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Museum archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall and helicopter pilot Keller Wattum document a petroglyph site on Afognak Island. (Photo courtesy Patrick Saltonstall)

Original article:

Mitch Borden, KMXT-KodiakMay 10, 2018

Ktoo.org

A routine assessment of  historical sites on Afognak Island by air turned into a day full of surprises.

Local researcher Patrick Saltonstall usually kayaks when he goes out to find and study archaeological sites around the Kodiak Archipelago.

Paddling can be a pretty slow way to travel. Recently Saltonstall got the chance to take to the air in a helicopter for a change.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so ecstatic after a survey, and it was really quick! You know, it was like one day and we found all this stuff that usually takes weeks.”

Alutiiq Museum archaeology curator Saltonstall made new discoveries on the trip.

One of them being a special Alutiiq fish trap, structures constructed along shorelines to corral fish.

The structure is only the second of its kind to be found in the region. The first was only discovered last year.

“It’s another one of these traps, we found one last summer, where when the fish come in, get over these walls and then when the tide goes out there are trapped.”

The traps are an estimated 500 years old.

Saltonstall said these types of devices can found all over Southeast Alaska. He suspects more and more will be found around Kodiak.

The only reason Saltonstall was able to find the second fish trap was the high vantage point from flying in the helicopter.

“I’d actually been there on survey and had found a village there and hadn’t seen the fish trap,” he said. “When we’re in the air you look down and I was like ‘ oh my god, it’s so obvious.”

The fish trap wasn’t the only big find of the day.

Saltonstall thinks some 100-foot-tall rock spires inhabited by puffins could have been defensive sites where hundreds of years ago people would wait and watch for enemies

It’s impressive to think about someone going out to these rock formations and climbing up so high, Saltonstall said.

“They must’ve had a rope ladder they built to get up and down and, probably, they were hoisting baskets of food up. It was kinda amazing.”

More research will have to be done on these new sites to learn more about them, but Saltonstall knows a lot more discoveries to be made around Kodiak.

He’d like to use helicopters more in the future to find them.

 

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Original Article:

Szymon Zdziebłowski 

Scienceinpoland.pap.pl

 

The development of agriculture in Europe not only revolutionised food acquisition, but also brought changes in the light sources our ancestors used, says archaeologist Dr. Krzysztof Tunia.

In the area of present-day Poland, until about the 5th millennium BC, to light up the darkness people used light from bonfires and probably torches in the form of wooden fins. Lighting changed with the knowledge of agriculture and farming coming from the Middle East to Europe.

Why did this happen? “Along with the more advanced farming system, the capability to manufacture a variety of ceramic vessels appeared. During excavations in Poland territory – mainly on the Baltic coast – we find not only kitchen forms, but also items that had a different function. They were probably simple lamps” – explains archaeologist from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS Dr. Krzysztof Tunia. He refers to items in the form of shallow “baths” or “boats”. He adds that their main part was a container for flammable substance. The light was obtained by igniting a submerged plant wick.

According to the scientist, the “brightest” area in the late Mesolith and early Neolithic was the Baltic Sea zone, including the northern part of present Poland, where archaeologists find many vessels that served as lamps. The deeper inland you go on the European continent, the less light sources are found. Inland, in his opinion, was dominated by torches. These are usually not preserved to our times and archaeologists do not encounter them during excavations.

Some ceramic lamps used in Central Europe were probably suspended with strings, as their appearance indicates. These objects are cubes with a few centimetres long edges, with a depression in the middle and four holes in the corners. Other lamps were made in the form of figures of bulls, also with a recess on the back and with holes.

“These objects come from areas south of the Carpathians, but perhaps they will be also found in Poland” – says Dr. Tunia.

He adds that so far very few ceramic forms have been discovered in southern Poland, in the shape of double-cone, small vessels with holes for hanging. It can not be ruled out that they were used as lamps, Dr. Tunia believes.

