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Original article:

Sciencenordic.com
By: Rasmus Kragh Jakobsen

A new study shows that the Mesopotamian farmers during a food crisis did not try to farm their land more intensively, but converted more land to arable land. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Ancient grain from the Middle East has given scientists an insight into how some of the world’s first cities developed.
Small, charred remains of grain that are at least 8,500 years old provide a fingerprint of ancient farming and how villages suddenly expanded over the course of a few hundred years into the large city states in ancient Mesopotamia—a historical area in present-day Syria and Iraq.
The grain can now reveal that as cities expanded and the need for food grew, so did the land dedicated to growing crops.
“It’s very exciting because until now the theory was that as the towns grew, they cultivated the land more intensively,” says archaeobotanist Mette Marie Hald from the National Museum of Denmark, who participated in the study.
“The study gives us an indirect indication of the political control of cities and how we imagine cities were established,” she says.
New knowledge on early city life
Arable farming made the cultivatable land valuable, and when land was inherited it could have laid the ground for a ruling elite of farmers and the beginnings of social inequality.
“It’s exciting and groundbreaking research, and the study strikes to the heart of many years of debate surrounding the economy and organisation of the early city societies,” says Tim Skuldbøl, archaeologist from the University of Copenhagen who also studies early urbanism but did not take part in the new study.
“Today, most people live in a city but don’t understand how they came about and why cities are organised the way they are. This archaeological research is important to understand the basic sociological building blocks that helped to form our urban societies today,” says Skuldbøl.
The study is published in the scientific journal, Nature Plants.
Villages shot up as settlement mounds
In the Khabur Valley in Northeast Syria, runs one of history’s most important rivers, the Euphrates. Together with the Tigris River, they define the region of Mesopotamia—which also means land between the rivers—where the world’s first civilisations emerged.
In the valley, archaeologists have found several ancient cities. One of them is Tell Brak, which was described by British archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan in the 1930s.
At first glance, Tell Brak looks like a small hill, but preserved under the surface are houses built upon houses.
“They have torn down houses and built on top of the old foundations, so the occupation level has risen over thousands of years. Now, it’s 40 to 60 metres high and like a small mountain,” says Hald.
Food for 30,000 inhabitants
Among the remains, archaeologists have discovered temples, large administrative buildings, and even long sewage pipes. But how the city grew to be so big, was still a mystery.
Eight thousand years ago, arable farming was just beginning with grain fields of wheat and barley. At this time, animals, such as cows, goats, and sheep, were domesticated.
At this time, people lived in villages of perhaps 100 to 200 people, and then suddenly, some 6,000 years ago, over a period of a few centuries, these villages grew to cities of more than 10,000 inhabitants.
The development of arable farming, which provided food for all these people, is a key piece of the puzzle to understand how these cities grew so quickly.
Atomic physics meets archaeology
In recent years, archaeologists have obtained a new peep-hole that allows them to see back in time. Amazingly enough, packets of information have survived 8,000 years in the form of grain from burned down houses.
“It’s a bit mean, but when a house burns down, we archaeologists are really happy because then grains are burnt and don’t rot. They can lie in the earth for thousands of years,” says Hald.
Most of us think of fire as a frightful, destructive power, but grain is strong enough to survive and save its secrets.

Every little grain records a piece of history of the conditions under which it was cultivated, in the form of stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon.
Two routes to large towns
The scientists measured isotopes in 276 samples of grain discovered in Tell Brak and four other ancient cities in the northern region of Mesopotamia, dating to between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago: Tell Leilan, Tell Sabi Abyad, Tell Zeidan, and Hamoukar.
They compared the analysis with modern samples from test fields in France, Spain, Morocco, and Denmark, where old varieties of grain are grown under controlled conditions with manuring and irrigation.
Together with the knowledge of ancient climate, scientists can estimate very precisely how much or how little manure or irrigation was used. By comparing this with the archaeological layer which the samples came from, they could follow the development of agricultural practices through time.
The bigger the cities became, the less manure they used, which is surprising as further south in Iraq, they used widespread irrigation and farmed the land very intensively.
But now they know that practices to the north were very different, which means that there were at least two ways in which cities could expand.
Farmers made their own choices about their grain
The differences are probably closely related to the climate: Not enough rain in the dry south requiring irrigation versus the wetter northern region requiring less work-intensive input, where food output was boosted by converting more of the landscape to fields.
The grains also held clues of the socio-economic system of the time, revealing who held power in these early cities.
“It’s interesting that we find large pots filled with different crops in private homes, and from the isotope values we can see that they had very different manuring levels, so they must have come from different fields,” says Hald.
“It shows us that individual households had different fields around the town, where some were manured and others weren’t,” she says.
In other words, the grain suggests that there was no centralised arable economy, but that each farmer made their own choices.
Large farmers had power
If a king or nobleman controlled the fields, then all of the harvest would probably be collected centrally and then distributed. In this case, archaeologists might expect to see more consistent isotope values in the grain found in various households.
“Later, we see massive grain stores, where the crops must have come in from all the fields and stored in these large rooms, and distributed among the population,” says Hald.
“So what we see here is an indirect indication of how a town became controlled, and it doesn’t look like there was a strong centralised power at this time, and the society—at least agriculturally speaking—is still rather egalitarian,” she says.
In later deposits, the archaeologists found remains of temples, large storerooms, and administrative buildings, which suggests a central power had developed from the early agribusiness.
So it appears that the development began with a collective of important farmers.
“The extensive agriculture paved the way for some powerful families. You can say roughly that instead of a central royal power, in terms of economy, these cities may have been controlled by a team of large families,” says Hald.

