A 2010 photo of the excavations of the Early Neolithic proto-city near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo. Photo: 24 Chasa daily
The prehistoric people inhabiting the Early Neolithic settlement near today’s town of Yabalkovo, Dimitrovgrad Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria, had domesticated hens some 8,000 years ago, meaning that chickens were raised in Europe much earlier than previously thought, reveals Bulgarian archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Krasimir Leshtakov.
Leshtakov, who is a professor of archaeology and prehistory in Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, excavated the Neolithic proto-city, which dates back to the 7th millennium BC, between 2000 and 2012. The settlement near Yabalkovo was first discovered by Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Prof. Zlatozar Boev from the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia who found bones from domesticated birds there, and was then excavated by archaeologists.
“The first omelette [in Europe] was eaten 8,000 years ago in Yabalkovo,” archaeologist Krasimir Leshtakov has said at the presentation of the first volume of his book entitled “Yabalkovo” during the European Night of Museums 2015 at the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Haskovo, reports local news site Haskovo.info.
Leshtakov’s book is co-authored with J. Rodenberg and Vanya Petrova summarizes the discoveries made by him and his colleagues in 12 years of archaeological excavations of the Neolithic settlement near Yabalkovo.
The archaeologist points out the discovery that the prehistoric civilization, which inhabited today’s Haskovo region in Southern Bulgaria, raised domesticated chickens some 8,000 years ago is a breakthrough for the archaeological science.
In his words, until recently it had been thought that domesticated chickens became widespread in Europe only after the Arab invasions in the Early Middle Ages (even though there is evidence that domesticated chickens were also known but not widespread in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome).
However, some 8,000 years ago, the prehistoric people at Yabalkovo produced a breed of larger broody hens which could not fly, as indicated by the bones of four broody hens found there.
Leshtakov has also explained that the Early Neolithic proto-city near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo is the largest one of its kind in the Balkan Peninsula. Its civilization first came from Anatolia in today’s Turkey, settled the plain around today’s city of Haskovo as well as the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, and probably numbered several tens of thousands which is a fairly large number for that time period.
Based on his findings, the Bulgarian archaeologist says that in addition to chickens the prehistoric people of Yabalkovo also had domestic pigs, alcohol, white and yellow cheese (called kashkaval in Bulgaria), and raised large herds of goats, sheep, and cattle. These Early Neolithic people also smelted copper which is the earliest case of metallurgy in Europe.
Another interesting topic explored in Leshtakov‘s book is connected with the fact that the DNA of the Neolithic inhabitants of the region of Haskovo loosely matches the DNA of today’s residents of the same region, which is taken to mean that the genetic heritage of the prehistoric people who lived there 8,000 years ago is greater than previously imagined.
The remains of the Early Neolithic proto-city near Yabalkovo have been partly covered by a section of the Maritsa Highway which was built in Southern Bulgaria in the fall of 2013. However, by that time the Bulgarian archaeologists had managed to excavate and research thoroughly its prehistoric civilization.
The Early Neolithic settlement located in an area known as Karabilyuk near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo, Dimitrovgrad Municipality, Haskovo District, dates back more than 8,000 years ago, to the 7th millennium BC. The site was first discovered by Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Prof. Zlatozar Boev from the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia. Between 2000 and 2012, it was excavated by archaeologists led by Assoc. Prof. Krasimir Leshtakov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” and Dr. Vanya Petrova. Ancient Thracian finds from the Late Iron Age, and finds from the Middle Ages have also been discovered there.
The Early Neolithic proto-city near Yabalkovo was first found by Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Zlatozar Boev after he discovered there bones from 5 domesticated bird species: mute swan (Cygnus olor), two undetermined species resembling geese from the Anser genus, Eurasian coot (Fulica atra), and the bones of four domesticated hens (Gallus gallus f. domestica) which were selected by the prehistoric people to produce a breed of larger broody hens that could not fly. Thus, the Early Neolithic settlement near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo is the earliest known case of the raising of domestic chickens in Europe. The excavations have also revealed a lot of bones from domesticated livestock such as pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle, and few bones of wild herbivores meaning the Early Neolithic people from Yabalkovo were agriculturalists who did little hunting. Only 3% of their meat is estimated to have come from hunting. They were picky about their rich diet as 75% of the discovered animal bones are from young animals. As indicated by the fish bones and snail shells, they also fished for 10-kilogram carps in the nearby Maritsa River, ate snails (a total of 900 snail shells have been found in a pit on the site). They also grew pistachios, made their bread of spelt (dinkel wheat or hulled wheat, Triticum spelta), and had wine. They also had beer made of sour apples (interestingly, the name of today’s town of Yabalkovo comes from “yabalka”, the Bulgarian word for apple), and probably used formic acid for the beer’s fermentation.