“The main problem was access to flammable substances. Only by the sea there was a sufficiently large amount of available raw material for the production of combustible material used in lamps – it was the fat obtained from marine animals”. The farther south of the Baltic coast, the more common torches were. “I think that torches were not wrapped or smeared with anything, people used the natural resins in the wood material” – said Dr. Tunia.

Archaeologists, like detectives, find indirect evidence for the use of torches in prehistory. For example, during the excavations at a striped flint mine in Krzemionki Opatowskie that was active already in the Neolithic period, they found charcoal – most likely the remains of torches or fires burned there. The first possibility is more likely, because a bonfire would consume too much oxygen miners needed to breathe. Fires were burned near the bottoms of vertical shafts, where torches necessary to illuminate the darkness in the shaft would be lit up – archaeologists believe.

Lines made with charcoal, visible on mine walls, are also considered evidence of the use of torches. Dr Tunia thinks these are traces of charred tips being removed by rubbing the torch against the wall to create a larger flame.

According to the archaeologist, starting from the Neolithic period one can gradually see the desire to light up the darkness among the inhabitants of Europe, but their life was still regulated by the natural rhythm of day and night. Lighting was usually needed in places the sunlight never reached – in the mines, caves or … huts. In households, hearths and fires were being replaced by more advanced clay furnaces. They generated less smoke, they kept warm longer, but they were bad sources of light.

“The darkness was deeper still because those houses did not have many openings. It seems that the main function of a hut was to provide shelter and heat for its inhabitants, and the aspect of interior lighting – especially through openings in the walls, windows and doors – was secondary. In any case, valuable heat would escape through these holes” – says Tunia. Artificial light, even to a limited extent, was needed at any time of the day, for example to prepare a meal.

Only the outlines of prehistoric houses and their foundations or underground parts survive to our times. Reconstructing them is very difficult. It most often is based on ethnographic analogies. “And here we often see that in communities still living outside the mainstream of civilization, the huts are dark, without window openings, smoky, but providing shelter and warmth. I had the opportunity to see such houses in Andean communities” – adds the archaeologist.

According to Dr. Tunia, specialized analyses of possible ceramic lamps could bring advances in research on prehistoric lighting. “They have not been analysed so far, so it will be the next step to understanding an important aspect of our ancestors` lives” – the scientist concludes.

PAP – Science in Poland

 

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Different varieties of sweet potato on display at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. The sweet potato originated in the Americas and spread across the globe. Robert Scotland

Many botanists argued that humans must have carried the valuable staple to the Pacific from South America. Not so, according to a new study.

Carl Zimmer APRIL 12, 2018

Nytimes.com

Of all the plants that humanity has turned into crops, none is more puzzling than the sweet potato. Indigenous people of Central and South America grew it on farms for generations, and Europeans discovered it when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean.

In the 18th century, however, Captain Cook stumbled across sweet potatoes again — over 4,000 miles away, on remote Polynesian islands. European explorers later found them elsewhere in the Pacific, from Hawaii to New Guinea.

The distribution of the plant baffled scientists. How could sweet potatoes arise from a wild ancestor and then wind up scattered across such a wide range? Was it possible that unknown explorers carried it from South America to countless Pacific islands?

An extensive analysis of sweet potato DNA, published on Thursday in Current Biology, comes to a controversial conclusion: Humans had nothing to do with it. The bulky sweet potato spread across the globe long before humans could have played a part — it’s a natural traveler.

Some agricultural experts are skeptical. “This paper does not settle the matter,” said Logan J. Kistler, the curator of archaeogenomics and archaeobotany at the Smithsonian Institution.

Alternative explanations remain on the table, because the new study didn’t provide enough evidence for exactly where sweet potatoes were first domesticated and when they arrived in the Pacific. “We still don’t have a smoking gun,” Dr. Kistler said.

The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is one of the most valuable crops in the world, providing more nutrients per farmed acre than any other staple. It has sustained human communities for centuries. (In North America, it often is referred to as a yam; in fact, yams are a different species originating in Africa and Asia.)

