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The authors believe that the Teotonio waterfall is what attracted people to this location for over 9,000 years, as it was an extremely rich fishing location and an obligatory stopping point for people traveling by boat on this stretch of the Madeira river. It was the location of a fishing village (the village of Teotonio) until 2011, when residents were forced to move inland ahead of dam construction. The dam submersed the village and the waterfall. Eduardo Neves, 2011

 

Original Article:

popular-archaeology

 

Ancient people in the region began cultivating plants and altering forests earlier than previously thought.

PLOS—The remains of domesticated crop plants at an archaeological site in southwest Amazonia supports the idea that this was an important region in the early history of crop cultivation, according to a study published July 25, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jennifer Watling from the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and colleagues.

Genetic analysis of plant species has long pointed to the lowlands of southwest Amazonia as a key region in the early history of plant domestication in the Americas, but systematic archaeological evidence to support this has been rare. The new evidence comes from recently-exposed layers of the Teotonio archaeological site, which has been described by researchers as a “microcosm of human occupation of the Upper Madeira [River]” because it preserves a nearly continuous record of human cultures going back approximately 9,000 years.

In this study, Watling and colleagues analyzed the remains of seeds, phytoliths, and other plant materials in the most ancient soils of the site as well as on artifacts used for processing food. They found some of the earliest evidence of cultivated manioc, a crop which geneticists say was domesticated here over 8,000 years ago, as well as squash, beans, and perhaps calathea, and important tree crops such as palms and Brazil nut. They also saw evidence of disturbed forest and a soil type called “Anthropogenic Dark Earths” which both result from human alteration of local environments.

These findings suggest that the people of this region transitioned from early hunter-gatherer lifestyles to cultivating crops before 6,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought. Along with plant domestication also came the familiar human habit of landscape modification, suggesting that human impact on Amazonian forests in this region goes back many thousands of years. Altogether, these results point to the Upper Madeira as a key locality to explore the earliest days of crop domestication in the New World.

Watling notes: “This discovery at the Teotonio waterfall in Southest Amazonia is some of the oldest evidence for plant cultivation in lowland South America, confirming genetic evidence”.

*Watling J, Shock MP, Mongeló GZ, Almeida FO, Kater T, De Oliveira PE, et al. (2018) Direct archaeological evidence for Southwestern Amazonia as an early plant domestication and food production centrePLoS ONE 13(7): e0199868. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199868

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Dr. Yoshi Maezumi,

 

Original article:

Popular-archaeology.com

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER—Ancient communities transformed the Amazon thousands of years ago, farming in a way which has had a lasting impact on the rainforest, a major new study* shows.

Farmers had a more profound effect on the supposedly “untouched” rainforest than previously thought, introducing crops to new areas, boosting the number of edible tree species and using fire to improve the nutrient content of soil, experts have found.

The study is the first detailed history of long-term human land use and fire management in this region conducted by archaeologists, paleoecologists, botanists and ecologists. It shows how early Amazon farmers used the land intensively and expanded the types of crops grown, without continuously clearing new areas of the forest for farming when soil nutrients became depleted.

The research team examined charcoal, pollen and plant remains from soil in archaeological sites and sediments from a nearby lake to trace the history of vegetation and fire in eastern Brazil. This provided evidence that maize, sweet potato, manioc and squash were farmed as early as 4,500 years ago in this part of the Amazon. Farmers increased the amount of food they grew by improving the nutrient content of the soil through burning and the addition of manure and food waste. Fish and turtles from rivers were also a key part of the diets at the time.

The findings explain why forests around current archaeological sites in the Amazon have a higher concentration of edible plants.

Dr Yoshi Maezumi, from the University of Exeter, who led the study, said: “People thousands of years ago developed a nutrient rich soil called Amazonian Dark Earths (ADEs). They farmed in a way which involved continuous enrichment and reusing of the soil, rather than expanding the amount of land they clear cut for farming. This was a much more sustainable way of farming.”

The development of ADEs allowed the expansion of maize and other crops, usually only grown near nutrient rich lake and river shores, to be farmed in other areas that generally have very poor soils. This increased the amount of food available for the growing Amazon population at the time.

