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A cattle herder drives his animals in Tanzania. The study linked the spread of pastoralism with the ability to digest milk.

Credit: University of Pennsylvania

Topic: Milk
A new study led by University of Pennsylvania researchers — constituting the largest examination ever of lactase persistence in geographically diverse populations of Africans — investigated the genetic origins of this trait and offers support to the idea that the ability to digest milk was a powerful selective force in a variety of African populations which raised cattle and consumed the animals’ fresh milk.

The research was led by Alessia Ranciaro, a postdoctoral fellow in Penn’s Department of Genetics in the Perelman School of Medicine, and Sarah Tishkoff, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with appointments in Penn Medicine’s Department of Genetics and Penn Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology.

The paper will be published March 13 in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Previous research had shown that northern Europeans and people with northern European ancestry, as well as populations from Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia with a tradition of fresh milk production and consumption, continue to express the lactase enzyme into adulthood. Some of these earlier studies had traced the genetic origin of this trait in Europeans to a particular mutation that regulates the expression of the gene that codes for lactase. And in 2007 a study by Tishkoff, Ranciaro and colleagues examined African populations and found three addition genetic variants associated with lactase persistence that had not been previously identified.

“But these variants didn’t completely account for the reason why some Africans were able to digest milk,” Ranciaro said.

To try to reconcile these apparent discrepancies between genotype, the genetic basis of a characteristic, and phenotype, the characteristic itself, Ranciaro, along with colleagues, led field studies to often-remote areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan to collect blood samples and perform a lactose tolerance test on people from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

“The idea was that we wanted to sample as many populations, and as diverse a set of populations, as possible,” Ranciaro said. “We included pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers, so the four major subsistence patterns were all covered.”

The Penn researchers worked with African collaborators and local district offices and tribal chiefs to spread the word and recruit volunteers for their study.

“This was a very challenging test to do in the field in remote regions,” said Ranciaro. “We were careful to make sure that people understood why we were doing this study and that they would need to commit to the hour or more of time needed to do the test.”

The test reveals whether someone has the ability to digest lactose into glucose and galactose. It requires participants to fast overnight, have their blood sugar measured, then drink a sweet beverage containing the equivalent lactose of one to two liters of cow’s milk and subsequently have their blood sugar tested at set intervals.

To look for genetic variations among the populations’ abilities to digest milk, the team sequenced three genomic regions thought to influence the activity of the lactase-encoding LCT gene in 819 Africans from 63 different populations and 154 non-Africans from nine different populations in Europe, the Middle East and Central and East Asia. They also examined the results of the lactose tolerance test in 513 people from 50 populations in East Africa.

Their sequencing and phenotyping efforts confirmed the association between lactase persistence and three known single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, places where the DNA sequence varies in just one “letter.” But they also identified two new SNPs associated with the trait located in regions that are thought to regulate lactase gene expression.

Their analysis revealed strong evidence of recent positive selection affecting several variants associated with lactase persistence in African populations, likely in response to the cultural development of pastoralism. The distinct geographic patterns in which these variants were present correlate in many cases with historic human migrations, mixing between populations as well as the spread of cattle, camels or sheep.

For example, they found the variant associated with lactase persistence in Europeans, T-13910, in central and northern African pastoralist groups, suggesting that these groups may have mixed historically with a non-African population. The age of this genetic mutation is estimated to be 5,000-12,300 years old, coinciding with the origins of cattle domestication in North Africa and the Middle East. And a variant, G-13915, found at high frequencies in the Arabian Peninsula, and also present in northern Kenya and northern Sudan, dates to roughly 5,000 years ago, around the time that archaeological evidence suggests that camels were domesticated in the region.

Another variant, G-13907, was identified in the northern reaches of Sudan and Kenya as well as in Ethiopia. The researchers speculate that the mutation may have arisen in Cushitic populations in Ethiopia, who later migrated into Kenya and Sudan in the last 5,000 years.

They observed still another variant, C-14010, in Tanzania and Kenya as well as in southern Africa. This variant is believed to have arisen 3,000 to 7,000 years ago, a timing in line with the migration of pastoralists from North Africa into East Africa. The researchers’ analysis suggests that this variant spread more recently into southern African, perhaps only in the last 1,000 years.

“We’re starting to paint a picture of convergent evolution,” Tishkoff said. “Our results are showing different mutations arising in different places that are under selection and rising to high frequencies and then reintroduced by migration to new areas and new populations.”

Even with the new variants the Penn team identified, there were still patterns that the genetic data couldn’t explain. Some groups that appeared to be able to digest milk lacked any genetic sign of this ability. The Hadza, nearly half of whom had the lactase persistence trait, are one example.

