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Original article: Kanu.org

By MELISSA SEVIGNY  MAR 17, 2021

File image #3521, AMNH Library, Anasazi pottery, Pueblo Bonito, Chcao Canyon, New Mexico
CREDIT AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY


A thousand years ago, the Ancestral Puebloans in Chaco Canyon crafted cylinder-shaped drinking vessels. They look like tall water glasses decorated with beautiful triangles and zigzag lines. Archeologists think these jars had a special purpose: they were used for drinking chocolate.

Patricia Crown, a researcher at the University of New Mexico, noticed the jars looked similar to vessels used by the Mayans for chocolate drinking. Crown tested pottery sherds from Chaco Canyon, and, sure enough, turned up chemical markers specific to cacao. The finding implies extensive trade or migration between the residents of the Colorado Plateau and their neighbors in Mesoamerica. Chocolate must have been among the goods carried up from the south, along with copper bells and scarlet macaws.

It’s not clear how Southwest people prepared their cacao. But the Mayans and Aztecs sweetened it with honey or added ground maize. They made the chocolate light and frothy by pouring it from jar to jar. Crown suspects frothing wasn’t just to improve the taste, but a kind of performance art, as well.

Around the start of the 12th century, the people of Chaco Canyon stopped using the chocolate drinking vessels—in a dramatic way. They piled up more than a hundred of the jars in a room and set fire to it. But they didn’t give up chocolate… they just drank it out of mugs instead.

Today, the Chaco Heritage Tribal Association is conducting the first-ever tribal led survey of the Chaco area, with Hopi, Zuni, and Pueblo people looking back to the lives of their ancestors.

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original article LSU.edu

The earliest known record of salt being sold in a marketplace in the Maya region depicted in a mural at Calakmul, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Photo Credit: Rogelio Valencia, Proyecto Arqueológico Calakmul

Researchers at LSU uncover more on the ancient Maya commodity

03/22/2021

BATON ROUGE – The first documented record of salt as an ancient Maya commodity at a marketplace is depicted in a mural painted more than 1,000 years ago at Calakmul, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. In the mural that portrays daily life, a salt vendor shows what appears to be a salt cake wrapped in leaves to another person, who holds a large spoon over a basket, presumably of loose, granular salt.

This is the earliest known record of salt being sold at a marketplace in the Maya region. Salt is a basic biological necessity and is also useful for preserving food. Salt also was valued in the Maya area because of its restricted distribution.

Salt cakes could have been easily transported in canoes along the coast and up rivers in southern Belize, writes LSU archaeologist Heather McKillop in a new paper published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. She discovered in 2004 the first remnants of ancient Maya salt kitchen buildings made of pole and thatch that had been submerged and preserved in a saltwater lagoon in a mangrove forest in Belize. Since then, she and her team of LSU graduate and undergraduate students and colleagues have mapped 70 sites that comprise an extensive network of rooms and buildings of the Paynes Creek Salt Works. 

“It’s like a blueprint for what happened in the past,” McKillop said. “They were boiling brine in pots over fires to make salt.”

Her research team has discovered at the Paynes Creek Salt Works, 4,042 submerged architectural wooden posts, a canoe, an oar, a high-quality jadeite toolstone tools used to salt fish and meat and hundreds of pieces of pottery.

I think the ancient Maya who worked here were producer-vendors and they would take the salt by canoe up the river. They were making large quantities of salt, much more than they needed for their immediate families. 

This was their living,” said McKillop, who is the Thomas & Lillian Landrum Alumni Professor in the LSU Department of Geography & Anthropology. 

She investigated hundreds of pieces of pottery including 449 rims of ceramic vessels used to make salt. Two of her graduate students were able to replicate the pottery on a 3D printer in McKillop’s Digital Imaging Visualization in Archaeology lab at LSU based on scans taken in Belize at the study site. She discovered that the ceramic jars used to boil the brine were standardized in volume; thus, the salt producers were making standardized units of salt.

“Produced as homogeneous units, salt may have been used as money in exchanges,” McKillop said.

An ethnographic interview with a modern day salt producer in Sacapulas, Guatemala collected in 1981 supports the idea that the ancient Maya also may have viewed salt as a valuable commodity: 

“The kitchen is a bank with money for us…So when we need money at any time during the year we come to the kitchen and make money, salt.”

Additional Link:

Salt as a commodity or money in the Classic Maya economy, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0278416521000106?dgcid=author

Contact Alison Satake
LSU Media Relations
c. 510-816-8161
asatake@lsu.edu

A pot 3D printed in the LSU Digital Imaging & Visualization in Archeology Lab by archeology students based on scans collected at the ancient Maya salt works field site.Photo Credit: LSU

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Original article in National Geographic

BY SARAH GIBBENS

Waste left over from the coffee-making process can jolt destroyed forests back to life.

Just like us, forests move faster with a little coffee in their system.

A recent experiment tested whether coffee pulp, a leftover of the coffee growing process, could help bring Costa Rica’s rainforests back to life. Researchers from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa tested two plots to see how the coffee waste would affect deforested land, covering one parcel of grass with about 20 inches of the pulp and leaving the other untouched.

At each site, land had been exploited for years, either to grow coffee or raise cattle, and was eventually abandoned. It was dominated by invasive grasses, primarily an African species called palisade grass, used to feed grazing livestock. The grass can reach 16 feet tall when not trimmed by grazing animals, preventing native rainforests from easily regrowing.

After two years, the plot of land given a boost from coffee showed a dramatic improvement. Eighty percent of the plot was covered by young tree canopy, some trees already 15 feet—including tropical species that can grow as tall as 60 feet—versus just 20 percent in the untreated plot. In the coffee-fueled plot, trees were also four times taller on average, soil samples were more nutrient-rich, and invasive grasses had been eliminated.

The results were published in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

Not only does it give coffee producers a sustainable way to dispose of their waste, she says, but it also speeds up the timeline to bring back destroyed forests.

