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The ancient Paracas culture of Peru is known for its ornate textiles. This culture has been well documented by archaeologists yet neglected by bioarchaeologists. A team of researchers, including Arizona State University bioarchaeologist Kelly Knudson, is working to correct this deficit.

ASU researcher uses new tools to explore ancient life

Posted: February 12, 2015

textile from the Wari Kayan Necropolis
The ancient Paracas culture of Peru is known for its ornate textiles. This culture has been well documented by archaeologists yet neglected by bioarchaeologists. A team of researchers, including Arizona State University bioarchaeologist Kelly Knudson, is working to correct this deficit.

Mummies excavated nearly a century ago are yielding new information about past lifeways through work conducted in Arizona State University’s Archaeological Chemistry Laboratory.

Using new techniques in bioarchaeology and biogeochemistry, a team of bioarchaeologists and archaeologists have been able to study the diets of 14 individuals dating back almost 2,000 years.

The findings were recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The mummies were unearthed from one of the most famous sites in Peru: the Paracas Necropolis of Wari Kayan, two densely populated collections of burials off the southern coast. The region has a rich archaeological history that includes intricate textiles and enormous geoglyphs, yet it has been relatively overlooked for bioarchaeological research.

With support from the National Science Foundation, ASU associate professor Kelly Knudson and her colleagues are attempting to rectify that.

In addition to Knudson, the team was made up by Ann H. Peters, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Elsa Tomasto Cagigao, of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.

The researchers used hair samples – between two and 10 sequential samples for each mummy, in addition to two hair artifacts – to investigate the diets of Paracas’ ancient people. They focused on carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of keratin to determine what these individuals ate in the final stages of their lives.

Diet not only provides insight into health, but can also indicate where people lived and traveled, as well as offer clues about their daily lives by pointing to whether their foods were sourced from farming, fishing, hunting or gathering.

During the last months of their lives, the Paracas individuals appear to have eaten primarily marine products and C4 and C3 plants, such as maize and beans. Also, they were either geographically stable or, if they traveled between the inland highlands and coastal regions, continued to consume marine products.

“What is exciting to me about this research is that we are using new scientific techniques to learn more about mummies that were excavated almost 100 years ago. It is a great application of new science to older museum collections,” says Knudson, who is in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Knudson, who is affiliated with the school’s Center for Bioarchaeological Research, explained why it is so important to learn about the lived experiences of people who existed long ago.

“By using small samples of hair from these mummies, we can learn what they ate in the months and weeks before they died, which is a very intimate look at the past,” Knudson said.

When first discovered in 1927 by Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello, each mummy was bound in a seated position; found with burial items, like baskets or weapons; and wrapped in a cone-shaped bundle of textiles, including finely embroidered garments.

Since the sampled individuals were mostly male, Knudson and her colleagues suggest that future research may involve more females and youths. The researchers also plan to further examine artifacts and mortuary evidence to build context for their isotopic data.

More information on the Necropolis of Wari Kayan can be found at the Paracas Archaeology Research site.

By: Rebecca Howe,

Original article:

Asunews.asu




Charred 1500 year old Grape seeds

First of its kind discovery of 1,500 year-old grape seeds may answer the question: Why was the wine of the Negev so renowned in the Byzantine Empire.