Dr Maezumi said: “Ancient communities likely did clear some understory trees and weeds for farming, but they maintained a closed canopy forest, enriched in edible plants which could bring them food. This is a very different use of the land to that of today, where large areas of land in the Amazon is cleared and planted for industrial scale grain, soya bean farming and cattle grazing. We hope modern conservationists can learn lessons from indigenous land use in the Amazon to inform management decisions about how to safeguard modern forests.”

Professor Jose Iriarte, from the University of Exeter, said: “The work of early farmers in the Amazon has left an enduring legacy. The way indigenous communities managed the land thousands of years ago still shapes modern forest ecosystems. This is important to remember as modern deforestation and agricultural plantations expand across the Amazon Basin, coupled with the intensification of drought severity driven by warming global temperatures.”

*The legacy of 4,500 years of polyculture agroforestry in the eastern Amazon is published in the journal Nature Plants.

 

 

 

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Source: Eurekalert.org

Living plant varieties reveal ancient migration routes across Eurasia

The emergence of agriculture is one of the most important transitions in the development of human societies, as it allowed the establishment of settled communities, specialization of labour and technological innovation.

One centre of agricultural origins is the Near East, where barley was domesticated around 10,500 years ago, along with wheat and a number of other crops. Archaeological evidence shows that barley cultivation spread to its ecological limits in Europe, North Africa, and Central, South and East Asia, over a period of approximately 6,000 years.

New results published in PLOS ONE today show that different types of barley, suited to different end uses, ecological conditions and cropping regimes, spread via a variety of routes across Eurasia. In many cases, these routes of spread are backed up by archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence.

According to lead author Dr Diane Lister, researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, “These results are based on the genetic analysis of living crops – traditional farmers’ varieties known as ‘landraces’.”

“These landraces were mostly collected during the early 20th century and are maintained in what are known as ‘germplasm’ collections around the world, with many landraces having precise geographical coordinates recorded. Numerous studies have shown that, remarkably, landraces can preserve an ancient and local genetic signature of the initial spread of farming during prehistory, and this is beautifully illustrated in this current study.”

The results indicate that the different eastward routes of spread of each barley population were distinct from each other in a number of ways, reflecting human choice of particular attributes or the effect of environmental adaptation. These different routes include ones to the north and south of the Iranian Plateau; through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor in Central Asia, possibly connecting up to the Chinese section of the Silk Road; a high altitude spread on the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau; a high latitude spread through the northern steppe; two distinct spreads into Japan; and a maritime route from South Asia. Previous research has provided increasing numbers of direct radiocarbon dates enabling the different routes to be dated.

Lister describes further, “One barley population is widespread, particularly around the coastlines. This population may have travelled eastwards via a maritime route from South Asia, via Southeast Asia. This particular population is made up of winter-sown varieties of barley, which are thought to be important in rice-growing areas of East Asia, where a crop of rice is commonly grown in the summer months, and barley adapted to winter-sowing regimes can be planted after the rice harvest. The development of multi-cropping practices during prehistory is thought to have greatly increased productivity and stability, enabling more complex societies to develop.”

“Another barley population predominates on the high Tibetan Plateau. This barley has a naked grain, making it a particularly attractive staple, as it doesn’t require the pearling process that hulled barley requires for human consumption. Along with the herding of yak, this naked type of barley is an essential for the Tibetan way of life, and their importance are clearly seen in the offerings of naked barley grains and yak butter in Tibetan Buddhist temples around the region. The staple carbohydrate eaten by the Tibetans is tsampa, made from roasted naked barley flour and mixed with salty Tibetan butter tea.”

Previous research carried out through the Food Globalization in Prehistory project at the University of Cambridge showed that barley cultivation appeared in the Chinese Tibetan Plateau 4,000 years ago, and is thought to have been of essential importance in colonizing the ‘roof of the world’. Some scholars have questioned whether this barley was a product of a local domestication of a wild ancestor separate from those in the Near East. This current study also looked at the genetic relationship between landrace barley, it’s wild progenitor, and weedy varieties. The results show that is unlikely that barley was domesticated in this region, and that ‘wild’ barleys on the plateau are probably weedy derivatives of cultivated barley.

What does this mean for today? Lister concludes, “Barley is an extremely hardy crop, able to grow in regions where other crops are unable to grow, and is an important staple in such environments. Understanding the spread of its cultivation during prehistory, and the various factors that affected its establishment in different regions of Eurasia, will contribute towards our understanding of climate change and its current and future effects on agriculture.”