The archaeological excavations have revealed that the Early Neolithic settlement had major fortifications. It did not grow over time but was built at once as a huge and complex urban structure covering a circle with a diameter of 2.5 km, with an area of approximately 5 square km. Its fortified core had the area of about two modern stadiums. It had the shape of a circle or an ellipse with a diameter of 210 meters, with two entrances to the north and the south, and was fortified with 3 moats in concentric circles with a circumference of 450-500 meters each, plus a clay-stone wall between the innermost and the middle moat, which was at least 4 meters tall; the moats were deep 3-4 meters, and wide up to 5 meters. They have been located and explored with contemporary methods for geophysical exploration. According to Bulgarian archaeologist Krasimir Leshtakov, the labor invested in the construction of this Early Neolithic proto-city is comparable with the effort for the construction of the earliest Egyptian pyramids.
The fortified urban core, which seems way ahead of its time, and could have been seen as typical for much later time periods because of its structure and complexity, appears to not have been conquered for a long time. Inside it there were rows of houses with stone foundations, each with the area of modern-day three-bedroom apartments, with an oven or hearth. The entire core was built-up, without any yards, but with paved passages with a width of 1.5-2 meters between the homes, and with drainage ditches. It is estimated that each house had about 10-12 inhabitants in extended families of three generations meaning that the total population of this Early Neolithic prehistoric city was maybe 2,000-3,000 people. The families probably specialized in different crafts since the Bulgarian archaeologists have found different tools and products in different homes: broken ceramic vessels in one home; a vertical loom in another; more than a dozen of stone tools in a third; a furnace with traces of smelting copper in a fourth. There were also richer families who were in possession of exotic items such as ostrich eggs, elephant ivory, hippopotamus bones, or rare stones. A cult area in the northern part of the fortified city has revealed a stone arrow, a stone 1-meter phallic structure, the graves of a man and a woman in unusual positions, and a large building with a zoomorphic vessel depicting a bull in its foundations which is similar to prehistoric cult buildings found in Ancient Anatolia – in Catalhoyuk and Hacilar in modern-day Southwest Turkey. The building was probably a sanctuary or the seat of a chieftain.
The Early Neolithic proto-city near Yabalkovo was a complete and complex society with all elements to satisfy a civilized human’s needs: economic, social, religious. The carbon dating of 14 human bones found near Yabalkovo has revealed that the people buried there died in 6,200-6,100 BC. They indicate that the Early Neolithic women who lived there were slim and had an average height of 165 cm (appr. 5 feet 5 inches), while the men were burly, and had an average height of 175-180 cm (5 feet 9-11 inches). The wearing out of the men’s vertebrae indicates that they carried heavy loads on their backs, and that they had rheumatic diseases which, however, were treated successfully. Their teeth indicate that they ate mostly meat and less bread. DNA tests in a laboratory in Ireland have found DNA similarities with bones from Early Neolithic settlements in Anatolia in today’s Turkey.
Contemporary archaeology hypothesizes that Neolithic cultures spread to Europe, i.e. the Balkans, from Asia Minor either through migration, or through cultural exchange between neighboring human societies. Bulgarian archaeologist Krasimir Leshtakov believes that both hypotheses are valid, and that the Early Neolithic people who settled in the Balkans from Asia Minor were not colonists but exiles or refugees chased away by their brethren because they developed a new and distinct culture very quickly. This is taken to mean they were not attached to the place where they came from, and were not colonists driven by a demographic explosion. Several prehistoric cultures formed in the Balkan Peninsula in this way. They do not seem to stem from a single fatherland in Anatolia but instead have more in common with one another, while each one of them has some common features with some of the Early Neolithic cultures in Anatolia. It is assumed that the residents of the Early Neolithic proto-city of Yabalkovo came from Northwest Anatolia, as their settlement shares some similarities with a recently discovered Neolithic settlement near Bursa, Turkey. At the same time, however, the settlement near Yabalkovo reveals characteristic that are more typical of Neolithic settlements in the eastern-most part of Anatolia such as a male deity symbolized by a phallic structure while lacking the female idols or zoomorphic figures found in other Neolithic settlements in Southern Bulgaria.
