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Happy New Year 2019

A very Happy New Year to all! May it bring to you, health, wealth, and good fortune!

 

 

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Cacao pods

 

Original article::

Sciencedailt.com

 

Researchers find cacao originated 1,500 years earlier than previously thought

 

The study, published online today in Nature Ecology & Evolution, suggests that cacao — the plant from which chocolate is made — was domesticated, or grown by people for food, around 1,500 years earlier than previously thought. In addition, the researchers found cacao was originally domesticated in South America, rather than in Central America.

Archaeological evidence of cacao’s use, dating back to 3,900 years ago, previously planted the idea that the cacao tree was first domesticated in Central America. But genetic evidence showing that the highest diversity of the cacao tree and related species is actually found in equatorial South America-where cacao is important to contemporary Indigenous groups-led the UBC team and their colleagues to search for evidence of the plant at an archaeological site in the region.

“This new study shows us that people in the upper reaches of the Amazon basin, extending up into the foothills of the Andes in southeastern Ecuador, were harvesting and consuming cacao that appears to be a close relative of the type of cacao later used in Mexico — and they were doing this 1,500 years earlier,” said Michael Blake, study co-author and professor in the UBC department of anthropology. “They were also doing so using elaborate pottery that pre-dates the pottery found in Central America and Mexico. This suggests that the use of cacao, probably as a drink, was something that caught on and very likely spread northwards by farmers growing cacao in what is now Colombia and eventually Panama and other parts of Central America and southern Mexico.”

Theobroma cacao, known as the cacao tree, was a culturally important crop in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica — a historical region and cultural area in North America that extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica. Cacao beans were used both as currency and to make the chocolate drinks consumed during feasts and rituals.

For the study, researchers studied ceramic artifacts from Santa Ana-La Florida, in Ecuador, the earliest known site of Mayo-Chinchipe culture, which was occupied from at least 5,450 years ago.

The researchers used three lines of evidence to show that the Mayo-Chinchipe culture used cacao between 5,300 and 2,100 years ago: the presence of starch grains specific to the cacao tree inside ceramic vessels and broken pieces of pottery; residues of theobromine, a bitter alkaloid found in the cacao tree but not its wild relatives; and fragments of ancient DNA with sequences unique to the cacao tree.

The findings suggest that the Mayo-Chinchipe people domesticated the cacao tree at least 1,500 years before the crop was used in Central America. As some of the artifacts from Santa Ana-La Florida have links to the Pacific coast, the researchers suggest that trade of goods, including culturally important plants, could have started cacao’s voyage north.

Sonia Zarrillo, the study’s lead author and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Calgary who carried out some of the research as a sessional instructor at UBC Okanagan’s department of anthropology, said the findings represent a methodological innovation in anthropological research.

“For the first time, three independent lines of archaeological evidence have documented the presence of ancient cacao in the Americas: starch grains, chemical biomarkers, and ancient DNA sequences,” she said. “These three methods combine to definitively identify a plant that is otherwise notoriously difficult to trace in the archaeological record because seeds and other parts quickly degrade in moist and warm tropical environments.”

Discovering the origins of food that we rely on today is important because it helps us understand the complex histories of who we are today, said Blake.

“Today we all rely, to one extent or another, on foods that were created by the Indigenous peoples of the Americas,” said Blake. “And one of the world’s favourites is chocolate.”

 

 

Some types of fish roe these days are seen as luxury foods. Perhaps it’s been that way for 6000 years.
Jean-Blaise Hall/Getty Images

 

Original article:

Cosnosmagazine.com

 

Analysis of cooking gunk from six millennia ago reveals a surprisingly sophisticated palate. Andrew Masterson reports.

The meal – or, more likely, the dish, one element of a more varied repast – was simple, but elegantly so. It comprised freshwater carp eggs, cooked in a fish broth.

The top of the earthenware bowl in which it was prepared was sealed with leaves of some sort – the eggs perhaps fried off before the stock was added, the leaves holding in steam and perhaps also adding a note or two of their own.

All up, then, the dish – a fish roe soup a little like a Korean altang, perhaps, or a Thai tom yam khai pla – likely had a pleasing and rounded depth of flavour, a certain delicacy and a beguiling aroma. It would not have been out of place on a menu in any posh restaurant from New York to Tokyo.

Except that this particular meal was cooked almost 6000 years ago, not far from what is these days Berlin.

The ingredients were identified by scientists led by Anna Shevchenko from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology in Dresden, Germany.

They did so by analysing the proteins contained in a thin crust of ancient food gunk found clinging to a small coarse ceramic bowl unearthed at an archaeological site called Friesack 4, in the Brandenburg region. The bowl had previously been radio-carbon dated to around 4300 BCE.

Writing in the journal PLOS One, Shevchenko and her colleagues note that most archaeological approaches to studying historical food substances are unable to definitively identify the species consumed.

