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Posts Tagged ‘archaeology’

IMAGE: AN ANCIENT IRRIGATION SYSTEM ALONG THE TIAN SHAN MOUNTAINS OF CHINA ALLOWED THE CULTIVATION OF CROPS IN ONE OF THE WORLD’S DRIEST CLIMATES. view more
CREDIT: IMAGE COURTESY OF YUQI LI, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS.

 

Using satellite imaging and drone reconnaissance, archaeologists from Washington University in St. Louis have discovered an ancient irrigation system that allowed a farming community in northwestern China to raise livestock and cultivate crops in one of the world’s driest desert climates.

Source: Did ancient irrigation technology travel Silk Road?

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Original Article:

heritagedaily.com

An international team of researchers from the University of York, the Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico, Washington State University and Simon Fraser University have been studying the earliest indication of domestic turkeys in ancient Mexico.
The team studied the spatial remains of 55 turkeys, dating from between 300BCE-1500CE in various parts of pre-Columbian Meso-America.
They discovered that Turkeys weren’t just a prized food source, but was also culturally significant for sacrifices and ritual practices.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, Dr Aurélie Manin, said:  “Turkey bones are rarely found in domestic refuse in Mesoamerica and most of the turkeys we studied had not been eaten – some were found buried in temples and human graves, perhaps as companions for the afterlife. This fits with what we know about the iconography of the period, where we see turkeys depicted as gods and appearing as symbols in the calendar.
“The archaeological evidence suggests that meat from deer and rabbit was a more popular meal choice for people in pre-Columbian societies; turkeys are likely to have also been kept for their increasingly important symbolic and cultural role”.
Dr Camilla Speller of the University of York said: “Even though humans in this part of the word had been practicing agriculture for around 10,000 years, the turkey was the first animal, other than the dog, people in Mesoamerica started to take under their control.
“Turkeys would have made a good choice for domestication as there were not many other animals of suitable temperament available and turkeys would have been drawn to human settlements searching for scraps”
Some of the remains the researchers analysed were from a cousin of the common turkey – the brightly plumed Ocellated turkey.  In a strange twist the researchers found that the diets of these more ornate birds remained largely composed of wild plants and insects, suggesting that they were left to roam free and never domesticated.
The team also measured the carbon isotope ratios in the turkey bones to reconstruct their diets. They found that the turkeys were gobbling crops cultivated by humans such as corn in increasing amounts, particularly in the centuries leading up to Spanish exploration, implying more intensive farming of the birds.
Interestingly, the gradual intensification of turkey farming does not directly correlate to an increase in human population size, a link you would expect to see if turkeys were reared simply as a source of nutrition.
By analysing the DNA of the birds, the researches were also able to confirm that modern European turkeys descend from Mexican ancestors.
York University

 

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Piles of clamshells with a stone structure above them are seen at an excavation site at the Sakatsuji Shell Midden in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

Original Article:

japantimes.co.jp
Jan 22, 2018
An ancient heap of shells at Sakatsuji Shell Midden in the city of Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, most likely served as a clam processing site in the latter half of the mid-Jomon Period, approximately 4,500 years ago, an investigation conducted by the city’s board of education has revealed.
While there are ruins in eastern Japan that indicate organized production during the mid-Jomon Period — including the Nakazato shell midden, or mound, which is a national historic site in Tokyo’s Kita Ward — it is extremely rare to find one in the Chubu region or further west. This latest discovery will provide important clues about the culinary lifestyle and economic activities conducted in the Jomon Period.
The Sakatsuji shell mound is one of the Muro cluster of seven shell middens in Aichi Prefecture.
An excavation conducted in the 1970s showed a rough scale of activities there, but details had remained unknown.
The mound is located approximately 3.5 km inland of what is now Mikawa Bay. But prior to the bay being filled in to create rice fields in the Edo Period the shell mound had faced the sea, along a stretch of coastland where the shores are shallow.
As a land consolidation project is scheduled to start in the area that includes the mound, the board of education had been excavating approximately 1,000 square meters of land since May.
The mound, made almost entirely of clamshells, measures roughly 1.6 meters high, about 6 meters wide and more than 24 meters long.
At least four layers have been identified, sandwiched between soil streaked with charcoal.
The team also discovered around 55 objects that looked like furnaces assembled from stones, and the members expect to find more as they continue excavating.
“We believe that the clams were boiled in the furnaces, and their meat stripped from the shells. Afterward the shells were piled up, then the ground was leveled and made into a processing site again,” said a member of the excavation team. “That kind of process must have been repeated again and again.”
The excavation team was not able to find any evidence of residences nearby, so it was likely the workers who dug and processed the clams lived in another area.
The volume of shells discovered was so huge it is hard to believe that they were consumed within the region, and the excavation team has said there is a possibility people dried the clams after they were boiled so that they would last longer and could be used for trading.
The shells are of various sizes. “We found many large shells similar to those seen in high-class Japanese restaurants. The clams must have become quite salty when boiled in sea water, so maybe they were used to make soup stock,” a member of the excavation team said. Several hundred furnaces have been found in the other six shell mounds in Muro. They share the same features as the Sakatsuji midden, which indicates the whole area was bustling with clam processing at the time.
However, the other six shell middens were from the late Jomon Period — approximately 2,300 to 3,800 years ago — which means the clam processing site of Sakatsuji was much older.
Most of the furnaces found in the other shell middens were also without stone structures, and were constructed in such a way that earthenware was placed directly on the floor.
“Perhaps they changed to a simpler furnace in order to meet the growing demand for clams,” said one of the team members.
The excavation will continue until the end of March and an on-site briefing is expected to be held in mid-February.
According to Tomonari Osada, a part-time lecturer specializing in archaeology at Chubu University, the Tokai region during the mid-Jomon Period is believed to have been less socially developed compared to the period immediately before the beginning of the Yayoi Period.
“I would be surprised if the production conducted at the Sakatsuji shell midden was for the sake of trading and distribution to other regions. We need to focus on this site and conduct further analysis to determine whether the objects made of stones were indeed furnaces for boiling (clams).”

Piles of clamshells with a stone structure above them are seen at an excavation site at the Sakatsuji Shell Midden in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

 

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Ancient Greeks may have enjoyed beer too (file photo)

 

Original article:

greece-greekreporter.co

 

Greeks are known for loving wine but it seems their ancient ancestors were not only wine makers but also fond of brewing and drinking beer, a new study suggests.
Evidence found at two ancient settlement sites — Archontiko and Argissa — reveals beer was being brewed as far back as the Bronze Age.
The findings were reported in a recent article by Sultana-Maria Valamoti, Associate Professor of the Department of History and Archeology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
“The new data, presented here for the first time, show strong indications that the inhabitants of prehistoric Greece, besides wine, also produced and consumed beer,” it states.
The finds — including remains of ground cereal grains — date back to a time between the end of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 2nd century BC.
In the case of Archontiko, along with rich cereal residues, a concentration of germinated cereal grains, ground cereal masses and fragments of milled cereals were found inside the remains of two houses.
Their condition is put down to malting and charring, claim researchers.
The practice of brewing could have reached the Aegean region and northern Greece through contacts with the eastern Mediterranean where it was widespread, it is also suggested.

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Photo by Ivy Close Images/Alamy Stock Photo

 

Original Article:

hakaimagazine.com

Authored by
by Zach Zorich

A new study is examining how Vikings adapted to climate change.