“It’s an amazing win-win situation,” says Rebecca Cole, a study author and ecologist from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. “It takes tropical forest hundreds of years to grow back. To have [such] tall trees in only two years is really spectacular.”

More research needs to be done, Cole acknowledges, to understand the long-term impacts of coffee pulp and whether it causes any unforeseen pollution.

Still, says Cole, “This really was like a forest on caffeine. I think it’s really promising.”

LOOKING FOR A WIN-WIN

Coffee beans are the seeds of a fruit called a coffee cherry that, when picked, looks like a bright red or yellow cherry. To get coffee beans, producers remove the fruit’s skin, pulp, and other filmy bits. They then dry and roast the remains to make the grounds that end up in your morning cup. Approximately half the weight of a coffee harvest will end up as waste.

In Costa Rica, says Rakan Zahawi, a study author and director of the Lyon Arboretum at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, coffee producers typically take all that leftover coffee residue to storage lots where it’s left to decompose.

In the early 2000s, Zahawi visited a similar restoration project using orange peels.

“The difference was night and day,” he says of forests treated with oranges and those left untouched, “There was a huge difference.”

The idea stuck with him when he began working in Costa Rica and took notice of the waste generated by the country’s large coffee industry. If the excess coffee pulp could be put to good use somehow, Cole and Zahawi thought, everyone involved—the coffee producers, land owners, and environmentalists—could benefit.

“Essentially it’s a major waste product that’s expensive to process, and they give it away for free,” says Cole. Rather than paying for the waste to be composted and stored, the only cost to the researchers was renting dump trucks to shuttle the pulp.

HOW AND WHY IT WORKS

The idea works like this: spread a foot and a half of the coffee pulp on an area covered in pasture grasses and the foliage underneath will smother and cook until it’s asphyxiated, dies, and decomposes.

“You essentially kill all the roots and rhizomes of the grasses,” says Zahawi.

Zahawi and Cole found that as the decomposed remains of the grasses mix with the coffee’s nutrient-rich layer, it creates a fertile soil. That, in turn, attracts insects, which attracts birds, who then drop seeds into the plot, as does the wind.

Then comes the rebirth.

“It looks like a mess for the first two or three years, and then there’s this explosion of new plants coming in,” says Zahawi. “It’s so nutrient rich they’re sort of growing on steroids.”

The key, they found, was to pile on the pulp—using a thick enough layer of pulp in an area flat enough for it not to wash away, and in a climate with a dry period that allowed the coffee to really bake. Essentially, it became like a very successful compost heap.

“If you stick your hand in this gook, it’s really hot—not scalding but hot enough to smother [the grass],” says Zahawi.

A plastic tarp spread across a field and pinned down by weights would also kill the grasses. But “then you have all this plastic waste,” says Zahawi. And new, fertile soil would still need  to be brought in to attract new plants.

Cole says the most common way to restore forests is to plant trees. But compared to just dumping coffee byproduct and letting nature do the planting, it’s labor intensive and expensive.

“I was kind of skeptical it was going to work. I thought we would just have a greener patch of grass,” she says. Instead, they got the beginnings of a new rainforest.

ROADBLOCKS AND NEEDED RESEARCH

While Cole and Zahawi’s experiment with coffee pulp successfully jump-started forest growth, there are downsides.

“Coffee pulp is really stinky,” says Cole, who was raised on a Costa Rican coffee farm. “I grew up with the smell but a lot of people find it pretty offensive.”

It also attracts a lot of flies and other insects that, despite attracting seed-dispersing birds, are pests for nearby humans.

“There’s also some concern that it will have negative effects on watersheds. There can be some contamination,” says Cole. Coffee pulp contains nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that can negatively impact streams and lakes, causing excess algae growth, for example. The pulp may also contain traces of pesticides used during production.

While this experiment was carried out away from water sources, Cole says their future research will look at the potential impact on surrounding areas.

Previous work using orange peels to regrow forests in Costa Rica was met with some backlash. When orange juice maker Del Oro began a partnership with a local protected area to spread truckloads of peels on former cattle pasture, its local competitor, TicoFrut, alleged the program was simply a way to dump waste. The program was stopped by Costa Rican authorities, who sided with the competing juice company.

A PROMISING FUTURE FOR FORESTS?

Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs, a married team of tropical ecologists at the University of Pennsylvania, weren’t surprised by the ecological success of Cole and Zahawi’s reforestation experiment; Janzen forged the relationship between Del Oro and the protected area in 1996 for the same purpose and introduced Zahawi to the concept.

Two decades ago, he saw similar success.

Six months after the orange peels were distributed, Janzen said the small one-hectare plot “looked and smelled horrible.”

“[One and a half] years later it was all gone, and in its place were no invasive African pasture grasses, but a marvelous species-rich patch of broadleaf plants growing from deep black loam soil. Basically, we had fertilized the place very intensively. We were sold,” Janzen writes over email.

He thinks coffee pulp may escape the same fate as the failed orange peel project, saying it’s “less tangled in thorny political issues,” and grown by more small producers rather than two large competing companies.

In addition to researching the long-term impacts, Cole is interested in testing other agricultural by-products. As long as the crop waste is nutrient-rich and not harmful to human health, she would expect similar results.

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Article from smithsonianmag.com

Scientists suggest 10,000-year-old barbed points washed up on Dutch beaches were made for cultural reasons

Human Bone Carved Into a Barbed Point
One of the human bone points analyzed in the study, found by Willy van Wingerden in January of 2017. (Willy van Wingerden)

By Bridget Alexsmithsonianmag.com 
December 21, 2020

As the Ice Age waned, melting glaciers drowned the territory of Doggerland, the ground that once connected Britain and mainland Europe. For more than 8,000 years, distinctive weapons—slender, saw-toothed bone points—made by the land’s last inhabitants rested at the bottom of the North Sea. That was until 2oth-century engineers, with mechanical dredgers, began scooping up the seafloor and using the sediments to fortify the shores of the Netherlands. The ongoing work has also, accidentally, brought artifacts and fossils from the depths to the Dutch beaches.

