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Agricultural decisions made by our ancestors more than 10,000 years ago could hold the key to food security in the future, according to new research by the University of Sheffield.

Scientists, looking at why the first arable farmers chose to domesticate some cereal crops and not others, studied those that originated in the Fertile Crescent, an arc of land in western Asia from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.

They grew wild versions of what are now staple foods like wheat and barley along with other grasses from the region to identify the traits that make some plants suitable for agriculture, including how much edible seed the grasses produced and their architecture.

Dr Catherine Preece, who worked on the study with colleagues from the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences and Department of Archaeology, said: “Our results surprised us because numerous other grasses that our ancestors ate, but we do not, can produce just as much seed as wild wheat and barley. It is only when these plants are grown at high densities, similar to what we would find in fields, that the advantage of wild wheat and barley is revealed.”

The study identified two key characteristics shared by the wild relatives of current crop plants. Firstly they have bigger seeds, which means they grow into bigger seedlings and are able to get more than their fair share of light and nutrients, and secondly, as adult plants they are less bushy than other grasses and package their big seeds onto fewer stems. This means crop wild relatives perform better than the other wild grasses that they are competing with and are better at growing close together in fields, making them ideal for using in agriculture.

“The results are important because our expanding human population is putting increasing demands on food production,” said Dr Preece.

“Before humans learnt how to farm, our ancestors ate a much wider variety of grasses. If we can understand what traits have made some grasses into good crops then we can look for those characteristics in other plants and perhaps identify good candidates for future domestication.”

She added: “To shape the future we must understand the past, so the more we can discover about the origins of agriculture, the more information we will have to help us tackle the challenges that face modern day food production.”

So far the researchers have been conducting their experiments in greenhouses and their results indicate that the traits affecting how plants compete with each other are crucial factors to determining the success of a crop.

The team now plan to observe how the plants interact in their natural environment by growing them in experimental fields in Turkey, the heart of the Fertile Crescent. They hope that their experiments will yield another crop of important results.

“Cereal breeders are taking an increasing interest in modern crops’ wild relatives as a source of useful traits that may help to increase yields or increase resilience to climate change, and our work should help in this process,” said Dr Preece.

Dr Preece presented the results of this study to the joint British Ecological Society and the French Ecological Society today (Thursday 11 December 2014) in the Grand Palais, Lille.

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Original article:
sheffield.ac.uk

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WACO, Texas (Dec. 3, 2014) — Vikings are stereotyped as raiders and traders, but those who settled in Iceland centuries ago spent more time producing and consuming booze and beef — in part to achieve political ambitions in an environment very different from their Scandinavian homeland, says a Baylor University archaeologist.

The seafaring warriors wanted to sustain the “big man” society of Scandinavia — a political economy in which chieftains hosted huge feasts of beer and beef served in great halls, says Davide Zori, Ph.D., a Denmark native and archeological field director in Iceland, who conducted National Science Foundation-funded research in archeology and medieval Viking literature.

But instead, what Zori and his team discovered is what happened when the Vikings spent too long living too high on the hog — or, in this case, the bovine.

“It was somewhat like the barbecue here. You wanted a big steak on the grill,” said Zori, assistant professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, who co-edited the book Viking Archaeology in Iceland: Mosfell Archaelogical Project with Jesse Byock, Ph.D., professor of Old Norse and medieval Scandinavian studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It made it really showy — if you could keep it up.”

The Viking chieftains used such wealth and cultural displays to flex political muscle with equals or rivals — or, at the other end of the political spectrum, to cement good relations with local laborers and supporters, Zori said.

Zori and Byock’s team excavated a farmstead called Hrísbrú in Iceland’s Mosfell Valley. The farm — inhabited by some of the most famous Vikings of the Icelandic sagas — included a chieftain’s longhouse nearly 100 feet long with a “feast-worthy” great hall, a church and a cemetery of 26 graves indicating a mix of pagan and Christian traditions, with male family members sometimes buried with ship remnants rather than in the simpler Christian manner of leaving earthly possessions behind.