Scientists have offered a number of theories to explain the wide distribution of I. batatas. Some scholars proposed that all sweet potatoes originated in the Americas, and that after Columbus’s voyage, they were spread by Europeans to colonies such as the Philippines. Pacific Islanders acquired the crops from there.

As it turned out, though, Pacific Islanders had been growing the crop for generations by the time Europeans showed up. On one Polynesian island, archaeologists have found sweet potato remains dating back over 700 years.

A radically different hypothesis emerged: Pacific Islanders, masters of open-ocean navigation, picked up sweet potatoes by voyaging to the Americas, long before Columbus’s arrival there. The evidence included a suggestive coincidence: In Peru, some indigenous people call the sweet potato cumara. In New Zealand, it’s kumara.

A potential link between South America and the Pacific was the inspiration for Thor Heyerdahl’s famous 1947 voyage aboard the Kon-Tiki. He built a raft, which he then successfully sailed from Peru to the Easter Islands.

Genetic evidence only complicated the picture. Examining the plant’s DNA, some researchers concluded that sweet potatoes arose only once from a wild ancestor, while other studies indicated that it happened at two different points in history.

According to the latter studies, South Americans domesticated sweet potatoes, which were then acquired by Polynesians. Central Americans domesticated a second variety that later was picked up by Europeans.

Hoping to shed light on the mystery, a team of researchers recently undertook a new study — the biggest survey of sweet potato DNA yet. And they came to a very different conclusion.

“We find very clear evidence that sweet potatoes could arrive in the Pacific by natural means,” said Pablo Muñoz-Rodríguez, a botanist at the University of Oxford. He believes the wild plants traveled thousands of miles across the Pacific without any help from humans.

Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez and his colleagues visited museums and herbariums around the world to take samples of sweet potato varieties and wild relatives. The researchers used powerful DNA-sequencing technology to gather more genetic material from the plants than possible in earlier studies.

Their research pointed to only one wild plant as the ancestor of all sweet potatoes. The closest wild relative is a weedy flower called Ipomoea trifida that grows around the Caribbean. Its pale purple flowers look a lot like those of the sweet potato.

Instead of a massive, tasty tuber, I. trifida grows only a pencil-thick root. “It’s nothing we could eat,” Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

The ancestors of sweet potatoes split from I. trifida at least 800,000 years ago, the scientists calculated. To investigate how they arrived in the Pacific, the team headed to the Natural History Museum in London.

The leaves of sweet potatoes that Captain Cook’s crew collected in Polynesia are stored in the museum’s cabinets. The researchers cut bits of the leaves and extracted DNA from them.

The Polynesian sweet potatoes turned out to be genetically unusual — “very different from anything else,” Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

The sweet potatoes found in Polynesia split off over 111,000 years ago from all other sweet potatoes the researchers studied. Yet humans arrived in New Guinea about 50,000 years ago, and only reached remote Pacific islands in the past few thousand years.

The age of Pacific sweet potatoes made it unlikely that any humans, Spanish or Pacific Islander, carried the species from the Americas, Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez said.

Traditionally, researchers have been skeptical that a plant like a sweet potato could travel across thousands of miles of ocean. But in recent years, scientists have turned up signs that many plants have made the voyage, floating on the water or carried in bits by birds.

Even before the sweet potato made the journey, its wild relatives traveled the Pacific, the scientists found. One species, the Hawaiian moonflower, lives only in the dry forests of Hawaii — but its closest relatives all live in Mexico.

The scientists estimate that the Hawaiian moonflower separated from its relatives — and made its journey across the Pacific — over a million years ago.

But Tim P. Denham, an archaeologist at the Australian National University who was not involved in the study, found this scenario hard to swallow.

It would suggest that the wild ancestors of sweet potatoes spread across the Pacific and were then domesticated many times over — yet wound up looking the same every time. “This would seem unlikely,” he said.

Dr. Kistler argued that it was still possible that Pacific Islanders voyaged to South America and returned with the sweet potato.

A thousand years ago, they might have encountered many sweet potato varieties on the continent. When Europeans arrived in the 1500s, they likely wiped out much of the crop’s genetic diversity.