Fossil-hunter hobbyists collected these finds, amassing nearly 1,000 of the jagged bone weapons, known to archaeologists as Mesolithic barbed points. Not only known from the North Sea, barbed points have been found at sites from Ireland to Russia, dating between 8,000 to 11,000 years ago, when the last foragers inhabited Europe before farmers arrived. Mesolithic people likely fastened the points to longer shafts to make arrows, spears and harpoons, key for their hunting and fishing livelihoods. But scholars mostly ignored the barbed points dotting Dutch beaches because they weren’t recovered from systematic digs of proper archaeological sites, like the barbed points found in the U.K. and continental Europe.

Now a team, led by Leiden University archaeologists, has analyzed some of the washed-up weapons, performing molecular measurements to determine which species the barbed points were made from. The scientists mainly wanted to test if this kind of analysis, which depends on proteins surviving in bone, was even possible for artifacts buried underwater for millennia. Not only did the method work, it delivered shocking results: While most of the roughly 10,000-year-old points were made of red deer bone two were fashioned from human skeletons.

“As an expert in this field, I really wasn’t expecting that. It’s really cool,” says Newcastle University archaeologist Benjamin Elliott, who was not involved in the research. Never before have archaeologists found unambiguous evidence that ancient Europeans carefully crafted human bones into deadly weapons.

The study scientists puzzled over why Mesolithic people used red deer and human skeletons for their weapons. “What’s going on with these points?” says Virginie Sinet-Mathiot, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, who worked on the project. “What does it mean?”

Practical or economic concerns seemed unlikely explanations: Other raw materials like antler would have been more readily available and durable. Rather, the researchers concluded that ancient hunters chose these particular bones for symbolic reasons, related to their social or spiritual beliefs.

“This was not an economic decision,” says archaeologist Joannes Dekker, lead author of the study, forthcoming in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. The economic move would have been for ancient hunter-gatherers to produce strong points, quickly from animal parts leftover from meals. In that case, researchers would expect to find points made from antler as well as bones of aurochs, other deer species and Eurasian elk. These creatures roamed Mesolithic Doggerland, and experiments by modern archaeologists have shown their bones make excellent projectile weapons.

The fact that the scientists found predominately red deer and human bones suggests, “There must have been some other reason, a cultural reason, why it was important to use these species,” says Dekker, a Masters student at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

The specific motivations driving this Doggerland fad, though, remain a mystery. “You can measure modern bone to see its properties as a projectile point,” says Dekker. “You can’t measure the thoughts in the head of a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer.”

Still, knowing Mesolithic people used human bones this way is a major discovery. “The human stuff is a complete shock,” says Elliott.

Barbed Points
This graphic shows the barbed points analyzed in the study, the beaches they were found on, and the probable dredging location of the original sediments in the North Sea. (Dekker et al. in press JAS: Reports, original file provided by Dekker)

According to him, earlier researchers had floated the idea that human bone comprised some especially long barbed points found in Ireland. Those speculations were based on the fact that there weren’t many large mammals, besides humans, on the island back when the artifacts were made. But until recently, no technology existed to test those claims.

Generally, archaeologists can eyeball a bone, and based on its size and contours, know the body part and animal type from which it came. But that’s nearly impossible for barbed points because the identifying features have been whittled and worn away through manufacture, use and burial.

Over the past decade, a new technology has been developed that solves this problem. The method, Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry or ZooMS, detects the molecular building blocks of collagen, the main protein in bone. Because these collagen components differ slightly between animal types, measuring them can indicate the species of a bone—even for skeletal bits or sculpted artifacts that can’t be identified by visual features.

During ZooMS, scientists chemically dissolve a dash of powdered bone to extract collagen molecules, which are run through a measurement instrument. The method has proven handy for distinguishing between bones of similar-looking creatures like sheep and goat, or rat and mouse. And for Stone Age sites, the process has been used to scan thousands of matchstick-sized skeletal pieces to find rare Neanderthal, Denisovan and Homo sapiensspecimens among heaps of animal bones. Since its introduction in 2009, ZooMS has been successfully used on remains from dozens of sites worldwide, dating from the Stone Age to modern times.

But scientists questioned whether the method would work on Mesolithic Doggerland points; millennia under the sea may have destroyed the collagen proteins. “The challenge here was would we be able to extract collagen and to perform species identifications from material that had been submerged in water for such a long time,” says Sinet-Mathiot, who works to innovate ZooMS protocols through her research.

In 2018, Dekker decided to try, in a small project for his bachelor’s thesis in archaeology at Leiden University. Dekker got permission from a dozen collectors to scrap or chip a bit of bone from their barbed points. He brought the samples to the Max Plank Institute in Leipzig, Germany and worked with Sinet-Mathiot to run the ZooMS analysis. Collaborators at the University of Groningen measured radiocarbon dates, confirming the artifacts were Mesolithic age.

For scholars of European prehistory, the new results are tantalizing, but present more questions than answers. Because the study only tested ten points, washed ashore, scientists don’t know how often, and under what circumstances, people armed themselves with human bones. “It’s super interesting that they found two humans in there, out of ten analyzed in total,” says Theis Zetner Trolle Jensen, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen, who was not involved in the study. “But it might very well be that they found the needle in the haystack.”

Earlier this year Jensen and colleagues published a much larger ZooMS study, which determined the animal types comprising 120 Mesolithic barbed points recovered from peat bogs of Denmark and Sweden. They found bones from red deer, moose, bovine and a few brown bear—but not one from Homo sapiens. And, they concluded the Mesolithic crafters chose bone types with preferable mechanical properties. The hunters picked their mediums for practical reasons, not cultural considerations.