Assumptions – often very accurate – thus have to be made on the basis of isotopes, fats and a few common biological markers, as well as indirect evidence, including artefacts, contemporary artworks or written material, the contents of latrines and middens, and so forth.

Protein analysis, a relatively new field called proteomics, however, provides much more detailed results.

Ancient proteins, the authors explain, evince age-specific modifications which allow them to be distinguished from more recent contaminants. Many proteins are also species-specific, permitting source animals and plants to be confidently identified, and changes to their biological properties, wrought by enzymes, enable educated guesses regarding cooking methods and recipes.

And the proof, it seems, if not in the pudding, is at least in the soup tureen. The ceramic bowl tested by the researchers is one of about 150,000 objects so far excavated from the Friesack 4 site. The extensive collection includes many pieces of clay and stoneware, as well as artefacts made from bone, wood, pitch and antlers.

Almost all of the pieces recovered from the site have been dated as coming from the Mesolithic period, which ran from roughly 13,000 to 300 BCE.

Initial protein analysis of the “charred organic deposits” adhering to a group of 12 shards that together comprise an unglazed, smoothed, dark brown, 10-centimetre-high pot known as #3258 indicated an aquatic origin.

In order to properly identify age and species, and to eliminate later contaminants – including human-derived keratins, food particles from the fingers of archaeologists and previous researchers and, it turned out, a speck of hair gel – the samples had to be compared against modern equivalents.

Thus, Shevchenko and colleagues report, fresh carp roe was purchased from a fish farm in Dresden, and 125 milligrams of fish muscle tissue derived from Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) was also sourced.

The latter was boiled for 30 minutes in 300 milligrams of salty water. The result would have been a nice bit of fish stock, but instead of serving it the scientists mixed it with a couple of marker compounds and separated out its components in order to use it as a standard reference.

Once all the tests had been run, the identification of carp roe inside bowl #3258 was unequivocal. The analysis produced no evidence of microorganisms commonly associated with food fermentation, so it is very likely that the eggs were fresh when they went into the pot.

Fish roe, the researchers note, can be consumed “grilled, fired, marinated, baked, smoked, dried, cured, and also boiled in broth”.

In this case, they suggest, there is clear evidence that it was “thermally processed”, but more specific assumptions about preparation method are possible. It is likely, they add, that it was “cooked in a small volume of water or fish broth, for example by poaching on embers”.

Electron microscopy carried out on the pot itself revealed an organic crust around the rim, suggesting that it was “probably capped with leaves”. Alas, the plant species could not be determined, leaving moot the question of whether Stone Age cooks used the material just to keep the heat in, or to add another flavour profile to the dish.

A crust from another bowl subjected to proteomic analysis by Shevchenko and her colleagues suggested it had been used to cook “pork with bones, sinews or skin”.

All up, the evidence gathered from the Friesack 4 ceramics suggests that stereotypic images of Mesolithic hunters chowing down on great hunks of meat cooked brutally in camp fires are substantially wrong.

For some at least, poached caviar accompanied by boar spare ribs was perhaps a more likely meal.

Happy Holidays to All

Best wishes for the Holidays and a Prosperous and peaceful 2019 to all!

 

 

LEFT) A LIVING MAIZE WEEVIL.
(RIGHT) IMAGE OF A MAIZE WEEVIL IMPRESSION FROM THE SURFACE OF A POTTERY FRAGMENT.

Original article:

eurekalert.org

 

Researchers have discovered an ancient Japanese pottery vessel from the late Jomon period (4500-3300 BP) with an estimated 500 maize weevils incorporated into its design. The vessel was discovered in February 2016 from ruins in Hokkaido, Japan. This extremely rare discovery provides clues on the cultivation and distribution of chestnuts, food in the Jomon era, and the spirituality of ancient Japanese people.

Maize weevils are beetles of the Dryophthorinae subfamily, and are destructive pests of stored rice and grains. By 2003*, Jomon-period pottery and pottery fragments containing foreign-body impressions had been collected by various researchers from multiple archeological sites around Japan. Surveys of these impressions exposed hundreds of seed and insect traces on and in the pottery. Over the years, researchers found that maize weevils constituted over 90% of all recorded insect impressions.

In 2010, Professor Obata’s research group from Kumamoto University (KU) in Japan found maize weevil impressions in 10,000 year-old pottery that had been recovered from the southern Japanese island of Tanegashima. They showed that maize weevils, which were thought to have come from the Korean Peninsula, had damaged stored food, such as acorns and chestnuts, long before rice cultivation began in the area.

In 2012*, the KU research group found maize weevils impressions in pottery fragments from the Sannai-Maruyama site in the northern Japanese prefecture of Aomori. The fact that weevils inhabited an area with a cold winter is an indicator for the distribution food by humans and a warm indoor environment that persisted throughout winter. It is presumed that weevil infestation of stored food was well underway in the Jomon period.

