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On this day ten years ago…
via A Bit of Ancient Wine history

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Credit Dr Edmar Almeida de Oliveira

Exeter.ac.uk

Innovation by ancient farmers to improve soil fertility continues to have an impact on the biodiversity of the Amazon, a major new study shows.

Early inhabitants fertilized the soil with charcoal from fire remains and food waste. Areas with this “dark earth” have a different set of species than the surrounding landscape, contributing to a more diverse ecosystem with a richer collection of plant species, researchers from the State University of Mato Grosso in Brazil and the University of Exeter have found.

The legacy of this land management thousands of years ago means there are thousands of these patches of dark earth dotted around the region, most around the size of a small field. This is the first study to measure the difference in vegetation in dark and non-dark earth areas in mature forests across a region spanning a thousand kilometers.

The team of ecologists and archaeologists studied abandoned areas along the main stem of the Amazon River near Tapajós and in the headwaters of the Xingu River Basin in southern Amazonia.

Lead author Dr Edmar Almeida de Oliveira  said: “This is an area where dark earth lush forests grow, with colossal trees of different species from the surrounding forest, with more edible fruit trees, such as taperebá and jatobá.”

The number of indigenous communities living in the Amazon collapsed following European colonization of the region, meaning many dark earth areas were abandoned.

The study, published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, reveals for the first time the extent to which pre-Columbian Amerindians influenced the current structure and diversity of the Amazon forest of the areas they once farmed.

Researchers sampled around 4,000 trees in southern and eastern Amazonia. Areas with dark earth had a significantly higher pH and more nutrients that improved soil fertility. Pottery shards and other artefacts were also found in the rich dark soils.

Professor Ben Hur Marimon Junior, from the State University of Mato Grosso, said: “Pre-Columbian indigenous people, who fertilized the poor soils of the Amazon for at least 5,000 years, have left an impressive legacy, creating the dark earth, or Terras Pretas de Índio

Professor José Iriarte, an archaeologist from the University of Exeter, said: “By creating dark earth early inhabitants of the Amazon were able to successfully cultivate the soil for thousands of years in an agroforestry system

“We think ancient communities used dark earth areas to grow crops to eat, and adjacent forests without dark earth for agroforestry.”

Dr Ted Feldpausch, from the University of Exeter, who co-authored the study with Dr Luiz Aragão from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in Brazil, said: “After being abandoned for hundreds of years, we still find a fingerprint of the ancient land-use in the forests today as a legacy of the pre-Colombian Amazonian population estimated in millions of inhabitants.

“We are currently expanding this research across the whole Amazon Basin under a project funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council(NERC) to evaluate whether historical fire also affected the forest areas distant from the anthropogenic dark earths”.

Many areas with dark earth are currently cultivated by local and indigenous populations, who have had great success with their food crops. But most are still hidden in the native forest, contributing to increased tree size, carbon stock and regional biodiversity. For this reason, the lush forests of the “Terra Preta de Índio” and their biological and cultural wealth in the Amazon must be preserved as a legacy for future generations, the researchers have said. Areas with dark earth are under threat due to illegal deforestation and fire.

 “Dark earth increases the richness of species, an important consideration for regional biodiversity conservation. These findings highlight the smallscale longterm legacy of preColumbian inhabitants on the soils and vegetation of Amazonia,” said co-author Prof Beatriz Marimon, from the State University of Mato Grosso.

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On this day ten years ago…
via What plant genes tell us about crop domestication

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On this day ten years ago…

via To Farm, or Not To Farm

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On this day ten years ago…
via America’s architectural heritage: the early farmers of the Southwest

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First posted June23 2010
via 9,000 year old beer recreated

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On this day ten years ago…
via Bakers and Brewers from Meketre’s model bakery

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Upi.com

Analysis of hundreds of pottery fragments from the Baltic suggests different groups of hunter-gatherers in the region developed unique culinary traditions. Photo by Harry Robson/University of York

Analysis of hundreds of pottery fragments from the Baltic suggests different groups of hunter-gatherers in the region developed unique culinary traditions. Photo by Harry Robson/University of York

April 22 (UPI) — Analysis of ancient pottery fragments suggest groups of hunter gatherers living in the Baltic had developed culturally distinct cuisines between 6,000 and 7,500 years ago.

