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A new study suggests that primates may have begun drinking alchol 10 million years ago, as fermented fruit on the forest floor.

Alcohol was thought to have been first brewed by Neolithic farmers around 9,000 years ago when northern Chinese villagers made the happy discovery that fruit and honey could be fermented into an intoxicating liquor.

But new evidence suggests our ancestors had become accustomed to drinking nearly 10 million years before.

Scientists now believe that when primates left the trees and began walking on two feet they also started scooping up mushy, fermented fruit which was lying on the ground. And over time their bodies learned to process the ethanol present.

Experts at Santa Fe College in the US studied the gene ADH4 which produces an enzyme to break down alcohol in the body.

It was hypothesised that the enzyme would not appear until the first alcohol was produced by early farmers. But scientists were amazed to find it 10 million years earlier, at the end of the Miocene epoch.

The findings could explain why tree-dwelling orang-utans still cannot metabolize alcohol while humans, chimps and gorillas can.

“This transition implies the genomes of modern human, chimpanzee and gorilla began adapting at least 10 million years ago to dietary ethanol present in fermenting fruit,” said Professor Matthew Carrigan, of Santa Fe College.

“This conclusion contrasts with the relatively short amount of time – about 9,000 years – since fermentative technology enabled humans to consume beverages with higher ethanol content than fruit fermenting in the wild.

“Our ape ancestors gained a digestive enzyme capable of metabolizing ethanol near the time they began using the forest floor about 10 million years ago.

floor is expected to contain higher concentrations of fermenting yeast and ethanol than similar fruits hanging on trees this transition may also be the first time our ancestors were exposed to – and adapted to – substantial amounts of dietary ethanol.”

Any primates unable to digest the fermented fruits would have died before passing on their genes, but those who could would have passed the drinking gene on to their offspring.

The evolutionary history of the ADH4 gene was reconstructed using data from 28 different mammals, including 17 primates, collected from public databases or well-preserved tissue samples.

The first evidence of man making alcohol comes from the Neolithic village Jiahu in China where clay pots were found containing residues of tartaric acid, one of the main acids present in wine.

Some archaeologists have suggested that the entire Neolithic Revolution, which began about 11,000 years ago, was fuelled by the quest for by drinking and intoxication.

Archaeologist Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania claims that prehistoric communities cultivated wheat, rice, corn, barley, and millet primarily for the purpose of producing alcoholic beverages.

He believes that early farmers supplanted their diet with a nutritious hybrid swill which was half fruit and half wine.

By Sarah Knapton,science editor
Dec 2014
Original article:
telegraph.co.uk

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Plant particles found during the excavation of this Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan) turned out to be traces of domestic cereals when analyzed in a lab. Copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

Humans in Africa already exploited domestic cereals 7,000 years ago and thus several centuries earlier than previously known. Researchers have successfully verified ancient barley and wheat residues in grave goods and on teeth from two Neolithic cemeteries in North and Central Sudan.

The results of the analyses were recently published (online) in the journal PLoS ONE.

Dr. Welmoed Out from the University of Kiel was involved in the investigation. “With our results we can verify that people along the Nile did not only exploit gathered wild plants and animals but even crops of barley and wheat.”

These were first cultivated in the Middle East about 10,500 years ago and spread out from there to Central and South Asia as well as to Europe and North Africa – the latter faster than expected. “The diversity of the diet was much greater than previously assumed,” states Out and adds: “Moreover, the fact that grains were placed in the graves of the deceased implies that they had a special, symbolic meaning.”

The research team, coordinated by Welmoed Out and the environmental archaeologist Marco Madella from Barcelona, used a special high-quality light microscope as well as radiocarbon analyses for age determination. Mineral plant particles, so-called phytoliths, survive for a very long time, even when other plant remains are no longer discernible. In addition, calculus on the teeth provide evidence about the diet of these prehistoric humans due to the starch granules and phytoliths.