The differing results raise the possibility that only inhabitants of Doggerland turned human bones into deadly points during the Mesolithic. “It might be that there are strange people there… people that did different things,” Jensen says.

He and other scholars hope these questions will be clarified through more ZooMS work of barbed points. Although the new study analyzed a small number of artifacts, it showed the scientific value of artifacts washed onto Dutch shores.

“Ideally we’d love [the artifacts] to come from securely excavated contexts,” says Elliott. But Doggerland sites lie beneath the North Sea, so out-of-context beach finds offer invaluable, accessible evidence. “We can’t be snobby about it,” he says. “We have to really embrace it and try to get as much information and understanding from those artifacts as we possibly can.”

Everyday more fossils and artifacts appear on Dutch beaches, enticing a growing number of collector hobbyists. The Facebook group for this community now includes some 600 members, according to its moderator Erwin van der Lee of Rotterdam. “The competition is also very large,” he says.

Rick van Bragt, a university student in The Hague, has found about 10,000 ancient items since he began searching nearly ten years ago. Van Bragt and van der Lee entered their barbed points in the ZooMS study. While van der Lee’s artifact failed to produce results, van Bragt’s point was identified as red deer from 8,000 years ago. Both collectors were fascinated by the news that human bone formed two of the points.

Beyond bone points, the tides washing over Dutch beaches drop shark teeth, flint tools made by Neanderthals, fossils from long-extinct mammoths and other treasures. Spotting the finds takes practice though, and most beachgoers are unaware of what’s there. In the summer, “there’s a lot of people on the beach and they just step on everything,” says Van Bragt. “They don’t see it.”

Editor’s Note, December 21, 2020: This article mistakenly stated 21st-century engineers dredged the seafloor; it was 20th century engineers that started the work.

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Article published by smithsonianmag.com

Strict gender norms pushed them out of a centuries-long tradition

Alewives drinking together
Three women dressed in period garb as alewives. The tall hats became a part of witch iconography. (Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis via Getty Images)

smithsonianmag.com 
March 8, 2021

Editor’s note, March 17, 2021: Last week, we ran this story that originally appeared on The Conversation, a nonprofit news outlet that publishes writing by academic experts from around the world. After publishing, we heard from multiple scholars who disagreed with the framing, analysis and conclusions discussed in the article below. They argue, in fact, that contemporary depictions of witches originated in sources other than women brewers and that the transfer from women to men of the work of brewing, in various geographic and historical settings, came about for economic and labor reasons. We addressed a number of factual errors in our March 10, 2021, editor’s note, found at the bottom of the page, and we have changed the headline from its original version.

To understand the fuller context of this history, we encourage readers to also look at two blog posts from historian and archaeologist Christina Wade, linked here and here, and an essay by beer and spirits writer Tara Nurin, linked here, as recommended by the Smithsonian’s own brewing historian, Theresa McCulla, curator of the American Brewing History Initiative at the National Museum of American History.

What do witches have to do with your favorite beer?

When I pose this question to students in my American literature and culture classes, I receive stunned silence or nervous laughs. The Sanderson sisters didn’t chug down bottles of Sam Adams in “Hocus Pocus.” But the history of beer points to a not-so-magical legacy of transatlantic slander and gender roles.

Up until the 1500s, brewing was primarily women’s work—that is, until a smear campaign accused women brewers of being witches. Much of the iconography we associate with witches today, from the pointy hat to the broom, may have emerged from their connection to female brewers.

A routine household task

Humans have been drinking beer for almost 7,000 years, and the original brewers were women. From the Vikings to the Egyptians, women brewed beer both for religious ceremonies and to make a practical, calorie-rich beverage for the home.

In fact, the nun Hildegard von Bingen, who lived in modern-day Germany, famously wrote about hops in the 12th century and added the ingredient to her beer recipe.

From the Stone Age to the 1700s, ale – and, later, beer – was a household staple for most families in England and other parts of Europe. The drink was an inexpensive way to consume and preserve grains. For the working class, beer provided an important source of nutrients, full of carbohydrates and proteins. Because the beverage was such a common part of the average person’s diet, fermenting was, for many women, one of their normal household tasks.

Some enterprising women took this household skill to the marketplace and began selling beer. Widows or unmarried women used their fermentation prowess to earn some extra money, while married women partnered with their husbands to run their beer business.

Witch from Hansel and Gretel
A 1916 illustration of the witch from the German children’s fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.”(GraphicaArtis via Getty Images)

Exiling women from the industry

So if you traveled back in time to the Middle Ages or the Renaissance and went to a market in England, you’d probably see an oddly familiar sight: women wearing tall, pointy hats. In many instances, they’d be standing in front of big cauldrons.

But these women were no witches; they were brewers.

They wore the tall, pointy hats so that their customers could see them in the crowded marketplace. They transported their brew in cauldrons. And those who sold their beer out of stores had cats not as demon familiars, but to keep mice away from the grain. Some argue that iconography we associate with witches, from the pointy hat to the cauldron, originated from women working as master brewers.

Just as women were establishing their foothold in the beer markets of England, Ireland and the rest of Europe, the Reformation began. The fundamentalist religious movement, which originated in the early 16th century, preached stricter gender norms and condemned witchcraft.

Male brewers saw an opportunity. To reduce their competition in the beer trade, these men accused female brewers of being witches and using their cauldrons to brew up magic potions instead of booze.

Unfortunately, the rumors took hold.

Over time, it became more dangerous for women to practice brewing and sell beer because they could be misidentified as witches. At the time, being accused of witchcraft wasn’t just a social faux pas; it could result in prosecution or a death sentence. Women accused of witchcraft were often ostracized in their communities, imprisoned or even killed.

Some men didn’t really believe that the women brewers were witches. However, many did believe that women shouldn’t be spending their time making beer. The process took time and dedication: hours to prepare the ale, sweep the floors clean and lift heavy bundles of rye and grain. If women couldn’t brew ale, they would have significantly more time at home to raise their children. In the 1500s some towns, such as Chester, England, actually made it illegal for most women to sell beer, worried that young alewives would grow up into old spinsters.