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 Researchers at the Neolithic site of Mogou, West China, where eastern and western cereals met. Courtesy Martin Jones

Researchers at the Neolithic site of Mogou, West China, where eastern and western cereals met. Courtesy Martin Jones

millet

millet

Original Article:

popular archaeology

December 2015

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—New research shows a cereal familiar today as birdseed was carried across Eurasia by ancient shepherds and herders laying the foundation, in combination with the new crops they encountered, of ‘multi-crop’ agriculture and the rise of settled societies. Archaeologists say ‘forgotten’ millet has a role to play in modern crop diversity and today’s food security debate.

The domestication of the small-seeded cereal millet in North China around 10,000 years ago created the perfect crop to bridge the gap between nomadic hunter-gathering and organised agriculture in Neolithic Eurasia, and may offer solutions to modern food security, according to new research.

Now a forgotten crop in the West, this hardy grain – familiar in the west today as birdseed – was ideal for ancient shepherds and herders, who carried it right across Eurasia, where it was mixed with crops such as wheat and barley. This gave rise to ‘multi-cropping’, which in turn sowed the seeds of complex urban societies, say archaeologists.

A team from the UK, USA and China has traced the spread of the domesticated grain from North China and Inner Mongolia into Europe through a “hilly corridor” along the foothills of Eurasia. Millet favours uphill locations, doesn’t require much water, and has a short growing season: it can be harvested 45 days after planting, compared with 100 days for rice, allowing a very mobile form of cultivation.

Nomadic tribes were able to combine growing crops of millet with hunting and foraging as they travelled across the continent between 2500 and 1600 BC. Millet was eventually mixed with other crops in emerging populations to create ‘multi-crop’ diversity, which extended growing seasons and provided our ancient ancestors with food security.

The need to manage different crops in different locations, and the water resources required, depended upon elaborate social contracts and the rise of more settled, stratified communities and eventually complex ‘urban’ human societies.

Researchers say we need to learn from the earliest farmers when thinking about feeding today’s populations, and millet may have a role to play in protecting against modern crop failure and famine.

“Today millet is in decline and attracts relatively little scientific attention, but it was once among the most expansive cereals in geographical terms. We have been able to follow millet moving in deep history, from where it originated in China and spread across Europe and India,” said Professor Martin Jones from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, who is presenting the research findings today at the Shanghai Archaeological Forum.

“These findings have transformed our understanding of early agriculture and society. It has previously been assumed that early agriculture was focused in river valleys where there is plentiful access to water. However, millet remains show that the first agriculture was instead centred higher up on the foothills – allowing this first pathway for ‘exotic’ eastern grains to be carried west.”

The researchers carried out radiocarbon dating and isotope analysis on charred millet grains recovered from archaeological sites across China and Inner Mongolia, as well as genetic analysis of modern millet varieties, to reveal the process of domestication that occurred over thousands of years in northern China and produced the ancestor of all broomcorn millet worldwide.

“We can see that millet in northern China was one of the earliest centres of crop domestication, occurring over the same timescale as rice domestication in south China and barley and wheat in west China,” explained Jones.

“Domestication is hugely significant in the development of early agriculture – humans select plants with seeds that don’t fall off naturally and can be harvested, so over several thousand years this creates plants that are dependent on farmers to reproduce,” he said.