Carbon dating and studies of volcanic eruption layers indicate the longhouse was built in the late ninth or early 10th century and abandoned by the 11th. The archeological team uncovered 38 layers of floor ash, including refuse dumped atop the abandoned house, and discovered samples of bones, barley seeds and valuable imported beads.

“By applying anthropology and medieval texts, we can excavate and compare,” Zori said.

Viking sagas, first written in the 13th century and based on oral traditions, recounted such details as where people sat at feasts, “which shows your ranking . . . These are really old texts, but they read almost like novels. They’re incredible sources. They talk about daily life,” Zori said.

“Yes, the Vikings may have put axes to one another’s heads — but these accounts also describe milking cows.”

High Times and Hard Times

When the Vikings arrived in uninhabited Iceland, they found forested lowlands, ample pasture land and sheltered sea inlets. Excavations show that choice cattle were selected for feasts, with ritual slaughter and display of skulls, according to research published by Zori and others in the journal Antiquity. Barley seeds unearthed from floors or refuse heaps indicate barley consumption, and pollen studies demonstrate barley cultivation. Barley could have been used for bread or porridge, but the social value of beer makes it very likely it was used primarily to produce alcohol, Zori said.

Over the centuries, as temperatures in the North Atlantic dropped during the “Little Ice Age,” being a lavish host got tougher.

“Nine months of winter — and three months that are only a little less than winter,” Zori said.

While sheep could find food free range most of the year and were well-suited for cold, the prized cattle had to be kept indoors in large barns during the winter. Savvy supply-and-demand reckoning was crucial to be sure the food lasted — both for cattle and humans — and could be properly preserved.

“They had to decide how many to slaughter and store,” Zori said. “They didn’t have salt, so they had to use big vats of curdled milk as a preservative.”

As the landscape changed due to erosion, climate shifts and cleared forests, it became harder to rear larger numbers of cattle.

High-status households also struggled to grow enough grain for beer-making and local consumption, based on historical accounts and confirmed by a growing body of archeological data. With a shorter growing season and colder climate than in their homelands in mainland Scandinavia, Icelandic, Vikings would have needed more laborers to improve the soil — and as the chieftains’ power waned, they would have had trouble attracting workers to fertilize and maintain the grain fields. As the same time that barley cultivation stopped, the local chieftains are no longer mentioned in the Viking sagas.

Changing Directions

“You can see in the archeological evidence that they adjusted their strategy and gave it up eventually,” Zori said. “It got harder and harder to keep up that showiness – and when that collapsed, you didn’t have that power, that beer and big slabs of beef to show off.”

When barley was abandoned, the pollen record shows native grasses common in grazing lands increased. Archeological findings show that the proportion of cattle to sheep bones declined over time, as Hrísbrú residents shifted to a more practical, less labor-intensive sheep-herding economy.

“You wonder what came first for the chieftains at Hrísbrú: Were they no longer powerful and didn’t need barley and beef? Or could they just not keep it up and so they lost power? I favor the second explanation,” Zori said.

“What we’re doing now is to let the archaeology speak, both for itself and for proof to verify (the texts),” he said. “Investigating politics breathes life into it, instead of just saying, ‘Here are three rocks.’ You can ask deeper questions.”

Zori argues that Viking chieftains’ drive to produce expensive beef and beer caused them to put their political aspirations above the greater good of the community.

“Maybe we don’t need the Vikings to prove this, but it shows you that politics can become more important than creating a productive society.”

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Original article:
Dec 4, 2014
baylor university

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Roman gladiators ate a mostly vegetarian diet and drank ashes after training as a tonic. These are the findings of anthropological investigations carried out on bones of warriors found during excavations in the ancient city of Ephesos.