Witches in a Graveyard with Cauldron
Tools for brewing beer—like the cauldron—became part of the popular iconography associated with witches. (Historica Graphica Collection / Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Men still run the show

The iconography of witches with their pointy hats and cauldrons has endured, as has men’s domination of the beer industry: The top 10 beer companies in the world are headed by male CEOs and have mostly male board members.

Major beer companies have tended to portray beer as a drink for men. Some scholars have even gone as far as calling beer ads “manuals on masculinity.”

This gender bias seems to persist in smaller craft breweries as well. A study at Stanford University found that while 17 percent of craft beer breweries have one female CEO, only 4 percent of these businesses employ a female brewmaster—the expert supervisor who oversees the brewing process.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For much of history, it wasn’t.

Editor’s note, March 10, 2021: This article has been updated to acknowledge that it isn’t definitively known whether alewives inspired some of the popular iconography associated with witches today. It has also been updated to correct that it was during the Reformation that accusations of witchcraft became widespread.This article was originally published on The ConversationRead the original article.

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Original article in Phys.org

very interesting article…JLP

by Vivek Venkataraman,  The Conversation

Women were successful big-game hunters, challenging beliefs about ancient gender roles
New evidence suggests that contrary to long-held beliefs, women were also big-game hunters. Credit: Shutterstock

Archeological evidence from Peru has revealed that some ancient big-game hunters were, in fact, women, challenging what science writer James Gorman wrote was “one of the most widely held tenets about ancient hunters and gatherers—that males hunted and females gathered.”

Man the Hunter” is a narrative of human origins developed by early 20th-century anthropologists armed with their imaginations and a handful of fossils. They viewed hunting—done by men—as the prime driver of human evolution, bestowing upon our early ancestors bipedalism, big brains, tools and a lust for violence. In this narrative, hunting also gave rise to the nuclear family, as women waited at home for men to bring home the meat. 

As an anthropologist who studies hunting and gathering societies, I was thrilled by the discovery of female skeletons buried with big-game hunting paraphernalia, a pattern that raises important questions about ancient gender roles. But I found most of the media coverage it generated disappointingly inaccurate. Responding to the finding, journalist Annalee Newitz wrote: “Nicknamed ‘man the hunter,” this is the notion that men and women in ancient societies had strictly defined roles: Men hunted, and women gathered. Now, this theory may be crumbling.

In fact, that theory died a well-deserved death decades ago.

Hunting origins

In 1966, 75 anthropologists (70 of whom were men) held a symposium called “Man the Hunter” at the University of Chicago to address one of humanity’s grand questions: How did people live before agriculture? The researchers had lived with and studied contemporary populations of hunting and gathering peoples around the world, from jungle to tundra.

It was there in Chicago that real-life data confronted the myth of Man the Hunter. Researchers showed that women worked just as hard as men, and plant foods gathered by women were crucially important in hunter-gatherer diets. Hunter-gatherer movement patterns were driven by a variety of ecological factors, not just game. And many hunter-gatherers were quite peaceful and egalitarian. Hunting wasn’t the sole driver or unifying theory of human evolution after all.

By the late 1970s, as anthropologists carried out further research on hunter-gatherers and paid attention to issues of gender, the myth of Man the Hunter fell into disfavor.

Updating beliefs

Even so, subsequent research has affirmed a simple division of labor among hunter-gatherers: men mostly hunt and women mostly gather. When anthropologist Carol Ember surveyed 179 societies, she found only 13 in which women participated in hunting

But it is a mistake to conflate this pattern of “most hunters are men” among hunter-gatherers with the myth of Man the Hunter. That myth was born of assumptions, not careful empirical research.

Through decades of field research, anthropologists have developed a more flexible and capacious view of human labor. According to this view, women are not bound by biology to gather, nor men to hunt. In fact, several accounts of women’s hunting in foraging societies had emerged by the mid-1980s.

In this context, ancient female hunters are an expectation, not a surprise. And the focus on Man the Hunter distracts from the more important question of how a society with female big-game hunters might be constructed. After all, women are perfectly capable of hunting, yet in most hunter-gatherer societies they don’t do it very often

Hunting and child care

One prominent explanation, elaborated in 1970 by feminist anthropologist Judith Brown, is that the demands of hunting conflict with the provision of child care. This was supported in a recent review of women’s hunting that surveyed traditional societies around the world; the authors found that pregnant or lactating women do not often hunt, and those with dependents only hunt when child care is available or rich hunting grounds are close to camp

These constraints play a role in shaping risk preferences. In hunter-gatherers, men’s hunting is risky, meaning it carries a high chance of failure. Men tend to hunt alone or in small groups and target big game with projectile weapons, which often requires fast-paced, long-distance travel. In contrast, women prefer to hunt in groups and focus on smaller, easier-to-capture prey closer to camps, often with the aid of dogs

Women are often crucial to the hunting success of others, whether through logistical or ritual assistance. Husbands and wives sometimes work collaboratively; in these instances women may help trap an animal, then club it to death and carry the meat home. And in big-game hunting societies, women provide support to hunters by manufacturing clothing, weaponry and transportation equipment. They may also participate in hunting directly by locating, then surrounding and driving game toward a killing location, as seen among high-latitude reindeer hunters and Plains bison hunters. As the authors of the new paper speculate, this is likely how the Peruvian female hunters killed game.

Women were successful big-game hunters, challenging beliefs about ancient gender roles
Girls from the hunting and gathering Batek tribe playing with blowpipes. Credit: Kirk Endicott

Updated views on plant gathering provide insight into why women may choose not to hunt altogether. No one questioned that hunting is hard, but early anthropologists often assumed women’s gathering was simple and easy. This turns out to be wrong. Like hunting, gathering demands extensive ecological knowledge and skill that is socially learned and cultivated over a lifetime.