“This also means that the genetic make-up of these crops changes in response to changes in their environment – in the case of millet, we can see that certain genes were ‘switched off’ as they were taken by farmers far from their place of origin.”

As the network of farmers, shepherds and herders crystallised across the Eurasian corridor, they shared crops and cultivation techniques with other farmers, and this, Jones explains, is where the crucial idea of ‘multi-cropping’ emerged.

“The first pioneer farmers wanted to farm upstream in order to have more control over their water source and be less dependent on seasonal weather variations or potential neighbours upstream,” he said. “But when ‘exotic’ crops appear in addition to the staple crop of the region, then you start to get different crops growing in different areas and at different times of year. This is a huge advantage in terms of shoring up communities against possible crop failures and extending the growing season to produce more food or even surplus.

“However, it also introduces a more pressing need for cooperation, and the beginnings of a stratified society. With some people growing crops upstream and some farming downstream, you need a system of water management, and you can’t have water management and seasonal crop rotation without an elaborate social contract.”

Towards the end of the second and first millennia BC larger human settlements, underpinned by multi-crop agriculture, began to develop. The earliest examples of text, such as the Sumerian clay tablets from Mesopotamia, and oracle bones from China, allude to multi-crop agriculture and seasonal rotation.

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12-oven2-450

Ohalo II site, near the Sea of Galilee

Hunter-Gatherer site recreated, Ohalo II

 

PUBLIC RELEASE: 22-JUL-2015

BAR-ILAN UNIVRSITY

Original Article 

Eurekalert.org

Earliest-known example of plant cultivation in the Levant is 11,000 years before earliest-known agriculture

The Middle East is called the “Cradle of Civilization” because it is where our hunter-gatherer ancestors first established sedentary farming communities. Recently, the traditional dating of humans’ first agricultural attempt was shaken up by the discovery of the earliest-known example of plant cultivation in the Levant, 11,000 years earlier than previously accepted.

The team of archaeologists, botanists, and ecologists from Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, and Harvard University published their work in the scientific journal Plos One on July 22, 2015. The team’s conclusions rest on three inter-connected findings, says the study’s lead researcher, Prof. Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology. First is the higher-than-usual presence at the site of domestic-type, rather than wild-type, wheat and barley dispersal units. Second, the researchers noted a high concentration of proto-weeds – plants of the type known to flourish in fields planted with domesticated crops. Finally, analysis of the tools found at the site revealed blades used for cutting and harvesting cereal plants.

First author is Dr. Ainit Snir, part of whose doctoral research – conducted in Prof. Weiss’ lab – is included in the present study.

An Agricultural “Time Capsule” Hidden Under the Sea

The researchers’ discovery was made at Ohalo II, a 23,000-year-old camp site of a community of hunter-gatherers that lived on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel. The site is located 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) south of the modern city of Tiberias, and was discovered in 1989 when the level of the lake plummeted. The site was then excavated for six seasons by Prof. Dani Nadel from the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, the University of Haifa. Excavations at Ohalo II exposed six brush hut dwellings, a human grave, copious and well-preserved remains of both animal and plant foods, beads from the Mediterranean Sea, as well as evidence of flint tool manufacture and use.

According to Weiss, the study represents the earliest example of small-scale cultivation found anywhere in the world.

“The plant remains from the site were unusually well-preserved because of being charred and then covered by sediment and water which sealed them in low-oxygen conditions,” Weiss explains. “Due to this, it was possible to recover an extensive amount of information on the site and its inhabitants – which made this a uniquely preserved site, and therefore one of the best archaeological examples worldwide of hunter-gatherers’ way of life. Here we see evidence of repeated sowing and harvesting of later domesticated cereals.”

From Plant Gathering to Flour Production

In the Ohalo II dwellings was a particularly rich assemblage of some 150,000 plant remains, showing that the site’s residents gathered over 140 different plant species from the surrounding environment. Among these, Weiss’s team identified edible cereals – such as wild emmer, wild barley, and wild oats. These cereals were mixed with 13 species of “proto-weeds” – ancient ancestors of the current weeds known to flourish in cultivated, single-crop fields – indicating that they grew and were subsequently unintentionally gathered together.

A grinding slab set firmly on a brush hut floor, a stone tool from which microscopic cereal starch granules were extracted, as well as a unique distribution pattern of seeds around this tool, provided additional, unequivocal evidence that cereal grains were brought into the hut and processed into flour. This flour was probably used to make dough, maybe by baking it on an installation of flat stones, found just outside one of the shelters.

