Posts Tagged ‘Africia’


Topic: Coffee

In the Ethiopian highlands, where the legend of Kaldi, the goatherd, originated, coffee trees grow today as they have for centuries. Though we will never know with certainty, there probably is some truth to the Kaldi legend.

It is said that he discovered coffee after noticing that his goats, upon eating berries from a certain tree, became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night.

Kaldi dutifully reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for the long hours of evening prayer. Soon the abbot had shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery, and ever so slowly knowledge of the energizing effects of the berries began to spread. As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would spread its reputation across the globe.

Today coffee is grown in a multitude of countries around the world. Whether it is Asia or Africa, Central or South America, the islands of the Caribbean or Pacific, all can trace their heritage to the trees in the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau.

The Arabian Peninsula

The Arabs were the first, not only to cultivate coffee but also to begin its trade. By the fifteenth century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the sixteenth century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey.

Coffee was not only drunk in homes but also in the many public coffee houses — called qahveh khaneh — which began to appear in cities across the Near East. The popularity of the coffee houses was unequaled and people frequented them for all kinds of social activity. Not only did they drink coffee and engage in conversation, but they also listened to music, watched performers, played chess and kept current on the news of the day. In fact, they quickly became such an important center for the exchange of information that the coffee houses were often referred to as ‘Schools of the Wise.’
With thousands of pilgrims visiting the holy city of Mecca each year from all over the world, word of the ‘wine of Araby’ as the drink was often called, was beginning to spread far beyond Arabia. In an effort to maintain its complete monopoly in the early coffee trade, the Arabians continued to closely guard their coffee production.

Coffee Comes to Europe

European travellers to the Near East brought back stories of the unusual dark black beverage. By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent. Opponents were overly cautious, calling the beverage the ‘bitter invention of Satan.’ With the coming of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy condemned it. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. Before making a decision however, he decided to taste the beverage for himself. He found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.

Despite such controversy, in the major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland, coffee houses were quickly becoming centers of social activity and communication. In England ‘penny universities’ sprang up, so called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation. By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London, many of which attracted patrons with common interests, such as merchants, shippers, brokers and artists.

Many businesses grew out of these specialized coffee houses. Lloyd’s of London, for example, came into existence at the Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House.

The New World

In the mid-1600’s, coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, a location later called New York by the British.

Though coffee houses rapidly began to appear, tea continued to be the favored drink in the New World until 1773 when the colonists revolted against a heavy tax on tea imposed by King George. The revolt, known as the Boston Tea Party, would forever change the American drinking preference to coffee.

Plantations Around the World

As demand for the beverage continued to spread, there was tense competition to cultivate coffee outside of Arabia. Though the Arabs tried hard to maintain their monopoly, the Dutch finally succeeded, in the latter half of the 17th century, to obtain some seedlings. Their first attempts to plant them in India failed but they were successful with their efforts in Batavia, on the island of Java in what is now Indonesia. The plants thrived and soon the Dutch had a productive and growing trade in coffee. They soon expanded the cultivation of coffee trees to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes.
The Dutch did a curious thing, however. In 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam presented a gift of a young coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France. The King ordered it to be planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. In 1723, a young naval officer, Gabriel de Clieu obtained a seedling from the King’s plant. Despite an arduous voyage — complete with horrendous weather, a saboteur who tried to destroy the seedling and a pirate attack — he managed to transport it safely to Martinique. Once planted, the seedling thrived and is credited with the spread of over 18 million coffee trees on the island of Martinique in the next 50 years. It was also the stock from which coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America originated.

Coffee is said to have come to Brazil in the hands of Francisco de Mello Palheta who was sent by the emperor to French Guiana for the purpose of obtaining coffee seedlings. But the French were not willing to share and Palheta was unsuccessful. However, he was said to have been so handsomely engaging that the French Governor’s wife was captivated. As a going-away gift, she presented him with a large bouquet of flowers. Buried inside he found enough coffee seeds to begin what is today a billion-dollar industry.

In only 100 years, coffee had established itself as a commodity crop throughout the world. Missionaries and travellers, traders and colonists continued to carry coffee seeds to new lands and coffee trees were planted worldwide. Plantations were established in magnificent tropical forests and on rugged mountain highlands. Some crops flourished, while others were short-lived. New nation’s were established on coffee economies. Fortunes were made and lost. And by the end of the 18th century, coffee had become one of the world’s most profitable export crops.

Original article

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Topic:Blog on Neltithic Hunter/Gatherers



For the first time ever, work by researchers with Penn Museum’s archaeological excavation at the Laikipia Archaeological Project in north-central Kenya is being chronicled in a blog, as well as in photos and film.