 

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Corn smut: disfiguring but delicious.
CARMEN HAUSER / GETTY IMAGES

 

Original Article:

cosmosmagazine.com

 

Eating only maize leads to disease, and why the Basketmaker II people didn’t fall ill has long been a mystery. Now it’s been solved. Andrew Masterson reports.

 

A mystery concerning how some of North America’s first farmers survived on a diet that appears manifestly inadequate may have been solved.

The ancestral Pueblo people who lived in what is now known as the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States shifted from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle centred on crop-growing around 400BCE.

The primary crop cultivated was maize (known in the US as corn), which accounted for an estimated 80% of calorific intake.

During the ensuing 800 years – a stretch known as the Basketmaker II period – the settlers’ diet contained very little meat. This was perhaps a cultural choice. Basketmaker II people became efficient turkey farmers, but the birds were raised primarily for their feathers, used in the manufacture of blankets, and for certain ritual purposes. They were not eaten.

The nutritional components of Basketmaker II cuisine has been well established through a number of analyses, including radio-isotope sampling conducted at burial sites. A study published in 2013, for instance, found that while maize comprised the massive bulk of food intake, it was accompanied by small amounts of wild plants, including yucca, and – more so in men than women – occasional bits of wild rabbit.

Over all, the Pueblo menu should have been dangerously low in a number of essential nutrients, particularly niacin, tryptophan and lysine – the lack of which leads to a range of ailments, including pellagra, an often fatal disease that results in diarrhoea, dermatitis and dementia.

However, no Basketmaker II human remains ever tested have shown evidence of such an illness. This fact leads to the obvious conclusion that the people must have been able somehow to access the crucial nutrients. There is evidence that at least one community boiled maize in limestone, which would have made some amino acids locked up in the corn more biologically available – but even then the amounts would still have been too small to meet dietary needs.

Now, however, archaeologist and biological anthropologist Jenna Battillo from the Southern Methodist University in Texas may well have found the answer to puzzle.

It turns out to be an organism that today is considered a menace by commercial maize farmers: a fungus called Ustilago maydis, or, more prosaically, corn smut.

Analysing “human paleofaeces” found at a Basketmaker II site known as Turkey Penn Ruin in Utah, Battillo found plentiful evidence of U. maydis spores. This, she writes in a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, indicates that the fungus was included as an intentional part of the diet.

There is considerable later evidence to back up the suggestion. The fungus, which forms distinctive lumps or “galls” on maize heads, is today a popular food in Mexico, where it is known as huitlacoche. It is also popular among some communities in Central America.

Battillo cites a number of studies that found corn smut was historically considered a delicacy among southern and meso-American societies, including the Aztec, Maya and Hopi.

U. maydis causes loss of vitality and weight as well as cosmetic disfigurement in maize and is therefore hated by commercial growers. About 4% of the US crop is lost to the fungus each year – well down from the estimated 80% that blighted farms in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

For the Basketmaker II people, however, the fungus infection was very positive – indeed, quite literally, a lifesaver.

Battillo reports that corn smut alters the nutrient content of corn. It increases the protein levels from as low as 3% to as high as 19%. It also dramatically boosts the levels of lysine, and introduces 16 other essential amino acids. The only one missing is tryptophan, for which no data is available – Battillo suggests limestone boiling and input from other minor food sources might have been sufficient to provide the average four milligrams a day required to maintain health.

And while the new research seems to answer the question of how Basketmaker II people supplemented their nutrient-poor maize diet, it still leaves another matter unresolved.

The evidence, says Battillo, cannot determine whether the early farmer communities intentionally introduced or encouraged corn smut on their plants, or whether infections happened by accident and were simply tolerated.

In either scenario, she concludes, “the ubiquity of the spores in paleofaeces from Turkey Pen Ruin strongly supports intentional consumption”.

 

 

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Lets here it for technology. If not for such advancements, we would never have come this far in our discovery of the foods Paelolithic man really ate. Imagine the discoveries that were just thrown on the  trash heap because archaeologist at the time had no idea plant material could survive this long. Think of the grinding stones that were washed, all their valuable information of the past…gone forever!

Original article:

The guardian.com

Nicola DavisMon 16 Jul 2018 15.00 EDT

Tiny specks of bread found in fireplaces used by hunter-gatherers 14,000 years ago, predating agriculture by thousands of years

Charred crumbs found in a pair of ancient fireplaces have been identified as the earliest examples of bread, suggesting it was being prepared long before the dawn of agriculture.