The people of Yabalkovo are believed to have came from Asia Minor by sea, sailing from a location south of today’s Izmir in Turkey to Europe’s Aegean Sea coast and reaching the region of today’s Haskovo through the Eastern Rhodope Mountains or by going up the valley of the Maritsa River. At least two Neolithic settlements similar to the one near Yabalkovo have been found in Southern Bulgaria along this alleged migration route – one near the city of Kardzhali and another one near the town of Krumovgrad. The proto-city near Yabalkovo probably controlled the raft trade traffic on the Maritsa River because the archaeologists have found there “imported” items from other parts of modern-day Bulgaria – flint from today’s Northeast Bulgaria, nephrite from an unknown distant location, precious stones from the Rhodope Mountains, and copper ore from the Eastern and Northern Rhodope Mountains. The richness of the Early Neolithic proto-city near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo is believed to have led to its demise. It existed for about 600 years. Its mighty fortifications indicate that its inhabitants had a lot to be afraid of. In one of the moats the archaeologists have found the bones of a warrior, a defender, with a 6 cm incision in his skull caused by a stone ax blow. He was probably killed when the proto-city was looted and burned down. The archaeologists have found no necropolis, only several funerals near the Maritsa River indicating that the prehistoric people connected the afterlife with the river.
The Early Neolithic settlement near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo also appears to be the earliest known site with metallurgy in Europe. Tests carried out in the Berlin Museum of Natural History of smelted copper discovered at Yabalkovo in 2003 have proven that this was the earliest case of metallurgy in all of Europe pushing back by 1,500 years the time when metallurgy appeared on the European continent. The copper ore was probably mined under Mount Aida in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains.
A number of artifacts from the Antiquity and Middle Ages have also been discovered on the archaeological site near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo, one of the most unique ones being an Ancient Thracian bronze statue of a lion with its head turned backwards. The lion statue was found in 2011. It is dated to the 5th-4th century BC, and is the only one of its kind known in world archaeology.
In the fall of 2013, after it had been excavated since 2000, part of the prehistoric settlement near Yabalkovo was covered with concrete for the construction of a section of the Maritsa Highway running in Southern Bulgaria.
By Ivan Dikov
wooden butter churn lid unearthed at Norton Bridge is from the Saxon period following scientific tests.
Evidence of prehistoric activity was uncovered in the same area of the site and archaeologists believed the butter churn could be from the same period.
But radiocarbon tests have revealed the lid of the butter churn dates from the early medieval period when the area was part of the Mercian kingdom.
The tests have put a fragment of wood found with the lid as dating between AD715-890, so the lid is from the same period as the Staffordshire Hoard.
archaeologist at the site where Network Rail is building a new flyover and 11 bridges to remove the last major bottleneck on the West Coast main line as part of the £250m Stafford Area ImprovementsProgramme. The work is being delivered by the Staffordshire Alliance – a partnership of Atkins, Laing O’Rourke, Network Rail and VolkerRail.
Dr Tetlow said she was surprised but delighted by the news as there was so little evidence of the period archaeologically.
She said: “During this period this part of Staffordshire was part of the Mercian heartland and was populated by a pagan tribe called the Pencersaete.
“Existing knowledge of this period for the north and east of the Midlands and the UK in general is very scarce, so this find is fantastic and of regional significance.”
Dr Tetlow, of Headland Archaeology, added the tribe would have experienced similar weather conditions to us with unsettled and stormy weather.
“This was a period of dynamic climate change culminating in the Medieval Warm Period. The weather patterns were similar to those we are experiencing today.
“It was increasingly unsettled and stormy with flooding and an increase in temperature.”
further evidence of worked wooden stakes and wood chips – were made in a section of waterlogged peat close to Meece Road.