For the first time, grape seeds from the Byzantine era have been found. These grapes were used to produce “the Wine of the Negev” — one of the finest and most renowned wines in the whole of the Byzantine Empire. The charred seeds, over 1,500 years-old, were found at the Halutza excavation site in the Negev during a joint dig by the University of Haifa and the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The vines growing in the Negev today are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world. Our next job is to recreate the ancient wine, and perhaps in that way we will be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the Negev wine so fine,” said Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa, director of the excavation. 
The archeologists know of “the Wine of the Negev” or “Gaza Wine” — named for the port it was sent from to all corners of the empire — from historical sources from the Byzantine period. This wine was considered to be of very high quality and was very expensive, but unfortunately, it did not survive to our day, so we do not know what it was that made it so fine. In earlier excavations in the Negev, archeologists found the terraces where the vines were cultivated, the wineries where wine was produced, and the jugs in which the wine was stored and exported, but the grape seeds themselves were not found. 
All this, as we said, until the current excavation at the Halutza National Park, which is part of a bio-archaeological study examining the causes of the rise and fall of the Byzantines in the Negev. The study is directed by Prof. Guy Bar-Oz and Dr. Lior Weisbrod of the Zinman Institute at the University of Haifa, in collaboration with Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini from the Israeli Antiquities Authority. 
Like elsewhere in the Negev, the stone buildings at Halutza— which in its heyday was the most important Byzantine city in the Negev — did not survive due to stone theft over the ages. But, as often happens in archaeological excavations, the archeologists actually found their rare finding in the refuse dump. According to Prof. Bar-Oz, the city’s refuse dumps, or middens, were preserved almost completely intact and now mark the boundaries of the ancient city. They are so conspicuous they can be detected on satellite images, such as those of Google Earth. Pottery and coins discovered in the refuse indicated that they accumulated mainly during the sixth to seventh centuries AD, a time when the city was at the peak of its economic success. With the urban collapse of Halutza in the mid-seventh century, for reasons not yet completely known, organized waste disposal was stopped and it appears that both the city itself and the middens surrounding it were abandoned. 

In the ancient piles of refuse, the researchers found a particularly high concentration of fragments of pottery vessels used for storage, cooking and serving, which included a significant number of Gaza jugs used for storing the ancient Negev wine. The archeologists also found a wealth of biological remains, including animal bones: bones of Red Sea fish and shellfish from the Mediterranean that were imported to the site, which  indicated the vast wealth of the Byzantine city residents. 

The highlight, however, were the hundreds of tiny charred grape seeds. According to the archeologists, this is the first time “Negev” grape seeds have been found, something that will provide first-of-its-kind direct evidence of the wine cultivated in the western Negev in ancient times. Exposing the tiny seeds in the piles of refuse was not easy: For the first time strict and fine excavation methods were used during the dig that included fine sifting and flotation of botanical remains, which float after the soil settles. These methods made it possible to extract the botanical finding from the Byzantine material. “After washing the dirt and gently sifting the findings all that remained was to separate the botanical findings, which included seeds, pits and plants remains, from small animal bones, which included the remains of rodents that were drawn to the refuse,” explained Prof. Bar-Oz. 

As mentioned above, the vines from which our ancestors produced the wine famous throughout the Byzantine Empire did not survive and researchers today do not know whether these were imported species from elsewhere — as is the case with the vines cultivated in the Negev today, which are originally French or Italian — or whether these were native varieties that had been lost to the world. The next stage of the study is to join forces with biologists to sequence the DNA of the seeds and in this way to discover their origin. “European varieties require copious amounts of water. Today it is less of a problem thanks to technology, but it is unlikely that that was the case 1,500 years ago. It is more interesting to think of local grape varieties that were better suited to the Negev. Maybe the secret to the Negev wine’s international prestige lay in the method by which the vines were cultivated in the Negev’s arid conditions,” the archeologists are asking. 

This discovery is exciting for local wine growers and for the archeologists, and they all hope to reveal the secret of the Negev vines in order to recreate the ancient wine, and by so doing, to finally understand why it was famous throughout the Byzantine Empire — in Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Spain. 

The Byzantine city of Halutza, or Elusa in Greek, was founded by the Nabataeans but reached its prime during the Byzantine period between the fourth and seventh centuries, AD. The city then grew to become the largest and most important of all the Byzantine cities in the Negev. Archaeological and historical evidence indicate

Note: the above article stopped here with “indicate”, if I find more I will post it; thanks.

Original article:

Israel Antiquities Authority




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

A research team successfully identified ancient barley and wheat residues in grave goods and on teeth from two Neolithic cemeteries in Central Sudan and Nubia, showing that humans in Africa were already exploited domestic cereals 7,000 years ago and thus five hundred years earlier than previously known.

The results of the analyses were recently published in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Barley and wheat crops

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

These types of crops 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, implemented, among other things, a special high-quality light microscope as well as radiocarbon analyses for age determination. Hereby, they were supported by the fact that mineral plant particles, so-called phytoliths, survive very long, even when other plant remains are no longer discernible. In addition, the millennia-old teeth, in particular adherent calculus, provide evidence on the diet of these prehistoric humans due to the starch granules and phytoliths contained therein.