Kathleen Ryan, a consulting scholar in the African Section at the Museum, is leading the group of researchers, which includes several Kenyan archaeologists. The excavation is focused on a period 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, Ryan says.

“Our interest is in the transition from the Later Stone Age, when the area was occupied by hunters and gatherers through the Pastoral Neolithic, when pastoralists herding cattle, sheep, and goats entered the area from the north,” she explains.  

The researchers will try to uncover how people and animals co-existed, Ryan says. “Did they interact peaceably? Did they share food resources such as wildlife or domestic livestock, wild plants, honey. Was either group drinking milk? Were the incoming pastoralists already lactose tolerant?”

Amy Ellsworth, Penn Museum’s digital media developer, will blog throughout the trip, which will last until May 13, and film what the researchers uncover. Jennifer Chiappardi will document the expedition in photos.

During the expedition, the team will also travel south to Maasailand where Ryan has been engaged in ethnobotanical research and education since 1993. In an effort to preserve local knowledge and pass it on to future generations, she organized two field schools in 1999 and 2000. Ryan will also work with local Maasai elders in describing traditional medicinal uses of various plants for both humans and animals.
Follow the blog at: http://penn.museum/blog/kenya

Original article:

By Jeanne Leong

April 27, 2010

A Penn archaeological research team studies bone remains during a 2009 excavation in Kenya. Photo credit: Jennifer Chiappardi

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Topic: African rice

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Until recently, African rice (Oryza glaberrima) was an important staple for peoples across much of West Africa. Favoured for its resistance to drought, disease, and pests, its cultivation has spread during the past 1000 years and more, over broad regions of western Africa, ranging from the Atlantic coast of sahelian Mauritania to Lake Chad, south to the Bight of Benin, and west along the coast to Senegal (Pearson et al.; 1981, Portères 1976). Its nutty flavour and ability to “fill one up properly” has led many societies of West Africa to consider African rice so important that without it, a meal is simply not a meal (Harlan 1995b).

Archaeological data on the place and timing of African rice domestication remain virtually non-existent. It has been recovered in less than a handful of early sites, such as at Gajiganna and Kursakata in the Chad Basin of north-eastern Nigeria, and at Jenné-jeno in the Middle Niger Delta (MND), Mali (McIntosh 1995, Zach & Klee 2003). Nevertheless, when it has been found, there has been immense difficulty in distinguishing the ancient grains to wild or domestic status. In 1998-2001 however, a large quantity (n=1376) of rice grains was recovered from the site of Dia (Fig 1), in the MND (Bedaux et al. 2001; Bedaux et al. n.d.). AMS dates on three grains indicate that rice was present from the earliest occupation (799-413 BC, 785-411 BC, 791-413 BC, 2 sigma), and dates on another seven grains place it in secure contexts through to the mid-first millennium AD.

Many researchers (Andah 1993; Clark 1976; Harlan 1971; Harlan 1995a; Harris 1976; Portères 1970, 1976; Shaw 1976) consider the MND a primary centre for African rice domestication. Portères (1976: 442-443) defined it as such because in modern domestic varieties he recognised genetically dominant traits (large, thick and rigid panicles, spikelets loosely attached to pedicels, and red pigmentation) as analogous to traits in the MND. Varieties with recessive characters were more similar to those in the Sene-Gambia and Guinea, suggesting African rice more likely derived from the former area than the latter.

Determining the specific status of the ancient grains from Dia was difficult. Virtually all of the grains were recovered naked – without the paleas and lemmas necessary for distinguishing African rice to wild or domestic species. Typically, spikelets of the wild ancestor (Oryza barthii) have hairs and awns (Fig 2), while the domesticate (O. glaberrima) is smooth and without awns, though hispid forms occur, as do brittle rachii (Ogbe & Williams 1978; Portères 1976).

An examination of the literature indicates that grain dimension (length, width, thickness) in wild and domestic rice species overlaps extensively, and most interestingly, that length is greater in the wild species. This suggests that unlike the domestication process in many other cereals, African rice domestication apparently did not involve selection for larger grains (Katayama 1992; Katayama & Sumi 1995; Ogbe & Williams 1978). Moreover, Katayama (1992, 1994, Katayama & Sumi 1995) found that ratios of these dimensions (length/width, length/thickness, width/thickness) show differences between Asian (Oryza sativa) and African species (O. glaberrima and O. barthii, O. longistaminata). Although much variability exists, these ratios point to an evolutionary trend towards thicker grains in O. glaberrima and O. barthii, compared to Asian and other wild African species. Comparing ratios of O. glaberrima and O. barthii, these species are often distinguishable by the manner in which volume becomes larger: O. glaberrima adds to overall volume by increasing thickness, while O. barthii increases volume more through length.