Historic sources report that gladiators had their own diet. This comprised beans and grains. Contemporary reports referred to them as “hordearii” (“barley eaters”).
In a study by the Department of Forensic Medicine at the MedUni Vienna in cooperation with the Department of Anthropology at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Bern, bones were examined from a gladiator cemetery uncovered in 1993 which dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century BC in the then Roman city of Ephesos (now in modern-day Turkey). At the time, Ephesos was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and had over 200,000 inhabitants.
Using spectroscopy, stable isotope ratios (carbon, nitrogen and sulphur) were investigated in the collagen of the bones, along with the ratio of strontium to calcium in the bone mineral.
The result shows that gladiators mostly ate a vegetarian diet. There is virtually no difference in terms of nutrition from the local “normal population.” Meals consisted primarily of grain and meat-free meals. The word “barley eater” relates in this case to the fact that gladiators were probably given grain of an inferior quality.
Build-up drink following physical exertion
The difference between gladiators and the normal population is highly significant in terms of the amount of strontium measured in their bones. This leads to the conclusion that the gladiators had a higher intake of minerals from a strontium-rich source of calcium. The ash drink quoted in literature probably really did exist. “Plant ashes were evidently consumed to fortify the body after physical exertion and to promote better bone healing,” explains study leader Fabian Kanz from the Department of Forensic Medicine at the MedUni Vienna. “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.” Calcium is essential for bone building and usually occurs primarily in milk products.
A further research project is looking at the migration of gladiators, who often came from different parts of the Roman Empire to Ephesos. The researchers are hoping that comparison of the bone data from gladiators with that of the local fauna will yield a number of differences.

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Anthropology unlocks clues about Roman gladiators’ eating habits.
Credit: OEAI, Pietsch

Original article:
science daily
Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Medical University of Vienna. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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The influence of climate on agriculture is believed to be a key factor in the rise and fall of societies in the Ancient Near East. Dr. Simone Riehl of Tübingen University’s Institute for Archaeological Science and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment has headed an investigation into archaeological finds of grain in order to find out what influence climate had on agriculture in early farming societies. Her findings are published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

She and her team analyzed grains of barley up to 12,000 years old from 33 locations across the Fertile Crescent to ascertain if they had had enough water while growing and ripening. Riehl found that periods of drought had had noticeable and widely differing effects on agriculture and societies in the Ancient Near East, with settlements finding a variety of ways to deal with the problem.

The 1,037 ancient samples were between 12,000 and 2,500 years old. They were compared with modern samples from 13 locations in the former Fertile Crescent. Dr. Riehl and her team measured the grains’ content of two stable carbon isotopes. When barley grass gets insufficient water while growing, the proportion of heavier carbon isotopes deposited in its cells will be higher than normal. The two isotopes 12C und 13C remain stable for thousands of years and can be measured precisely – giving Simone Riehl and her colleagues reliable information on the availability of water while the plants were growing.

They found that many settlements were affected by drought linked to major climate fluctuations. “Geographic factors and technologies introduced by humans played a big role and influenced societies’ options for development as well as their particular ways of dealing with drought,” says Riehl. Her findings indicate that harvests in coastal regions of the northern Levant were little affected by drought; but further inland, drought lead to the need for irrigation or, in extreme cases, abandonment of the settlement.

The findings give archaeologists clues as to how early agricultural societies dealt with climate fluctuations and differing local environments. “They can also help evaluate current conditions in regions with a high risk of crop failures,” Riehl adds. The study is part of a German Research Foundation-backed project looking into the conditions under which Ancient Near Eastern societies rose and fell.

More information: Simone Riehl, Konstantin Pustovoytov, Heike Weippert, Stefan Klett, Frank Hole:Drought stress variability in ancient Near Eastern agricultural systems evidenced by δ13C in barley grain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 August 2014.

Original article:
phys.org

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Samples taken from these sites: Top, left to right: Ghab Valley (western Syria), Iron Age settlement of Zincirli, Hatay Province (SE Turkey), and Hittite-era settlement of Nerik (near Samsun,Turkey); Middle, left to right: irrigation channel …more

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Beer, scientists have long argued, helped give rise to civilization in an arc of land that sweeps from modern-day Egypt to the border between Iraq and Iran. Today, chemical analysis of barley grains, one of beer’s key ingredients, is bolstering research into climate change’s role in the collapse of ancient societies.