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

Original article:

Past horizons






Hunter-gatherers had almost no malocclusion and dental crowding, and the condition first became common among the world’s earliest farmers some 12,000 years ago in Southwest Asia, according to findings published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

By analysing the lower  and teeth crown dimensions of 292 archaeological skeletons from the Levant, Anatolia and Europe, from between 28,000-6,000 years ago, an international team of scientists have discovered a clear separation between European hunter-gatherers, Near Eastern/Anatolian semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and transitional farmers, and European farmers, based on the form and structure of their jawbones.

“Our analysis shows that the lower jaws of the world’s earliest farmers in the Levant, are not simply smaller versions of those of the predecessor hunter-gatherers, but that the lower jaw underwent a complex series of shape changes commensurate with the transition to agriculture,” says Professor Ron Pinhasi from the School of Archaeology and Earth Institute, University College Dublin, the lead author on the study.

“Our findings show that the  populations have an almost “perfect harmony” between their lower jaws and teeth,” he explains. “But this harmony begins to fade when you examine the lower jaws and teeth of the earliest farmers”.

In the case of hunter-gatherers, the scientists from University College Dublin, Israel Antiquity Authority, and the State University of New York, Buffalo, found a correlation between inter-individual jawbones and dental distances, suggesting an almost “perfect” state of equilibrium between the two. While in the case of semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and farming groups, they found no such correlation, suggesting that the harmony between the teeth and the jawbone was disrupted with the shift towards agricultural practices and sedentism in the region. This, the international team of scientists say, may be linked to the dietary changes among the different populations.

The diet of the  was based on “hard” foods like wild uncooked vegetables and meat, while the staple diet of the sedentary farmer is based on “soft” cooked or processed foods like cereals and legumes. With soft cooked foods there is less of a requirement for chewing which in turn lessens the size of the jaws but without a corresponding reduction in the dimensions of the , there is no adequate space in the jaws and this often results in malocclusion and dental crowding.

The link between chewing, diet, and related dental wear patterns is well known in the scientific literature. Today, malocclusion and dental crowding affects around one in five people in modern-world populations. The condition has been described as the “malady of civilization”

Original article:

Phys.org



The Batwa hunter-gatherers collect and roast wild yams in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.

The difference between humans and their closest relatives is partly a matter of taste. Yams, pumpkins, and squash are as bland as potatoes to our tongues today, but to a chimp and our ancestors, wild varieties were bitter and yucky. Now scientists have pinpointed some of the genetic changes that allowed our ancestors to diversify their palates, potentially allowing them to take better advantage of a wide range of foods—and conquer the world.

As humans adapted to new habitats, they had to become open to new culinary experiences. They ate more starchy tuberous roots, learned to cook their meat and bitter root vegetables, and eventually domesticated plants and animals. Those dietary revolutions helped make us human, giving our bodies the extra calories that enlarged our brains, while allowing our guts, jaws, and teeth to shrink as we ate softer, more easily digestible food.

To figure out how these changes evolved, anthropological geneticist George Perry of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and his colleagues compared the genomes of modern humans and chimpanzees to the newly published genomes of a Neandertal and one of its close relatives, a mysterious human ancestor known as a Denisovan, known only from a few bones found in a Russian cave. All three groups of humans had lost two bitter taste genes, TAS2R62 and TAS2R64, that are still present in chimpanzees, the team reports this month in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Two million years ago, our early ancestors such as Australopithecus or early members of Homo likely found wild yams and other tubers bitter. But as humans began to cook, they could roast tuberous root vegetables long enough that they weren’t as bitter. (Today, hunter-gatherers still rely on roasted tubers as a major source of calories.) At the same time, hominins—members of the human family—lost those two particular bitter taste genes, so they were presumably able to eat a wider range of tuberous plants. Modern humans, Neandertals, and Denisovans all lost the ability to detect the bitter flavor in some wild plants and eventually modern humans bred varieties of squashes, gourds, and yams that are less bitter than the wild types.