The remains – tiny lumps a few millimetres in size – were discovered by archaeologists at a site in the Black Desert in north-east Jordan.

Using radiocarbon-dating of charred plant materials found within the hearths, the team found the fireplaces were used just over 14,000 years ago.

“Bread has been seen as a product of agriculturist, settled societies, but our evidence from Jordan now basically predates the onset of plant cultivation … by at least 3,000 years,” said Dr Tobias Richter, co-author of the study from the University of Copenhagen, noting that fully-fledged agriculture in the Levant is believed to have emerged around 8,000 BC.

“So bread was being made by hunter-gatherers before they started to cultivate any plants,” he said.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Richter and colleagues from Denmark and the UK describe how during excavations between 2012 and 2015 they found the crumbs in the fireplaces of a site used by hunter-gatherers known as Natufians, who foraged for wild grains.

Among the remains, the team unearthed small, round tubers of a wetland plant known as club-rush, traces of legumes and plants belonging to the cabbage family, wild cereals including some ground wheat and barley – and 642 small charred lumps.

Analysis of 24 of these lumps revealed they are bread-like – with the others expected to be similar.

“They are charred breadcrumbs, sort of what you might find at the bottom of your toaster at home – the sort of stuff that falls off when you put it on high power,” said Richter.

Further analyses revealed that 15 of the 24 crumbs contain tissues from cereal plants – probably, says Richter, from barley, einkorn wheat or oats.

Some of the crumbs were also found to contain ingredients from other plants, with the team saying club-rush tuber is the most likely candidate.

What’s more, the analysis of the crumbs suggests the flour used to make the bread might have been sieved, while the team say the lack of an oven means the bread was probably baked in the ashes of the fire, or on a hot stone.

The team say the crumbs appear most likely to be from a sort of unleavened flat bread.

While the newly discovered crumbs are now the earliest bread remains found so far, taking the title from remains found at the site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey and dated to about 9,100 years ago, the team say the food might have emerged even earlier.

“Food remains have long been ignored in archaeology, and therefore have not been sufficiently studied,” said Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, first author of the study from the University of Copenhagen. “I’m sure that if we look at older sites, we may find bread-like cereal products during the Paleolithic [for example] 25,000 years ago.”

Richter said it is unlikely the bread found at the Natufian site was consumed as a staple, given it would have been very labour intensive to gather and process the grains. While the team suggest the bread could have been made by the hunter-gatherers for their onward journey, they say other evidence adds weight to the idea it could have been part of a feast or ritual event.

“[The older fireplace] also had a number of gazelle [bones] in it from at least a dozen or more animals as well as water birds and hare,” said Richter. “So it looks like a bit of a meal [shared] between a larger group of people, like a little feast that was then discarded in the fireplace.”

Amy Bogaard, professor of Neolithic and bronze age archaeology at the University of Oxford and who was not involved in the research, described the study as fascinating. “We previously knew that these communities were grinding and preparing plants in various ways, but this study is the first to identify actual bread-like remains of this early date,” she said. “ In terms of food history, it suggests that preparation of flatbread-like foods long predates the establishment of agriculture, and that farming in this region emerged within a pre-established culture of grinding and baking.”

While the team have yet to recreate the recipe, Richter says they have tried bread made with club-rush tubers, offering a clue as to how the ancient bread might have tasted.

“It tastes a little bit salty, so it is probably not to our particular tastes in the present,” he said.

 

 

 

 

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13-Jun-2018

University of British Columbia

eurekalert.org

 

Agricultural activity by humans more than 2,000 years ago had a more significant and lasting impact on the environment than previously thought. The finding– discovered by a team of international researchers led by the University of British Columbia– is reported in a new study published today in the journal Science Advances.

The researchers found that an increase in deforestation and agricultural activity during the Bronze Age in Ireland reached a tipping point that affected Earth’s nitrogen cycle– the process that keeps nitrogen, a critical element necessary for life, circulating between the atmosphere, land and oceans.

“Scientists are increasingly recognizing that humans have always impacted their ecosystems, but finding early evidence of significant and lasting changes is rare,” said Eric Guiry, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow in UBC’s department of anthropology. “By looking at when and how ancient societies began to change soil nutrients at a molecular level, we now have a deeper understanding of the turning point at which humans first began to cause environmental change.”

