direct evidence of the relatively broad diet of early Paleolithic people — and of the “modern” tools and skills employed to prepare it.

The study was led by Dr. Ruth Blasco of the Centro Nacional de Investigacion Sobre la Evolucion Humana (CENIEH), Spain, and TAU’s Institute of Archaeology, together with Prof. Ran Barkai and Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. Other collaborators include: Dr. Jordi Rosell and Dr. Pablo Sanudo of Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), Spain; and Dr. Krister T. Smith and Dr. Lutz Christian Maul of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Germany. The research was published on February 1, 2016, in Quaternary Science Reviews.

“Culinary and cultural depth” to the Paleolithic diet

“Until now, it was believed that Paleolithic humans hunted and ate mostly large game and vegetal material,” said Prof. Barkai. “Our discovery adds a really rich human dimension — a culinary and therefore cultural depth to what we already know about these people.”

The research team discovered tortoise specimens strewn all over the cave at different levels, indicating that they were consumed over the entire course of the early human 200,000-year inhabitation. Once exhumed, the bones revealed striking marks that reflected the methods the early humans used to process and eat the turtles.

“We know by the dental evidence we discovered earlier that the Qesem inhabitants ate vegetal food,” said Prof. Barkai. “Now we can say they also ate tortoises, which were collected, butchered and roasted, even though they don’t provide as many calories as fallow deer, for example.”

According to the study, Qesem inhabitants hunted mainly medium and large game such as wild horses, fallow deer and cattle. This diet provided large quantities of fat and meat, which supplied the calories necessary for human survival. Until recently, it was believed that only the later Homo sapiens enjoyed a broad diet of vegetables and large and small animals. But evidence found at the cave of the exploitation of small animals over time, this discovery included, suggests otherwise.

Open questions remain

“In some cases in history, we know that slow-moving animals like tortoises were used as a ‘preserved’ or ‘canned’ food,” said Dr. Blasco. “Maybe the inhabitants of Qesem were simply maximizing their local resources. In any case, this discovery adds an important new dimension to the knowhow, capabilities and perhaps taste preferences of these people.”

According to Prof. Gopher, the new evidence also raises possibilities concerning the division of labor at Qesem Cave. “Which part of the group found and collected the tortoises?” Prof. Gopher said. “Maybe members who were not otherwise involved in hunting large game, who could manage the low effort required to collect these reptiles — perhaps the elderly or children.”

“According to the marks, most of the turtles were roasted in the shell,” Prof. Barkai added. “In other cases, their shells were broken and then butchered using flint tools. The humans clearly used fire to roast the turtles. Of course they were focused on larger game, but they also used supplementary sources of food — tortoises — which were in the vicinity.”

The researchers are now examining bird bones that were recently discovered at Qesem Cave.

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Tel Aviv University (TAU) is inherently linked to the cultural, scientific and entrepreneurial mecca it represents. It is one of the world’s most dynamic research centers and Israel’s most distinguished learning environment. Its unique-in-Israel multidisciplinary environment is highly coveted by young researchers and scholars returning to Israel from post-docs and junior faculty positions in the US.

American Friends of Tel Aviv University (AFTAU) enthusiastically and industriously pursues the advancement of TAU in the US, raising money, awareness and influence through international alliances that are vital to the future of this already impressive institution.

 

 

CAPTION An illustration of a giant flightless bird known as Genyornis newtoni, surprised on her nest by a 1 ton, predatory lizard named Megalania prisca in Australia roughly 50,000 thousand years ago. CREDIT Illustration by Peter Trusler, Monash University

CAPTION
An illustration of a giant flightless bird known as Genyornis newtoni, surprised on her nest by a 1 ton, predatory lizard named Megalania prisca in Australia roughly 50,000 thousand years ago.
CREDIT
Illustration by Peter Trusler, Monash University

 

Original Article:

eurekalert.org

January, 2016

Ancient extinction of giant Australian bird points to humans

The first direct evidence that humans played a substantial role in the extinction of the huge, wondrous beasts inhabiting Australia some 50,000 years ago — in this case a 500-pound bird — has been discovered by a University of Colorado Boulder-led team.

The flightless bird, known as Genyornis newtoni, was nearly 7 feet tall and appears to have lived in much of Australia prior to the establishment of humans on the continent 50,000 years ago, said CU-Boulder Professor Gifford Miller. The evidence consists of diagnostic burn patterns on Genyornis eggshell fragments that indicate humans were collecting and cooking its eggs, thereby reducing the birds’ reproductive success.

