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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 archaeology.org

Korea

By MARLEY BROWN

November/December 2020Alcohol Korea Goryeo Celadon Bottle Flask(Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo, National Museum of Korea Collection)

Longnecked celadon bottle and celadon flaskAlthough the ancient city of Xi’an in what is now central China is often considered the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, the flow of goods, people, and ideas between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia did not end there. Drinking vessels that date to Korea’s Goryeo Period (ca. A.D. 918–1392) suggest that imported spirits, including grape wines, a distilled anise-flavored drink called arak, and a fermented dairy product known as kumis, inspired artisans to craft novel types of ceramic containers to hold these newly enjoyed beverages. “New kinds of alcohol led to a proliferation in vessel shapes,” says art historian In-Sung Kim Han of SOAS University of London. She explains that many traditional East Asian alcoholic substances made from grains such as rice, millet, and barley, were thick and porridge-like. Pre-Goryeo vessels uncovered during archaeological excavations, mostly of tombs, suggest that these were primarily consumed from drinking bowls. More delicate cups from the same period were probably reserved for drinking tea and filtered rice wine, which was relatively rare.

Han suggests that while medieval Korea is often thought of as having been closed off to the rest of the world, the Goryeo Kingdom’s contact with nomadic groups to the west kept it in touch with global trends and foreign commodities, including alcoholic beverages. Particularly after the kingdom became part of the Mongol Empire in 1270, elite members of Goryeo society adopted some of the consumption habits of their counterparts across Central Asia and the Islamic world, where alcohol was widely available despite its prohibition in the Koran. One particular type of long-necked bottle introduced during the Goryeo Period, which was used to store wine, appears to have come to Korea from Islamic Persia. “It seems that the tastes of the upper class in any era tend toward the cosmopolitan,” Han says. The Goryeosa, a history of the kingdom compiled in the fifteenth century, describes one Goryeo ruler who began wearing Mongolian clothing, sporting a pigtail hairstyle, and taking part in large-scale hunts, just like other princes across Eurasia. “Despite his courtiers’ criticisms,” Han says, “he and his immediate followers pursued a worldly lifestyle, including enthusiasm for exotic drinks.”

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Science in Poland.pap.pl

Szymon Zdziebłowski

Adobe stock

People in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages were largely vegetarian, new research has shown.

Through the analysis of bones of those living in Miechów (Małopolska), scientists found that meat made up only a fraction of their diet, with plants accounting for nearly 50 percent.

Anthropologist Professor Krzysztof Szostek from the Institute of Biological Sciences of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw said: “We were able to determine that the diet of people living in the lands of today’s southern Poland several thousand years ago, in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, consisted of meat only to a small extent. Nearly 50 percent of its composition were plants, and the rest were other foods, probably dairy products.”

In addition, scientists found that there was no statistical change in diet over a period of around 5,000 years

Professor Szostek said: “The use of animals was maximised, for example, to obtain milk or skins. Obtaining meat from animals was not a priority.”

The analyses show that the cereals consumed (probably in various forms) included mainly barley, einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and later also spelt.

The scientists’ findings are a result of extensive comparative research, mainly related to one archaeological site in Miechów (Małopolska). Various groups of people lived in the area covered by the research over the period of nearly 5,000 years, from the first groups of farmers in today’s Poland, defined by archaeologists as the Linear Pottery culture, to the Lusatian culture during the Bronze Age.

Experts took collagen for nitrogen isotope analysis from both their bones and animal remains discovered at this site. Obtaining the full picture was possible after combining these data with data from archaeobotanical analyses (of cereal grains).

Professor Szostek said: “Until now, isotope research on diet reconstruction was performed without taking archaeobotanical analyses into account. This meant that the image of prehistoric people’s diet was incomplete, the models even showed that mainly meat was consumed during that time, which could not be true.”

The research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.

 

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Grain cell changes from malting help identify which ancient populations crafted local brews

Microscopic signatures of malting could help reveal which prehistoric people had a taste for beer.

Ancient beer is difficult to trace, because many of beer’s chemical ingredients, like alcohol, don’t preserve well (SN: 9/28/04). But a new analysis of modern and ancient malted grain indicates that malting’s effects on grain cell structure can last millennia. This microscopic evidence could help fill in the archaeological record of beer consumption, providing insight into the social, ritual and dietary roles this drink played in prehistoric cultures, researchers report online May 7 in PLOS ONE.