As a result, hunter-gatherers face tough choices about how to divide difficult labor in a 24-hour day. In this context, economic considerations show that it pays to specialize: modest comparative advantages—speed and strength, and the incompatibilities posed by child care—can lead to divisions of labor that increase overall food acquisition by the group. From this perspective, women’s decisions to hunt less than men may be a rational decision about allocating effort. 

The Batek people

Many have assumed that by not hunting, women are relegated to lower status. But is that true?

I conduct my work among the Batek people, hunter-gatherers from the rainforests of Malaysia who are widely considered one of the most gender-egalitarian societies in the world. They have little material inequality, share food widely, abhor violence and emphasize individual autonomy.

When day breaks at camp, Batek men trek far, usually alone, to hunt monkeys with blowpipes. The women gather tubers or fruit in small groups closer to camp. Nothing prohibits women from hunting, as is the case with some hunter-gatherers where, for example, touching hunting weapons is forbidden. Batek women sometimes join in group hunts of bamboo rats, but it is otherwise rare. However, there are exceptions. Some teenage girls establish an interest in blowpipe hunting that carries into adulthood.

The Batek people say this division of labor comes down to strength differences, incompatibility with child care and differences in knowledge specialization. Hunting has great cultural significance, but women’s knowledge of plant distributions is crucial for collective decisions like moving camp. The Batek conceive of themselves as a co-operative and interdependent group in which each person makes a unique and important contribution toward a communal goal.

Beyond Man the Hunter

Contrary to news reports, the archeological findings from Peru accord well with current knowledge about how and why men and women divide labor among hunter-gatherers. And it has little to do with the myth of Man the Hunter.

The Peruvian hunter-gatherers were big-game specialists who used spear-throwing technologies that were likely relatively easy to learn. This may have enabled more flexible divisions of labor and broader participation in hunting by women, similar to what we see among some hunter-gatherers today. 

The social implications beyond these facts are not clear. That’s because one’s role in food collection has no simple relation to status or power dynamics. New research on neglected topics like the determinants of women’s status and risk-seeking economic behavior in traditional societies promises to shed light on this issue. But as the case with the Batek people shows, among a liberated society of equals, status and power has little to do with who brings in the meat.

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Original article on theguardian.com

Donna Ferguson

The Banquet of the Monarchs, c1579, by Alonzo Sanchez Coello
The Banquet of the Monarchs, c1579, by Alonzo Sanchez Coello: ‘high food culture’ in the middle ages.Photograph: Album/Alamy

A love of complex smells and flavours gave our ancestors an edge and stopped hangovers

Human evolution and exploration of the world were shaped by a hunger for tasty food – “a quest for deliciousness” – according to two leading academics.

Ancient humans who had the ability to smell and desire more complex aromas, and enjoy food and drink with a sour taste, gained evolutionary advantages over their less-discerning rivals, argue the authors of a new book about the part played by flavour in our development.

Some of the most significant inventions early humans made, such as stone tools and the controlled use of fire, were also partly driven by their pursuit of flavour and a preference for food they considered delicious, according to the new hypothesis.

“This key moment when we decide whether or not to use fire has, at its core, just the tastiness of food and the pleasure it provides. That is the moment in which our ancestors confront a choice between cooking things and not cooking things,” said Rob Dunn, a professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University. “And they chose flavour.”

Cooked food tasted more delicious than uncooked food – and that’s why we opted to continue cooking it, he says: not just because, as academics have argued, cooked roots and meat were easier and safer to digest, and rewarded us with more calories.

Some scientists think the controlled use of fire, which was probably adopted a million years ago, was central to human evolution and helped us to evolve bigger brains.

“Having a big brain becomes less costly when you free up more calories from your food by cooking it,” said Dunn, who co-wrote Delicious: The Evolution of Flavour and How it Made Us Human with Monica Sanchez, a medical anthropologist.

However, accessing more calories was not the primary reason our ancestors decided to cook food. “Scientists often focus on what the eventual benefit is, rather than the immediate mechanism that allowed our ancestors to make the choice. We made the choice because of deliciousness. And then the eventual benefit was more calories and fewer pathogens.”

Human ancestors who preferred the taste of cooked meat over raw meat began to enjoy an evolutionary advantage over others. “In general, flavour rewards us for eating the things we’ve needed to eat in the past,” said Dunn.

In particular, people who evolved a preference for complex aromas are likely to have developed an evolutionary advantage, because the smell of cooked meat, for example, is much more complex than that of raw meat. “Meat goes from having tens of aromas to having hundreds of different aroma compounds,” said Dunn.

Prehistoric woolly mammoth hunters
Prehistoric woolly mammoth hunters. Photograph: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy

This predilection for more complex aromas made early humans more likely to turn their noses up at old, rotten meat, which often has “really simple smells”. “They would have been less likely to eat that food,” said Dunn. “Retronasal olfaction is a super-important part of our flavour system.”

The legacy of humanity’s remarkable preference for food which has a multitude of aroma compounds is reflected in “high food culture” today, Dunn says. “It’s a food culture that really caters for our ability to appreciate these complexities of aroma. We’ve made this very expensive kind of cuisine that somehow fits into our ancient sensory ability.”

Similarly, our proclivity for sour-tasting food and fermented beverages like beer and wine may stem from the evolutionary advantage that eating sour food and drink gave our ancestors.

“Most mammals have sour taste receptors,” said Dunn. “But in almost all of them, with very few exceptions, the sour taste is aversive – so most primates and other mammals, in general, will, if they taste something sour, spit it out. They don’t like it.”

Humans are among the few species that like sour, he says, another notable exception being pigs.

At some point, he thinks, humans’ and pigs’ sour taste receptors evolved to reward them if they found and ate decomposing food that tasted sour, especially if it also tasted a little sweet – because that is how acidic bacteria tastes. And that, in turn, is a sign that the food is fermenting, not putrefying.