Plants’ Statistics Show Genetic Change Linked with Cultivation

Examination of the cereals found at the site shows an unusual percentage of domesticated-type, rather than wild-type, ear morphology. As Weiss explains, this change in the plant population is characteristic of a genetic mutation triggered when wild-type plants are sown repeatedly in cultivated fields.

“The ears of cereals like wheat and barley – in their wild form – are built from separate units that break off and are easily dispersed, allowing the seeds to reach the ground, germinate, and grow into a new plant without any human intervention,” he says. “When humans cultivate these grains over a number of successive seasons, however, a change occurs. They develop a rough scar that locks the seed dispersal units together. Such plants cannot sow themselves. This is the hallmark of domesticated, rather than wild-type plants.”

As part of Snir’s thesis, Weiss and Snir undertook field tests around Israel, establishing that stands of wild-type barley are characterized by a low level of this rough-scar appearance – about 10% of the total population. The study of Ohalo II’s plant remains, however, revealed a greatly-increased incidence of 36% mutated domestic-type disarticulation units – proving that planned cereal sowing and harvesting in this ancient community had been underway for years.

Tools for Harvesting

Another intriguing finding relates to a number of sickle blades – harvesting tools composed of sharp flint implements inserted in wood or bone handles – found at the site; these are among the oldest of their kind ever found.

“We found several sickle blades at Ohalo II, and the study under the microscope of the gloss along their cutting edge indicates that they were used for harvesting cereals just before their complete ripening,” says Prof. Dani Nadel. “Analysis showed the presence of silicon, transferred from the wheat and barley plants at the time of cutting. This is another indication that the presence of a high percentage of domestic-type cereals was not random, but rather is a sign of the long-term cultivation practices of the site’s residents.”

Weeds and Planted Fields

When studying the plants found at Ohalo II, the researchers were surprised to find a large number of plants similar to weeds previously seen only 11,000 years later than Ohalo II, at the traditional date for the beginning of agriculture. Does this indicate that agriculture indeed began much earlier than historians, archaeologists and botanists have traditionally believed? Weiss says that the isolated example on the shores of the Sea of Galilee is an insufficient basis for such a claim.

“From what we see at Ohalo II, it is clear that cultivation occurred at this surprisingly early point in time, but we have no evidence that it continued in the region,” Weiss says. “This is why we term our findings to be evidence of trial cultivation only. Moreover, since weeds are defined by botanists as plants that developed in response to human agriculture, we call the plants that share characteristics with weeds ‘proto-weeds’.”

A Trial that Preceded Later-Adopted Practice

Prof. Marcelo Sternberg, a co-author of the paper who is an ecologist at the Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants at Tel Aviv University, claims that the findings are exceptional. “We are witnessing the earliest trial of cultivation combined with land-use changes that led to the appearance of the earliest weeds. The findings are a clear indication of early human disturbance of the natural ecosystem.”

Weiss agrees, adding that the current study provides reason to rethink our ancestors’ abilities. “Even prior to full-scale cultivation, humans clearly had some basic knowledge of agriculture and even more importantly, exhibited foresight and planning,” Weiss says. “The current research results from this site, situated in the cradle of ancient civilizations, show our ancestors were cleverer and more skilled than we had assumed. Although full-scale agriculture did not develop until much later, the attempt had already begun.”

Paper co-author Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef, a prehistorian from Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology, notes that “the history of the evolution of technology is littered with new inventions that were either not accepted by their society or simply failed. An historical example is Leonardo da Vinci, who, in his notebooks, designed several flying machines during the early 15th century. Even though da Vinci was on the right track, we had to wait until the 19th century before the Wright brothers got their first plane off the ground.”

 

 

 

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Ancient nomads spread earliest domestic grains along Silk Road, study finds.

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Topic: Food of the common Roman

Millet Grain ready to harvest

Millet Grain ready to harvest

Ancient Romans are known for eating well, with mosaics from the empire portraying sumptuous displays of fruits, vegetables, cakes — and, of course, wine. But the 98 percent of Romans who were non-elite and whose feasts weren’t preserved in art may have been stuck eating birdseed.

Common people in ancient Rome ate millet, a grain looked down upon by the wealthy as fit only for livestock, according to a new study published in the March issue of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. And consumption of millet may have been linked to overall social status, with relatively poorer suburbanites eating more of the grain than did wealthier city dwellers.

The results come from an analysis of anonymous skeletons in the ancient city’s cemeteries.

“We don’t know anything about their lives, which is why we’re trying to use biochemical analysis to study them,” said study leader Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist at the University of West Florida.

