Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

photo: Prof Gary Lee Todd

photo: Prof Gary Lee Todd

 

Original Article:

arstechnica.co.uk

ByCATHLEEN O’GRADY (US) –

 

Bones and burial grounds point male children getting better-quality food.

Around 7,000 years ago in China’s Central Plains, the Yangshao culture began to flourish along the Yellow River. It was another example of the same widespread Neolithic culture that was also emerging in Europe around the time, with new developments in pottery and agriculture. In China, it dominated the region for approximately 2,000 years.

Yangshao remains have offered a team of international researchers insight into an interesting question: did gender differences change alongside agricultural practices? They argue that gender inequality emerged along with the new crops among the Yangshao. The archaeological data has some interesting signs, but it’s possible that the researchers are overstating their case: the only evidence they have is of inequality in people’s diets, which doesn’t tell us much about the structure of inequality of societies.

Millet cereals were domesticated in the region as early as 10,000 years ago and were the primary crop of Yangshao cultures. Wheat, barley, and soybeans were introduced to the region after the end of Yangshao, around 4,000 years ago, although archaeological traces of them remain low for centuries. According to historical records, they were thought to be inferior foods, suitable only for protecting the poor against famine. That only changed around 2,000 years ago, when improved technological methods made it easier to refine them.

Agricultural changes aren’t only reflected in artifacts; they show up in excavated bones, too. Millet uses a type of photosynthesis that differs from the vast majority of plants, and it’s the only domesticated plant in Early China to use this type of photosynthesis. The result of this is that the carbon signature in the bones of people who ate primarily millet looks different from that of people who ate other plants. Nitrogen traces in bones can point to the quantity of animal products in an individual’s diet.

The researchers compared Yangshao bones with remains from the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty, which lasted from 771 to 221 BC. In the Eastern Zhou bones, they found evidence that men and women were eating different diets: men’s bones had evidence of higher consumption of animal products and millet, while women’s bones showed evidence of higher consumption of the more recent (and scorned) crops of wheat, barley, and soy. The Yangshao bones, on the other hand, generally didn’t show a significant difference, with the exception of one of the five sites studied. This suggests that “meals were no longer shared at the household level during Eastern Zhou,” the authors write.

On its own, this is not evidence of a bias favoring males. There could be cultural reasons for a gender-based split in diet that weren’t actively bad for women—although the fact that women were eating more of the food that was considered low quality is a bit telling.

But other strands of evidence corroborate the inequality story: women’s bones from Eastern Zhou, but not Yangshao, showed more signs of childhood malnutrition, and size differences between the sexes increased from Yangshao to Eastern Zhou. Both of these signs indicate that male children had better quality food, pointing to greater parental investment in male children. And female graves in Eastern Zhou had fewer burial items and were less likely to have a coffin than male graves, while again, Yangshao graves were more egalitarian.

It’s an interesting result, but it’s always a mistake to draw too many parallels with modern society from archaeological research. It’s also not clear that this is really evidence of the first emergence of gender inequality in this region of China.

It is evidence of a massive cultural change in how the genders related to each other, certainly. But food-based inequality isn’t the only kind of gender inequality that a society might practice—there are plenty of inarguably patriarchal modern societies where families eat meals together. It’s entirely possible that Yangshao did have inequality, but that it took a different shape and would have left a different kind of archaeological presence.

An open question is how the change in gender practices and agriculture are interwoven. Did the change in agriculture itself lead to the change in gender norms? The causal story is likely to be complicated, and the authors of the paper steer clear of suggesting that one led to the other, but the relationship between them is something that future research can hopefully illuminate.

PNAS, 2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1611742114 (About DOIs).

This post originated on Ars Technica

Read Full Post »

This is another Article on crops and the Chaco Culture published in January with expanded information.

JLP

chaco-supernova-pictograph-730x438

Original Article:

by Blake de Pastino

western digs.org

For more than a century, researchers have been studying the intricacies of Chaco Canyon — the cluster of settlements and multi-story “great houses” in northwestern New Mexico that, at its peak around the year 1100, may have been home to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Recently, researchers have been at odds over a simple, central question in the history of this monumental community:

How did the people of Chaco manage to grow food in such an arid environment?

According to new research, the answer is even simpler.

They didn’t.