Researchers collected hundreds of fragments from pottery vessels found at 61 different archaeological sites in the Baltic region. Scientists analyzed the fragments for evidence of the purpose and contents of the ancient vessels.

Their findings — published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science — suggests different groups of prehistoric humans evolved unique culinary traditions, cooking and combining foods in distinctive ways.

“People are often surprised to learn that hunter-gatherers used pottery to store, process and cook food, as carrying cumbersome ceramic vessels seems inconsistent with a nomadic lifestyle,” lead study author Harry Robson, archaeologist at the University of York in Britain, said in a news release. “Our study looked at how this pottery was used and found evidence of a rich variety of foods and culinary traditions in different hunter-gatherer groups.”

Scientists found little evidence of ceramic vessel use for non-food purposes, like making resin. Instead they found a diversity of culinary practices, even among groups with access to similar resources. The evidence suggests cultural practices, not variations in food availability, dictated the differences in how and what different groups cooked and ate.

“Our study suggests that culinary practices were not influenced by environmental constraints but rather were likely embedded in some long-standing culinary traditions and cultural habits,” said co-author Blandine Courel, scientist at the British Museum.

Researchers found evidence that hunter-gatherers in the Baltic were taking advantage of a wide variety of foods, including marine fish, seals, beavers, wild boar, bear, deer, freshwater fish, hazelnuts and plants. Some groups were also consuming dairy.

“The presence of dairy fats in several hunter-gatherer vessels was an unexpected example of culinary ‘cultural fusion,'” Robson said. “The discovery has implications for our understanding of the transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to early farming and demonstrates that this commodity was either exchanged or perhaps even looted from nearby farmers.”

Pottery usage and the development of culinary traditions has previously been linked to the spread of agriculture across Europe, but the latest research — made possible by improved molecular and isotopic analysis techniques — suggests groups of hunter-gatherers had developed similar levels of culinary sophistication and diversity.

“Chemical analysis of the remains of foods and natural products prepared in pottery has already revolutionized our understanding of early agricultural societies, we are now seeing these methods being rolled out to study prehistoric hunter-gatherer pottery,” said Oliver Craig, study co-author and University of York archaeologist. “The results suggest that they too had complex and culturally distinct cuisines.”

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On this day ten years ago…
via Respect Your Elders, Human!

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Phys.org

UNM researchers document the first use of maize in Mesoamerica
Maize, an ancient food source, was first cultivated in the Maya lowlands around 6,500 years ago. Credit: UNM

Almost any grocery store is filled with products made from corn, also known as maize, in every aisle: fresh corn, canned corn, corn cereal, taco shells, tortilla chips, popcorn, corn sweeteners in hundreds of products, corn fillers in pet food, in soaps and cosmetics, and the list goes on.

Maize is perhaps the most important plant ever domesticated by people, topping 1 billion tonnes produced in 2019, double that of rice, according to University of New Mexico Anthropology professor Keith Prufer, Principle Investigator of a team that just released new research that sheds light on when people started eating maize.

Recently published research from his team in the journal Science Advancesreveals new information about when the now-ubiquitous maize became a key part of people’s diets. Until now, little was known about when humans living in the tropics of Central America first started eating corn. But the “unparalleled” discovery of remarkably well-preserved ancient human skeletons in Central American rock shelters has revealed when corn became a key part of people’s diet in the Americas.

“Today, much of the popularity of maize has to do with its high carbohydrate and protein value in animal feed and sugar content which makes it the preferred ingredient of many processed foods including sugary drinks. Traditionally it has also been used as fermented drink in Mesoamerica. Given its humble beginnings 9,000 years ago in Mexico, understanding how it came to be the most dominant plant in the world benefits from deciphering what attracted people to this crop to begin with. Our paper is the first direct measure of the adoption of maize as a dietary staple in humans,” Prufer observed.

Prufer said the international team of researchers led by UNM and University of California, Santa Barbara is investigating the earliest humans in Central America and how they adapted over time to new and changing environments, and how those changes have affected human life histories and societies.

UNM researchers document the first use of maize in Mesoamerica
Excavations were directed by UNM Professor Keith Prufer along with an international team of archaeologists, biologists, ecologists and geologists. Credit: UNM

“One of the key issues for understanding these changes from an is to know what the change from hunting and gathers pathways to the development of agriculture looked like, and the pace and tempo of innovative new subsistence strategies. Food production and agriculture were among most important cultural innovations in human history.