“The acid produced by the bacteria kills off the pathogens in the rotten food. So we think that the sour taste on our tongue, and the way we appreciate it, actually may have served our ancestors as a kind of pH strip to know which of these fermented foods was safe,” said Dunn.

Human ancestors who were able to accurately identify rotting food that was actually fermenting, and therefore OK to eat, would have had an evolutionary advantage over others, he argues. If they also figured out how to safely ferment food to eat over winter, they further increased their food supply.

The negative consequence of this is that fermented, alcoholic fruit juice, a sort of “proto wine”, would also have tasted good – and that probably led to horrific hangovers.

“At some point, our ancestors evolved a version of the gene that produces the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in our bodies, which is 40 times faster than that of other primates,” added Dunn. “And so that really made our ancestors much more able to get the calories out of these fermented drinks, and it would also probably have lessened the extent to which they had hangovers every day from drinking.”

Flavour also drove humanity to innovate and explore, Dunn says. He thinks one reason our ancestors were inspired to begin using tools was to get hold of otherwise inaccessible food that tasted delicious: “If you look at what chimpanzees use tools to get, it’s almost always really delicious things, like honey.”

Having a portfolio of tools that they could use to find tasty things to eatgave our ancestors the confidence to explore new environments, knowing they would be able to find food, whatever the season threw at them. “It really allows our ancestors to move out into the world and do new things.”

Still Life with a Turkey Pie, by Pieter Claesz, 1627.
Still Life with a Turkey Pie, by Pieter Claesz, 1627. Photograph: FineArt/Alamy

Stone tools in particular “fast-forward” the ability of humans to find delicious food. “Once they can hunt, using spears, they have access to this whole world of foods that were not available to them before.”

At this point, Dunn thinks humanity’s pursuit of tasty food started to have terrible consequences for other species. “We know that humans around the world hunted species to extinction, once they figured out how to hunt really effectively.”

Dunn strongly suspects that the mammals that first went extinct were the most delicious ones. “From what we were able to reconstruct, it looks like the mammoths, mastodons and giant sloths all would have been unusually tasty.”

To replicate the eating habits of prehistoric humans, the book, published later this month, details how one scientist dropped a horse who had just died into a pond and assessed how it fermented over time. “He would sample some meat to see if it was safe to eat. He described it as delicious – a little bit like a blue cheese,” said Dunn.

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Original article in science news.org

Paleoartist Gabriela Amorós Seller draws on recent findings to depict ancient Iberian life

Bruce BowerMarch 9, 2021 at 8:00 am

painting of a Neandertal man and child on the Iberian plains
A Neandertal man and child lounge among ancient Iberian plants and animals near Bolomor Cave (about halfway up the hill on the left) in this painting depicting life in eastern Spain around a couple hundred thousand years ago.G. Amorós, Quat. Sci. Reviews, 2021

Here’s a scene guaranteed to melt the popular stereotype of Ice Age Neandertals as spear-wielding mammoth hunters confined to Eurasia’s frigid inner core.

New illustrations show what’s currently known about the environment inhabited periodically by Neandertals in Iberia, or what’s now Spain and Portugal, from at least 350,000 years ago to nearly 100,000 years ago. Paleoartist Gabriela Amorós Seller of the University of Murcia in Spain, used colored pencils to illustrate an idyllic view of a Neandertal man and child lounging on flat ground downslope from Bolomor Cave, near the Mediterranean coast of what’s now eastern Spain.

Excavations in the cave have produced evidence of the trees, plants and animals shown in the drawing, presented in the March 15 Quaternary Science Reviews. Amorós Seller also illustrated Bolomor Cave’s Neandertal-era entrance and surrounding greenery. She and her colleagues regard these scientifically informed drawings as more than simply appealing to the eye. Art that shows the basic makeup of an ancient environment can inspire scientists to ask new questions. For instance, her group now wants to explore how ancient Iberian plants grew in the wild and what they looked like before being modified over the past few thousand years by farming practices.  

illustration of the entrance to Bolomor Cave in Spain
Eastern Spain’s Bolomor Cave (illustrated) has hosted recent excavations that paint a detailed picture of what life was like for Neandertals who once inhabited that temperate region.G. Amorós, Quat. Sci. Reviews, 2021

Bolomor Cave Neandertals probably ate fruit, nuts and seeds of plants that once grew in the area, says coauthor José Carrión, an evolutionary biologist and botanist at the University of Murcia. Those plants included hazel shrubs, one of which appears just behind the Neandertal male, who is munching on a hazelnut. Strawberry trees, Mediterranean hackberry, myrtle shrubs, carob trees and chestnut trees — all shown in the drawings — were also available, he says.

Insights about local plant life during Neandertal times come largely from pollen grains and spores found in sediment layers in Bolomor Cave, previously reported by coauthor Juan Ochando, an evolutionary botanist also at the University of Murcia, and colleagues. These layers have also yielded remains of fire pits, burned animal bones, scorched tortoise shells and four Neandertal fossils — a piece of a leg bone, two teeth and part of a braincase.

The animal remains inform other parts of the drawings, such as the Neandertal child watching a tortoise inch its way forward. Tortoises were cooked and eaten at Bolomor Cave, along with frequent prey such as hares, rabbits, birds and deer. People also occasionally consumed large animals such as horses and hippos.

Neandertals most likely responded to relatively mild Iberian temperatures by wearing few or no clothes, the researchers suspect.

Whether they were a separate Homo species or an ancient variant of Homo sapiens, Neandertals had a largely unappreciated talent for finding and exploiting resource-rich parts of Iberia (SN: 3/26/20). Amorós Seller’s paintings vividly show some of that mammoth-free bounty.