For the study, the researchers performed stable isotope analyses on 712 animal bones collected from at least 90 archaeological sites in Ireland. The researchers found significant changes in the nitrogen composition of soil nutrients and plants that made up the animals’ diet during the Bronze Age.

The researchers believe the changes were the result of an increase in the scale and intensity of deforestation, agriculture and pastoral farming.

While these results are specific to Ireland during the Bronze Age, Guiry said the findings have global implications.

“The effect of human activities on soil nitrogen composition may be traceable wherever humans have extensively modified landscapes for agriculture,” he explained. “Our findings have significant potential to serve as a model for future research.”

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The study, “Anthropogenic changes to the Holocene nitrogen cycle in Ireland,” was co-authored by researchers at the Institute of Technology Sligo, Trent University, the University of Oxford, Queen’s University Belfast, and Simon Fraser University.

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(Jon Arnold Images Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)
The stunning landscape of Ifugao Province, located deep within the Philippine Cordilleras, reflects and defines the identity of the people who live there.

Recent archaeological research has pushed the date of Ifugao’s rice terraces forward by some 1,600 years.

 

Original Article:

archaeology.org

By KAREN COATES

 

Archaeologists uncover evidence suggesting rice terraces helped the Ifugao resist Spanish colonization

High in the Philippine Cordilleras, the terrain is a work of engineering and art so stunning it has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World. Steep, furrowed mountains are sculpted into terraces, stacked one atop the other, following the craggy contours of the land. In lush green paddies, people cultivate rice just as their ancestors did, passing the land down from one generation to the next.

Since 1995, UNESCO has included the rice terraces of Ifugao Province on its World Heritage list, describing them as expressions of “harmony between humankind and the environment.” Ecology, geography, and agronomy mingle with the culture, religion, economy, and politics of indigenous Ifugao life. “The rice terraces are emblematic of Philippine heritage; they exemplify human ingenuity and humanity’s ability to modify even the most marginal landscape,” says University of California, Los Angeles, anthropological archaeologist Stephen Acabado, who was born in the Philippines and has researched the region for years. This intricate agroecological system, he says, highlights the consonance between human needs and sustainable ecological management.

According to UNESCO and Philippine history books, the rice terraces were built 2,000 years ago by the ancestors of today’s Ifugao people. But this description is problematic, Acabado says, because it’s not based on any scientific evidence. Rather, it stems from the work of early twentieth-century anthropologists Roy Franklin Barton and Henry Otley Beyer, who calculated the terraces’ age based on the length of time they guessed it would have taken people to build them.

By contrast, Acabado’s archaeological investigations show that the adoption of wet-rice agriculture, accomplished by planting seedlings in flooded fields, is much, much younger in Ifugao than previously thought—1,600 years younger, in fact. While some terraces likely existed in Ifugao centuries before that, Acabado says, evidence suggests they were used for growing taro, not rice, and that those terraces were small. Imagine the difference between a backyard garden and the expansive farm fields that define much of the American Midwest. That’s the kind of difference Acabado believes existed between the earliest Ifugao terraces and what we see today. According to him, the spectacular landscape that garnered Ifugao World Heritage status dates to an era that coincides with the arrival of Spanish colonizers. For Acabado, that changes everything.

The dominant historical narrative told throughout the Philippines is a story of small, remote minority populations that moved higher and higher into the mountains over millennia as waves of new people arrived and settled in the lowlands. It is accepted that Spanish colonizers were unable to conquer the Ifugao because the terrain they occupied was so rugged. This paints the highlanders as essentially outside the march of history, as bystanders, while colonization and modernization swept through other corners of the Philippines. This account is what Acabado recalls learning in school. By the time he reached college, he realized it was based on colonial notions of indigenous people. “I started to think about how to decolonize our history,” he says.

Acabado knew it was important to date the terraces archaeologically. When the evidence connected the timing of the origins of Ifugao wet-rice cultivation with the arrival of the Spanish, he envisioned an entirely different narrative, one of determined people who took refuge in the mountains when faced with the prospect of colonization. “They were not mere spectators on the sidelines of history,” says Acabado. Rather than retreating, they reshaped their culture through the development of an intricate agricultural system that depended on organization, social unity, and ritual feasts. “Wet-rice agriculture was an expression of imperial resistance,” Acabado says. “It also facilitated political integration.”