As a result, Dr. Kistler said, the surviving sweet potatoes of the Pacific only seem distantly related to the ones in the Americas. If the scientists had done the same study in 1500, Pacific sweet potatoes would have fit right in with other South American varieties.

Dr. Kistler was optimistic that the sweet potato debate would someday be settled. The world’s herbariums contain a vast number of varieties that have yet to be genetically tested.

“There are more than we could look at in a lifetime,” Dr. Kistler said.

For his part, Mr. Muñoz-Rodríguez plans on searching for more wild sweet potato relatives in Central America, hoping to get more clues to how exactly a thin-rooted weed gave rise to an invaluable crop.

Working out the history of crops like this could do more than satisfy our curiosity about the past. Wild plants hold a lot of genetic variants lost when people domesticated crops.

Researchers may find plants they can hybridize with domesticated sweet potatoes and other crops, endowing them with genes for resistance to diseases, or for withstanding climate change.

“Essentially, it’s preserving the gene pool that feeds the world,” Dr. Kistler said.

Caption1 The distribution of the sweet potato plant has baffled scientists. How could the plant arise from a wild ancestor in the Americas and wind up on islands across the Pacific? Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Caption2 Different varieties of sweet potato on display at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. The sweet potato originated in the Americas and spread across the globe. Robert Scotland

Link https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/science/sweet-potato-pacific-dna.html

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Researchers pack the shaft at Augusta Raurica with snow. File photo: Peter-Andrew Schwarz

 

Original article:

Thelocal.ch

 

 

Archaeologists near the Swiss city of Basel are trying to definitively establish if mysterious shafts discovered at Switzerland’s extensive Augusta Raurica site in 2013 could have been ancient refrigerators.

The Romans used shafts like the four-metre deep examples at Augusta Raurica – some 20 kilometres from Basel – as cool stores during summer.

The shafts were filled with snow and ice during winter and then covered with straw to keep the space cool well into the summer months. This then allowed for everything from cheese to wine – and even oysters – to be preserved during warm weather.

Now a team lead by Peter-Andrew Schwarz from the University of Basel is attempting, for the third time, to demonstrate that the Augusta Raurica shafts were indeed used as fridges, Swiss news agency SDA/ATS reports.

A first attempt to recreate the ancient cool box failed after archaeologists at the dig filed the shaft with snow all in one go. But that experiment showed temperatures in the shaft were above freezing point even in winter.

The second try was more successful: the shaft was gradually filled with snow and ice blocks were placed inside as well. Using these methods, snow remained until June.

Now, however, researchers plan to use methods developed by the so-called ‘nevaters’ or ice-makers on the Spanish island of Majorca. This will see Schwarz and his team placing 20–30-centimetre-thick layers of snow into the shaft. These individual layers will then be compacted down with a straw cover placed on top of each one.

“With this method, people in Majorca could keep food cool in summer before the arrival of electric fridges,” Schwarz told regional daily Basler Zeitung in 2017.

Work at the site of the ‘fridge’ will continue until Friday with the dig open to the public.

The experiment won’t prove that the mysterious shaft was actually a Roman fridge but will show that this is possible, Schwarz told the SDA/ATS news agency.

A final evaluation will be made in August.

 

 

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This is a market stall in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar (Xinjiang, China) in 2003.
Credit: Photo by Michael Frachetti

Original article:

Eurekalert.org

 

27-Mar-2018

Washington University in St. Louis

Like passionate foodies who know the best places to eat in every town, Silk Road nomads may have been the gastronomic elites of the Medieval Ages, enjoying diets much more diverse than their sedentary urban counterparts, suggests a new collaborative study from Washington University in St. Louis, the Institute of Archaeology in Samarkand, Uzbekistan and Kiel University in Germany.

“Historians have long thought that urban centers along the Silk Road were cosmopolitan melting pots where culinary and cultural influences from far off places came together, but our research shows that nomadic communities were probably the real the movers and shakers of food culture,” said Taylor Hermes of Kiel University, lead author of the study forthcoming in Scientific Reports and a 2007 graduate of Washington University.