“Farming allowed us to live in larger groups, in the same location, and to develop permanent villages around food production. These changes ultimately led in the Maya area to the development of the Classic Period city states of the Maya between 3,000 and 1,000 years ago. However, until this study, we did not know when early Mesoamericans first became farmers, or how quickly they accepted the new cultigen maize as a stable of their diet. Certainly, they were very successful in their previous foraging, hunting, and horticultural pursuits before farming, so it is of considerable interest to understand the timing and underlying processes,” he said.

Radiocarbon dating of the skeletal samples shows the transition from pre-maize hunter-gatherer diets, where people consumed and animals, to the introduction and increasing reliance on the corn. Maize made up less than 30 percent of people’s diets in the area by 4,700 years ago, rising to 70 percent 700 years later.

Maize was domesticated from teosinte, a wild grass growing in the lower reaches of the Balsas River Valley of Central Mexico, around 9,000 years ago. There is evidence maize was first cultivated in the Maya lowlands around 6,500 years ago, at about the same time that it appears along the Pacific coast of Mexico. But there is no evidence that maize was a staple grain at that time.

The first use of corn may have been for an early form of liquor.

Credit: Keith Prufer and Douglas Kennett. Photo contributions by Brendan Culleton.

“We hypothesize that maize stalk juice just may have been the original use of early domesticated maize plants, at a time when the cobs and seeds were essentially too small to be of much dietary significance. Humans are really good at fermenting sugary liquids into alcoholic drinks. This changed as human selection of corn plants with larger and larger seeds coincided with genetic changes in the plants themselves, leading eventually to larger cobs, with more and larger seeds in more seed rows,” Prufer explained.

To determine the presence of maize in the diet of the ancient individuals, Prufer and his colleagues measured the carbon isotopes in the bones and teeth of 52 skeletons. The study involved the remains of male and female adults and children providing a wholistic sample of the population. The oldest remains date from between 9,600 and 8,600 years ago and continues to about 1,000 years ago

The analysis shows the oldest remains were people who ate wild plants, palms, fruits and nuts found in tropical forests and savannahs, along with meat from hunting terrestrial animals.

By 4,700 years ago, diets had become more diverse, with some individuals showing the first consumption of maize. The isotopic signature of two young nursing infants shows that their mothers were consuming substantial amounts of maize. The results show an increasing consumption of maize over the next millennium as the population transitioned to sedentary farming.

Prufer noted, “We can directly observe in isotopes of bone how maize became a staple grain in the early populations we are studying. We know that people had been experimenting with the wild ancestor of maize, teosintle, and with the earliest early for thousands of years, but it does not appear to have been a staple grain until about 4000 BP. After that, people never stopped eating corn, leading it to become perhaps the most important food crop in the Americas, and then in the world.”

Researchers document the first use of maize in Mesoamerica
Ancient maize cob from Barton Creek Cave. Credit: Jaime Awe

Excavations were directed by Prufer along with an international team of archaeologists, biologists, ecologists and geologists. Numerous UNM graduate and undergraduate students took part in the field research as well as collaborators with the protected area co-management team, a Belizean NGO the Ya’axche’ Conservation Trust.

Conditions weren’t easy for the excavation teams, Prufer noted: “We did five years of fieldwork in two very remote rock shelter sites in the Bladen Nature Reserve in the Maya Mountains of Belize, a vast wilderness area that is a two-day walk from the nearest road. To work in this area we had to camp with no electricity, running water, or even cell service for a month at a time each year.”

Analysis was conducted at Penn State University, UNM Center for Stable Isotopes, UCSB, and Exeter University in the UK. Prufer was the project director along with his colleague Doug Kennett from UCSB. The project was funded by the Alphawood Foundation and the National Science Foundation. The study was conducted by researchers from UNM, UCSB, Pennsylvania State University, University of Exeter, The US Army Central Identification Laboratory, University of Mississippi, Northern Arizona University, and the Ya’axche Conservation Trust in Belize.

Now that the research is published, the team will advance it to the next stage.

“New technologies allow us to look even deeper into molecular analysis through studies of ancient DNA and isotopic analysis of individual amino acids that are involved in turning food into building blocks of tissues and energy. We already have a Ph.D. students working on expanding our work to the next generation of analysis,” Prufer said.


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