A number of Victorian stoneware bottles bearing the names of breweries from Bristol to Manchester have also been unearthed.
Residents will have the chance to view some of the objects and discuss them with Dr Tetlow and other colleagues working on the site at an information day in June. She is also preparing a paper on the finds for the Stafford and Mid-Staffs Archaeological Society.
Staffordshire Alliance manager Matt Clark said: “Despite a challenging workload and at times some challenging weather we’ve worked hard with Emma to safeguard archaeology at the site and it’s been fascinating so see what she’s uncovered.
“We’re looking forward to sharing and discussing some of these finds with the community.”
By Staffordshire Newsletter
SAKURAI, Nara Prefecture–Basil pollen from the time of the legendary shaman queen Himiko has been discovered at the site that might once have been her home.
The basil, the oldest found in Japan, dates back more than 1,500 years and originated in the tropics of Southeast Asia, archaeologists announced May 13.
It was found in the Makimuku ruins which date back to the early third and fourth centuries.
“Basil of Southeast Asian origin could have been brought here as dried medicinal herbs through exchanges with the Chinese,” said Masaaki Kanehara, a professor of archaeology at Nara University of Education.
The ruins, a national historic site, are believed to have once been home to the ancient kingdom of Yamataikoku that was ruled by Himiko.
The exact location of the kingdom has long been a topic of academic debate.
The find was announced in an article published by Kanehara and his wife, Masako, who is also an environmental archaeologist, in a bulletin of the Research Center for Makimukugaku.
The pollen was discovered during a dig conducted in 1991 in a ditch measuring 1.5 meters wide and 1 meter deep, located about 50 meters south of a “kofun” in the ruins. A kofun is a huge burial mound of a high-ranking figure in ancient Japan and the Makimuku Ishizuka Kofun is believed to have been built in the early or mid third century.
Realizing several years ago that the discovered pollen resembled that of the basil plant, the couple planted about 10 kinds of basil last year. After comparing different kinds of basil pollen, the two concluded that the pollen found in the ruins likely came from a strain originating in Southeast Asia.
As only a tiny amount was discovered, it is believed that basil was not cultivated in the area. In addition, the deteriorated colors of the specimen suggests that it is not pollen from a newer era that slipped into the ruins at a later date.
Basil, a herb belonging to the mint family, boasts more than 40 species that originated in India and Southeast Asia.
The strong-scented kind used in Italian cuisine was introduced into Europe from India. In China, basil became an ingredient for medicine, and was ingested in the belief it improved blood flow. In the Edo Period (1603-1867), the seeds of the plant, which become gelatinous when soaked in water, were used as eyewash in Japan.
According to the Gishiwajinden (Biography of the Wa people) chronicle in “Wei Zhi,” the official history book of the Wei Dynasty, a number of Chinese missions were sent to Japan in the mid-third century via the Korean Peninsula.
By KAZUTO TSUKAMOTO
The term “vintage” may now have a whole new meaning for wine lovers—a treasure trove of 170-year-old champagne has been unearthed from the bottom of the sea. In 2010, a group of divers in the Baltic Sea happened upon the remains of a sunken trade schooner just off the coast of Finland. Scattered amongst the wreckage 160 feet below the surface, they discovered a treasure sent from Dionysus himself—168 bottles of French bubbly that had aged in near perfect conditions for decades.
Although the local government ultimately claimed the bottles, a team of scientists led by Philippe Jeandet, a professor of food biochemistry at the University of Reims, was able to obtain a small sample of the preserved beverage for testing—and tasting. Their chemical and sensory analysis, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides a unique lens into the past, offering information about conventional winemaking practices in the 19th century as well as the likely destination of the lost trade ship.
Despite the fact that the labels had long since worn off, branded images on the interior surface of the corks allowed the team to identify the original vintners. Several champagne houses were represented, including Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, a well-known brand founded in 1772 that still exists today. To conduct their chemical analysis, the team compared the older “Baltic wine” with modern Veuve Clicquot. Their results show that the Baltic versions contained lower alcohol content and higher sugar levels than their modern-day counterpart.