“There has been a longtime debate about the relationship between climate and its changes and the development and in some cases demise of cultures,” Frank Hole, an emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and a study co-author, explained to NBC News. “The research that we did is attempting to pinpoint this more directly.”

To do this, he and colleagues collected samples of modern and ancient barley grains throughout the Near East and analyzed them to tease out the impact on agriculture of so-called mega-droughts over the past 10,000 years. The existence of these droughts has been inferred from sources such as pollen and microscopic animals in cores of soil pulled from lake and ocean bottoms.
“What’s new in this paper is that barley grains excavated at archaeological sites across the Near East also reveal the same abrupt climate changes,” Harvey Weiss, who studies Near Eastern archaeology and the environment at Yale University, told NBC News. He was not part of the new research, which he added “shows that even with human cultivation practices, these drought periods are well marked.”

The evidence stems from the way carbon isotopes in barley vary with water availability. “Together with other archaeological information they can provide a clearer picture on the fate of ancient societies,” study leader Simone Riehl, an archaeologist based at the University of Tübingen in Germany, told NBC News in an email.

Diverse Impacts

The barley analysis indicates that drought stress was indeed an issue for these ancient societies, “but its regional impact was diverse and influenced by geographic factors,” Riehl, Hole, and colleagues write in a paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For example, coastal farmers were largely unaffected by the droughts and grew copious amounts of barley for beer, bread, and other staples. Further inland, societies were forced to adapt when rains failed to materialize. Some developed irrigation systems. Others switched to more drought tolerant crops. “Sometimes they adapted by getting out and moving someplace else,” Hole said.

Abandonment, he added, still happens in modern times. In Syria, for example, about 70 percent of the country’s agricultural villages were abandoned during a drought that lasted from 2006 to 2010.

“People moved westward, where the water is in effect, but also where the big cities are. They wound up in places like Aleppo and so you have Aleppo being filled with refugees from these farming areas just at the eve of the Arab uprising and these (refugees) then became fodder for the uprising,” he said. Drought also underpinned the flight of migrants from Oklahoma during the dust bowl of the 1930s, he added.

Lessons for the Future

The ancient droughts in the Near East occurred in the absence of human influence such as burning fossil fuels that fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, arrived abruptly, and surprised local populations, according to Weiss. “They differ in that regard from our present world where we know precisely what is happening, we know when it is happening, and we know what its effects are and will be,” he said.

“In that regard,” he continued, “these ancient mega-drought occurrences are a very strong and reinforcing lesson for us who have the ability to literally understand the present and see the future … to take positive action to either avert what we see coming or mitigate its effects and protect our populations.”

Indeed, modern brewers of beer are keenly aware of water stress, particularly in California which is in the midst of years-long drought. “Without water, we physically can’t make beer,” Cheri Chastain, the sustainability coordinator for Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif., told NBC News.

In addition to measures to conserve water within the brewery such as using a silicon-based lubricant on the bottling line instead of soapy water, the brewer has an on-site farm where 11 acres of hops and 30 acres of barley are grown. The harvest is used for an annual Estate Ale and experience gained on the farm leads to “more intelligent conversations with our growers” about conserving water, Chastain said.

The good news for beer drinkers is that most of the country’s barley is grown in the Pacific Northwest and Great Plains, which are not currently as severely impacted by drought. “There are some hop and barley farms in California, it is just not a tremendous amount of volume,” Chastain said. “It is more the orchard crops. They are struggling.”

Original article:
By John Roach NBC News
nbc news

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What Did Ancient Egyptians Really Eat?

(ISNS) — Did the ancient Egyptians eat like us? If you’re a vegetarian, tucking in along the Nile thousands of years ago would have felt just like home.

In fact, eating lots of meat is a recent phenomenon. In ancient cultures vegetarianism was much more common, except in nomadic populations. Most sedentary populations ate fruit and vegetables.

