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Pottery with traces of food and drink

Newscientist.com

By Colin Barras

Was it the lure of beer that encouraged prehistoric humans to begin farming? Archaeological evidence from China suggests it might have been as the region’s first farmers had worked out how to turn millet and other cereals into alcoholic drinks in two distinct ways, hinting at how important alcohol was at the time.

Li Liu at Stanford University and her colleagues analysed the residues left on 8000- to 7000-year-old pottery sherds unearthed at two early farming sites in north China. At both sites, some of the residues contained cereal starch granules with signs of physical damage similar to that caused by fermentation.

A key stumbling block when brewing beer from cereals is to break down the starches into fermentable sugars. Significantly, say Liu and her colleagues, the ancient brewers at the two sites appear to have used different techniques to do this.

At the site of Lingkou, tiny mineral particles from plants – phytoliths – in the residues suggest the brewers simply let the grains sprout, which frees up the sugars. But at the site of Guantaoyuan, 300 kilometres to the west, the mix of phytoliths and fungi suggests an alternative approach. Here, the archaeologists say the brewers triggered the breakdown of starches by using a ‘fermentation starter’ known as , which is made from grains that have been allowed to mould. is still used today to produce cereal wines and spirits.

Collectively, says Liu, the evidence suggests the history of these two distinct fermentation techniques stretches back to the early days of farming in East Asia.

“That would be very exciting,” says Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The origins of are hotly disputed, he says. Traditionally, its roots are traced back to the Shang Dynasty in China, which began about 3700 years ago. But even in that period its questionable when use started, he says.

Honey beer

However, McGovern would like to see stronger evidence that the brewers at Guantaoyuan really were using . In 2004, he and his colleagues described even earlier evidence of fermented drinks in the region, at a 9000-year-old site in central China. The brewers there used honey and fruit as well as rice. It’s an important distinction, says McGovern. Not only are honey and fruit rich in fermentable sugars, they also naturally carry the yeasts that perform fermentation – which cereals do not. If they used honey and fruit as well as cereals, early brewers at Guantaoyuan would not have needed to use to get fermentation started.

But there is agreement that the new study emphasises the important of alcoholic drinks in early farming cultures. Liu suspects the spread of domesticated rice might have been encouraged in part because of its use in such drinks. “Alcohol would be used in feasting which helps some individuals to gain high social status and to form alliances,” she says.

McGovern thinks alcoholic drinks might even have helped encourage humans to adopt farming. The large quantities of grain produced by farming could be stored and turned into beer or bread all year round. Beer might have been seen as the more desirable product. “Bread doesn’t have the mind-altering effect of alcohol, which I think is so important for social and religious reasons,” he says.

Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902668116

 

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Telesurenglish.net

Australia’s Budj Bim cultural landscape could become the country’s first Aboriginal cultural value to make it on United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO’s) World Heritage List, after being nominated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites Tuesday.

Budj Bim is a 6,000-year-old aquaculture system located in southwest Victoria that was developed by the Gunditjmara people.

“There are around 200 registered and recorded stone house sites, so people were living a sedentary life,” Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation project manager, Elder Denis Rose, explained.

The Gunditjmara people constructed what is thought to be one of the world’s oldest aquaculture systems, configured into channels and weirs using volcanic rocks to manipulate the water flow of rivers and trap migrating eels for food.

“Budj Bim holds a vast network of wetlands that was constructed by first nation people, it contains evidence of a system used to farm and smoke eels and fish,” Chief Operating Officer of Parks Victoria, Simon Talbot stated. “It was permanent settlement, with huts and house remains that have been protected by Gunditjmara people.”

According to UNESCO, the evidence of construction and farming at Budj Bim “challenges the common perception and assumption of Australia’s First Peoples as having all been hunter-gatherers living in resource-constrained environments.”

 

The Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation has developed a plan for sustainable tourism.

“There’s the economic benefit to the region,” Elder Rose said. “Millions of people travel the Great Ocean Road each year, and if we could attract even a fraction of that to Budj Bim, it would be beneficial to tourism.”

The International Council on Monuments and Sites monitors the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places globally.

“We fought battles to get land back and we had access to very little land 20 to 30 years ago and such little control,” Rose said.