“We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly preying on now-extinct Australian megafauna,” said Miller, associate director of CU-Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “We have documented these characteristically burned Genyornis eggshells at more than 200 sites across the continent.”

A paper on the subject appears online Jan. 29, in Nature Communications.

In analyzing unburned Genyornis eggshells from more than 2,000 localities across Australia, primarily from sand dunes where the ancient birds nested, several dating methods helped researchers determine that none were younger than about 45,000 years old. Burned eggshell fragments from more than 200 of those sites, some only partially blackened, suggest pieces were exposed to a wide range of temperatures, said Miller, a professor in CU-Boulder’s Department of Geological Sciences.

Optically stimulated luminescence dating, a method used to determine when quartz grains enclosing the eggshells were last exposed to sunlight, limits the time range of burned Genyornis eggshell to between 54,000 and 44,000 years ago. Radiocarbon dating indicated the burnt eggshell was no younger than about 47,000 years old.

The blackened fragments were likely burned in transient, human fires — presumably to cook the eggs — rather than in wildfires, he said.

Amino acids — the building blocks of proteins -decompose in a predictable fashion inside eggshells over time. In eggshell fragments burned at one end but not the other, there is a tell-tale “gradient” from total amino acid decomposition to minimal amino acid decomposition, he said. Such a gradient could only be produced by a localized heat source, likely an ember, and not from the sustained high heat produced regularly by wildfires on the continent both in the distant past and today.

Miller also said the researchers found many of the burnt Genyornis eggshell fragments in tight clusters less than 10 feet in diameter, with no other eggshell fragments nearby. Some individual fragments from the same clusters had heat gradient differences of nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, conditions virtually impossible to reproduce with natural wildfires there, he said.

“We can’t come up with a scenario that a wildfire could produce those tremendous gradients in heat,” Miller said. “We instead argue that the conditions are consistent with early humans harvesting Genyornis eggs, cooking them over fires, and then randomly discarding the eggshell fragments in and around their cooking fires.”

Another line of evidence for early human predation on Genyornis eggs is the presence of ancient, burned eggshells of emus — flightless birds weighing only about 100 pounds and which still exist in Australia today — in the sand dunes. Emu eggshells exhibiting burn patterns similar to Genyornis eggshells first appear on the landscape about 50,000 years ago, signaling they most likely were scorched after humans arrived in Australia, and are found fairly consistently to modern times, Miller said.

The Genyornis eggs are thought to have been roughly the size of a cantaloupe and weighed about 3.5 pounds, Miller said.

Genyornis roamed the Australian outback with an astonishing menagerie of other now-extinct megafauna that included a 1,000-pound kangaroo, a 2-ton wombat, a 25-foot-long-lizard, a 300-pound marsupial lion and a Volkswagen-sized tortoise. More than 85 percent of Australia’s mammals, birds and reptiles weighing over 100 pounds went extinct shortly after the arrival of the first humans.

The demise of the ancient megafauna in Australia (and on other continents, including North America) has been hotly debated for more than a century, swaying between human predation, climate change and a combination of both, said Miller. While some still hold fast to the climate change scenario — specifically the continental drying in Australia from about 60,000 to 40,000 years ago — neither the rate nor magnitude of that change was as severe as earlier climate shifts in Australia during the Pleistocene epoch, which lacked the punch required to knock off the megafauna, said Miller.

Miller and others suspect Australia’s first inhabitants traveled to the northern coast of the continent on rafts launched from Indonesian islands several hundred miles away. “We will never know the exact time window humans arrived on the continent,” he said. “But there is reliable evidence they were widely dispersed across the continent before 47,000 years ago.”

Evidence of Australia megafauna hunting is very difficult to find, in part because the megafauna there are so much older than New World megafauna and in part because fossil bones are easily destroyed by the chemistry of Australian soils. said Miller.

“In the Americas, early human predation on the giant animals in clear — stone spear heads are found embedded in mammoth bones, for example,” said Miller. “The lack of clear evidence regarding human predation on the Australia megafauna had, until now, been used to suggest no human-megafauna interactions occurred, despite evidence that most of the giant animals still roamed Australia when humans colonized the continent.”

###

Co-authors on the new study include Research Professor Scott Lehman, doctoral student Christopher Florian and researcher Stephen DeVogel of CU-Boulder; Research Fellow John Magee of the Australian National University; and researchers from seven other Australian institutions. The study was funded in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Australian Research Council.

 

 

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