Dr. Larry V. Benson, a former hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an anthropologist at the University of Colorado, has studied soil and other environmental records from the region, and concludes that Chaco Canyon was both too dry and too salty to grow corn or beans, two of the staple crops of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived there.

As a result, Benson proposes a new theory about how Chacoans fed themselves: They imported their food.

“The important thing about this study is that it demonstrates you can’t grow great quantities of corn in the Chaco valley floor,” Benson said of his new findings, in a press statement.

“And you couldn’t grow sufficient corn in the side canyon tributaries of Chaco that would have been necessary to feed several thousand people.

“Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”

Benson is the scientist behind many sometimes contentious anthropological findings around the West.

In 2013, he played a role in the discovery of petroglyphs in Nevada that were determined to be the oldest on the continent.

More recently, he concluded that the circular masonry feature at Mesa Verde National Park known as Mummy Lake wasn’t a reservoir, as many had thought, but a ceremonial structure.

Benson’s new research is a riposte to a study released in September that promised to “shake up” the field of Southwestern archaeology with its findings that Chaco Canyon’s soil was not too salty to farm, as Benson and others had previously asserted.

In fact, this research concluded, Chaco’s soil was rich in certain mineral salts, like calcium sulfate, that actually made it especially fertile for growing plants such as corn.

“One thing we can say with a great degree of certainty: The Ancestral Puebloans did not abandon Chaco Canyon because of salt pollution,” said Dr. Kenneth Tankersley, an anthropologist and geologist at the University of Cincinnati, in a press statement at the time.

But in his new paper, currently being published by the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Benson answers Tankersley’s study with new data and arguments of his own.

First, he draws on tree ring data.

Cross-sections of trees are considered natural records of annual rainfall, with thick and thin rings corresponding to wet and dry years.

Using data from tree-core samples spanning 1,100 years, Benson notes that Chaco only experienced sufficient rainfall for growing corn about 2 percent of the time.

Regardless of the soil’s salt content, Benson writes, “this implies that an exceptional wet period did not prevail during Chaco’s heyday.”

As for the benefits of sulfur on maize crops, Benson argues that, while sulfur is an important nutrient in agriculture, it’s mainly useful in treating metallic sulfates in acidic soil, a condition that Chaco Canyon doesn’t have.

“The principal usefulness of sulfur in maize agriculture is its ability to reduce aluminum toxicity that often accompanies soil acidity, a problem that does not occur in the high-pH soils of the Chaco Canyon region,” Benson writes.

Moreover, in his own analysis of soil samples taken from the valley bottom and the side canyons that feed into it, Benson finds that levels of salt were indeed very high — at some points, higher than those found in seawater.

Considering that Chaco’s soil chemistry likely hasn’t changed much over the past 800 years, Benson concludes that Chaco Canyon was simply never suitable for farming on a scale large enough to have fed its population.

“I don’t think anyone understands why it existed,” he said of the cultural complex, in the press statement.

“There was no time in the past when Chaco Canyon was a Garden of Eden.”

In turn, Benson offers an alternative explanation for how the communities of Chaco got their food: It was imported from the Chuska Mountains, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.

The eastern slope of the Chuskas is known to have been home to a robust Ancestral Puebloan presence, he said, their numbers aided in part by the ample water provided by snowmelt.

Previous studies have estimated that as many as 17,000 people made their home on the Chuska Slope before the year 1100, and recent research has even found that those mountains were the source of the Chaco Canyon’s huge building timbers.

Given the other cultural connections between the two communities, Benson said, it’s plausible that the Chuskas served as what he called “Chaco’s breadbasket.”

“There were timbers, pottery and chert coming from the Chuska region to Chaco Canyon, so why not surplus corn?” Benson said in the statement. [Read more about trade of exotic goods in Chaco: “Bones of Exotic Macaws Reveal Early Rise of Trade, Hierarchy in Chaco Canyon”]

The nature of Chaco’s agricultural environment, and how Ancestral Puebloans managed to thrive within it, remain open questions for now.

But Benson suggests that, in addition to Chaco’s natural chemistry, the relationship between these two communities in pre-contact New Mexico also deserves closer study.

“Perhaps it is time to reassess Chaco Canyon as a self-sustaining bread basket and turn to new studies of the prehistory of the Chuska Slope and its connection to Chaco Canyon,” he writes.

Tankersley and his colleagues have not yet been contacted for a response.