Continuing their study of pottery from northern Japan, Professor Obata’s team discovered the first maize weevil impressions from Hokkaido, and in February of 2016 discovered a pottery vessel that contained a large number of maize weevils. X-ray CT scans were taken to count insect cavities and revealed that 417 adult maize weevils were contained in the remaining parts of the pottery. In addition, if all of the missing pieces were accounted for, it is estimated that up to 501 weevils were mixed into the clay and appeared in the vessel when it was whole.

Interestingly, when comparing the body size of 337 maize weevil impressions found nationwide, the team discovered that the body length of maize weevils from eastern Japan was about 20% longer than that of western Japan. It is presumed that this body-length discrepancy is due to the different nutritional values between the types of foods they infested–the sweet chestnuts of eastern Japan vs the acorns of western Japan.

Chestnuts are not native to Hokkaido and previous studies surmised that people carried them to the northern Japanese island. The discovery of weevils at the Tatesaki archaeological site in Hokkaido is evidence that the Jomon people of Tohoku (south of Hokkaido) carried supplies, including chestnuts infested by weevils, over the Tsugaru Strait by ship.

“The meaning of a large amount of adult maize weevils in pottery was not touched upon in detail in my paper,” said Professor Obata. “However, I believe that the Jomon people mixed the weevils into the pottery clay with the hope of having a good harvest.”

Grape seeds found in ancient Sri Lanka may have been imported by Roman merchants.
iStock.com/RinoCdZ

 

By Lizzie Wade

Science mag.org

 

Visit Mantai, nestled into a bay in northwestern Sri Lanka, and today you’ll see nothing but a solitary Hindu temple overlooking the sea. But 1500 years ago, Mantai was a bustling port where merchants traded their era’s most valuable commodities. Now, a study of ancient plant remains reveals traders from all corners of the world—including the Roman Empire—may have visited or even lived there.

Mantai was a hub on the ancient trade networks that crisscrossed the Indian Ocean and connected the distant corners of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. The port town flourished between 200 B.C.E. and 850 C.E. During that time, it would have been a nexus for the spice trade, which ferried Indonesian cloves and Indian peppercorns to Middle Eastern and Roman kitchens.

But for such a potentially important site in the ancient world, Mantai has been difficult for archaeologists to study. After excavations in the early 1980s, research was halted in 1984 by Sri Lanka’s civil war. “Mantai was firmly in the red zone,” says Robin Coningham, an archaeologist who studies South Asia at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Only after the fighting ended in 2009 could a team led by Sri Lanka’s Department of Archaeology return to continue excavations.

Eleanor Kingwell-Banham, an archaeobotanist at University College London, joined the team to study the plant remains sifted from the excavated soil. She found an abundance of locally grown rice grains, but also more exotic products: charred black pepper dating to 600–700 C.E. and a single clove from 900–1100 C.E.—an exceptionally rare find, because ancient people were very careful with their spices, her team reports today in Antiquity. “Because [spices] are so valuable, people in the past really made sure they didn’t lose them or burn them,” Kingwell-Banham says. “These things were worth more than gold.” The clove, in particular, must have made quite a journey—about 7000 kilometers from its native home in the Maluku Islands of Indonesia.

The team also found remains that could link the port city to the ancient Mediterranean world—processed wheat grains dated to 100 to 200 C.E. and grape seeds dated to 650 to 800 C.E. Neither crop can grow in Sri Lanka’s wet, tropical climate, so they had to be imported, possibly from as far as Arabia or the Roman world. Kingwell-Banham says her team is studying the chemical isotopes absorbed by the plants to determine where they were grown.

But no matter their precise origin, the coexistence of rice and wheat is evidence of Mantai’s “cosmopolitan cuisine,” in which both local and foreign foods were eaten, she says. The discovery of wheat and grapes in Mantai “is entirely new,” and shifts the focus on goods transported from South Asia to the Roman world, to goods that went in the other direction,” Coningham says.

So were there Roman merchants living in Mantai, importing and cooking the foods of their homeland? “It’s certainly a possibility,” says Matthew Cobb, a historian who studies ancient Indian Ocean trade networks at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Lampeter. But no one has yet clinched the case with Roman ceramics. So exactly who in Mantai had a taste for Mediterranean food remains to be seen.

IMAGE: VARIETIES OF MAIZE FOUND NEAR CUSCU AND MACHU PICHU AT SALINERAS DE MARAS ON THE INCA SACRED VALLEY IN PERU, JUNE 2007. THE HISTORY OF MAIZE BEGINS WITH ITS WILD.

Eurekalert.org

More exciting news about Maze and it’s beginings!

You have to read this one.

I do believe the reference to “rice” means wild rice.

JLP

 

 

Scientists are revising the history of one of the world’s most important crops. Drawing on genetic and archaeological evidence, researchers have found that a predecessor of today’s corn plants still bearing many features of its wild ancestor was likely brought to South America from Mexico more than 6,500 years ago. Farmers in Mexico and the southwestern Amazon continued to improve the crop over thousands of years until it was fully domesticated in each region.

Source: Scientists overhaul corn domestication story with multidisciplinary analysis

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