Based on an isotopic analysis of human bones exhumed from ancient cemeteries across Central Asia, the study suggests that nomadic groups drew sustenance from a diverse smorgasbord of foods, whereas urban communities seemed stuck with a much more limited and perhaps monotonous menu — a diet often heavy in locally produced cereal grains.

“The ‘Silk Road’ has been generally understood in terms of valuable commodities that moved great distances, but the people themselves were often left out,” Hermes said. “Food patterns are an excellent way to learn about the links between culture and environment, uncovering important human experiences in this great system of connectivity.”

Said Cheryl Makarewicz, an archaeology professor at Kiel and Hermes’ mentor: “Pastoralists are stereotypically understood as clinging to a limited diet comprised of nothing but the meat and milk of their livestock. But, this study clearly demonstrates that Silk Road pastoralists, unlike their more urbane counterparts, accessed all kinds of wild and domesticated foodstuffs that made for a unexpectedly diverse diet.”

“This study provides a unique glimpse into the important ways that nomads cross cut regional settings and likely spread new foods and even cuisine along the Silk Roads, more than a thousand years ago,” said study co-author Michael Frachetti, associate professor of anthropology at Washington University.

“More specifically, this study illustrates the nuanced condition of localism and globalism that defined urban centers of the time, while highlighting the capacity of more mobile communities — such as nomadic herders — to be the essential fiber that fueled social networks and vectors of cultural changes,” Frachetti said.

For this study, human bones exhumed at archaeological digs in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were transported to Kiel University in Germany, where they were analyzed by Hermes. To be thorough, he also collected previously published isotopic data for the time period to bring together a complete regional picture.

“Prior to this study, there were massive gaps in what we knew about human dietary diversity along the Silk Roads,” Hermes said. “The datasets were simply not there. We were able to greatly increase the geographical coverage, especially by adding samples from Uzbekistan, where many of the important routes and population centers were located.”

The study draws upon field work and museum collections as part of a longstanding scientific partnership between Washington University and the Institute of Archaeology in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

The study’s assessment of individual dietary regimens is made possible by studying the isotopic signatures in ancient human bones, allowing the researchers to unlock a trove of information about the food sources, including the proportions and types of plants and animals consumed by individuals over the last decades of life.

Stable isotope analysis is the “gold standard” for tracing ancient diets. Makarewicz, a specialist in the technique, has applied it to understanding major evolutionary transitions from hunting and gathering to agriculture in the Near East. She is starting a new interdisciplinary ERC research project exploring the spread of herding across Eurasia.

Other co-authors include Elissa Bullion, a doctoral student in anthropology at Washington University and two researchers from the Uzbek partnership: Farhod Maksudov and Samariddin Mustafokulov.

Hermes, who has worked with Frachetti on archaeological digs across Central Asia for more than a decade, used these isotopic analysis techniques on human bones recovered from about a dozen nomadic and urban burial sites dating from the 2nd to 13th centuries A.D.

The burial sites were associated with a wide range of communities, climates and geographic locations, including a recently discovered settlement high in the mountains of Uzbekistan, the Otrar Oasis in Kazakhstan and an urban complex on the lowland plains of Turkmenistan.

While previous archaeological excavations at these sites have confirmed the ancient presence of domesticated crop plants and herd animals, their importance in urban diets was unknown. Isotopic analysis, however, shows how important these foods were over the long-term.

“The advantage of studying human bones is that these tissues reflect multi-year dietary habits of an individual,” Hermes said. “By measuring carbon isotope ratios, we can estimate the percentage of someone’s diet that came from specific categories of plants, such as wheat and barley or millet. Millets have a very distinctive carbon isotope signature, and differing ratios of nitrogen isotopes tell us about whether someone ate a mostly plant-based diet or consumed foods from higher up on the food chain, such as meat and milk from sheep or goats.”