In Norway’s Lofoten Islands, archaeologists unearthed one of the largest Viking buildings ever found. The massive 83-meter longhouse, discovered in what is now the town of Borg, was an ostentatious display by powerful chieftains who ruled what at first glance seems to be a marginal area—a cluster of islands just shy of the Arctic Circle. For more than 2,500 years, the people of the Lofotens grew barley and wheat and pulled cod from the frigid North Atlantic. The Lofotens were at the center of Viking politics, yet at the very edge of where the brisk northern climate made farming possible. This makes the Lofotens an ideal place to explore how climate change affected Viking life.
Each year, the landowners in the Lofotens would make critical decisions: which crops to plant, how much livestock to raise, how much cod to fish, whether to send ships to raid the wealthy European villages to the south. In weighing all of these options, minor shifts in climate could be a major factor, says William D’Andrea, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York. Over the next three years, D’Andrea and Nicholas Balascio, a paleoclimatologist at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, will be working to reconstruct the effects of short-term climate variability on the islands.
The study is just getting underway, but D’Andrea and Balascio think that by examining everything from plant pollen to animal waste, as recorded in lakebed sediments, they can gain an understanding of how the islands’ people and their activities might have changed to adapt to the changing climate. The researchers will be looking for biomarkers—molecules unique to specific animals or plants—to see how much and what types of livestock and crops were being raised from year to year.
“These marginal communities can be very sensitive to these natural environmental changes,” Balascio says. For instance, the changing climate may have caused the Vikings to move their farms to new locations to take advantage of the best conditions for their fields.
Falling sea levels provided another challenge for the Lofoten Vikings. The Lofoten Islands, like much of Scandinavia, are to this day rebounding from the loss of the massive ice sheets that covered the land during the last ice age. This phenomenon, called isostatic rebound, is causing the islands to rise, effectively making the sea level fall. This means that boathouses built at the water’s edge could be stranded inland a few decades later.
The locations of harbors deep enough to accommodate the Vikings’ famed sailing ships also changed over time. The falling sea may have made the harbor near Borg inaccessible to large ships and played a role in why the longhouse was abandoned. While these changes are geological rather than climatological, the ways the Vikings adapted to falling seas is also a focus of D’Andrea and Balascio’s project.
But on the climate front, one particularly important variable driving the seasonal fortunes of the Lofoten Vikings was a recurring pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The NAO is a set of rhythms that plays out over months and even decades, driven by shifts in atmospheric pressure in the tropics and the Arctic that cause changing wind patterns across the northern hemisphere. For northern Europe and the Lofotens, the NAO means swings between weather that is wet and mild and cold and dry. The researchers are hoping to understand how farmers and fishers adjusted when they were faced with an oscillating climate that made farming and herding difficult, in some cases for years at a time.
Some experts think that during periods of climate-induced difficulty, Vikings responded by conducting more raids. But proving that connection will be difficult, says D’Andrea, and likely out of the scope of their research. The historical records of Viking raids aren’t detailed enough to properly compare them with climate data, he says.
But he does hope that the project will provide insights into how people throughout history adapted to climate change—insights that could potentially inform modern thinking about climate adaptation.
“When you look at a society over a 1,000-year period, you realize that changes are actually something that happen,” says D’Andrea. “We can deal with them in thoughtful, proactive ways, or we can ignore them.” Hopefully the answer to our problems won’t be to go raiding.

 

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field of Quinoa

 

Original Article

eurelalert.org

Archaeological remains found in southern Bolivia reveal a flourishing agrarian society from the 13th to the 15th centuries, despite marked drying and cooling of the climate throughout the period. This unexpected observation is the result of an interdisciplinary study conducted by an international team (CONICET, CNRS, IRD and UCSD). This research, published in Science Advances, highlights the adaptive capacity and resilience of societies with little hierarchical differentiation, in confronting the challenges of climate degradation.

Source: Unexpected agricultural production allowed pre-Hispanic society to flourish in arid Andes

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Original Article:

phys.org

December 27, 2017 by Natalie Munro

Hilazon Tachtit cave. Credit: Naftali Hilger, CC BY-NC-ND

 

This holiday season millions of families will come together to celebrate their respective festivals and engage in myriad rituals. These may include exchanging gifts, singing songs, giving thanks, and most importantly, preparing and consuming the holiday feast.

Archaeological evidence shows that such communally shared meals have long been vital components of human rituals. My colleague Leore Grosman and I discovered the earliest evidence of a ritual feast at a 12,000-year-old archaeological site in northern Israel and learned how feasts came to be integral components of modern-day practice.

First, what are rituals?

Rituals involve meaningful, often repeated actions. In modern-day practices they are expressed through rites such as the hooding of a doctoral student, birthdays, weddings or even sipping wine at Holy Communion or lighting Hanukkah candles.