 

Read Full Post »

Chaco Canyon

Chaco Canyon

 

Original article:

Colorado.edu

 

Ancient Chaco Canyon population likely relied on imported food

Ancient ruins are seen in part of Chaco Canyon.

The ancient inhabitants of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, the zenith of Pueblo culture in the Southwest a thousand years ago, likely had to import corn to feed the multitudes residing there, says a new CU Boulder study.

CU Boulder scientist Larry Benson said the new study shows that Chaco Canyon—believed by some archeologists to have been populated by several thousand people around A.D. 1100 and to have held political sway over an area twice the size of Ohio–had soils that were too salty for the effective growth of corn and beans.

“The important thing about this study is that it demonstrates you can’t grow great quantities of corn in the Chaco valley floor,” Benson said. “And you couldn’t grow sufficient corn in the side canyon tributaries of Chaco that would have been necessary to feed several thousand people. Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”

“Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”

A paper by Benson was published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Between the ninth and 12th centuries, Chaco Canyon (officially the Chaco Culture Natural Historic Park) located in the San Juan Basin in north-central New Mexico was the focus of an unprecedented construction effort, Benson said. At the height of its cultural heyday, 12 stone masonry “great houses” and other structures were built there, along with a network of ceremonial roads linking Chaco with other Pueblo sites in the Southwest.

As part of the study, Benson used a tree ring data set created by University of Arizona Professor Emeritus Jeff Dean that showed annual Chaco Canyon precipitation spanning 1,100 years. The tree rings indicate the minimum amount of annual precipitation necessary to grow corn was exceeded only 2.5 percent of the time during that time period.

Benson suggests that much of the corn consumed by the ancient people of Chaco may have come from the Chuska Slope, the eastern flank of the Chuska Mountains some 50 miles west of Chaco Canyon that also was the source of some 200,000 timbers used to shore up Chaco Canyon masonry structures. Between 11,000 and 17,000 Pueblo people are thought to have resided on the Chuska Slope before A.D. 1130, he said.

Winter snows in the Chuska Mountains would have produced a significant amount of spring snowmelt that was combined with surface water features like natural “wash systems,” Benson said. Water concentrated and conveyed by washes would have allowed for the diversion of surface water to irrigate large corn fields on the Chuska Slope, he said.

The Chaco Canyon inhabitants traded regularly with the Chuska Slope residents, Benson said, as evidenced by stone tool material (chert), pottery and wooden beams.

“There were timbers, pottery and chert coming from the Chuska region to Chaco Canyon, so why not surplus corn?” asks Benson, a former U.S. Geological Survey scientist.

Many archaeologists are still puzzled as to why Chaco Canyon was built in an area that has long winters, marginal rainfall and short growing seasons. “I don’t think anyone understands why it existed,” Benson said. “There was no time in the past when Chaco Canyon was a Garden of Eden.”

 

Read Full Post »

Excavating a pit from which archaeobotanical samples were collected at the Indus Civilization site of Masudpur I in northwest India. Credit: Cameron Petrie

Excavating a pit from which archaeobotanical samples were collected at the Indus Civilization site of Masudpur I in northwest India. Credit: Cameron Petrie

 

Original article:

popular-archaeology.com

Rice was used as a ‘summer crop’ by the Indus civilization.

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—The latest research on archaeological sites of the ancient Indus Civilisation, which stretched across what is now Pakistan and northwest India during the Bronze Age, has revealed that domesticated rice farming in South Asia began far earlier than previously believed, and may have developed in tandem with – rather than as a result of – rice domestication in China.

The research also confirms that Indus populations were the earliest people to use complex multi-cropping strategies across both seasons, growing foods during summer (rice, millets and beans) and winter (wheat, barley and pulses), which required different watering regimes. The findings suggest a network of regional farmers supplied assorted produce to the markets of the civilisation’s ancient cities.

Evidence for very early rice use has been known from the site of Lahuradewa in the central Ganges basin, but it has long been thought that domesticated rice agriculture didn’t reach South Asia until towards the end of the Indus era, when the wetland rice arrived from China around 2000 BC. Researchers found evidence of domesticated rice in South Asia as much as 430 years earlier.

The new research is published today in the journals Antiquity and Journal of Archaeological Science by researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Division of Archaeology, in collaboration with colleagues at Banaras Hindu University and the University of Oxford.