Although previous sources found the ancient Egyptians to be pretty much vegetarians, until this new research it wasn’t possible to find out the relative amounts of the different foods they ate. Was their daily bread really daily? Did they binge on eggplants and garlic? Why didn’t someone spear a fish?

A French research team figured out that by looking at the carbon atoms in mummies that had lived in Egypt between 3500 B.C. and 600 A.D. you could find out what they ate.

All carbon atoms are taken in by plants from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the process of photosynthesis. By eating plants, and the animals that had eaten plants, the carbon ends up in our bodies.

The sixth-lightest element on the periodic table – carbon – exists in nature as two stable isotopes: carbon-12 and carbon-13. Isotopes of the same element behave the same in chemical reactions but have slightly different atomic masses, with the carbon-13 being slightly heavier than the carbon-12. Plants are categorized into two groups. The first group, C3, is most common in plants such as garlic, eggplants, pears, lentils and wheat. The second smaller group, C4, comprises foodstuffs like millet and sorghum.

The common C3 plants take in less of the heavier isotope carbon-13, while the C4 plants take in more. By measuring the ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 you can distinguish between these two groups. If you eat a lot of C3 plants, the concentration of carbon-13 isotopes in your body will be lower than if your diet consisted mainly of C4 plants.

The mummies that the French researchers studied were the remains of 45 people that had been shipped to two museums in Lyon, France during the 19th century. “We had an approach that was a little different,” explained Alexandra Touzeau, who led the research team at the University of Lyon. “We worked a lot with bones and teeth, while most researchers study hair, collagen and proteins. We also worked on many different periods, with not many individuals for each period, so we could cover a very long time span.”

The researchers reported their findings in the Journal of Archaeological Science. They measured carbon-13 to carbon-12 ratios (and also some other isotope ratios) in bone, enamel and hair in these remains, and compared them to similar measurements performed on pigs that had received controlled diets consisting of different proportions of C3 and C4 foodstuffs. As pigs have a similar metabolism to humans, their carbon isotope ratios could be compared to what was found in the mummies.

Hair absorbs a higher rate of animal proteins than bone or teeth, and the isotope ratios in hair of the mummies corresponded to that found in hair of modern European vegetarians, confirming that the ancient Egyptians were also mainly vegetarians. As is the case with many modern people, their diet was wheat- and barley-based. A main conclusion of the research was that C4 cereals, like millet and sorghum, were only a minor part of the diet, less than 10 percent.

But there were a few surprises.

“We found that the diet was constant over time; we had expected changes,” said Touzeau. This showed that the ancient Egyptians adapted well to the environment while the Nile region became increasingly arid between 3500 B.C. and 600 A.D.

To Kate Spence, an archeologist and specialist in ancient Egypt at the U.K.’s University of Cambridge, this could be expected: “Although the area is very arid, they were cultivating crops along the river just by managing irrigation, which is very effective,” she said. When the level of the Nile decreased, farmers just came closer to the river and kept on cultivating in the same way.

The real mystery is the fish. Most people would probably expect the ancient Egyptians living along the Nile to have eaten loads of fish. However, despite considerable cultural evidence, there seems to have been little fish in their diet.

“There is abundant evidence for fishing in Egyptian wall reliefs and models (both spear and net fishing), and fish shows up in offering lists. There is also a lot of archeological evidence for fish consumption from sites such as Gaza and Amama,” said Spence, who added that some texts indicated that a few fish species were not consumed due to religious associations. “All this makes it a bit surprising that the isotopes should suggest that fish was not widely consumed.”

Inside Science News Service is supported by the American Institute of Physics. Alexander Hellemans is a freelance science writer who has written for Science, Nature, Scientific American, and many others.

Original article:
live science

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Excavated Burial Chambers at Saar

Topic: Ancient life of Saar

Saar is a single-period Early Dilmun settlement, located on the northwest part of the island of Bahrain, near the center of the Persian Gulf. Dilmun was a trade partner between the ancient states of Meluhha (the Indus Valley civilizations of Pakistan and India) and Mesopotamia (what is today Iraq). Saar covers an area of about 2.5 hectares (~6 acres), and it lies on the lee side of a north/south limestone ridge which once included an extensive cemetery.