This study discovered interesting dietary differences between urban settlements along the Silk Road, but surprisingly little dietary diversity among individuals living within these communities. Perhaps driven by the limits of local environments, food production networks or cultural mandates, most people within each urban setting had similar diets.

Diets of individual nomads within the same community were found to be much more diverse. These differences, perhaps a function of variable lifetime mobility patterns, the availability of wild or domesticated food options or personal preferences, suggest that nomadic groups were not as bound by cultural limitations that may have been imposed on urban dwellers, Hermes said.

“Nomads and urbanites had different dietary niches, and this reflects a combination of environment and cultural choices that influenced diet across the Silk Roads,” Hermes said. “While many historians may have assumed that interactions along the Silk Road would have led to the homogenization of culinary practices, our study shows that this was not the case, especially for urban dwellers.”

For now, Hermes, Frachetti, Makarewicz and their collaborators in Samarkand look forward to applying these isotopic techniques to new archaeological mysteries across Central Asia.

“We hope our results lead to a paradigm shift in how historical phenomena can be examined through the very people who made these cultural systems possible,” Hermes said. “The results here are exciting, and while not the final word by any means, pave a new way forward in applying scientific methods to the ancient world.”

“For close to 10 years our academic collaboration has yielded fascinating new discoveries in archaeology and has also fostered new international partnerships, such as the one spearheaded by Taylor Hermes, to carry out archaeological science at Kiel,” Frachetti said. “This international approach is what enables us all — as a team — to maximize the scientific potential of our collaborative fieldwork and laboratory studies in Uzbekistan for the advancement of historical and environmental knowledge more globally.”

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Archaeologists have unearthed a bronze kettle containing liquor from a Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC) tomb, dating back more than 2,000 years in West China’s Shaanxi province. [Photo/Xinhua]

Original article:

China.org.cn

 

Archaeologists have unearthed a bronze kettle containing liquor from a Qin Dynasty tomb, dating back more than 2,000 years in West China’s Shaanxi

The kettle is a sacrificial vessel. It was among among 260 items unearthed from a graveyard of commoners’ tombs from the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). Most of the relics were for worshiping rituals.

Xu Weihong, a researcher with the provincial archeological institute, said about 300 ml of liquor was found in the kettle, which had its opening sealed with natural fibers.

The liquor is a transparent milky white. Researchers believed it was made using fermentation techniques, as it was composed of glutamic acid substances.

 

Researchers need to further study the liquor to better understand the brewing technology and wine drinking culture in Xianyang, the ancient capital of the Qin Dynasty.

Also discovered in the tombs was a bronze sword 60-centimeters long. The sword has octahedrons in the middle, which increases the weapon’s effectiveness. There are also breaches on the edge of the sword, suggesting it was used in war.

Another important finding is a turtle plastron shell 14-centimeters long. There are a dozen punches inside the shell, and burn marks on its edge. The characters suggest that it was used by a fortune-teller for divination.

Researchers are trying to build up a picture of life in the capital of China’s first empire by studying the relics.

Link: http://www.china.org.cn/arts/2018-03/20/content_50727357.htm

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Minoan Linear A, Linear B, Knossos & Mycenae

All-new complete decipherment of Linear A tablet HT 86 (Haghia Triada):

linear-a-haghia-triada-ht-86In the previous post, we witnessed the almost complete decipherment of Linear A tablet HT 95 (Haghia Triada). Now we are presented with a full decipherment down to the last word of HT 86 (Haghia Triada), which is practically a mirror-image of HT 95. This is the first time ever I have succeeded in deciphering two almost identical Linear A tablets inscribed entirely in Old Minoan (OM), the original Minoan substrate language. This constitutes a major advancement in the decipherment of Linear A, all the more so, since DAME & SARU appear on other Linear A tablets from Haghia Triada. So we are making at least some progress in the decipherment of the original Minoan substrate language, Old Minoan (OM).

Here is the decipherment of HT 86:

RECTO:

1. AKARU (in a) field, KUNI…

2. SU = emmer wheat…

View original post 94 more words

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