Contrary to previous thought, it is also now known that colonial-era Ifugao were not isolated. Archaeological findings of ceramics and glass beads show they had established continuous contact and trade across China and elsewhere in Asia between 1600 and 1800. The Ifugao also introduced new foods—domesticated pigs and water buffalo—to the highlands.

With the intention of scientifically documenting local history, Acabado joined other archaeologists from the Philippines, Hawaii, Guam, and elsewhere to launch the Ifugao Archaeological Project (IAP) in 2012. The organization sponsors an archaeological field school and contributes to local heritage conservation projects. “Most of what we know about our history is contained in our oral history,” says Marlon Martin, chief operating officer of Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo), a nonprofit cultural conservation group that collaborates with the archaeologists. “IAP’s research has made things clearer and empirical,” he says.

The position that the IAP takes does have its detractors. The Archaeology Division of the National Museum in Manila released a statement in September of 2017 signed by eight scientists and researchers saying, “We do not agree that the rice terraces are as young as [he] claims.” They emphasize the need for further research before drastically rewriting history. Their criticism centers on the fact that Acabado’s excavations focus only on one area of Ifugao, known as Kiangan.

Acabado says, “I could not agree more with their assessment that a region-wide research program in and around the Ifugao highlands is necessary.” This could aid his goal of adding indigenous perspectives to a government-designed education system that he thinks remains rooted in its colonial origins.

Standard textbook lessons throughout the Philippines portray highland people in stereotypical terms as “primitive,” “warlike,” and “savage,” says Pia Arboleda of the University of Hawaii’s Filipino and Philippine Literature Program, who studies indigenous oral histories. She thinks mainstream Philippine society doesn’t take into account the diversity of the country, which is home to dozens of ethnic groups. “People don’t really like to accept that we are a multicultural, multiethnic community,” she says. “An entire generation of Ifugao has been made to believe, by the formal education system, that the terraces are 2,000 years old,” says Martin. SITMo helps Acabado’s team conduct educational programs on the archaeologists’ scientific findings.

Acabado notes an additional flaw in the standard view of Ifugao history. It implies that Ifugao ancestors did little beyond growing rice for 2,000 years. This has never made sense to him, because elsewhere in the world, the emergence of intensive farming typically coincides with scientific and other developments. He sees the Ifugao shift to wet-rice cultivation as a story of strength.

The Philippines as a whole suffers a dearth of archaeologists, says Grace Barretto-Tesoro, an IAP member. Her institution, the University of the Philippines Diliman, is the only one in the country that grants archaeology degrees. “There are foreign archaeologists who come and go,” she says. Much more comprehensive study is needed. Acabado conducted his first Ifugao excavations in 2007 while working on his Ph.D., and he has followed up with multiple digs since 2012. It’s hard to archaeologically date agricultural features because of the nature of agricultural soils. “They keep on churning,” he explains, as the dirt is turned with each new season. Unlike most archaeological sites, Ifugao is a land in action. People still use the fields today. Terrace walls frequently collapse from old age and wear and tear. Acabado had to devise a methodology to address those issues.

He examined how the terraces were constructed and discovered that the foundations were made of large boulders that stay in place even when the walls they support collapse. Acabado was able to design a statistical model for dating the surrounding soils based on the idea that despite the constant churning of those topsoils, whatever substance remained under the terrace foundations would logically be the oldest.

 

By listening to the oral stories of Ifugao people today, researching possible historical migration routes, and tracing plausible passages that followed riverbeds from lowlands to highlands, he found evidence of dates that were progressively younger the higher he looked in the mountains, and hypothesized that early migrants settled in areas they could manage and farm. In addition, Acabado and his colleagues have searched for direct evidence of wet-rice production in what is thought to be the first Ifugao village, Old Kiyyangan, which was settled about 1,000 years ago. “It wasn’t until 1650 that we see a clear, unambiguous appearance of wet rice and also grasses that are associated with wet rice,” Acabado says.