Chronology

2300 BC – Founded
1950-1850 Main phase of settlement
1800-1700 BC – Abandoned
The central portion of the town of Saar is laid out in a rectangular plan, on a northwest/southeast grid: the grid breaks down on the outskirts, suggesting that although the foundation of the town was planned, additional growth was not. The settlement is dominated by a central temple, which stood at the highest point at an elevation of 14 meters (~46 feet), and at the junction of two major roads. The temple is also set aside from the rest of the town by alleyways. Smaller roadways divide up the houses into blocks of four or five houses each.

Houses

Residential structures at Saar were built in rows, rather than stand-alone buildings, with shared walls and, occasionally, open spaces. The walls and door sockets were constructed of roughly finished local limestone, although some amount of architectural stone was imported from the Arabian mainland. Most of the single nuclear family dwellings conform to a plan of two rooms, an outer L-shaped area and a smaller inner room in a total area of about 80 square meters (860 square feet). The inner room, believed to have been used for storage, typically had a stone-built roof. The outer room, which may have been a private courtyard, was usually simply covered by a palm-frond roof.

At the entrance of a typical house was a double basin with two bowls, a higher and lower one, both covered in grey plaster. Open hearths with clay rims, and elaborated double hearths with clay tripods were used as cooking areas. Plastered pits and sunken storage jars are common in the floors of the outer L-shaped room.

No evidence of workshops has been discovered at Saar: there are few weapons, no observable hierarchy in the houses, no evidence for fortification walls of the town, and the only non-domestic public building is the temple. Artifacts within the residences included hand-made pottery, stone tools, copper fishhooks and beads, and bitumen.

Agriculture and Diet

Bahrain is an island in the Persian gulf, and the sea played an important role in the economy of all of the Dilmun settlements. Although agricultural products such as dates, wheat and barley have been identified in the archaeological collections, 90 percent of animal bones recovered from Saar were fish, both inland and deep-water species, clearly the primary source of protein. Goat, sheep and cattle were other documented dietary mainstays.

Agriculture is in evidence, although scholars have been divided as to whether grain was grown on the island of Bahrain or imported from Mesopotamia. Although preservation of plant remains was poor, quernstones and grinding stones were used as some form of processing, date palms are the most common food plant.

Archaeobotanical research at Saar was conducted during the early 1990s by Mark Nesbitt, who discovered that the primary food resources used at Saar were dates (Phoenix dactylifera), wheat (Triticum durum/aestivum), and barley (Hordeum vulgare). Nesbitt argues that the limited presence of barley and wheat may signify that these two essentially crops were imported from Mesopotamia, as part of the considerable trade between Dilmun and that part of the world.

Annual rainfall at Bahrain is highly variable, and there is evidence at Saar that date gardens were irrigated by qanats and shadufs.

Possible Temple at Saar

Building 201 at Saar is believed to have been used as a temple, although some scholars (Tews 2011) report some doubt as to the assignment of this structure to a religious function. Built of local stone and mortared with gypsum, the temple is an irregular trapezoidal structure, with a roof supported by three stone pillars. The walls were heavily plastered, at least some of which was painted purple. The final phase of construction split the building into three separate areas.

Two altars within Building 201 are both decorated with a semi-circular plastered symbol at the back which may represent bulls’ horns or a crescent moon. Burnt offerings in the form of fish and vegetable matter were found on the altars. Three platforms are also within the temple, all of which are finely plastered. On the top of one of the platforms is the imprint of a rectangular base, where a jar or urn was placed.

In the open area in front of the temple entrance are five circular bases, perhaps the remains of further offering tables. One stamp seal and fragments of 77 seal impressions was recovered from the temple, but only one of the impressions match the single seal, and there are very few clear impressions.

Other buildings in Saar includ a well, a large kiln and two circular structures at the southeastern border of the settlement which may have been storage facilities.