“Today, we have management responsibility of about 10,000 hectares including the Budj Bim national park, and that pride and sense of achievement we have is so important. It’s also nice to look back and really appreciate how our ancestors looked after country so well.”

The nomination of Budj Bim will be formally reviewed by the world heritage committee in July.

“Budj Bim is one of Australia’s most important cultural sites and now it’s a step away from World Heritage Status. We’re supporting the Gunditjmara people in their self-determination as they lead the development of this landscape to share it sustainably with the world,” Victoria’s Aboriginal affairs minister, Gavin Jennings, noted.

Budj Bim Landscape are recognized and protected by the Victorian Government under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and by the Commonwealth Government under the National Heritage List, and was added to Australia’s Tentative World Heritage List in 2017.

Australia has 19 world heritage sites, including Sydney Opera House, Kakadu national park and the Great Barrier Reef.

 

 

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Israeli researchers raised a glass Wednesday to celebrate a long-brewing project of making beer and mead using yeasts extracted from ancient clay vessels —some over 5,000 years old.

By ILAN BEN ZION

Apnews.com

 

Archaeologists and microbiologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority and four Israeli universities teamed up to study yeast colonies found in microscopic pores in pottery fragments. The shards were found at Egyptian, Philistine and Judean archaeological sites in Israel spanning from 3,000 BC to the 4th century BC.

The scientists are touting the brews made from “resurrected” yeasts as an important step in experimental archaeology, a field that seeks to reconstruct the past in order to better understand the flavor of the ancient world.

“What we discovered was that yeast can actually survive for a very, very long time without food,” said Hebrew University microbiologist Michael Klutstein. “Today we are able to salvage all these living organisms that live inside the nanopores and to revive them and study their properties.”

Beer was a staple of the daily diet for the people of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Early Egyptian texts refer to a variety of different brews, including “iron beer,” ″friend’s beer,” and “beer of the protector.”

The yeast samples came from nearly two dozen ceramic vessels found in excavations around the country, including a salvage dig in central Tel Aviv, a Persian-era palace in southern Jerusalem and ’En Besor, a 5,000-year-old Egyptian brewery near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. The project was spearheaded by Hebrew University microbiologist Ronen Hazan and antiquities authority archaeologist Yitzhak Paz.

Other researchers of ancient beers, such as University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Patrick McGovern, have concocted drinks based on ancient recipes and residue analysis of ceramics. But the Israeli scientists say this is the first time fermented drinks have been made from revived ancient yeasts.

Aren Maeir, a Bar Ilan University archaeologist, excavates at Tel es-Safi, the biblical city of Gath, where ancient Philistine beer pots yielded yeasts used to brew a beer offered to journalists. He likened the revival of long-dormant yeast to the resurrection of ancient beasts fictionalized in “Jurassic Park,” but only to a point.

“In Jurassic Park, the dinosaurs eat the scientists,” he said. “Here, the scientists drink the dinosaurs.”

“It opens up a whole new field of the possibility that perhaps other microorganisms survived as well, and you can identify foods such as cheese, wine, pickles,” opening a portal into tasting cultures of the past, he said.

For this initial experiment, the team paired up with a Jerusalem craft brewer to make a basic modern-style ale using yeast extracted from the pots. The ale had a thick white head, with a caramel color and a distinctly funky nose. The mead, made using yeast extracted from a vessel found in the ruins of a palace near Jerusalem that contained honey wine roughly 2,400 years ago, was champagne bubbly and dry, with a hint of green apple.

The beer incorporates modern ingredients, like hops, that were not available in the ancient Middle East — but it’s the revived yeast that provides much of the flavor.

“We tried to recreate some of the old flavors that people in this area were consuming hundreds and thousands of years ago,” said Shmuel Naky, a craft brewer from the Jerusalem Beer Center, who helped produce the beer and mead. Yeasts, he said, “have a very crucial impact on flavor.”

Naky described the beer as “spicy, and somewhat fruity, and it’s very complex in flavor,” all attributes produced by the ancient yeast.

Genome sequencing of the yeast colonies extracted from the pots showed that the ancient strain of yeast was different from the yeast used in beer-making today, but similar to those still used to make traditional Zimbabwean beer and Ethiopian tej, a type of honey wine.