Ritual practice may have emerged along with other early modern human behaviors more than 100,000 years ago. However, proving this with material evidence is a challenge. For example, researchers have found that both Neanderthals and early modern humans buried their dead, but scholars weren’t certain whether this was for spiritual or symbolic reasons and not for something more mundane like maintaining site hygiene. Likewise, the discovery of 100,000-year-old symbolic artifacts like pierced shell ornaments and decorated chunks of red ochre in caves in South Africa, was not sufficient to prove that they were part of any ritual activities.

It was only when archaeologists found these artifacts, placed in graves going back 40,000-20,000 years, that it was confirmed they were part of ritual practice.

The first feasts

We had a similar experience during our research. When Leore Grosman and I first embarked on the excavations at Hilazon Tachtit in the late 1990s, we were only hoping to document the activities of the last hunter-gatherers in Israel, at what appeared to be a small campsite. It was only over several seasons of excavation that it slowly became clear to us that this was not a site where people had lived. Rather it was a site for rituals.

No houses, fireplaces or cooking areas were recovered. Instead the cave yielded the skeletal remains of at least 28 individuals interred in three pits and two small structures.

One of these structures contained the complete skeleton of an older woman, who we interpreted as a shaman based on her special treatment at death. Her grave stood apart due to its fine construction – the walls were plastered with clay and inset with flat stone slabs. Even more remarkable was the eclectic array of animal body parts buried alongside of her. The pelvis of a leopard, the wing tip of an eagle, the skulls of two martens and many other unusual body parts surrounded her skeleton.

The butchered remnants of more than 90 tortoises buried in the grave and the leftovers of at least three wild cattle deposited in a second adjacent depression excavated in the cave floor represent the remains of a funeral feast.

The outstanding preservation of the grave enabled us to detect multiple phases of a ritual performance that included the consumption of the feast, the burial of the woman, and the filling of the grave in several stages, including the intentional deposition of garbage from the feast.

Site of Göbekli Tepe. Credit: Teomancimit (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Feasting at the beginning of agriculture

Archaeologists have found other sites that show evidence of ritual feasting. Many of these date to the time when humans were beginning to farm.

One of the most striking is the site of Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey, dating slightly later than Hilazon Tachtit. It includes multiple large structures adorned with benches and giant stone slab carved with exquisite animal depictions in relief dating to 11-12,000 years ago. Perhaps, these were very early communal buildings. The archaeologists who excavated Göbekli Tepe argue that massive quantities of animal bones associated with the structures represent the remains of feasts.

Twelve thousand years ago humans were still hunter-gatherers, subsisting entirely on wild foods. Nevertheless, these people differed from those who went before – they were sitting on the brink of the transition to agriculture, one of the most significant economic, social and ideological transformations in human history.

Sickle blades and grinding stones used to harvest and process cereal grains are found at Hilazon Tachtit and other contemporary archaeological sites. These findings indicate that these ritual feasts started around the same time that people adopted agriculture. When people began to rely more heavily on wild cereals like wheat and barley, they became increasingly tethered to landscapes that were ever more crowded and began to settle into more permanent communities. In other words, feasting became a part of their life, once they moved away from nomadic life.

Rituals that bind

These feasts had an important role to play. Adapting to village life after hundreds of millennia on the move was no simple act. Research on modern hunter-gatherer societies shows that closer contact between neighbors dramatically increased social tensions. New solutions to avoid and repair conflict were critical.

The simultaneous appearance of feasting, communal structures and specialized ritual sites suggest that humans were seeking to solve this problem by engaging the community in ritual practice.

One of the central functions of ritual in these communities was to provide a kind of social glue that bound community members by promoting social cohesion and solidarity. Feasts generate loyalty and commitment to the community’s success. Sharing food is intimate and it builds trust.

Communal rituals would have provided a shared sense of identity at a time when social circles were increasing in scale and permanence. They reinforced new ideologies that emerged out of a dramatic reorganization of economic and social life.

Role of feasts today

Feasting plays the same essential role today. Like the earliest feasts, our holiday celebrations are replete with actions that are repeated year after year.

The holiday feast today builds family traditions. By cooking and sharing food together, telling stories of past holidays and exchanging intergenerational wisdom, holiday rituals bond extended families and give them a shared identity.

Explore further: Reconstruction of 12,000 year old funeral feast brings ancient burial rituals to life

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