The ancient Mediterranean diet

Health studies out last week heralded the modern Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, fish and nuts, as a good way to avoid heart disease. In ancient Rome, however, diet varied based on social class and where a person lived.

Ancient texts have plenty to say about lavish Roman feasts. The wealthy could afford exotic fruits and vegetables, as well as shellfish and snails. A formal feast involved multiple dishes, eaten from a reclined position, and could last for hours.

But ancient Roman writers have less to say about the poor, other than directions for landowners on the appropriate amount to feed slaves, who made up about 30 percent of the city’s population. Killgrove wanted to know more about lower-class individuals and what they ate. [Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]

To find out, she and her colleagues analyzed portions of bones from the femurs of 36 individuals from two Roman cemeteries. One cemetery, Casal Bertone, was located right outside the city walls. The other, Castellaccio Europarco, was farther out, in a more suburban area.

The skeletons date to the Imperial Period, which ran from the first to the third century A.D., during the height of the Roman Empire. At the time, Killgrove told LiveScience, between 1 million and 2 million people lived in Rome and its suburbs.

Roman locavores ( eating local)

To determine diets from the Roman skeletons, the researchers analyzed the bones for isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. Isotopes are atoms of an element with different numbers of neutrons, and are incorporated into the body from food. Such isotopes of carbon can tell researchers which types of plants people consumed. Grasses such as wheat and barley are called C3 plants; they photosynthesize differently than mostly fibrous C4 plants, such as millet and sorghum. The differences in photosynthesis create different ratios of carbon isotopes preserved in the bones of the people who ate the plants.

Nitrogen isotopes, on the other hand, give insight into the kinds of protein sources people ate.

“We found that people were eating very different things,” Killgrove said. Notably, ancient Italians were locavores. Compared with people living on the coasts, for example, the Romans ate less fish.

There were also differences among people living within Rome. Individuals buried in the mausoleum at Casa Bertone (a relatively high-class spot, at least for commoners), ate less millet than those buried in the simple cemetery surrounding Casa Bertone’s mausoleum. Meanwhile, those buried in the farther-flung Castellaccio Europarco cemetery ate more millet than anyone at Casa Bertone, suggesting they were less well-off than those living closer to or within the city walls.

Historical texts dismiss millet as animal feed or a famine food, Killgrove said, but the researcher’s findings suggest that plenty of ordinary Romans depended on the easy-to-grow grain. One man, whose isotope ratios showed him to be a major millet consumer, was likely an immigrant, later research revealed. He may have been a recent arrival to Rome when he died, carrying the signs of his country diet with him. Or perhaps he kept eating the food he was used to, even after arriving in the city.

“There’s still a lot to learn about the Roman Empire,” Killgrove said. “We kind of think that it’s been studied and studied to death over the last 2,000 years, but there are thousands of skeletons in Rome that nobody has studied … This can give us information about average people in Rome we don’t know about from historical records.”

Original Article:

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

LiveScience

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Topic Grains& Such

DATELINE: 21K BCE………………………….SUBJECT: When did man first start grinding grains into cereal?

Old thinking was 10K BCE, but archaeologists at hunter-gatherer site Ohalo II in Israel turned up cereal grindings–mostly grass seeds including wild barley and emmer wheat–and burned stones that indicate these early peoples were making and baking bread long before they learned how to cultivate cereal grasses on their own. (Nature, reported in The Economist, 8/7/04)

DATELINE: 6-9K BCE…………………………SUBJECT: Why did early Africans, reversing the Middle Eastern paradigm, domesticate animals before cereal grains?

Nobody really knows, but one theory is that so much grain grew wild that there was no need. Wild cattle was domesticated by 6-9K BCE…but no plants were domesticated until about 2K BCE. And know what that plant was? The ancient ancestor of watermelon, except it was a dry little gourd with seeds that were tasty when roasted. Cattle, on the other hand, was early milked for blood and milk…and used for meat. Plus worshipped by some pastoralists and buried in elaborate graves. (New York Times, by Brenda Fowler, 7/27/04)

DATELINE: 1+ million BCE…………………..SUBJECT: Was Australopithecus robustus, forebear of modern man, a vegetarian or not?