“This raises the strong possibility that there are other variants out there, perhaps in regions of the genome we haven’t yet examined,” Tishkoff said.

Another possibility is that commensal bacteria in the gut could offer humans a helping hand in digesting milk. The team is now assaying Africans’ gut bacteria to see if that might be the case.

Additional co-authors on the study included Michael C. Campbell, Jibril B. Hirbo and Wen-Ya Ko of Penn’s Department of Genetics; Alain Froment of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris; Paolo Anagnostou of Universita’ La Sapienza and Istituto Italiano di Antropologia in Rome; Maritha J. Kotze of the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa; Muntaser Ibrahim of the University of Khartoum; Thomas Nyambo of Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania; and Sabah A. Omar of the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

Original article:
sciencedaily
March 13, 2014

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Beef rib meat mummy from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuiu (1386-1349 BC). Credit: Image courtesy of PNAS.

Topic: Mummified Meat

A study team consisting of researchers from the University of Bristol, UK, and the American University in Cairo, Egypt, are suggesting that some ancient Egyptian meat mummies were embalmed with organic compounds, including one meat mummy that showed evidence for the use of Pistacia resin, a highly valued luxury item.
Meat victual mummies, which are wrapped and embalmed meaty portions or joints of animals such as cattle or poultry, have typically been found within the ancient tombs of royal and high status individuals in Egypt. They are thought to have been meant as food items for consumption by the deceased in the afterlife. Such were discovered, for example, within 48 carved wooden cases in the tomb of King Tutankhamun (died c. 1323 BCE). Unlike other foods found preserved by dehydration within the tombs, however, the victual meats had to be treated in ways similar to that of the humans and animal mummies, “as untreated meat would not last more than a few hours in the Egyptian heat.”* But the exact elemental components of the substances used in the process of victual meat mummy treatment has been unclear, until now.

To investigate this, Richard Evershed and colleagues from the University of Bristol and the American University analyzed the chemical composition of tissue samples and bandages from four meat mummies – that of a calf from the tomb of Isetemkheb (c. 1064-948 BCE), a duck and goat from the tomb of Henutmehyt (c. 1290 BCE), and beef ribs from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuiu (1386-1349 BCE). They concluded that these meat mummies were prepared using a diverse range of organic compound treatments. As reported by the study group, the external bandages from a victual calf mummy contained a mixture of compounds from animal fat, but no evidence of waxes or resins. They knew this because the bandages they sampled were not in direct contact with the meat, and thus the compounds were interpreted to have been deliberately applied and not simply originating from the meat itself. Similar animal fat-derived compounds were detected with the mummified goat leg sample, but not with the mummified duck sample.

The most interesting find, however, came from the analysis of the bandages associated with the mummified beef ribs (pictured above). That sample contained a mixture of fat or oil, beeswax, and Pistacia resin. Pistacia has been considered a comparatively rare luxury item in ancient Egypt.

“The date of the occurrence of Pistacia resin associated with this meat mummy predates any known association with human mummies by some 600 years,” reports Evershed, et al., “although this might change with further investigations of human mummies. The finding of Pistacia resin on this meat mummy likely relates to the status of the burial; this meat mummy was part of the funerary assemblage of the parents of Queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III (c. 1386–1349 BC) (34), making it among the highest status mummy balm thus far chemically analyzed in modern times.”

Conclude the researchers: “Our findings show that the sophistication of the burial extended not only to the organic balming treatments applied to the bodies themselves but also to the foods, particularly the meats, interred with them.”*

The detailed study was published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on November 18, 2013.

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Sources: Edited and adapted from a PNAS press release, excerpts from published study (see reference below).

* Article #13-15160: “Organic chemistry of balms used in the preparation of pharaonic meat mummies,” by Katherine A. Clark, Salima Ikram, and Richard P. Evershed.

Original article:
popular archaeology.com
November 18, 2013

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Kunming China

Topic Ancient Cattle Farming

An international team of researchers, co-led by scientists at the University of York and Yunnan Normal University, has produced the first multi-disciplinary evidence for management of cattle populations in northern China, around the same time cattle domestication took place in the Near East, over 10,000 years ago.

The domestication of cattle is a key achievement in human history. Until now, researchers believed that humans started domesticating cattle around 10,000 years ago in the Near East, which gave rise to humpless (taurine) cattle, while two thousand years later humans began managing humped cattle (zebu) in Southern Asia.

However, the new research, which is published in Nature Communications, reveals morphological and genetic evidence for management of cattle in north-eastern China around 10,000 years ago, around the same time the first domestication of taurine cattle took place in the Near East. This indicates that humans may have started domesticating cows in more regions around the world than was previously believed.

A lower jaw of an ancient cattle specimen was discovered during an excavation in north-east China, and was carbon dated to be 10,660 years old. The jaw displayed a unique pattern of wear on the molars, which, the researchers say, is best explained to be the results of long-term human management of the animal. Ancient DNA from the jaw revealed that the animal did not belong to the same cattle lineages that were domesticated in the Near East and South Asia.

The combination of the age of the jaw, the unique wear and genetic signature suggests that this find represents the earliest evidence for cattle management in north-east China; a time and place not previously considered as potential domestication centre for cattle.

The research was co-led in the Department of Biology at the University of York by Professor Michi Hofreiter and Professor Hucai Zhang of Yunnan Normal University.

Professor Hofreiter said: “The specimen is unique and suggests that, similar to other species such as pigs and dogs, cattle domestication was probably also a complex process rather than a sudden event.” Johanna Paijmans, the PhD student at York who performed the DNA analysis, said: “This is a really exciting example of the power of multi-disciplinary research; the wear pattern on the lower jaw itself is already really interesting, and together with the carbon dating and ancient DNA we have been able to place it in an even bigger picture of early cattle management.”

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As well as researchers from the Departments of Biology and Archaeology at York, the research team also included scientists from Yunnan Normal University, Kunming; Peking University, Beijing; Northwest A & F University, Yangling, and the Museum of Haelongjiang in China, Trinity College, Dublin and the Natural History Museum in Copenhagen.

Original article:
eurekalert.org

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Topic: Feeding ancient workers

The builders of the famous Giza pyramids in Egypt feasted on food from a massive catering-type operation, the remains of which scientists have discovered at a workers’ town near the pyramids.

The workers’ town is located about 1,300 feet (400 meters) south of the Sphinx, and was used to house workers building the pyramid of pharaoh Menkaure, the third and last pyramid on the Giza plateau. The site is also known by its Arabic name, Heit el-Ghurab, and is sometimes called “the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders.”

So far, researchers have discovered a nearby cemetery with bodies of pyramid builders; a corral with possible slaughter areas on the southern edge of workers’ town; and piles of animal bones.

Based on animal bone findings, nutritional data, and other discoveries at this workers’ town site, the archaeologists estimate that more than 4,000 pounds of meat — from cattle, sheep and goats — were slaughtered every day, on average, to feed the pyramid builders. [See Photos of the Unearthed Giza Pyramid Site]

This meat-rich diet, along with the availability of medical care (the skeletons of some workers show healed bones), would have been an additional lure for ancient Egyptians to work on the pyramids.

“People were taken care of, and they were well fed when they were down there working, so there would have been an attractiveness to that,” said Richard Redding, chief research officer at Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA), a group that has been excavating and studying the workers’ town site for about 25 years.

“They probably got a much better diet than they got in their village,” Redding told LiveScience.

Feeding the Giza work force

At the workers’ town, which was likely occupied for 35 years, researchers have discovered a plethora of animal bones. Although the researchers are still unsure of the exact number of bones, Redding estimates he has identified about 25,000 sheep and goats, 8,000 cattle and 1,000 pig bones, he wrote in a paper published in the book “Proceedings of the 10th Meeting of the ICAZ Working Group ‘Archaeozoology of southwest Asia and adjacent Areas'” (Peeters Publishing, 2013).

About 10,000 workers helped build the Menkaure pyramid, with a smaller work force present year-round to cut stones and complete preparation and survey work, the AERA team estimates. This smaller work force would have ramped up for a few months starting around July of each year. “What they would do is, for about four or five months a year, they would bring in a big work force to move blocks, and they would do nothing but move blocks,” explained Redding, who is also a research scientist at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and a member of the faculty at the University of Michigan. [In Photos: The Beautiful Pyramids of Sudan]

Needless to say, pyramid building is hard work. The workers would need at least 45 to 50 grams of protein a day, Redding said. Half of this protein would likely come from fish, beans, lentils and other non-meat sources, while the other half would come from sheep, goat and cattle, he estimated. Milk and cheese were probably not consumed due to transportation problems and the cattle’s low milk yield during that time, Redding said.

Combining these requirements and other protein sources with the ratio of the bones (and the amount of meat and protein one can get from an animal), Redding determined about 11 cattle and 37 sheep or goats were consumed each day.

This would be in addition to supplying workers with grain, beer and other products.

Vast herds … and herders

In order to maintain this level of slaughter, the ancient Egyptians would have needed a herd of 21,900 cattle and 54,750 sheep and goats just to keep up regular delivery to the Giza workers, Redding estimates.

The animals alone would need about 155 square miles (401 square kilometers) of territory to graze. Add in fallow land, waste land, settlements and agricultural land for the herders, and this number triples to about 465 square miles (1,205 square km) of land — an area about the size of modern-day Los Angeles. Even so, this area would take up just about 5 percent of the present-day Nile Delta.

These animals also needed herders — likely one herder for every six cattle and one herder for every 50 sheep or goats, based on ethnographic observations. This brings the total number of herders to 3,650 overall and, once their families are included, 18,980, just under 2 percent of Egypt’s estimated population at the time.

These herds would have been spread out in villages across the Nile Delta, then brought to the workers’ town at Giza to be slaughtered and cooked. At the end of their lives, the animals were likely kept in the southern part of the town, in a recently unearthed structure that researchers have dubbed the “OK corral.” (“OK” stands for “Old Kingdom,” the time period in which the Giza pyramids were built.) The structure, which includes two small enclosures where animals may have been slaughtered and a rounded pen, is partly hidden under a modern-day soccer field. [Image Gallery: Amazing Egyptian Discoveries]

The boss eats the beef

The research revealed interesting details about life in the workers’ town. For instance, the overseers — who lived in a structure the archaeologists call the “north street gatehouse” — got to eat the most cattle, and those living in an area called the “galleries,” where the everyday workers lived, ate mainly sheep and goats.

Redding said it wasn’t surprising that the overseers preferred to dine on beef, considering it was the most valued meat in ancient Egypt. “Cattle is, of course, the highest-status meat,” he said, noting that it appears far more frequently then sheep or goat in tomb scenes, and that pigs never appear in tomb scenes.

The settlement located adjacent to the workers’ town, dubbed “eastern town,” wasn’t as rigidly planned as workers’ town, and its residents were eating a considerable number of pigs, the researchers found. Evidence also suggested the people in eastern town were trading with people in workers’ town for hippo-tusk fragments.

These finds suggest that the residents of the eastern town were not as directly involved in pyramid building and had a special relationship with the pyramid workers.

“They were not provisioned; they were not given their meat and food every day,” like those in the workers’ town were, Redding said. “It’s more of a typical urban farming settlement, and there was a symbiotic relationship between the two —probably,” he said.

Future discoveries at Giza

Research at workers’ town suggests that not all the workers lived there and some may have actually camped out near the Giza pyramids.

“What we think now is — and this is something we’re going to be coming out with in the next little while — is that, more likely, it was a large portion of the work force, the more skilled laborers [living at workers’ town], and that there were temporary camps up by the pyramids where the temporary workers who came in would be housed,” he said.

“They probably (didn’t) need much in the way of housing; they would need more shade than anything else. They wouldn’t need any kind of warmth because it wouldn’t be winter.”

Future studies will look for the remains of the workers’ towns of Khufu and Khafre, the two other pharaohs who built pyramids at Giza. A dump area, investigated in the 1950s, may hold them; seal impressions found at the dump have the rulers’ names on them.

“What we think was going on was that Menkaure came along, he establishes his reign, he leveled that whole area and he took all the levelling debris, took it to the top of the hill and threw it over the back in a big dump,” Redding said.

“That dump on the back side of the ridge may represent a remnant of Khufu and Khafre’s construction’s town,” Redding said, adding that he hopes new excavations will begin on the dump in the next year or two.

Original article:
yahoo news
By Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor | LiveScience.com – Wed, Apr 24, 2013

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Topic: ancient feast

A metric ton of cattle bones found in an abandoned theater in the ancient city of Corinth may mark years of lavish feasting, a new study finds.

The huge amount of bones — more than 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) — likely represent only a tenth of those tossed out at the site in Peloponnese, Greece, said study researcher Michael MacKinnon, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg.

“What I think that they’re related to are episodes of big feasting in which the theater was reused to process carcasses of hundreds of cattle,” MacKinnon told LiveScience. He presented his research Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle.

From theater to butcher shop

A theater may seem an odd place for a butchery operation, MacKinnon said, but this particular structure fell into disuse between A.D. 300 A.D. and A.D. 400. Once the theater was no longer being used for shows, it was a large empty space that could have been easily repurposed, he said.

The cattle bones were unearthed in an excavation directed by Charles Williams of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. They’d been discarded in that spot and rested there until they were found, rather than being dragged to the theater later with other trash, MacKinnon said.

“Some of the skeletal materials were even partially articulated [connected], suggesting bulk processing and discard,” MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon and his colleagues analyzed and catalogued more than 100,000 individual bones, most cattle with some goat and sheep. The bones of at least 516 individual cows were pulled from the theater. Most were adults, and maturity patterns in the bones and wear patterns on the teeth showed them all to have been culled in the fall or early winter.

“These do not appear to be tired old work cattle, but quality prime stock,” MacKinnon said.

Annual feasting?

It’s impossible to say how quickly the butchering episodes took place, MacKinnon said, though it could be on the order of days or months. The bones were discarded in layers, likely over a period of 50 to 100 years, he said.

The periodic way the bones were discarded plus the hurried cut marks on some of the bones suggest a large-scale, recurring event, MacKinnon said. He suspects the cattle were slaughtered for annual large-scale feasts. Without refrigeration, it would have been difficult to keep meat fresh for long, so may have been more efficient for cities to take a communal approach.

“What goes around comes around, so maybe we’ll do it this year and next year, it’s the neighbor’s turn to do it,” MacKinnon speculated. “Neighborhoods might sponsor these kinds of things, so people do it to curry favor.”

The next step, MacKinnon said, is to look for other possible signs of ancient feasting at different sites.

“Maybe there are some special pots, or maybe we’ll find big communal cauldrons or something,” he said. “Something that gives a material record of a celebration.”

Original article:
livescience.com

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 09 January 2013

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Topic Wild Ox

 

All cattle are descended from as few as 80 animals that were domesticated from wild ox in the Near East some 10,500 years ago, according to a new genetic study.

An international team of scientists from the CNRS and National Museum of Natural History in France, the University of Mainz in Germany, and UCL in the UK were able to conduct the study by first extracting DNA from the bones of domestic cattle excavated in Iranian archaeological sites. These sites date to not long after the invention of farming and are in the region where cattle were first domesticated.

The team examined how small differences in the DNA sequences of those ancient cattle, as well as cattle living today, could have arisen given different population histories. Using computer simulations they found that the DNA differences could only have arisen if a small number of animals, approximately 80, were domesticated from wild ox (aurochs).

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. Dr Ruth Bollongino of CNRS, France, and the University of Mainz, Germany; lead author of the study, said: “Getting reliable DNA sequences from remains found in cold environments is routine.

“That is why mammoths were one of the first extinct species to have their DNA read. But getting reliable DNA from bones found in hot regions is much more difficult because temperature is so critical for DNA survival. This meant we had to be extremely careful that we did not end up reading contaminating DNA sequences from living, or only recently dead cattle.”

The number of animals domesticated has important implications for the archaeological study of domestication.

Prof Mark Thomas, geneticist and an author of the study based at the UCL Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment: “This is a surprisingly small number of cattle. We know from archaeological remains that the wild ancestors of modern-day cattle, known as aurochs, were common throughout Asia and Europe, so there would have been plenty of opportunities to capture and domesticate them.”

 

Prof Joachim Burger, an author of the study based at the University of Mainz, Germany, said: “Wild aurochs are very different beasts from modern domestic cattle.

“They were much bigger than modern cattle, and wouldn’t have had the domestic traits we see today, such as docility. So capturing these animals in the first place would not have been easy, and even if some people did manage snare them alive, their continued management and breeding would still have presented considerable challenges until they had been bred for smaller size and more docile behavior.”

Archaeological studies on the number and size of prehistoric animal bone have shown that not only cattle, but also goats, sheep and pigs were all first domesticated in the Near East. But saying how many animals were domesticated for any of those species is a much harder question to answer. Classical techniques in archaeology cannot give us the whole picture, but genetics can help – especially if some of the genetic data comes from early domestic animals.

Dr Jean-Denis Vigne, a CNRS bio-archaeologist and author on the study, said: “In this study genetic analysis allowed us to answer questions that – until now –archaeologists would not even attempt to address.

“A small number of cattle progenitors is consistent with the restricted area for which archaeologists have evidence for early cattle domestication ca. 10,500 years ago. This restricted area could be explained by the fact that cattle breeding, contrary to, for example, goat herding, would have been very difficult for mobile societies, and that only some of them were actually sedentary at that time in the Near East.”

Dr Marjan Mashkour, a CNRS Archaeologist working in the Middle East added “This study highlights how important it can be to consider archaeological remains from less well-studied regions, such as Iran. Without our Iranian data it would have been very difficult to draw our conclusions, even though they concern cattle at a global scale”.

Original article:

eurkalert.org

Merch 27, 2012

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