Malting, the first step in brewing beer, erodes cell walls in an outer layer of a grain seed, called its aleurone layer. To find out whether that cell wall thinning would still be visible in grains malted thousands of years ago, Andreas Heiss, an archaeobotanist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, and colleagues simulated archaeological preservation by baking malted barley in a furnace. Using a scanning electron microscope, the researchers observed thinned aleurone cell walls in the resulting malt residue. Heiss’s team found a similar pattern of thinning in residues from 5,000- to 6,000-year-old containers at two Egyptian breweries.

The researchers then inspected grain-based remains from similarly aged settlements in Germany and in Switzerland. These sites didn’t contain any tools specifically associated with beer-making. But grain-based residues from inside containers at the settlements did show thin aleurone cell walls, like those in the Egyptian remains — offering the oldest evidence of malting in central Europe, the researchers say.

Heiss and colleagues suspect the malted residue from one of the settlements in Germany was beer, because the sample has characteristics of dried-up liquid, such as cracks along its surface. But remains found at other sites may be other types of malted foodstuffs, like bread or porridge.

This bowl-shaped hunk of cereal residue (left) from a settlement near Lake Constance in Germany dates back to about 3910 B.C. A scanning electron microscopy image (right) of the residue reveals thinning of the cell walls around aleurone cells (marked A), which is characteristic of malted grains. The researchers interpret this as some of the oldest evidence of malting in central Europe, and possibly the oldest evidence of beer in the region.

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On this day ten years ago…
via Brewing Up a Civilization

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On this day ten years ago…
via Ancient seed sprouts plant from the past

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Ancient Ale

On this dat ten years ago…
via Ancient Ale

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On this day ten years ago…

via DNA Of Ancient Lost Barley Could Help Modern Crops Cope With Water Stress

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A 5,000-year-old barley grain discovered in Aland, southern Finland, turns researchers’ understanding of ancient Northern livelihoods upside down. New findings reveal that hunter-gatherers took to farming already 5,000 years ago in eastern Sweden, and on the Aland Islands, located on the southwest coast of Finland.

Source: A 5,000-year-old barley grain discovered in Finland changes understanding of livelihoods

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Tombstone excavated in the gladiator cemetery at Ephesus. Photo: © 2014 Lösch et al.

Biblicalarchaeology.org

By Robin Ngo

Study reveals gladiator diet was largely plant-based with an ash tonic on the side

 

For abdominal cramp or bruises,” states Marcus Varro, and I quote his very words, “your hearth should be your medicine chest. Drink lye made from its ashes, and you will be cured. One can see how gladiators after a combat are helped by drinking this.”
Pliny,
Natural History XXXVI.203

The Roman gladiator calls to mind a fierce fighter who, armed with an assortment of weapons, battled other gladiators—and even wild animals. What did gladiators eat? Roman author Pliny the Elder reported that gladiators went by the nickname “hordearii” (“barley-eaters”) and drank a tonic of ashes after combat (Pliny, NHXVIII.72, XXXVI.203). A study recently published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE confirmed that gladiators really did eat mostly plants—especially barley and wheat—and may have indeed consumed ashes.

Gladiators were typically enslaved prisoners of war and criminals, though free men as well as women participated in gladiatorial games. What began as a component of funeral rites in the early Roman Republic evolved over centuries into bloody spectacles for the entertainment of the Roman people, reaching their peak in popularity in the second century C.E.

Researchers from the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Bern and the Medical University of Vienna aimed to investigate how the diet of gladiators compared to the rest of the population. Using spectroscopy to conduct isotopic analysis on the bone remains from a second–third-century C.E. gladiator cemetery in Roman Ephesus in Turkey, the researchers were able to confirm that the individuals buried in the cemetery consumed a mostly plant-based diet—as did the rest of the population in Ephesus.

Gladiators appear to have eaten a diet similar to that of most other occupants of the Roman Empire, and the authors’ isotope data fit well with my own and others’ research into diet in the first few centuries C.E.,” said bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove in an email to Bible History Daily.

The study further found that those buried in the gladiator cemetery had higher strontium-calcium ratios than their contemporaries. This suggests that the gladiators at Ephesus may have really drunk a tonic of ashes as described by Pliny (“cinis lixivus potus”).

“Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion and to promote better bone healing,” study leader Fabian Kanz explained to ScienceDaily. “Things were similar then to what we do today—we take magnesium and calcium (in the form of effervescent tablets, for example) following physical exertion.”

In an email to Bible History Daily, classicist Daniel Harris-McCoy offers a caution when using Pliny the Elder as a textual source:

“Pliny the Elder is willing to print anything and everything, which makes him fun to read but sometimes hard to use as a source of solid information. He includes wild ‘facts’ about the giant gold-digging ants of India and even talks about ancient hallucinogenic drugs. But the material about gladiators consuming an ash drink seems credible, especially since Varro is his source.”

 

 

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