Researchers in South Africa and France challenge the conventional wisdom that the flat teeth and big jaws of this African were designed soley for chewing woody food like leaves, grasses, and roots. Their examination of his bone tools suggests that they were used to break up termite mounds to get at the meaty protein and fat of termites. (The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported in The New York Times, 1/23/01)

DATELINE: 1.8 million BCE………………….SUBJECT: Controversy rages over diet changes that spurred increased brain size in homo erectus

Existing theory that identifies early man’s meat eating as the cause for brain development leading to Homo Sapiens has been challenged by several teams of scientists who have excavated sites with ash and vegetable remains, indicating man used his taming of fire at that point in time to cook roots and tubers that provided key nutritional resources. The “cooked tuber” theory posit that control of fire was central to early human evolution. (New York Times, reported by Mark Derr on 1/16/01)

DATELINE: 5,000 BCE…………………….SUBJECT: First cultivation of root crops in the Americas

Researchers from Temple U. and the Smithsonian found starch grains on the milling stones of an archeological site near the Pacific coast of Panama–and were able to identify them as remnants of cultivated, not wild ancestors of manioc, yams, and arrowroot. The team also found maize starch, indicating that the ancient people were also cultivating seed plants. (New York Times, 10/31/00, reporting on an article in Nature)

DATELINE: 48,000 BCE…………………….SUBJECT: Neanderthal cutting implements manufactured in assembly line production on established cooking sites

Manuel Vaquero of Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, has analyzed the spatial distribution of numerous Neanderthal stone implements from two sediment layers in northeastern Spain’s Abric Romani rock shelter, deducing a kind of workstation assembly line manufacture of small cutting instruments on established cooking sites there (Science News, 10/16/99, reporting on the September issue of Antiquity)

DATELINE: 118,000 BCE…………………….SUBJECT: French proof of Neanderthal Cannibalism

Alban Defleur and his team from Marseille’s CNRS Anthropology Laboratory has unearthed the butchered remains of 6 individuals with animal bones at the Moula-Guercy Cave in southeastern France–all bones showing the exact same signs of meat and marrow removal. Opinions vary on whether the cannibalism was starvation induced or had some deeper meaning for Neanderthal tribes. (Science News, 10/2/99, reporting on 10/1 issue of Science)

DATELINE: 142 million BCE…………………….SUBJECT: Flowering plant progenitors discovered through DNA

Four separate teams of evolutionary biologists have independently answered how flowering plants first evolved on earth–and identified the three most ancient groups in the family tree. The progenitor was an ancient Amborella, some kind of woody, possibly shrubby or viney, plant with a flower bearing an unusual female reproductive structure whose parts were glued together (not fused, as in modern plants). The Amborella group today is represented only by a dumpy little bush on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia. Next oldest groups, though, are water lilies and a group of plants that over time produced today’s star anise spice (Illicium verum). (New York Times, 10/29/99, reporting on the current issue of Science)

DATELINE: 8000 BCE…………………………….SUBJECT: Ontario wheat breeder reproduces the ancient grain that turned Stone Age nomads into farmers

Dexter Sampson, retired wheat breeder, has devoted the last 10 years attempting to reproduce Einkorn, a primitive wheat that grew wild in the fertile crescent in ancient times, then spread to the Balkans, Germany, and France. Because of its tough hull and susceptibility to ergot, Einkorn was allowed to die out in favor of “easier” varietals. In fact, it was considered extinct until Russian scientists discovered a new type of it growing in Turkey in 1926. Sampson used these seeds to develop the new strain–not only to preserve biodiversity, but also to develop a specialty market for fibre-rich ancient grains among those disaffected with genetically engineered plants.

DATELINE: 1600 BC…………………………….SUBJECT: the origin of chocolate

John S. Henderson of Cornell University and Rosemary A. Joyce of the University of California at Berkeley have gathered evidence that chocolate originated in what is now the Ulua River valley in northwestern Honduras. How? They found shards of pottery from ceremonial chocolate bowls that date to 1600 BC–the oldest artifacts ever found of such bowls. Next stop, the lab–to check for telltale traces of chocolate syrup. (Washington Post report, 2/99)

DATELINE: 7600 BC, Noah’s Flood…………..SUBJECT: the origin of European & Asian farming

In Noah’s Flood (Simon & Schuster, 1999) Columbia University marine geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman III have strengthened their 1996 case of a catastrophic flood in the Black Sea causing local Stone Age settlers to take their farming skills to dry lands in Europe and Asia. Using archeological, geological, and climate data to support their provocative thesis, they argue that the flood that inspired the Epic of Gilgamesh and the story of Noah may also have spurred a global farming revolution. (New York Times, 1/5/99)