The researchers said their next aim is to pair the resurrected yeasts with ancient beer recipes to better reproduce drinks from antiquity.

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Wari brewed beer with pepper berries. Donna Nash

 

The Wari empire, an ancient Peruvian civilization that predated the Inca, made advances in agriculture, art, architecture, and warfare. They also drank a ton of beer.

According to archaeologists, Wari breweries—largely managed by women—played a major role in spreading the empire’s influence across diverse communities throughout Peru during its height between 450 and 1,000 C.E.

“We’re trying to understand how Wari civilization sustained itself for so long,” says Ryan Williams, an archaeologist at the Field Museum in Chicago. At their peak, Wari controlled a strip of land in modern-day Peru between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific coast. It stretched the same length as the distance between Jacksonville, Florida, and New York City. While the empire collapsed before European colonizers arrived in South America, they had an early influence on the development of the Inca—Williams compares it to the Greeks settling in Italy and helping give rise to the Roman Empire.

Because Wari people never had contact with Europeans and didn’t have their own written language, much of what we know about them comes from archaeological records. Williams says it wasn’t until 1950 that archaeologists were able to identify the Wari capital city, which allowed them to understand the scope of the empire. Now, researchers have excavated sites hundreds of miles away, and one thing has stood out: breweries—they’re everywhere. Williams’ team’s study, published this past Thursday in Sustainability, focuses on one at Cerro Baúl, a town at the southern edge of the empire hundreds of miles from the capital.

Williams says his team was interested in how Wari created a unique culture around beer to unify otherwise disparate groups of people throughout their territory. It’s a classic case of bringing people together through drinking and merriment, but scaled way, way up.

“Institutions around beermaking played a role in creating the glue that binds societies together,” Williams says.

Civilizations began producing alcoholic beverages, in some cases, before they created written languages. Archaeologists believe early hominids first got a taste for booze by eating fruits that had fallen from trees and naturally fermented over time. In 2018, researchers unearthed 13,000 year-old mortars from a cave in Israel that suggested humans were even making beer before they cultivated cereal crops for bread.

Archaeologists have found evidence of fermented beverage production in sites around the globe, and most of these processes are believed to have sprung up independently from each other. From rice wine in China to barley beer in Iran, it seemed you weren’t a real civilization until you had your own proverbial liquor label.

The Wari variety was chicha: a slowly brewed, beer-like fermented beverage typically made from corn that’s still produced today in South America. The brewery at Cerro Baúl made it for four centuries, surviving any environmental or social problems that may have arisen to become what Williams calls the best-preserved Wari brewery found to date. Brewers would produce 1,500 to 2,000 liters of the stuff at a time and throw multi-day, community-wide drinking festivals to consume it.

The team believes that these breweries were so resilient because they produced their own materials instead of importing them from a central capital. By completing a chemical analysis of pottery fragments found at Cerro Baúl, they found that the clay came from local sources while still retaining common Wari iconography.

The chemical analysis was also able to find tiny traces of biomarkers on the pottery associated with chicha de molle, a specific type of chicha made from fermented pepper berries. Excavators also found remnants of discarded pepper berries that had previously been used for brewing. While today’s chicha is usually corn-based, the majority of samples analyzed at Cerro Baúl are the pepper berry variety. Williams says this wasn’t a coincidence: pepper berry trees can survive droughts, making them ideal for the wide range of environments that the Wari empire would’ve encompassed.

Williams says the pepper berry is a common ingredient in most chicha brewing practices, along with the pottery the chicha would be served in, became the Wari brand. The envy of marketing departments everywhere, the beer was cohesive enough to communicate a shared political experience but adaptable enough for communities to sustainably produce it for centuries.

“Even in environmentally bad times, [Wari] could continue to kind of maintain this interaction with their population through this production of beer,” Williams says.

But, of course, researchers couldn’t be sure until they tried making the beer themselves. That’s where Donna Nash, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, got to unleash the beermaker within: She needed to reproduce the chicha to provide something to compare with the biomarkers found in the pottery fragments. She also wanted to see if Wari would’ve been able to make chicha at a smaller, household scale, which would’ve made the process even more accessible and, therefore, more widespread.

Nash worked with a local woman for about a month, who taught her how to brew both the corn and pepper berry chicha varieties using a process very similar to how Wari would’ve done it. She then compared the final product and the materials used to what the team found at the archaeological site.