Many of these chemical differences can be explained by “steps in the production process that were less controlled than they are today,” says Jeandet. Specifically, the researchers believe that the lower alcohol levels are a consequence of a colder average climate, which would inhibit grape maturation and overall levels of alcohol from sugar, as well as use of a less efficient yeast product. Also, while individual grapes did not produce particularly high sugar yields, 19th-century winemakers were known to add a considerable amount of sugar to artificially sweeten their champagnes. Addition of sugar syrup at the end of the production process would have diluted the wine, also possibly accounting for the lower alcohol content.
“Today most champagnes contain low levels of sugar that are added at the end of the process,” says Jeandet. “The Baltic wine we analyzed contained at least 140 grams of sugar per liter, as compared to about 6 to 8 grams per liter used today.”
The aged wine also had enhanced levels of iron, copper, sodium and chlorine. The researchers hypothesize that the increased concentration of iron and copper, accompanied by several wood compounds, suggests the use of metal- and wood-containing vessels during the manufacturing process. This contrasts with the steel vessels that are predominately used today. Furthermore, in the 1800s “copper sulfate was often used for the control of disease in the vineyard, as opposed to fungicide containing organic compounds used today,” says Jeandet. This also accounts for the high levels of copper compounds observed.
Meanwhile, the heightened levels of sodium and chlorine in the Baltic wine can be attributed to salt, which was repeatedly added to help stabilize wine during the 19th-century manufacturing process. Today, these similar processes occur after the blending of the wine, leading to relatively lower sodium levels.
According to the authors, the sugar content also provides an important clue about the destination of the trade schooner. The location of the wreckage suggests that the ship may have been destined for a Russian market. However, historical records of regional preferences in wine sweetness provide conflicting evidence. The Russians demanded extremely high sugar levels of around 300 grams per liter. Russians had such a sweet tooth that “it was common to have sugar on every table close to the wine glass—for they added sugar not only to red wine, but also to champagne,” says Jeandet. This spurred the creation of an entirely separate brand of extra-sweet bubbly called Champagne à la Russe.
The Germans and French, meanwhile, demanded more moderate sugar levels of approximately 150 grams per liter, while British and American connoisseurs preferred even lower levels of around 20 to 60 grams per liter. Based on the measured sugar content of the Baltic wine, the authors think this particular shipment was probably destined for the Germanic Confederation, whose constituents preferred more moderately sweetened champagne.
So what about the question that virtually everyone is asking: “What does this stuff taste like?”
By a stroke of luck, most of the bottles had been preserved in ideal conditions—at a depth characterized by minimal light and temperatures ranging between 35 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers observed very low levels of acetic acid in the wine, a primary red flag for spoilage. So as part of the testing, the team had a panel of wine experts take a taste. The compiled responses were then compared to the chemical findings.
Initially, the experts described the Baltic wines with words such as “animal notes,” “wet hair” and “cheesy.” However, after the wine was swirled a bit in the glass, providing some much needed oxygen, it took on a whole new character. Once it had a chance to breathe, the champagne was described as “grilled, spicy, smoky, and leathery” accompanied by fruity and floral notes, according to the paper.
Although he was not given a bottle to keep for himself, Jeandet was able to obtain a small personal sample of 100 microliters to try. “It was incredible. I have never tasted such a wine in my life,” says Jeandet. “The aroma stayed in my mouth for three or four hours after tasting it.” Wine connoisseurs seem to agree, as several of these bottles have been auctioned off for up to 100,000 euros each, according to Jeandet. Other bottles have been sent to museums or historical institutions. Further work may prove useful to enologists who are now investigating the potential for deep-sea aging as a technique to enhance or augment the taste of various wines.
By Adan Hoffman, April 20, 2015
Honey has such a long history in this area. Check out my other posts on honey and the mead I made in 2011.
Originally posted on British Museum blog:
Helen Anderson, Project Cataloguer of African Rock Art Image Project, British Museum
In Summer 2014 the green roof of the newly opened World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre (WCEC) at the British Museum became home to a colony of bees. The bees were introduced as part of an initiative by an organisation called Inmidtown – to boost the diminishing population of bees and train Museum staff in the craft of beekeeping. I, along with a number of keen volunteers, have taken up the exciting challenge to look after our bees on the roof on a weekly basis until September.
My own fascination with bees goes back to my childhood in Norfolk. I vividly remember watching their comings and goings on an oversized lavender bush in our garden; an attraction which didn’t…
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