Read full paper here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0110177

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One of the graves at the Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan), containing a skeleton and plant material deposited behind the skull (white structure at the left picture margin). Copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

Original article:
past horizons
November 26, 2014 by past horizons

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

SAN DIEGO — Metalworkers who did skilled labor at biblical-era copper mines in modern-day Israel were rewarded for their efforts with well-rounded meals, new research suggests.

The metalworkers’ diet included good cuts of sheep and goat, as well as pistachios, grapes and fish brought to the middle of the desert from the Mediterranean, according to an analysis of ancient leftovers at “Slaves’ Hill,” a mining camp in Israel’s Timna Valley.

The findings imply that “Slaves’ Hill” might be a misnomer; the people who manned the furnaces probably weren’t slaves, but rather, they held a higher status because of their craft, archaeologists say.

Slaves’ Hill’

“Somebody took care that these people were eating well,” said Erez Ben-Yosef, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University.

Since 2012, Ben-Yosef has been leading an archaeological expedition in the heart of Timna Valley, the second biggest source of copper in the southern Levant region. (The biggest is Faynan, farther north in Jordan.) People have taken advantage of the copper deposits at Timna for millennia. There are dozens of smelting sites and thousands of primitive mining pits clearly visible in the region today. And the area is still used for copper production; the Mexican mining giant AHMSA has a stake in the region.

Recently, the Timna Valley team has taken a crack at Slaves’ Hill, a smelting factory on top of a mesa that was in operation during the 10th century B.C., the biblical era of King Solomon. Today, there are traces of ancient furnaces at the site and lots of slag, which is the rocky material that’s left over after metal is extracted from its ore. (Essentially, it’s manmade lava.)

Nelson Glueck explored the region in the 1930s, he named this hilltop site Slaves’ Hill, assuming that its fortification walls were intended to keep enslaved laborers from running off into the desert.

“When he saw this very harsh environment, he assumed that the labor force had to be slaves,” Ben-Yosef told Live Science.

But the findings of the Central Timna Valley Project paint a different picture. Ben-Yosef and his colleague Lidar Sapir-Hen, another archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, looked at animal remains from Slaves’ Hill and found mostly sheep and goat bones, many with butchery marks. This supports the idea that this mining camp relied on livestock for food. Bones from the meatiest parts of the sheep and goats were found near the smelting furnaces.

The archaeologists also found the remains of 11 fish, including catfish, which would have come from the Mediterranean Sea, at least 125 miles (200 kilometers) away. The researchers found pistachios and grapes, too, which would have come from the Mediterranean region. The team also discovered a sea snail known as a cowrie, which would have come from a more local water source, the Red Sea, at least 19 miles (30 km) to the south.

The archaeologists said they think that whoever was running this mining camp was importing food and saving the best cuts of meat for the metalworkers, not the people who were doing auxiliary tasks, such as cooking the food, crushing the ore and preparing the charcoal, nor slaves who might have been working in the actual mines.

“What we found was that the guys working at the furnace, which is supposedly very hard work with very high temperatures above 1,200 degrees Celsius [above 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit], these people were treated the best,” Ben-Yosef said. “They were highly regarded. It goes together with the need for them to be highly specialized and very professional.”

Metalworkers had to be multitaskers. They controlled nearly 40 different variables, from the temperature to the amount of air to the amount of charcoal in the furnace, Ben-Yosef said.

“If they had mistaken something, the entire process would fail,” Ben-Yosef said. “On the other hand, if they do succeed, they are the guys who know how to make metal from rock.”

Solomon’s mines?

The site has a complicated scholarly history. When Glueck first explored the region, he thought he was looking at Iron Age mines that fueled King Solomon’s fabled wealth.

Later research then cast doubt on Glueck’s interpretation. In 1969, an Egyptian temple dedicated to the goddess Hathor was discovered in Timna Valley. Archaeologists at the time took this as evidence that mining in the area was controlled by Egypt’s New Kingdom during the Bronze Age, a few centuries earlier than the supposed reign of King Solomon.