“Making molle, you can actually do it in a single day,” Nash says. They first had to pick and winnow pepper berries that were ripe enough to have turned a caramel color. Then, they put the berries in a pot of boiling water and allowed it to steep like tea, taste-testing it every so often for optimal sweetness. They drained the berries out with cheesecloth and allowed the steeped water to sit in a cool, dark place for about five days.

“People who were brewing the chicha were probably also making thin, gauzy textiles to do the straining,” Nash says, though fabrics made out of organic material in archaeological ruins typically decay before they’re excavated. Some scholars, she says, have suggested that the relatively low-commitment pepper berry chicha brewing process could have been adopted by individual households, cementing Wari identity beyond the breweries.

The research wouldn’t have been complete without tasting the chicha. Nash says it’s surprisingly sweet, more like a cider than, say, a craft beer—there are no hops, and boiling the berries releases pockets of sugary resin. Whatever the taste, Nash and the rest of the team’s research suggests that chicha was instrumental in keeping the Wari empire together for so long.

“If you’re a little tipsy, most people are friendlier. And the experience of drinking together certainly does make those social bonds,” Nash says. “Also, we can’t ignore the way that ritual beliefs and behaviors are embedded in a lot of other things that these folks would have been doing.”

Archaeologists excavating civilizations around the globe have found that alcohol wasn’t just a way for our ancestors to get buzzed—in many cases, it occupied a significant place in society. Beer and wine were present in myths and offerings to the gods in Greece, and Rome, and were even used to pay the workers who built Ancient Egypt’s pyramids. Nash says that even when her team began research at Cerro Baúl, they performed a ceremonial offering to the land with beer in order to respect local traditions.

John W. Arthur, an anthropology professor at the University of South Florida, wrote in a piece for Anthropology Now, “Beer binds people together and serves to reinforce social hospitality and communality during ceremonial and everyday activities.”

Williams says archaeologists have yet to find Wari breweries that were still in use after the empire collapsed, which he believes points to their crucial role in fostering connections between what would have otherwise been politically fragmented groups.

“When the Wari state collapses, in these areas there are no big brewing facilities left,” he says. “People tend to start to move up into small, fortified hilltop villages, they’re starting to raid against each other.”

Nash says the research speaks to how seemingly small features of a society can help hold it together. Pepper berries could be easily propagated and grown throughout differing environments in Peru, and household chicha was simple enough to make in small batches without the need for too much fuel to brew it. Nash says this wasn’t a coincidence, and that the Wari were aware of how adaptable (and therefore influential) this practice could be for communities that would’ve otherwise had little in common with them.

“It shows us that local sourcing based on large shared ideas can provide the sustainable resources for political unification over very long periods of time,” Williams says.

Were Wari so successful because being constantly tipsy off homemade beer helped them get along better? Probably not—this research suggests beer may have been more potent as a cultural concept rather than an alcohol. But a few Peruvian brewskis couldn’t have hurt.

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Written records suggest viniculture in France dates back to the sixth century BCE AFP/File

France24.com

 

Grape varieties brought to France by the Romans are identical to those grown for wine in some of the most famous appellations today, a new analysis of ancient vine DNA showed Monday.

Researchers unearthed evidence that one grape — from which well-known varieties such as chenin and riesling are derived — had been grown continuously for 900 years, long enough for a good many vintages.

Unlike many agricultural crops, which grow annually from seed, grapevines are normally propagated by replanting trimmings from an existing vine.

This saves both time and the risk of producing an inferior wine, and the new plants are genetically identical to their predecessors.

This means that a single generation of a grape variety can last for hundreds of years.

Written records suggest viniculture in France dates back to the sixth century BCE, introduced by the Greeks to their colony Massalia, the modern-day Marseille.

But until now scientists have been unable to accurately date many specific varieties, nor have they been able to chart how older vines are related to those used in winemaking today.

A Europe-wide team of archeologists and geneticists analysed the genomes of 28 grape pips unearthed at nine dig sites across France, the oldest dating to around 2,500 years ago.

They then cross-referenced them with a DNA database of modern varieties.

“We were able to show that we can identify varieties in the past, we can use these archaeological samples and get DNA from them and link them to modern varieties,” Nathan Wales, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, told AFP.

