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Prehistoric peasant farmers struggling to put more food on the table fueled the global spread of some of the world’s first and most important domesticated grain crops beginning as early as 7,000 years ago, according to an international study led by anthropologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

Source: Prehistoric food globalization spanned three millennia

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New research, led by the University of Bristol, has shed new light on the eating habits of Neolithic people living in southeastern Europe using food residues from pottery extracts dating back more than 8,000 years.

Source: New insights into what Neolithic people ate in southeastern Europe

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Original article:

Sciencedaily.com

Citron

 

The fascinating find came to light in an investigation into a bizarre acidless mutation which makes citrus juice 1000 times less acidic.

John Innes Centre researchers used genetic analysis to trace the acidless mutations in citron, the first citrus species to be cultivated in the Mediterranean.

“Some people thought that this was a recent mutation that originated in Corsica, or somewhere in the Mediterranean, but we have found that this is not new. It’s an ancient mutation that is present in Chinese fingered citrons known as Buddha’s Hands and those used in the Sukkot Jewish ritual,” explains Dr Eugenio Butelli of the John Innes Centre and first author of the paper.

The acidless mutations have captivated botanists and breeders for centuries and appear in many citrus varieties including citron, sweet lime, limetta, lemon and sweet orange.

Acidless citrus fruit have also lost the ability to produce anthocyanin pigments, that give a blush of dark red to leaves, flowers and, sometimes, flesh.

The researchers identified a gene, which they called Noemi, as the key factor behind the regulation of fruit acidity. Analysis also revealed that this gene works in partnership with another, named Ruby, to control anthocyanin production.

The study identified specific mutations affecting the Noemi gene in several acidless citrus species and hybrids. These acidless fruits are often referred to as sweet or insipid because of the reduction in fruit acidity and are highly prized citrons (Etrog in Hebrew) used in the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot.

One of these mutations matched those found in fingered citron varieties first cultivated in China 3300 years ago. This confirmed that this mutation originated before the arrival of citron into the Mediterranean.

Further analysis revealed that the same ancient Noemi allele characteristic of the acidless trait was present in the Yemen citron, an ancient variety traditionally used in the Sukkot tradition since the time of the destruction of the first temple in 587 B.C.E. Another variety traditionally used in the Sukkot ritual, the Greek citron, also bore the same genetic hallmark.

The analysis suggests that the authentic Jewish Etrog used ritually was an acidless one, an idea supported by a reference to “sweet citron” in the Jewish legal text, the Talmud, dating from 200 C.E.

The study which appears in Current Biology illuminates the path of domestication of citron. It supports the view that the spread of citron in Mediterranean regions was facilitated by its adoption in Jewish culture as an important religious symbol. Some scholars speculate that Jews in exile in Babylonia brought the citron back to Palestine.

Why was this sweet, or insipid citrus, with plain white flowers and leaves drained of colour, the chosen fruit?

“Citron was first cultivated for its medicinal properties in China and its rind was used as a medicinal product, not as a food” explains Professor Cathie Martin of the John Innes Centre and a co-author on the study.

“By the time it reached the Mediterranean in Roman times, citron was a luxury item used for its fragrance to keep linen fresh. The presence of white flowers in the acidless mutation seems important because they are a symbol of purity and we speculate that there was a strong selection for the loss of anthocyanins, which normally add colour to leaves and flowers.”

Citron is one of four primary species that make up the citrus genus, a complex group of flowering plants with notable nutritional, medicinal and aromatic value. Despite becoming one of the world’s most economically important fruit crops, its history of evolution and domestication has remained obscure until recently.

The characterisation of Noemi provides researchers with an important genetic marker opening a fascinating landscape for genetic analysis of seeds found amid the burials of the ancient world and fossil remains from even further back in time.

The study also gives researchers the information they need to develop fruit of the future — to modulate their level of acidity and to increase their content of health-protecting anthocyanin compounds.

“If you could introduce these mutations stably in lemon, for example, you could make lemonade which does not need so much added sugar in it, making it healthier to drink and better for growing teeth.” explains Professor Martin.

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More on one of my favorite foods, Chocloate!

Source: Ancient Amazonian Chocolatiers

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Cacao pods

 

Original article::

Sciencedailt.com

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

By Lizzie Wade

Science mag.org

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eurekalert.org

More exciting news about Maze and it’s beginings!

You have to read this one.

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

JLP

 

 

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

Source: Scientists overhaul corn domestication story with multidisciplinary analysis

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