DATELINE: Iron Age…………….SUBJECT: Dairying

When did Ancient Britons start to drink the milk of domesticated animals? Definitely by the Iron Age, between 1,500 BCE and 500 BCE. Why? Because Stephanie Dudd and Richard Evershed, University of Bristol, have discovered evidence of fatty acids from milk preserved in the remains of pottery shards that date back to that time. While what seem to be ceramic cheese graters, dating to 4,500 BCE, were earlier unearthed in Britain–this is the first time prehistoric milk products themselves have been found and analyzed. (Science, 11/20/98)

DATELINE: 142 million years ago…………..SUBJECT: Flowering Plants

David Dilcher, University of Florida, and William Crepet, Cornell, report the discovery from rockbeds near Beijing, China, of a flower fossil dating to 142 million years ago, 12 million years earlier than the last discovered oldest flower. Plants first developed seeds some 350 million years ago, then worked up to developing flowers as a way to attract insect pollinators as the next great leap in its evolution. The next step was bright blossoms, sweet odor, and flowing nectar…but that didn’t happen until about 55 million years ago. The newly discovered fossil shows a 3-inch twig with a pea pod-shaped fruit that enclosed seeds. (Science, 11/27/98)

DATELINE: Neolithic Age……..SUBJECT: Inventing Soup

Carson I.A. Ritchie in Food in Civilization makes the most comprehensive case for the Neolithic invention of soup. “Evidence suggests that the Neaderthalers had evolved quite sophisticated cooking techniques. They were able to keep alive members of the group who were apparently either very elderly or lifelong invalids. The remains of one young man found near La-Chapelle-aux-Saints in France were those of a cripple who could have been of no use in hunting for the group. Another skeleton was that of an old man who had his teeth worn down to such an extent that he would have found it impossible to chew meat. There was no milk in those days, the food on which, in later times, old toothless people were kept alive. It seems at least likely that people of this sort were nourished on a diet of soup. Now the invention of soup making opened the door for all kinds of other sophisticated cookery.

What went on in the Neanderthal kitchen is a matter for conjecture, but one sensible suggestion is that he boiled animals in their skins. The hide of a flayed animal would be suspended on forked sticks, filled with meat and water, and a fire lighted beneath it. After some time the water would boil, the meat would be cooked, and the broth could then be eaten by invalids. The skin would not catch fire with the heat because it would be cooked by the water. The experiment of boiling water in a bag made of fairly thick paper demonstrates that this kind of cooking is a practical idea. There can be no doubt that cooking in a skin took place in many parts of the world, and it was still being done in Ireland as late as the sixteenth century. …Until recently, Icelanders used to steam their bread in the boiling water of the hot springs by simply wrapping it in some waterproof substance and then dangling it in the hot spring at the end of a rope….

Another way in which Neanderthal extended his list of recipes was by using hot stones. The hot-stone technique meant the invention of frying. In addition, stones, heated to great heat on a campfire, could be transferred to any receptacle filled with water. A sufficiency of hot stones would induce the water to boil. [While] anthropologists have doubted the feasibility of primitive man’s being able to pick the hot stones out of the fire…two stout poles, tied together with a thong, provide a pair of tongs with which even the hottest objects can be removed from a fire. This was the technique used by gun founders in Southeast Asia to remove pieces of slag from a furnace….” (Beaufort Books, 1981)

 

RELATIVES Corn, or maize, descended from a Mexican grass called teosinte.

 

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Topic: Inca Foods

By Manuel Villacorta is a nationally recognized, award-winning registered  dietitian

Growing up in Peru, we ate many foods that you don?t see as often in the  United States. Quinoa, for instance, was everywhere?we used it to feed both  people and chickens! In recent years many of the foods I remember from a Latin  American diet have become available in the US, and it turns out they have highly  beneficial nutritional profiles. That they do should come as no surprise?many of  these are the foods of the Incas, on which those great people built a vast  empire. Today I want to introduce you to the five food wonders of the Incan  world, and suggest you try them out for yourself.

The Incan empire is less familiar perhaps than the Romans, but it shouldn?t  be; by the 16th century its borders extended from Machu Picchu in Peru north to  Ecuador and south along the Andes through modern-day Chile and Argentina. The  Incas had to manage a huge territory, including communicating across vast  distances, so it?s no wonder they were known for their fighting skills, their  endurance, and their strength. Clearly, they benefited from some good nutrition!  In fact, with an empire whose beginning pre-dates the arrival of Europeans in  the Americas, the Incas were fueled by a diet made up of nutritionally dense,  New World foods. Here are five of them.