When Ben-Yosef’s team revisited the site, they took carbon dates at Slaves’ Hill, and found that most artifacts date to the 10th century B.C., when the Bible says King Solomon ruled. Still, there is no evidence linking Solomon or his kingdom to the mines (and little evidence outside of the Bible for Solomon as a historical figure). One theory is that the mines were controlled by the Edomites, a semi-nomadic tribal confederacy that battled constantly with Israel.

Last year, the team’s research at Timna Valley added another layer of nuance to the biblical narrative. Ben-Yosef and Sapir-Hen published an analysis of camel bones at Slaves’ Hill and other surrounding sites. The age of the earliest bones supports the theory that camels were not introduced to the region until at least the early Iron Age — in contradiction to the Old Testament, which refers to camels as pack animals as far back as the Patriarchal Age, which is thought to be around 2000 B.C.

The latest findings of the Central Timna Valley Project were detailed in the September issue of the journal Antiquity and were presented here last week at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. The team will return to Timna Valley in February 2015. Ben-Yosef said that the researchers will investigate the smelting technology of the Egyptians who worked in the region during the Bronze Age, and will explore the actual Iron Age mines.

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from 2013, archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef points to a trench at Slaves’ Hill, a copper smelting camp in Timna Valley.
Credit: Tel Aviv Univ

by Megan Gannon, News Editor | November 25, 2014

livescience.com

Happy Holidays 2014

It’s been a while I know but the New Year should see many more posts coming your way.
Until then may 2015 bless you with health, strength, prosperity and good fortune.
We are birders at my house so our Christmas tree pays homage to that love. Below are pictures of “our birds” on the tree.
Merry Christmas one and all.
Joanna

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studying ancient avian bones found in the northern part of that country, suspect the remains may be that of the oldest known example of chicken domestication. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe their analysis and report on their findings.

Identifying the first culture to domesticate chickens has been hotly debated for over a century, without any clear winner, and it may remain that way as evidence is piling up suggesting that chickens were likely domesticated in a variety of places across the globe and have since undergone comingling, creating a mish-mash of genetic evidence. In this new effort, the researchers sought to find out if ancient bone samples found in four different archeological sites in northern China were chicken ancestors and if so, if they were domesticated. The bones were found alongside charcoal and other animal remains, such as dogs and pigs, both of which are believed to have been domesticated by that time in history, suggesting that the bird bones were from a species that had been domesticated as well. The excavation sites have also given up other findings which suggest the people who’d been barbecuing the animals were farmers, not hunters, which also adds credence to the idea that the birds they were eating were domesticated.

The bones in question (39 in all) had been previously carbon dated to various ages, ranging from 2,300 to 10,500 years ago. The new research focused on gathering genetic evidence and using mitochondrial DNA sequencing to determine if the birds were chicken ancestors, or not. The team compared the DNA of the ancient birds with modern birds of the Galliformes order, which include rock partridges, pheasants and of course chickens and also to samples of ancient bones found in other places, such as Spain, Hawaii, Easter Island and Chile. Their analyses revealed that the birds were members of the genus Gallus, which includes modern chickens. But it’s still not enough to prove that they were actually the first example of domesticated chickens because there is still no conclusive proof that the birds were actually domesticated.

Abstract
Chickens represent by far the most important poultry species, yet the number, locations, and timings of their domestication have remained controversial for more than a century. Here we report ancient mitochondrial DNA sequences from the earliest archaeological chicken bones from China, dating back to ∼10,000 B.P. The results clearly show that all investigated bones, including the oldest from the Nanzhuangtou site, are derived from the genus Gallus, rather than any other related genus, such as Phasianus. Our analyses also suggest that northern China represents one region of the earliest chicken domestication, possibly dating as early as 10,000 y B.P. Similar to the evidence from pig domestication, our results suggest that these early domesticated chickens contributed to the gene pool of modern chicken populations. Moreover, our results support the idea that multiple members of the genus Gallus, specifically Gallus gallus and Gallus sonneratii contributed to the gene pool of the modern domestic chicken. Our results provide further support for the growing evidence of an early mixed agricultural complex in northern China.