Among the most corking discoveries was savignan, a white grape variety dated to 1100 CE.

Savignan is today used to produce the famed vin jaune of the Jura region, which gets its unique palate and colour from being stored in oak barrels for up to six years.

“That shows us that this grape has been maintained for at least 900 years,” said Wales, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Plants.

“People have been taking that plant, cutting it, grafting it and maintaining that lineage. We have never had the opportunity to understand how long these processes have been going on.”

– Thousand-year vintage –

Savignan is the mother variety for more than two dozen white grapes, including gruner veltliner, chenin, riesling and petit manseng.

The team also found that humagne blanche, a white grape grown today in the Swiss Alps, was directly related to grapes grown in southern France by the Romans.

“There are stories where at some point Romans took vines into the Alps in Switzerland, and this shows that these stories were probably true,” said Wales.

“We have really close relationships between the archeological samples and samples grown today.”

Other famous grapes, such as chardonnay and pinot noir, were proven to be virtually genetically identical to other Roman varieties.

“It kind of gives a new appreciation for this tradition, of winemaking, and the longevity of it,” Wales said.

“We knew that the Romans were doing cuttings but we didn’t know how long these particular grapes had been around but now we can see that these lineages have been maintained for thousands of years.”

? 2019 AFP

 

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New scientist.com

By Michael Le Page

Did ancient Egyptian children compete to see who could spit seeds the furthest as they ate watermelons? It seems likely, because thanks to some DNA detective work we now know for sure that the ancient Egyptians ate domesticated watermelons with sweet, red flesh.

The wild watermelons found in parts of Africa are nothing like the domesticated varieties. They are small, round and have white flesh with a very bitter taste due to compounds called cucurbitacins. There’s long been debate about when and where they were domesticated, with some suggesting it took place in south Africa or west Africa.

However, pictures on the walls of at least three ancient Egyptian tombs depict what look like watermelons – including one that looks strikingly like modern varieties (pictured below). And in the 19th century, watermelon leaves were found placed on a mummy in a tomb dating back around 3500 years.

When botanist Susanne Renner at the University of Munich, Germany, learned about these leaves, she realised their DNA might reveal what the ancient melons were like. She also discovered that some of the leaves had been sent to the famed botanist Joseph Hooker, then head of Kew Gardens in London. “It was my love of the old literature,” she says.

We’ve been enjoying watermelons for thousands of years
age fotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

 

Mark Nesbitt at Kew gave Renner’s team a tiny sample of one leaf. He had trouble opening the display case containing the leaves, she says, as it had not been opened since the leaves were first placed in it in 1876.

The ancient DNA was then sequenced by Renner’s colleague Guillaume Chomicki, now at the University of Oxford. The team were only able to get a partial genome sequence, but it includes two crucial genes that reveal what these melons were like. “We were so lucky,” says Renner.

One of these genes controls the production of the bitter cucurbitacins. In the 3500-year-old melon, there was a mutation that disabled this gene, meaning it had sweet flesh just like modern varieties.

The other gene codes for an enzyme that converts the red pigment lycopene – the same pigment that makes tomatoes red – into another substance. This gene was also disabled by a mutation, meaning lycopene accumulates and the fruit would have red flesh.

What the team can’t tell from the partial sequence is how large the melons were and whether they had an elongated shape or round shape. But one of the ancient Egyptian pictures shows what appears to be an elongated melon, so it seems farmers had bred watermelons with most if not all of the key features at least 3500 years ago.

The DNA also reveals that the ancient melon was closely related to a sweet watermelon with white flesh still grown in the Darfur region of Sudan. That suggests the watermelon was first grown by farmers in this region and the use of the plant then spread northwards along the Nile, with further improvements like red flesh occurring along the way.

 

Watermelons are depicted on the walls of at least three ancient Egyptian tombs
Courtesy of Renner, Perez-Escobar,Silber,Nesbitt,Preick,Hofreiter,Chomicki

 

 

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Genome-wide analyses of 41 ancient sub-Saharan Africans answer questions left murky by archaeological records about the origins of the people who introduced food production — first herding and then farming — into East Africa over the past 5,000 years.

Source: Ancient DNA illuminates first herders and farmers in east Africa

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