Posts Tagged ‘anthropology’

Digging in the Cupboards | Valley News.

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Did Neanderthals eat their vegetables? First direct evidence of plants in Neanderthal diet — ScienceDaily.

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Innovative technologies in rural areas improve agriculture, health care.

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Prehistoric caribou hunting structure discovered beneath Lake Huron.

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Genomic diversity and admixture differs for Stone-Age Scandinavian foragers and farmers.


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‘Homo’ is the only primate whose tooth size decreases as its brain size increases.

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Archaeological excavations have finally answered the question regarding the age and development of the mysterious prehistoric fields enclosed by earthen ridges known as ‘Celtic fields’.

Using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), a technique that dates the last exposure to light or heat sources of quartz minerals, archaeologist Stijn Arnoldussen from the University of Groningen managed to determine that these banks around the later prehistoric field plots were constructed more than 3100 years ago and remained in use for hundreds of years thereafter. Until now, no reliable dates were available to securely date the Dutch Celtic fields. Moreover, his research indicated that the Celtic field-banks were constructed out of sods taken from wet heathlands, near alder carrs or from stream valleys. Such sods were taken to the settlements, mixed with dung and domestic refuse and – akin to modern fertilizer – taken back to the field plots as manure. Through the process of uprooting field weeds and then discarding them at the field’s edges, this mixture came to form banks, ever so gradually, between fields. Over the course of hundreds of years, c. 1 m high banks developed.


Through manually digging small test-pits and analysing hundreds of soils samples from the banks and Celtic field plots at Lunteren (municipality of Ede, the Netherlands), Arnoldussen successfully managed to determine how the banks were constructed and to accurately date the banks. These excavations were conducted in cooperation with the Municipality of Ede, the Province of Gelderland and land-owner ‘Stichting Geldersch Landschap & Kastelen´. “The problem is that we have known the locations of these Celtic fields for decades thanks to aerial photography and, more recently, due to laser altimetry analyses”, states Arnoldussen, “but that we essentially were clueless about how the banks were constructed or for what period of time this system of embanked fields was in function”. This is peculiar, as Arnoldussen argues that “Celtic fields are one of the most extensive and still visible types of archaeology in the present-day Dutch landscape”. Indeed, the size of Celtic field systems can be vast. The Celtic field complex targeted by the Groningen Institute of Archaeology at Lunteren measured at least 210 hectares in prehistory.

Age of the Celtic field banks

Through the application of a special technique that dates the last heat- or light-exposure of quartz particles (Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating or OSL, in collaboration with the Netherlands Centre for Luminescene dating at Wageningen University), various soil samples from the Celtic field banks could be dated. “The results are way more spectacular than anticipated!”, exclaims Arnoldussen, “It showed that the Celtic field system remained in use for hundreds of years: certainly 700 years, but possibly even for one millennium!”. The prehistoric banks were constructed around 1100 cal BC but were still increasing in height 700 years later. It is probable that their use spanned into the Roman era. This shows that Celtic field systems are not only vast in surface area, but also represent an agricultural landscape of unprecedented stability and durability. “This most have been an utmost traditional agricultural system”, clarifies Arnoldussen, “in which is was of vital importance to continue the planting, tending to and harvesting of crops in the same ways, and on the near same spots, as your ancestors”. Palaeobotanical analyses of the samples showed that barley, wheat and flax were cultivated. According to Arnoldussen, there has never been a (agri)cultural landscape in the history or the prehistory of the Dutch, that surpasses the Celtic field system in permanence and durability.

Celtic field banks

The composition of the Celtic field banks was previously subject to debate, states Arnoldussen: ”Many wild theories have been brought to the fore, for example that the banks consisted of cleared-out tree stubs, stones or driftsand, yet none of these were found during our excavations of the banks. The banks rather appear to comprise mineral and organic sods of low-lying, wet, parts of the landscape that were mixed with dung and debris at small prehistoric hamlets.” As the excavation of the Groningen team was situated on the high-and-dry flank of a Saale-period glacial ridge (the Goudsberg of Lunteren), the team was initially somewhat puzzled by the discovery of plants of wet landscapes (lesser bulrush, sedges, alder pollen) on the ridge. “They would have needed to walk two kilometres to lower lying land beyond the glacial ridge in prehistory”, clarifies Arnoldussen, “but as we have also found charcoal indicative of alder trees used for firewood from the same lowland areas, they presumably used ox-powered carts to do the heavy lifting.”

Despite these important discoveries, the investigators are adamant that there is still much to be learned. “We now know the age of several banks in two Dutch Celtic fields, yet the precise ways in which the Celtic field agriculture was executed (crop rotation, fallow period, and interspersed occupation) and whether Celtic fields in other parts of the Low Countries are similar, remains unclear”, according to Arnoldussen. Therefore, this summer, Arnoldussen sets out to excavate yet another Dutch Celtic field, this time within the coversand landscapes of the Southern Netherlands.
Research by University of Groningen archaeologist Stijn Arnoldussen

Original article:
March14, 2014


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Paleorivers across Sahara may have supported ancient human migration routes.

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Australopithecus afarensis (pictured in an artist’s impression) had different diets from their ancestors

Topic Ancient diet

A new analysis of early human teeth from extinct fossils has found that they expanded their diets about 3.5 million years ago to include grasses and possibly animals.