Nov 25, 2014 by Bob Yirka

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Original article:
phys.org

Animal teeth, bones and plant remains have helped researchers from Cambridge, China and America to pinpoint a date for what could be the earliest sustained human habitation at high altitude.

Archaeological discoveries from the ‘roof of the world’ on the Tibetan Plateau indicate that from 3,600 years ago, crop growing and the raising of livestock was taking place year-round at hitherto unprecedented altitudes.

The findings, published today in Science, demonstrate that across 53 archaeological sites spanning 800 miles, there is evidence of sustained farming and human habitation between 2,500 metres above sea level (8,200ft) and 3,400 metres (11,154ft).

Evidence of an intermittent human presence on the Tibetan Plateau has been dated to at least 20,000 years ago, with the first semi-permanent villages established only 5,200 years ago. The presence of crops and livestock at the altitudes discovered by researchers indicates a more sustained human presence than is needed to merely hunt game at such heights.

Professor Martin Jones, from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, and one of the lead researchers on the project, said: “Until now, when and how humans started to live and farm at such extraordinary heights has remained an open question. Our understanding of sustained habitation above 2-3,000m on the Tibetan Plateau has to date been hampered by the scarcity of archaeological data available.

“But our findings show that not only did these farmer-herders conquer unheard of heights in terms of raising livestock and growing crops like barley and millet, but that human expansion into the higher, colder altitudes took place as the continental temperatures were becoming colder.

“Year-round survival at these altitudes must have led to some very challenging conditions indeed – and this poses further, interesting questions for researchers about the adaptation of humans, livestock and crops to life at such dizzying heights.”

Professor Jones hopes more work will now be undertaken to look at genetic resistance in humans to altitude sickness, and genetic response in crop plants in relation to attributes such as grain vernalisation, flowering time response and ultraviolet radiation tolerance – as well as research into the genetic and ethnic identity of the human communities themselves.

raised interesting questions about the timing and introduction of Western crops such as barley and wheat – staples of the so-called ‘Fertile Crescent’. From 4,000-3,600 years ago, this meeting of east and west led to the joining or displacement of traditional North Chinese crops of broomcorn and foxtail millet. The importation of Western cereals enabled human communities to adapt to the harsher conditions of higher altitudes in the Plateau.

In order to ascertain during what period and at what altitude sustained food produced first enabled an enduring human presence, the research group collected artefacts, animal bones and plant remains from 53 sites across the late Yangshao, Majiayao, Qiija, Xindian, Kayue and Nuomuhong cultures.

Cereal grains (foxtail millet, broomcorn millet, barley and wheat) were identified at all 53 sites and animal bones and teeth (from sheep, cattle and pig) were discovered at ten sites. Of the 53 sites, an earlier group (dating from 5,200-3,600 years ago) reached a maximum elevation of 2,527m while a later group of 29 sites (dating from 3,600-2,300 years ago) approached 3,400m in altitude.

Professor Jones believes the Tibetan Plateau research could have wider and further-reaching implications for today’s world in terms of global food security and the possibilities of rebalancing the ‘global diet'; at present heavily, and perhaps unsustainably, swayed in favour of the big three crops of rice, wheat and maize.

He said: “Our current knowledge of agricultural foods emphasises a relatively small number of crops growing in the intensively managed lowlands. The more we learn about the rich ecology of past and present societies, and the wider range of crops they raised in the world’s more challenging environments, the more options we will have for thinking through food security issues in the future.”

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Source: University of Cambridge press release

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Modern-day barley harvest in Qinghai, farmed at a height of 3,000 meters above sea level. Credit Professor Martin Jones, University of Cambridge

Original article:
popular archaeology

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