“We found evidence for an entirely separate domestication process in ancient South Asia, likely based around the wild species Oryza nivara. This led to the local development of a mix of ‘wetland’ and ‘dryland’ agriculture of local Oryza sativa indica rice agriculture before the truly ‘wetland’ Chinese rice, Oryza sativa japonica, arrived around 2000 BC,” says study co-author Dr Jennifer Bates

“While wetland rice is more productive, and took over to a large extent when introduced from China, our findings appear to show there was already a long-held and sustainable culture of rice production in India as a widespread summer addition to the winter cropping during the Indus civilisation.”

Co-author Dr Cameron Petrie says that the location of the Indus in a part of the world that received both summer and winter rains may have encouraged the development of seasonal crop rotation before other major civilisations of the time, such as Ancient Egypt and China’s Shang Dynasty.

“Most contemporary civilisations initially utilised either winter crops, such as the Mesopotamian reliance on wheat and barley, or the summer crops of rice and millet in China – producing surplus with the aim of stockpiling,” says Petrie.

“However, the area inhabited by the Indus is at a meteorological crossroads, and we found evidence of year-long farming that predates its appearance in the other ancient river valley civilisations.”

The archaeologists sifted for traces of ancient grains in the remains of several Indus villages within a few kilometers of the site called Rakhigari: the most recently excavated of the Indus cities that may have maintained a population of some 40,000.

As well as the winter staples of wheat and barley and winter pulses like peas and vetches, they found evidence of summer crops: including domesticated rice, but also millet and the tropical beans urad and horsegram, and used radiocarbon dating to provide the first absolute dates for Indus multi-cropping: 2890-2630 BC for millets and winter pulses, 2580-2460 BC for horsegram, and 2430-2140 BC for rice.

Millets are a group of small grain, now most commonly used in birdseed, which Petrie describes as “often being used as something to eat when there isn’t much else”. Urad beans, however, are a relative of the mung bean, often used in popular types of Indian dhal today.

In contrast with evidence from elsewhere in the region, the village sites around Rakhigari reveal that summer crops appear to have been much more popular than the wheats of winter.

The researchers say this may have been down to the environmental variation in this part of the former civilisation: on the seasonally flooded Ghaggar-Hakra plains where different rainfall patterns and vegetation would have lent themselves to crop diversification – potentially creating local food cultures within individual areas.

This variety of crops may have been transported to the cities. Urban hubs may have served as melting pots for produce from regional growers, as well as meats and spices, and evidence for spices have been found elsewhere in the region.

While they don’t yet know what crops were being consumed at Rakhigarhi, Jennifer Bates points out that: “It is certainly possible that a sustainable food economy across the Indus zone was achieved through growing a diverse range of crops, with choice being influenced by local conditions.

“It is also possible that there was trade and exchange in staple crops between populations living in different regions, though this is an idea that remains to be tested.”

“Such a diverse system was probably well suited to mitigating risk from shifts in climate,” adds Cameron Petrie. “It may be that some of today’s farming monocultures could learn from the local crop diversity of the Indus people 4,000 years ago.”

The findings are the latest from the Land, Water and Settlement Project, which has been conducting research on the ancient Indus Civilisation in northwest India since 2008.

Article Source: University of Cambridge news release.

Read Full Post »

 

  Dairy-related activity differed across regions in Neolithic culture and may have impacted culture spread and animal domestication. Martin Abegglen, Wikimedia Commons


Dairy-related activity differed across regions in Neolithic culture and may have impacted culture spread and animal domestication. Martin Abegglen, Wikimedia Commons

Original article:

popular-archaeology.com

An archeological study* finds regional differences in the level of dairy-related activity in early Neolithic farming communities across the Mediterranean region. Previous research suggests that the production of dairy products such as milk in Neolithic Mediterranean communities could have been an impetus for animal domestication. To study the rise of dairy production in the Mediterranean region, Mélanie Roffet-Salque and colleagues analyzed lipid residues on more than 550 ceramic sherds and osteo-archeological data on age-at-death for domesticated animals from 82 sites in the northern Mediterranean and Near East that dated between the seventh and fifth millennia BC. In combination with previously published data, the ceramic and osteo-archaeological analyses revealed regional differences in the level of dairy-related activity in Early Neolithic farming communities across the Mediterranean region. Moreover, milk residues in ceramic artifacts from both the east and west of the region contrasted with data from sites in northern Greece, where high frequencies of pig bones indicated a reliance on meat production. According to the authors, except for parts of mainland Greece, dairy production was likely practiced across the Mediterranean region from the onset of agriculture and might have contributed to the spread of culture and animal domestication in the region.