1. Quinoa: The Incas called this staple of their diet Chehisaya mama,  meaning ?mother of all grains,? and yet quinoa is not actually a grain?it?s a  seed. And what a seed it is: one cup of quinoa has 8 grams of protein, is high  in calcium, protein, and iron, and is a good source of Vitamin C as well as  several B-Vitamins. It is high on the lycine/thiamine system, so in combination  with other grains it creates complete proteins. Best of all, it?s incredibly  easy to make, and versatile to eat.  Quinoa cooks in about 15 minutes with  two cups of liquid to a cup of quinoa. (Check out my YouTube demonstration on  how to cook quinoa.) Use it as a rice substitute in stir fries, pair it with  fish and vegetables to make a complete entr�e, or put it in a salad or under a  soup as a carbohydrate source. It?s even a breakfast food?boil it with milk, add  walnuts and blueberries, and it?s a delicious alternative to oatmeal.

2. Kiwicha: You may already know this seed by its more common  North American name, amaranth. It?s often called ?mini-quinoa,? but kiwicha is a  much smaller seed. It is very high in protein and has a more complete profile of  amino acids than most other grains, and it is rich in iron, manganese,  magnesium, phosphoros, and copper?minerals essential to healthy physical  functioning. Adding kiwicha to your diet can help decrease plasma cholesterol,  stimulate your immune system, and potentially even inhibit tumors. It also  improves hypertension and reduces blood glucose. In short, it can help support  your body?s essential systems. Kiwicha is like quinoa in one other respect?how  it?s cooked. Prepare just as you would quinoa or rice, and eat it in a  pilaf-like salad. Delicious!

3. Pichuberry: This small, smooth fruit is known in Peru as ?Inca berry,? but it was so  successfully spread by the Spanish after their conquest of the Americas that in  Africa it?s known as the Africa berry, and in Australia it?s called a Cape  gooseberry. Its health benefits are manifest: the pichuberry contains powerful  antioxidants and twenty times the Vitamin-C of an orange; it boosts immunity and  vitality, and there is even promising research suggesting it prevents cellular  aging and the onset of cancer. In Peru it is known as the anti-diabetic fruit  because it reduces blood sugar by stimulating the production of insulin. And its  nutrient profile (Provitamin A, B-Complex vitamins, thiamine, nyacine,  phosphoros) is associated with liver fortification, lung strength, fertility,  and food absorption. It makes a great salad when paired with quinoa, tastes  incredible with dark chocolate, and is a delicious replacement for blueberries  on your morning oatmeal.

pichuberries

4. Sacha Inchi: These seeds of the Inchi plant are often called  Inca-peanuts, and they are one of the best plant sources for the Omega family of  fatty acids. With 48% Omega-3, 36% Omega-6, and rich supplies of Iodine, Vitamin  A, and Vitamin E, the Inca-peanut has major health benefits in terms of  restoring your lipid balance, encouraging the production of HDL (high-density  lipoprotein, responsible for transporting lipids through your bloodstream), and  fighting conditions like heart disease and diabetes. You can certainly eat Sacha  Inchi like you would other nuts, but you might prefer to buy the oil and use it  to dress salads in place of olive oil (with its low burning-point, it is  somewhat tricky to use as a cooking oil).

5. Purple Potatoes: Potatoes are a remarkably diverse and nutritious  New World food?in Peru there are over 3,000 kinds! The one that was particularly  eaten by the Incas was the purple potato, which has started to appear in North  American supermarkets. The anthocyanins in the potatoes give them their  distinctive purple/blue color; these natural chemicals are flaminoids?substances  with powerful anti-cancer and heart protective effects. Flaminoids also  stimulate the immune system and protect against age-related memory loss. These  potatoes are delicious, with a distinctive nutty, earthy, slightly bitter  flavor. I prefer to roast them:  I use a pump mister filled with olive or  peanut oil?not an artificial cooking spray?to lightly spritz the quartered  potatoes, which I then spread in a roasting pan, sprinkle with kosher salt and a  little garlic powder or Italian seasonings, and roast for about 15 minutes at  400 degrees. Once the potatoes are cooked they are a great carb source for a  variety of meals; I make a batch on Sunday, and use them through the week  scrambled with eggs for breakfast, in a salad for lunch, or reheated with  chicken or fish for dinner.

All of these delicious foods have begun making an appearance in North  American supermarkets, and are still in the fully natural, nutritious state they  were in when they sustained the Incas through the building of a great empire.  Try them out. Your health and your taste buds will thank you.

Original article:

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