Human ancestors’ diet changed 3.5 million years ago

A new analysis of early human teeth from extinct fossils has found that they expanded their diets about 3.5 million years ago to include grasses and possibly animals.

Before this, humanlike creatures – or hominins – ate a forest-based diet similar to modern gorillas and chimps.

Researchers analysed fossilised tooth enamel of 11 species of hominins and other primates found in East Africa.

The findings appear in four papers published in PNAS journal.

Like chimpanzees today, many of our early human ancestors lived in forests and ate a diet of leaves and fruits from trees, shrubs and herbs.

But scientists have now found that this changed 3.5 million years ago in the species Australopithecus afarensis and Kenyanthropus platyops.

Their diet included grasses, sedges, and possibly animals that ate such plants. They also tended to live in the open savannahs of Africa.

The new studies show that they not only lived there, but began to consume progressively more foods from the savannahs.

Researchers looked at samples from 175 hominins of 11 species, ranging from 1.4 to 4.1 million years old.

Their diet was analysed from the chemical make up of their teeth, identifying the carbon isotopes within them.

The ratios of different types of carbon atoms, or isotopes, in fossils can give clues to what a fossil creature ate because different foods have different carbon isotope signatures.

“What we have is chemical information on what our ancestors ate, which in simpler terms is like a piece of food item stuck between their teeth and preserved for millions of years,” said Dr Zeresenay Alemseged, from the California Academy of Sciences, co-author on two of the papers.

“Because feeding is the most important factor determining an organism’s physiology, behaviour and its interaction with the environment, these finds will give us new insight into the evolutionary mechanisms that shaped our evolution.”

It is not yet clear whether the change in diet included animals, but “the possible diets of some of our hominin kin” has been considerably narrowed down, Dr Matt Sponheimer, lead author of another of the papers, told BBC News.

A new habitat

“We now have good evidence that some early hominins began using plant foods that are not used in abundance by living African apes today, and this probably led to a major change in the way they used the landscape.

“One consequence could be that the dietary expansion led to a habitat expansion, as they could travel to more open habitats more efficiently.

“We know that many early hominins lived in areas that would not have readily supported chimpanzees with their strong preference for forest fruits. It could also be argued that this dietary expansion was a key element in hominin diversification.”

The study has also answered, at least in part, what researchers have long been speculating – how so many large species of primate managed to co-exist.

“They were not competing for the same foods,” said Prof Thure Cerling from the University of Utah, who led one of the research papers.

‘The modern human’

“All these species who were once in the human lineage, ventured out into this new world of foods 3.5 million years ago, but we don’t yet understand why that is.”

As well as looking at non-human primates, the researchers analysed fossils from other animals from the same era and did not find any evidence of a change in diet.

This combined research highlights a “step towards becoming the modern human”, said Dr Jonathan Wynn from the University of South Florida, who led the analysis of Australopithecus afarensis.

“Exploring new environments and testing new foods, ultimately might be correlated with further changes in human history.”

These four complementary studies give a persuasive account of shifts in dietary niche in East African hominins, Dr Louise Humphrey from the Natural History Museum in London, told BBC news.

Original article:
By Melissa Hogenboom
Science reporter, BBC News
June 4, 2013

The teeth of fossils 3.5 million years old give scientists clues to their diet

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Topic: ancient clam sites

The excavation of what appears to be an ancient food storage system along the beach of Russell Island, between Fulford Harbour and Swartz Bay, is helping to cast more light on the history and development of local aboriginal groups.

Six years after researchers discovered two clam gardens along the beachfront, University of Victoria students are sifting through sand, gravel and shells to figure out how and when the gardens were built. Some researchers have suggested the gardens helped augment a community’s food supply.

The gardens are beach areas where clams grow naturally and have been enhanced to increase clam production.

“From some groups of elders we’ve talked to, they say these clam gardens basically acted as food banks,” said Nathan Cardinal, the cultural resource management adviser for the Gulf Island National Park Reserve. “If they couldn’t get enough food to get through the winter, they could come here and grab shellfish.”

For the past three years, anthropology students have pitched their tents and spent May and part of June studying historical aboriginal sites around Vancouver Island. The clam gardens they are studying are small fields built on the beach at low tide with surrounding rock walls. The walls acted as a barrier to keep out seaweed and prevent predators from destroying the growing clams and other shellfish.

Like vegetable gardeners, those who tended the clam beds would till the sand, turning it over to provide the clams more oxygen.

“It shows that people didn’t passively react to their environment but rather created their own landscape,” said instructor Eric McLay.

McLay estimates the gardens on Russell Island are at least 1,000 years old. The island was once home to an aboriginal community and the clams may have been used for trade.

Clam gardens are a relatively new discovery for archeologists. The first one was found in the Broughton Archipelago in 1995. Since then, gardens have been discovered along coastlines from B.C. to Alaska.

For the UVic students, this week marks the one time each year that there’s a three-day window when the tides will be lowest, helping them get a clearer picture of the gardens.

Aboriginal representatives have joined the students to help teach about the role the gardens played in their culture.

Phillip Joe, a member of the Cowichan Tribe, said he remembers his grandparents telling him stories about the gardens. “The clam gardens are only a little bit of our culture, and there’s a lot more to be explained,” he said.

Original article:

times colonist

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