Artifacts from Saar

Artifacts found within the households include copper fishhooks, bitumen nodules, and numerous shells from shellfish, including pearl oyster. The copper was produced in Bahrain; the bitumen imported from Mesopotamian quarry sites. Tiny seed pearls were found in the excavations, although they were probably too small to e used as ornaments. Nearly 100 seals, used to seal packages, bales and jars, have been found at the Saar settlement, and 48 seals from the associated burial ground: this is very unusual for a small town and unmatched on Bahrain. Four or five seals were found in a single house. All of the seals are of the early Dilmun style.

Archaeology

Saar was discovered on a survey in 1977, and excavated in 1977-1979 under the direction of M. Ibrahim. Some unpublished work by a joint Bahraini-Jordanian expedition at Sarr in the 1980s. The London-Bahrain Archaeological Expedition was conducted at Saar between 1990 and 1999, led by Robert Killick, Jane Moon and Harriet Crawford.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Dilmun Culture, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Crawford H. 1997. The site of Saar: Dilmun reconsidered. Antiquity 71(273):701-708.

Nesbitt M. 1993. Archaeobotanical evidence for early Dilmun diet at Saar, Bahrain. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 4(1):20-47.

Tews S. 2011. Seals in Dilmun Society: The use and value of Bronze Age seals from Saar, Bahrain: Universiteit Leiden.

Original article:
archaeology.about.com
By K. Kris Hirst about.com guide

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Cover Photo: This is a photo of the excavations in area A at Chogha Golan, Iran. Credit: [Image courtesy of TISARP/University of Tübingen]

Topic: Fertile Crescent

The birth of agriculture has long been thought by scholars and scientists to have first emerged in the Levant and Mesopotamia, in the westen regions of what is known as the ancient Fertile Crescent.

Research related to excavations at a site in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains in present-day Iran, however, challenges that view, and argues for a more widespread development of the earliest agriculture across the Fertile Crescent. Simone Riehl from the University of Tübingen in Germany, along with colleagues from the Tübingen Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoecology, have analyzed plant remains at the pre-pottery Neolithic site of Chogha Golan in Iran, and their results show that people were growing and grinding cereal grains like wheat and barley at the same time as their counterparts to the west, as early as 9,800 to 12,000 years ago.

Excavated in 2009 and 2010, archaeologists from the University of Tübingen and the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research uncovered artifacts, structures and plant remains that show that Chogha Golan's early inhabitants cultivated wild barley, wheat, lentil and grass peas at the location, with the first evidence of such plant management going back as far as 12,000 years ago.

"During the last few decades, numerous archaeological excavations were conducted in the Near East that led researchers to consider the possibility that multiple regions in the Fertile Crescent began cultivating cereal grains roughly at the same time, rather than just a single core area," Riehl said. "Plentiful findings of chaff remains of the cereals indicate that people processed their harvest within the sites they were living in. Mortars and grinding stones may have been used for turning the grain into some kind of bulgur or flour, which may have been further processed either by cooking or roasting."

The Chogha Golan site represents the earliest record of long-term plant management in Iran, according to the researchers.

These findings suggest that essentially simultaneous processes led to the management of wild plants and the domestication of cereal grains across most of the Fertile Crescent.

"For some time, the emergence of agriculture in Iran was considered as part of a cultural transfer from the west," Riehl said. "This opinion was, however, mostly based on the lack of information from Iranian sites. We meanwhile assume that key areas for emerging domestication existed over the whole Fertile Crescent, and that there were several locations where domesticated species evolved as a result of cultivation by local human groups."

The authors note, however, that it may not have been as simple as simultaneous emergence at multiple locations and that interregional exchanges of ideas and cultigens may have played a role.

The study report is published in the July 5th issue of the journal Science.