Researchers collected 12 sediment samples from two trenches for pollen, phytolith, and starch analyses. The earliest rice remains appear in terrace sediments dating to roughly 675 years ago, but it isn’t until between 470 and 530 years ago that the results show a marked increase in these rice remains. This supports a later date for the expansion of wet-rice cultivation in Ifugao. Further, the team tested cooking-pot residues to determine what locals were eating in precolonial times. They found evidence of taro and a substance similar to sugarcane—but no wet rice. “With that knowledge,” says Acabado, “we argue that there would have been terraces in the region, but not for rice.” Small-scale terraces such as those found in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands would have been used for taro, but not until the Spanish arrived did the region see a distinct population increase and a massive undertaking in the change to wet-rice production. That’s when Acabado suggests that Ifugao’s iconic sculpted landscape came to be.

Initially, Acabado thought it logical to find wet rice at the same time as a population increase because it’s a more productive crop than taro and can feed more people. “It also has a longer shelf life. Much, much longer. It can last for 20 years in a perfect environment, as opposed to taro, which can last for only two weeks at most,” he says. But further research showed that wet-rice production in Ifugao supported only 10 percent of the population. The vast majority continued to eat other carbohydrates, likely sweet potatoes, taro, and dry rice grown in swidden fields. Paddy rice was an elite meal, accessible only to society’s upper classes.

Why did the Ifugao start growing wet rice at all? Why not stick to taro? The answer gets to the heart of Acabado’s theory. When the Spanish arrived in the Philippines, the Ifugao consolidated their power in the mountains. They shifted to a form of agriculture that required social organization to manage the control of water, hard labor, access to land, and shared resources. The upper classes owned the land, the lower classes worked it. Wet-rice production was not an economic move, Acabado believes, but one of social structure. The Ifugao performed rituals for every stage of the agricultural cycle, and in anthropological literature, such rituals are portrayed as cohesive activities key to group organization. That organization is what Acabado thinks allowed the Ifugao to collectively fend off the Spanish. “It was just really amazing how the data fell into place to support the model,” says John Peterson, IAP member and director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Guam. Peterson has decades of archaeological experience in the American Southwest and the Pacific. He says IAP data suggest early Ifugao taro terraces date to about 1,500 years ago. Those terraces preadapted the region for an expansion to wet-rice paddies.

Using basic tools and materials as the early Ifugao might have, the researchers constructed their own terrace system. It took the team 11 days to build a 10-level system of stone walls more than six feet high. Acabado says, “It is not unthinkable that [early Ifugao] were able to modify the landscape in a very short amount of time.” IAP hopes to change the terraces’ age in the UNESCO description to reflect the new archaeological evidence. “We’ve got to address that,” says Peterson. But what would this take?

The Philippines national government must submit a modification request to UNESCO. “This will be treated as a new nomination,” says Feng Jing, chief of Asia and the Pacific for UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris. “It is up to the State Party of the Philippines.” That means the national government must agree that a change should be made. However, the government is not ready to draw conclusions, as noted in the National Museum’s statement. “I have differing views from experts,” says Lila Ramos Shahani, secretary general of the Philippine National Commission for UNESCO. “Scholars often differ in their views, and it’s my job to listen to all of them.” The conversation has prompted her to attempt to organize a conference with the National Museum.

In the meantime, Acabado’s scholarship is highly regarded in the Philippines. “The government accepts Stephen’s work as contributory to arriving at some understanding of the complexity of the terracing issue,” says Jesus Peralta, a consultant to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. It takes time for new research to work its way into the educational system, he says. “The story behind the terraces is much more complex than we think.”

Historically, rice and rice farming have framed Ifugao identity. But times are changing, and so is local culture. “Many young people no longer farm,” Peralta says. Thanks to a government that makes higher education inexpensive and accessible, they leave their villages for city jobs, or they go to college. Consequently, terraces sometimes fall into disrepair. For several years, along with World Heritage status, UNESCO placed the rice terraces on its list of endangered sites. They were removed from the list in 2012 after the success of a movement aimed at preserving the landscape and its traditions. “The foundation of Ifugao culture is the rice,” Martin says. “All religious rituals of the Ifugao have a reference to rice and rice gods, and ancestors who owned rice terraces.” His group aims to preserve that legacy.

This is not easily accomplished. For one thing, Acabado says rice production in Ifugao is actually no longer economically viable. During one of his expeditions, he talked with a landowner who paid $1,000 in costs associated with one season of rice production—but earned only $700 back. Nonetheless, Acabado believes that there are greater incentives for the Ifugao to continue cultivating. “It’s not about the money,” he says. “It’s more about the prestige and also about continuing their heritage.”

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