To identify the rice grains from Dia to wild or domestic species, the grains were measured and compared to ratios of modern African rice. Only whole, undistorted ancient grains were measured (n = 134), as were modern dehulled grains of Oryza glaberrima (n=91) and O. barthii (n=68) obtained from Niger, Nigeria, and Mali by the International Rice Research Institute. The ancient grains also were compared to another wild species, O. longistaminata. As the United States Department of Agriculture considers this species a weedy pest, it was impossible to import it into the U.S. Instead, the ancient grains were compared to averages and standard deviations of 83 accessions (30 grains each) of O. longistaminata collected in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Senegal (Katayama 1992, 1994).

Figure 3 shows ratios of length/width and length/thickness of the modern species and the ancient grains from Dia and Jenné-jeno. The majority of ancient grains appear to resemble more closely the modern domestic African rice than they resemble the wild species. A few grains resemble those of the wild species however, which is expected, as today wild rice grows along the margins of domestic fields, is harvested, and sold at market for consumption (Harlan 1989).

Interestingly, the ancient grains show little change in size through time (Figure 4). This lack of change supports the idea that rice at Dia was fully domesticated from the earliest occupation, as some change in size or shape should be evident if it had undergone in situ domestication, or if early rice at Dia was wild and domestic rice was introduced during occupation. If domestication occurred in the MND, it might have resulted from long years of cultivation by local fisher-foragers, perhaps the proto-Bozo or Nono. Alternatively, perhaps it was introduced into the upper MND from elsewhere, such as from the Méma to the west, or the Lakes Region to the north (Gallais 1967:102).

Sadly, recent decades have witnessed the rapid replacement of African rice by its Asian relative (O. sativa). Asian rice generates higher yields, possesses a tougher rachis (making it easier to harvest), and produces a grain less conducive to shattering, but it also matures later and is more susceptible to drought and pests, compared to the native rice (Nyanteng et al. 1986). Fortunately, recent attempts by the West Africa Rice Development Association (WARDA) have successfully crossed O. glaberrima and O. sativa, producing a natural hybrid known as “nerica” (New Rice for Africa). Nerica combines the advantages of its parent species, creating a variety that has shown since 1997 to be a sort of “miracle” rice for West Africa, producing food security (through higher yields and earlier harvests) for peoples often plagued by famine and drought (Harsch 2004, WARDA 2004, http://www.warda.org).

This study forms part of a PhD dissertation project on the rise of African rice farming in the MND, in collaboration with the Dia Archaeological Project. For forthcoming publications or questions, email: ssmurray@wisc.edu.

Original article:


ByShawn Sabrina Murray




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Topic: Mans Best Friend-Or Dinner?

Wolves were domesticated no more than 16,300 years ago in southern China, a new genetic analysis suggests—and it’s possible the canines were tamed to be livestock, not pets, the study author speculates.

“In this region, even today, eating dog is a big cultural thing,” noted study co-author Peter Savolainen, a biologist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

“And you can also see in the historical records as far back as you can go that eating dogs has been very common” in East Asia.

“Therefore, you have to think of the possibility that this was one of the reasons for domesticating dogs.”

Dog Diversity

The new work, published Wednesday in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, bolsters the long-held theory that dogs first became “man’s best friend” in East Asia.

That notion came under fire last month, based on a DNA analysis of so-called village dogs in Africa.

The highest level of genetic diversity in modern dogs should exist in the region where the animals first came under human control.

But the August study found that African village dogs have a similar amount of genetic diversity as those in East Asia, calling into question the origins of dog domestication.

For the new work, Savolainen and colleagues analyzed the entire mitochondrial genome—DNA passed down only from the mother—of 169 dogs, as well as portions of the genomes from 1,543 dogs from across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

These dogs all share at least 80 percent of their DNA, the team found. The animals’ genetic diversity increased the farther east the scientists looked.

The greatest diversity was found in a region south of the Yangtze River in China.

According to Savolainen, the data make it “totally clear” that genetic variation in East Asian dogs is much higher than anywhere else in the world.

The analysis also suggests that wolves were domesticated from several hundred individuals sometime between 5,400 and 16,300 years ago.

This is around the time Asian hunter-gatherers were adopting a more settled agrarian lifestyle, which is part of what makes Savolainen think the canines might have been kept as food.

Support, But Not Proof?

Adam Boyko, a biologist at Cornell University in New York and co-author of the August study, agrees that the new work shows greater genetic diversity in East Asia than Africa.

But Boyko said he would like to see more genetic evidence before he calls the finding proof of domestication.

“But clearly, it is a very interesting result,” he said. “There is a ton of data backing it up, [and] they put forth a really interesting hypothesis for dog domestication.”

Original article:

September 4, 2009

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