Original article:
popular archaeology

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This photo shows the architecture and grinding equipment from excavation area A in Chogha Golan, Iran. Credit: [Image courtesy of TISARP/University of Tübingen]

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Topic: More information on the beer find in France

 

barley-grains-ancient-celtic-beer

 

Evidence of beer making in Mediterranean France, as far back as the 5th century BC, has been unearthed by Laurent Bouby from the CNRS – Centre de Bio-Archeologie et d’Ecology in Montepellier, France, and colleagues. Their analyses at the Roquepertuse excavation site in Provence reveal the presence of poorly preserved barley grains suggesting germination, as well as equipment and other remains of deliberate malting in the home. Taken together, these findings suggest that, as well as regular wine making, the French had an early passion for beer brewing. The work has just been published online in Springer’s journal Human Ecology.

To date, researchers had only found evidence of in the region. Bouby and team analysed three samples of sediment from excavations carried out in the 1990s. One sample was taken from the floor of a dwelling, close to a hearth and oven. The other two samples came from the contents of a ceramic vessel and from a pit. There were carbonized plant remains in all three samples, dominated by barley.

The barley grains identified were poorly preserved and predominantly sprouted (90 percent of the sample), suggesting that they were carbonized at the end of the malting process and before the grinding of dry malt. The neighboring oven is likely to have been used to stop the germination process at the desired level for beer making, by drying and roasting the grain.

Based on the equipment found at the Roquepertuse dwelling, the authors suggest that the habitants soaked the grain in vessels, spread it out and turned it during germination on the flat paved floor area, dried the grain in the oven to stop germination, and used domestic grindstones to grind the malted grain. Then hearths and containers were likely used for and storage.

The authors conclude: “The Roquepertuse example suggests that beer was really produced within the context of domestic activities. Compared to other archaeobotanical and , it contributes to portraying a society which combined an intricate use of various alcoholic beverages including beer, which was probably of long-standing local tradition, and wine, which was, at least in part, promoted by colonial contacts with Mediterranean agents.”

Original article:

physorg.com

6/14/2011

 

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Topic Ancient British Ale

Recreating ancient ale using burnt mounds

David Chapman found an eroding “burnt mound” – a common but unexplained prehistoric mound of fired stones – on the Lleyn peninsula at Hell’s Mouth. Excavations in 2008 revealed an oak trough containing a residue of burnt stones and charred chaff and seeds (News, Mar/Apr 2009). Last summer Chapman and a team from Ancient Arts tested the theory that the trough had been used for brewing. The result was a lot of burnt stone – and 77 pints of light ale.

That burnt mounds had been used for brewing was first suggested by Billy Quinn and Declan Moore, who made an ale using fired rocks in a wooden trough in Co Galway. Chapman set out to replicate the process and compare the resultant debris with that excavated at Hell’s Mouth.

A trough a quarter of the original’s volume, set into a pit and sealed with clay, was filled with water and the area around saturated to stem any leakage. A bonfire of small round wood was lit over a heap of stones, and in a hot, bright and oxidising blaze a strong colour change was noted in the stones as they turned “white” as their temperature rose to red hot.

The stones were raked from the ashes, dropped into the trough and returned to the fire. This way the water was boiled to sterilise it, and all buckets and equipment were “scalded”. Brewer’s malted barley was drenched in boiling water to help release the starches, and then added to the trough after it had cooled to 60°C. The resultant “wort” was held at 60°C for an hour and a half with the addition of a hot stone every 10 minutes.

Elderberries were added – the skin being one of the best sources of wild yeast in Europe – with a small quantity of brewer’s yeast as a backup. The ale was further flavoured with honey, blackberries and rosehips. Once strained through cloth into buckets, the wort was cooled in a stream and then covered and left to ferment for five days. The mash was cooked on the hot stones into bread or biscuits, which Chapman describes as “tasty and nutritious”. This left some of the stones covered in charred barley.

As they worked, says Chapman, the stones began to form “the classic horseshoe shape that is so common in burnt mounds”. The many stones at the mound centre were needed to bring a large volume of water to the boil, but to hold it at a constant temperature it was easier to use stones from either end of the very hot fire. In the nature of the process it is unlikely, he adds, that proper stratigraphy would be forming, so mounds used over many years could appear to indicate a single event.

Original article:

British Archaeology

Jan/Feb 2010

Edited by Mike Pitts


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