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Original article posted on https://www.heritagedaily.com

February 17, 2020

Credit : Xinying Zhou

Most people are familiar with the historical Silk Road, but fewer people realize that the exchange of items, ideas, technology, and human genes through the mountain valleys of Central Asia started almost three millennia before organized trade networks formed.

These pre-Silk Road exchange routes played an important role in shaping human cultural developments across Europe and Asia, and facilitated the dispersal of technologies such as horse breeding and metal smelting into East Asia. One of the most impactful effects of this process of ancient cultural dispersal was the westward spread of northeast Asian crops and the eastward spread of southwest Asian crops. However, until the past few years, a lack of archaeobotanical studies in Central Asia left a dearth of data relating to when and how this process occurred.

This new study, led by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, provides details of recently recovered ancient grains from the far northern regions of Inner Asia. Radiocarbon dating shows that the grains include the oldest examples of wheat and barley ever recovered this far north in Asia, pushing back the dates for early farming in the region by at least a millenium. These are also the earliest domesticated plants reported from the northern half of Central Asia, the core of the ancient exchange corridor. This study pulls together sedimentary pollen and ancient wood charcoal data with archaeobotanical remains from the Tiangtian archaeological site in the Chinese Altai Mountains to reveal how humans cultivated crops at such northern latitudes. This study illustrates how adaptable ancient crop plants were to new ecological constraints and how human cultural practices allowed people to survive in unpredictable environments.

The Northern Dispersal of Cereal Grains

The ancient relatives of wheat and barley plants evolved to grow in the warm and dry climate of the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia. However, this study illustrates that ancient peoples were cultivating these grasses over five and a half thousand kilometers to the northeast of where they originally evolved to grow. In this study, Dr. Xinying Zhou and his colleagues integrate paleoenvironmental proxies to determine how extreme the ecology was around the archaeological cave site of Tangtian more than five millennia ago, at the time of its occupation. The site is located high in the Altai Mountains on a cold,dry landscape today; however, the study shows that the ecological setting around the site was slightly warmer and more humid at the time when people lived in and around this cave.

The slightly warmer regional conditions were likely the result of shifting air masses bringing warmer, wetter air from the south. In addition to early farmers using a specific regional climate pocket to grow crops in North Asia, analysis showed that the crops they grew evolved to survive in such northern regions. The results of this study provide scholars with evidence for when certain evolutionary changes in these grasses occurred, including changes in the programed reliance of day length, which signals to the plant when to flower, and a greater resistance to cold climates.

The Trans-Eurasian Exchange and Crop Dispersal

The ancient dispersal of crops across Inner Asia has received a lot of attention from biologists and archaeologists in recent years; as Dr. Spengler, one of the study’s lead authors, discusses in his recent book Fruit from the Sands, these ancient exchange routes shaped the course of human history. The mingling of crops originating from opposite ends of Asia resulted in the crop-rotation cycles that fueled demographic growth and led to imperial formation. East Asian millets would become one of the most important crops in ancient Europe and wheat would become one of the most important crops in East Asia by the Han Dynasty. While the long tradition of rice cultivation in East Asia made rice a staple of the Asian kitchen, Chinese cuisine would be unrecognizable without wheat-based food items like steamed buns, dumplings, and noodles. The discovery that these plants dispersed across Eurasia earlier than previously understood will have lasting impacts on the study of cultivation and labor practices in ancient Eurasia, as well as the history cultural contact and shifts in culinary systems throughout time.

These new discoveries provide reason to question these views, and seem to suggest that mixed small-scale human populations made major contributions to world history through migration and cultural and technological exchange. “This study not only presents the earliest dates for domesticated grains in far North Asia,” says Professor Xiaoqiang Li, director of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, “it represents the earliest beginning of a trans-Eurasian exchange that would eventually develop into the great Silk Road”.

Dr. Xinying Zhou, who headed the study and directs a research team at the IVPP in Beijing, emphasizes that “this discovery is a testament to human ingenuity and the amazing coevolutionary bond between people and the plants that they maintain in their cultivated fields.”

MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR THE SCIENCE OF HUMAN HISTORY

Header Image – Dr. Xinying Zhou and his team from the IVPP in Beijing excavated the Tangtian Cave site during the summer of 2016. Credit : Xinying Zhou

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Original article in aAPNews.com, feb 13, 2021

By SAMY MAGDY

CAIRO (AP) — American and Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed what could be the oldest known beer factory at one of the most prominent archaeological sites of ancient Egypt, a top antiquities official said Saturday.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the factory was found in Abydos, an ancient burial ground located in the desert west of the Nile River, over 450 kilometers (280 miles) south of Cairo.

He said the factory apparently dates back to the region of King Narmer, who is widely known for his unification of ancient Egypt at the beginning of the First Dynastic Period (3150 B.C.- 2613 B.C.).

Archaeologists found eight huge units — each is 20 meters (about 65 feet) long and 2.5 meters (about 8 feet) wide. Each unit includes some 40 pottery basins in two rows, which had been used to heat up a mixture of grains and water to produce beer, Waziri said.

The joint mission is co-chaired by Dr. Matthew Adams of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Deborah Vischak, assistant professor of ancient Egyptian art history and archaeology at Princeton University.

Adams said the factory was apparently built in this area to provide royal rituals with beer, given that archaeologists found evidences showing the use of beer in sacrificial rites of ancient Egyptians.

British archaeologists were the first to mention the existence of that factory early 1900s, but they couldn’t determine its location, the antiquities ministry said.

With its vast cemeteries and temples from the earliest times of ancient Egypt, Abydos was known for monuments honoring Osiris, ancient Egypt’s god of underworld and the deity responsible for judging souls in the afterlife.

The necropolis had been used in every period of early Egyptian history, from the prehistoric age to Roman times.

Egypt has announced dozens of ancient discoveries in the past couple of years, in the hope of attracting more tourists.

The tourism industry has been reeling from the political turmoil following the 2011 popular uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. The sector was also dealt a further blow last year by the coronavirus pandemic.

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