The team also found some intriguing differences between modern humans, who arose in Africa in the past 200,000 years or so, and our archaic human relatives, such as Neandertals and Denisovans. Our lineage, for example, carries an average of six copies, and as many as 20 copies, of the salivary amylase gene, AMY1. The gene produces the enzyme amylase in our saliva, which has been thought to help digest sugars in starchy foods, although its role in human digestion is still unproven. By contrast, chimps, Neandertals, and Denisovans carry only one to two copies of the salivary amylase gene, which suggests they got fewer calories from starchy veggies than modern humans. This confirms an earlier finding that Neandertals didn’t have extra copies of the amylase gene and is “definitely a surprise,” says biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, who was not a co-author on this paper.

Wrangham has proposed that a key human ancestor, H. erectus, relied on cooking starchy tuberous roots to get enough calories to expand its brain. But if so, that distant ancestor wasn’t using extra copies of the amylase gene to extract more calories from these plant foods. He and Harvard postdoctoral researcher Rachel Carmody suggest the amylase copies may have had other functions, such as helping prevent cavities.

And although researchers have proposed earlier that this adaptation took place with the invention of agriculture, Perry and his colleagues have found that hunter-gatherers also carry the extra copies of the salivary amylase gene. This suggests that this adaptation took place in modern humans, after the split with the ancestor they shared with Neandertals about 600,000 years ago but before plants were domesticated 10,000 years ago. “This doesn’t mean that earlier hominins weren’t eating more starch, but perhaps they weren’t getting all of the same benefits as modern humans,” Perry says.

One sign that cooking shaped our ancestors’ genomes as well as our guts is that humans, Neandertals, and Denisovans all have lost a masticatory myosin gene, MYH16, that helps build strong chewing muscles in the jaws of chimps. This may be one result of learning to cook, which softens food, Perry says. This fits with evidence that some early hominins were chefs—Neandertals in the Middle East cooked barley porridge, for example.

Now, Perry and his colleagues are trying to figure out when this gene was lost in the human lineage. The loss of the gene for muscular jaws in Neandertals, Denisovans, and moderns suggests that cooking arose in their common ancestor, H. erectus, he says.

Original article:

By Ann Gibbons 

News.sciencemag.org

IMG_1236
Vinette 1 vessel from the Peace Bridge site, Ontario (image courtesy of Archaeological Services Inc)

Archaeologists from the University of York and Queens College, City University New York (CUNY) have discovered the first use of pottery in north-eastern North America was largely due to the cooking, storage and social feasting of fish by hunter-gatherers.

Studying how pottery production in north-eastern North America developed 3000 years ago, researchers found that the increasing use of pottery was not simply an adaptive response to increased reliance on specific kinds of wild foodstuffs, as previously thought.

Instead, new analysis on pottery vessels indicates that social factors triggered the innovation of pottery. While a wide range of wild animal and plant foods were exploited by hunter-gatherers of north-eastern North America, their pottery was used principally to process fish, and produce fish oil. This suggests that abundant aquatic resources allowed investment in the production of pottery, as fish became a valued exchange commodity and was prepared, cooked and consumed in hunter-gatherer group feasts.

Conducting organic residue analysis on approximately 133 vessels from 33 early pottery sites in north-eastern North America, tests were carried out to measure bulk carbon and nitrogen isotopes, compound-specific carbon isotopes, and to extract and identify lipids, notably aquatic biomarkers. Findings show high traces of aquatic organisms in most samples, consistent with the cooking of marine and freshwater foods and the preparation and storage of fish oil.

Dr Karine Taché, Professor of Anthropology at CUNY Queens College who undertook the research as an EU Marie Curie research fellow at the University of York, said: “These early pottery sites are now thought to have been important seasonal meeting points for hunter-gatherer groups, drawing communities together and, especially in periods of high abundance, promoting the cooperative harvesting of aquatic resources and new social contexts for the cooking and consumption of fish.”

Dr Oliver Craig, Reader in Archaeological Science at the University of York, said: “Combined with similar results obtained in different parts of the world, like Japan, Northern Europe or Alaska, our study points to a close association between aquatic resources and the innovation of pottery by hunter-gatherer societies. It also highlights once again the incredible potential of organic residue analysis to directly address the often posed question Why humans initially made pots?”

Original article:
york.ac.uk
Feb 3, 2015

IMG_1235

Image credit: marfis75 via flickr | http://bit.ly/1z8rHVh
Rights information: http://bit.ly/1dWcOPS

C. and you have been fortunate enough to be invited to a party at the home of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, a great social coup. Piso, after all, was Julius Caesar’s father-in-law and a consul of Rome.

What’s for dinner?

You need to prepare for pig. Archaeologists studying the eating habits of ancient Etruscans and Romans have found that pork was the staple of Italian cuisine before and during the Roman Empire. Both the poor and the rich ate pig as the meat of choice, although the rich, like Piso, got better cuts, ate meat more often and likely in larger quantities.

They had pork chops and a form of bacon. They even served sausages and prosciutto; in other words, a meal not unlike what you’d find in Rome today — or in South Philadelphia.

Researchers discussed this ancient Mediterranean diet at a meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in New Orleans in January.

Dinner parties were the way the Roman aristocracy showed off their wealth and prestige, according to Michael MacKinnon, professor of archaeology at the University of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Status in the upper class was declared with the presentation of the meal, the rare spices, the dinnerware, he explained.

“The wealthier you are the more you want to invest in display and advertising to your guests. Flash was perhaps more important than substance,” said MacKinnon. “Whole animals showed great wealth.”

Besides the meat, there would be vegetables that looked little different from what we eat, said Angela Trentacoste of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Except for grain, which was imported in huge quantities from places like North Africa, everything was locally grown.

MacKinnon and Trentacoste are zooarchaeologists, scientists who study the remains of animals found in archaeological sites. They rummaged through ancient garbage dumps or middens, and occasionally even ancient latrines looking for the bones of animals and fish people ate. People would sometimes dump the garbage in the latrine instead of walk to the neighborhood dump, MacKinnon said. They can deduce a great deal from the bones about what life was like.

They also can often piece together a typical diet based on recovered porcelain shards.

They can look at bones in a dump and can tell what the animal was, sometimes how it was slaughtered, where it came from, and how the food supply worked.

For instance, if one site had nothing but feet bones, “It tells us that things were marketed and better cuts went elsewhere,” he said.

Zooarchaeologists also have literary evidence of what was eaten from writers such as Juvenal and the poet Martial, often in satirical plays where writers mocked the ostentatious indulgence.

Trentacoste specializes in the Etruscan civilization that preceded Rome in Italy. Much of her digging was in the tombs of rich Etruscans who often were buried with food and utensils. On some sites, she found 20,000 animal bones amid the rubbish.

As the hegemony of Rome grew so did the city and what was a largely rural Etruscan society became a more urban Roman one, she said. That changed the food supply. Most food, as now, came from farms outside the city.

But, the city dwellers still raised pigs. They take up little room, can be easily bred and transported, Trentacoste said, and are easy to raise.

They also had chickens roaming the yards that looked much like the chickens of today, MacKinnon said, and they were close to the same size. Modern farmers use breeding and nutrition to make the chickens grow faster, but eventually Roman chickens would catch up. Cattle take up too much room but rich Romans had beef occasionally, and sometimes goat.

The lower classes ate to stay alive.

Some historians believed the lower class was mostly vegetarian but that is not true, MacKinnon and Trentacoste said. The generally ate the same things the upper class did, but not the same cuts (think mutton versus lamp chops) and probably not in the same quantities. The rich reclined as they ate.

Lower class Romans did not have fancy flatware, instead they used crude utensils.

Low-fat food was not in vogue because the fat would protect meat from spoilage in a world without refrigerators.

Because only the upper class had kitchens at home, other Romans bought food from street vendors, something like the lunch wagons of today. Mostly, MacKinnon said, they would put the food in large pots and make stews or a porridge. They might also boil the meat.

Only the wealthy were able to broil or barbecue.

Despite legend, most Romans or Etruscans did not often eat exotic animals regularly, although upper class diners might enjoy songbirds swallowed whole and one midden in Rome contained the bones of a slaughtered camel. Trentacoste said songbirds are still eaten in some parts of Italy. Pizza had yet not been invented.

One legend is true, MacKinnon said: Vomitoriums. There might be so much food at Piso’s table, and everyone would want to indulge. To make room, they would excuse themselves from the table and purge.

By: Joel N. Shurkin, Contributor
February 3, 2015

Original article:
insidescience

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