Read Full Post »

 Findings may help illuminate understanding of plant domestication and cultivation in the Andes Mountains. Josue Hermoza, Wikimedia Commons

Findings may help illuminate understanding of plant domestication and cultivation in the Andes Mountains. Josue Hermoza, Wikimedia Commons

Original Article:

popular-archaeology.com

Researchers provide evidence for the early cultivation and use of potato (Solanum tuberosum) at an archaeological site in the Andes Mountains of south-central Peru. Studying the domestication of the potato, an important crop in the high Andes, could help illuminate the development of highland Andean culture, but limited direct botanical evidence of potato domestication in the region has hindered research efforts. Claudia Rumold and Mark Aldenderfer* collected microbotanical samples from groundstone tools from Jisakairumoko, a site situated in the western Titicaca Basin of Peru that reflects a transition from sedentism to food production. On 14 groundstone tools, the authors found 141 starch microremains, and microscope photographs and subsequent taxonomic identification revealed that 50 of the starch granules were of Solanum origin. The potato starches were similar in size to modern potato starches, and anthropogenic wear on the starches was consistent with culinary processing methods. The findings might help us understand the development of food production in Jisakaurumoko, and more broadly, illuminate plant domestication and cultivation in the Andes Mountains.

 

Read Full Post »

wheat-produce

 

Cereals were domesticated in Syria long before they appeared in Iraq or Iran.

Ancient plant remains suggest that the domestication of cereals, which led to the beginning of agriculture, appeared at different times in the Levant and in the eastern Fertile Crescent. Some countries, such as ancient-days Turkey, Iran and Iraq, saw Neolithic populations exploiting legumes, fruits and nuts long before they cultivated cereals.

Past studies have highlighted two main hypotheses to describe and explain the beginnings of plant domestication. In the 1990s, the belief was that domesticated plants had first appeared in Turkey, and that this was a rapid process that spread to the neighbouring regions in a short space of time.

In contrast, the recent dominant theory is that cereal domestication was a protracted process that developed all over the Middle East from 11,600 to 10,700 years ago. However, it remained unclear whether domestication happened at the same time in the different countries or if there was regional diversity.

In the new research, published in PNAS, researchers have tried to answer this question. They have shown that the cultivation of cereals during the Neolithic was only common in the southern-central Levant – such as in southern Syria. It took more time to arrive in other regions of the eastern Fertile Crescent – such as Iraq, Iran and southern Turkey.

Legumes rather cereals

The researchers started working at the archaeological Neolithic site of Tell Qarassa North in southern Syria. There, plant remains suggest that by 10,700 years ago cereals such as barley were being cultivated in important proportions. The study presents it as one of the earliest sites in the Middle East with evidence of morphologically domesticated wheat and barley.

But when the scientists from the University of the Basque Country and the University of Copenhagen looked at the evidence from sites located in the eastern Fertile Crescent, they found no evidence of similar practices at this time.

Their analysis suggests that domesticated-type cereals only appeared around 400 to 1,000 years later in Iraq, Iran and southern Turkey. Legumes, fruits and nuts likely dominated people’s diets until then.

“It was surprising to discover that despite being considered very important, and despite their dominant role in our agriculture, domesticated cereals might not have been so important in Neolithic times, in many regions” study author and archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui told IBTimes UK.

“On most of the archaeological sites, researchers usually focus on cereal remains despite the archaeological often being quite poor. I would like to shift this focus and have us look at the record for other plants, because that may help us better understand ancient cultures and better characterise their agriculture”.

The study thus emphasises the need to re-assess the importance that scientists attribute to cereals such as wheat and barley and to investigate past exploitation of other plants such as lentils, beans and peas because they were potentially crucial to the diets of people living in the eastern Fertile Crescent more than 10,000 years ago.

The site of Tell Qarassa North where researchers found evidence of cereal domestication.Juan José Ibañez

The site of Tell Qarassa North where researchers found evidence of cereal domestication.Juan José Ibañez

 

Original Article:

ibtimes.co.uk

By Léa Surugue December 5

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: