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The discarded bone of a chicken leg, still etched with teeth marks from a dinner thousands of years ago, provides some of the oldest known physical evidence for the introduction of domesticated chickens to the continent of Africa, research from Washington University in St. Louis has confirmed.

Based on radiocarbon dating of about 30 chicken bones unearthed at the site of an ancient farming village in present-day Ethiopia, the findings shed new light on how domesticated chickens crossed ancient roads — and seas — to reach farms and plates in Africa and, eventually, every other corner of the globe.

“Our study provides the earliest directly dated evidence for the presence of chickens in Africa and points to the significance of Red Sea and East African trade routes in the introduction of the chicken,” said Helina Woldekiros, lead author and a postdoctoral anthropology researcher in Arts & Sciences at Washington University.

The main wild ancestor of today’s chickens, the red junglefowl Gallus gallus is endemic to sub-Himalayan northern India, southern China and Southeast Asia, where chickens were first domesticated 6,000-8,000 years ago. Now nearly ubiquitous around the world, the offspring of these first-domesticated chickens are providing modern researchers with valuable clues to ancient agricultural and trade contacts.

The arrival of chickens in Africa and the routes by which they both entered and dispersed across the continent are not well known. Previous research based on representations of chickens on ceramics and paintings, plus bones from other archaeological sites, suggested that chickens were first introduced to Africa through North Africa, Egypt and the Nile Valley about 2,500 years ago.

The earliest bone-based evidence of chickens in Africa dates to the late first millennium B.C., from the Saite levels at Buto, Egypt — approximately 685-525 B.C.

This study, published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, pushes that date back by hundreds of years. Co-authored by Catherine D’Andrea, professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University in Canada, the research also suggests that the earliest introductions may have come from trade routes on the continent’s eastern coast.

“Some of these bones were directly radiocarbon dated to 819-755 B.C., and with charcoal dates of 919-801 B.C. make these the earliest chickens in Africa,” Woldekiros said. “They predate the earliest known Egyptian chickens by at least 300 years and highlight early exotic faunal exchanges in the Horn of Africa during the early first millennium B.C.”

Despite their widespread, modern-day importance, chicken remains are found in small numbers at archaeological sites. Because wild relatives of the galliform chicken species are plentiful in Africa, this study required researchers to sift through the remnants of many small bird species to identify bones with the unique sizes and shapes that are characteristic of domestic chickens.

Woldekiros, the project’s zooarchaeologist, studied the chicken bones at a field lab in northern Ethiopia and confirmed her identifications using a comparative bone collection at the Institute of Paleoanatomy at Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich.

Excavated by a team of researchers led by D’Andrea of Simon Fraser, the bones analyzed for this study were recovered from the kitchen and living floors of an ancient farming community known as Mezber. The rural village was located in northern Ethiopia about 30 miles from the urban center of the pre-Aksumite civilization. The pre-Aksumites were the earliest people in the Horn of Africa to form complex, urban-rural trading networks.

Linguistic studies of ancient root words for chickens in African languages suggest multiple introductions of chickens to Africa following different routes: from North Africa through the Sahara to West Africa; and from the East African coast to Central Africa. Scholars also have demonstrated the biodiversity of modern-day African village chickens through molecular genetic studies.

“It is likely that people brought chickens to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa repeatedly over long period of time: over 1,000 years,” Woldekiros said. “Our archaeological findings help to explain the genetic diversity of modern Africans chickens resulting from the introduction of diverse chicken lineages coming from early Arabian and South Asian context and later Swahili networks.”

These findings contribute to broader stories of ways in which people move domestic animals around the world through migration, exchange and trade. Ancient introductions of domestic animals to new regions were not always successful. Zooarchaeological studies of the most popular domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs have demonstrated repeated introductions as well as failures of new species in different regions of the world.

“Our study also supports the African Red Sea coast as one possible early route of introduction of chickens to Africa and the Horn,” Woldekiros said. “It fits with ways in which maritime exchange networks were important for global distribution of chicken and other agricultural products. The early dates for chickens at Mezber, combined with their presence in all of the occupation phases at Mezber and in Aksumite contexts 40 B.C.- 600 A.D. in other parts of Ethiopia, demonstrate their long-term success in northern Ethiopia.”

Source: How the chicken crossed the Red Sea

eurekalert.org

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Lee Perry Gal measures chicken long bones at the zooarchaeology lab, Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa.

 

Original Article

By DANIEL CHARLES • JUL 20, 2015

 

An ancient, abandoned city in Israel has revealed part of the story of how the chicken turned into one of the pillars of the modern Western diet.

The city, now an archaeological site, is called Maresha. It flourished in the Hellenistic period from 400 to 200 BCE.

“The site is located on a trade route between Jerusalem and Egypt,” says Lee Perry-Gal, a doctoral student in the department of archaeology at the University of Haifa. As a result, it was a meeting place of cultures, “like New York City,” she says.

Not too long ago, the archaeologists unearthed something unusual: a collection of chicken bones.

“This was very, very surprising,” says Perry-Gal.

The surprising thing was not that chickens lived here. There’s evidence that humans have kept chickens around for thousands of years, starting in Southeast Asia and China.

But those older sites contained just a few scattered chicken bones. People were raising those chickens for cockfighting, or for special ceremonies. The birds apparently weren’t considered much of a food.

In Maresha, though, something changed.

The site contained more than a thousand chicken bones. “They were very, very well-preserved,” says Perry-Gal, whose findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Perry-Gal could see knife marks on them from butchering. There were twice as many bones from female birds as male. These chickens apparently were being raised for their meat, not for cockfighting.

Perry-Gal says there could be a couple of reasons why the people of Maresha decided to eat chickens.

Maybe, in the dry Mediterranean climate, people learned better how to raise large numbers of chickens in captivity. Maybe the chickens evolved, physically, and became more attractive as food.

But Perry-Gal thinks that part of it must have been a shift in the way people thought about food. “This is a matter of culture,” she says. “You have to decide that you are eating chicken from now on.”

In the history of human cuisine, Maresha may mark a turning point.

Barely a century later, the Romans starting spreading the chicken-eating habit across their empire. “From this point on, we see chicken everywhere in Europe,” Perry-Gal says. “We see a bigger and bigger percent of chicken. It’s like a new cellphone. We see it everywhere.”

Chicken-eating really is everywhere today. It’s the most commonly eaten meat in America. Globally, it’s second behind pork, but it’s catching up fast. Within five years, humans will probably eat more chicken than any other meat.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

An ancient abandoned city in Israel has revealed a clue as to how chicken became one of the pillars of the human diet. The clue is a collection of bones. Apparently, they are leftovers from a 2000-year-old version of KFC. NPR’s Dan Charles reports.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: In southern Israel, archaeologists have been excavating a city called Maresha, unearthing pieces of Greek civilization from 2,400 years ago. Lee Perry-Gal, a doctoral student of archeology at the University of Haifa, says Maresha was a meeting place of cultures.

LEE PERRY-GAL: The site itself is located on a trade route between Jerusalem and Egypt.

CHARLES: And recently, according to a report just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the archaeologists found something unusual here – chicken bones.

PERRY-GAL: This was very, very surprising.

CHARLES: The surprising thing was not that chickens lived there. Humans have kept chickens around for thousands of years, starting in Southeast Asia and China, but not, curiously, for their meat or their eggs. People were raising those birds for cockfighting or for special ceremonies, and they left behind just a few bones for the archaeologists. Here in Maresha, on the Mediterranean trade route, something changed. This site contained more than a thousand bones.

PERRY-GAL: They were very well preserved. They were extremely preserved.

CHARLES: Perry-Gal could see butchering marks on them. These chickens apparently were being raised for their meat. People were eating their eggs too. She says there could be a couple of reasons why. Maybe in the dry Mediterranean climate, people learned better how to raise large numbers of chickens in captivity. Maybe the chickens evolved physically and became more attractive as food. But Perry-Gal thinks part of it must’ve been a shift in people’s ideas and customs.

PERRY-GAL: It’s a matter of culture. You have to decide that you’re eating chicken from now on.

CHARLES: In the history of Western cuisine, Maresha appears to mark a turning point. A century later, the chicken-eating habit began spreading across the Roman Empire.

PERRY-GAL: From this point on, we see chicken everywhere in Europe. We see a bigger and bigger percent of chicken. It’s like a new cell phone, you know? You see it everywhere.

CHARLES: Today, of course, chicken-eating really is everywhere. It’s the most commonly eaten meat in America. Globally, it’s second, behind pork, but it’s rapidly catching up. Within five years, humans will probably eat more chicken than any other meat. Dan Charles, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

 

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A 2010 photo of the excavations of the Early Neolithic proto-city near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo. Photo: 24 Chasa daily

The prehistoric people inhabiting the Early Neolithic settlement near today’s town of Yabalkovo, Dimitrovgrad Municipality, in Southern Bulgaria, had domesticated hens some 8,000 years ago, meaning that chickens were raised in Europe much earlier than previously thought, reveals Bulgarian archaeologist Assoc. Prof. Krasimir Leshtakov.
Leshtakov, who is a professor of archaeology and prehistory in Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, excavated the Neolithic proto-city, which dates back to the 7th millennium BC, between 2000 and 2012. The settlement near Yabalkovo was first discovered by Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Prof. Zlatozar Boev from the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia who found bones from domesticated birds there, and was then excavated by archaeologists.
“The first omelette [in Europe] was eaten 8,000 years ago in Yabalkovo,” archaeologist Krasimir Leshtakov has said at the presentation of the first volume of his book entitled “Yabalkovo” during the European Night of Museums 2015 at the Regional Museum of History in Bulgaria’s Haskovo, reports local news site Haskovo.info.
Leshtakov’s book is co-authored with J. Rodenberg and Vanya Petrova summarizes the discoveries made by him and his colleagues in 12 years of archaeological excavations of the Neolithic settlement near Yabalkovo.
The archaeologist points out the discovery that the prehistoric civilization, which inhabited today’s Haskovo region in Southern Bulgaria, raised domesticated chickens some 8,000 years ago is a breakthrough for the archaeological science.
In his words, until recently it had been thought that domesticated chickens became widespread in Europe only after the Arab invasions in the Early Middle Ages (even though there is evidence that domesticated chickens were also known but not widespread in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome).
However, some 8,000 years ago, the prehistoric people at Yabalkovo produced a breed of larger broody hens which could not fly, as indicated by the bones of four broody hens found there.
Leshtakov has also explained that the Early Neolithic proto-city near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo is the largest one of its kind in the Balkan Peninsula. Its civilization first came from Anatolia in today’s Turkey, settled the plain around today’s city of Haskovo as well as the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, and probably numbered several tens of thousands which is a fairly large number for that time period.
Based on his findings, the Bulgarian archaeologist says that in addition to chickens the prehistoric people of Yabalkovo also had domestic pigs, alcohol, white and yellow cheese (called kashkaval in Bulgaria), and raised large herds of goats, sheep, and cattle. These Early Neolithic people also smelted copper which is the earliest case of metallurgy in Europe.
Another interesting topic explored in Leshtakov‘s book is connected with the fact that the DNA of the Neolithic inhabitants of the region of Haskovo loosely matches the DNA of today’s residents of the same region, which is taken to mean that the genetic heritage of the prehistoric people who lived there 8,000 years ago is greater than previously imagined.
The remains of the Early Neolithic proto-city near Yabalkovo have been partly covered by a section of the Maritsa Highway which was built in Southern Bulgaria in the fall of 2013. However, by that time the Bulgarian archaeologists had managed to excavate and research thoroughly its prehistoric civilization.
Background Infonotes:
The Early Neolithic settlement located in an area known as Karabilyuk near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo, Dimitrovgrad Municipality, Haskovo District, dates back more than 8,000 years ago, to the 7th millennium BC. The site was first discovered by Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Prof. Zlatozar Boev from the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia. Between 2000 and 2012, it was excavated by archaeologists led by Assoc. Prof. Krasimir Leshtakov from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” and Dr. Vanya Petrova. Ancient Thracian finds from the Late Iron Age, and finds from the Middle Ages have also been discovered there.
The Early Neolithic proto-city near Yabalkovo was first found by Bulgarian paleo-ornithologist Zlatozar Boev after he discovered there bones from 5 domesticated bird species: mute swan (Cygnus olor), two undetermined species resembling geese from the Anser genus, Eurasian coot (Fulica atra), and the bones of four domesticated hens (Gallus gallus f. domestica) which were selected by the prehistoric people to produce a breed of larger broody hens that could not fly. Thus, the Early Neolithic settlement near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo is the earliest known case of the raising of domestic chickens in Europe. The excavations have also revealed a lot of bones from domesticated livestock such as pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle, and few bones of wild herbivores meaning the Early Neolithic people from Yabalkovo were agriculturalists who did little hunting. Only 3% of their meat is estimated to have come from hunting. They were picky about their rich diet as 75% of the discovered animal bones are from young animals. As indicated by the fish bones and snail shells, they also fished for 10-kilogram carps in the nearby Maritsa River, ate snails (a total of 900 snail shells have been found in a pit on the site). They also grew pistachios, made their bread of spelt (dinkel wheat or hulled wheat, Triticum spelta), and had wine. They also had beer made of sour apples (interestingly, the name of today’s town of Yabalkovo comes from “yabalka”, the Bulgarian word for apple), and probably used formic acid for the beer’s fermentation.
The archaeological excavations have revealed that the Early Neolithic settlement had major fortifications. It did not grow over time but was built at once as a huge and complex urban structure covering a circle with a diameter of 2.5 km, with an area of approximately 5 square km. Its fortified core had the area of about two modern stadiums. It had the shape of a circle or an ellipse with a diameter of 210 meters, with two entrances to the north and the south, and was fortified with 3 moats in concentric circles with a circumference of 450-500 meters each, plus a clay-stone wall between the innermost and the middle moat, which was at least 4 meters tall; the moats were deep 3-4 meters, and wide up to 5 meters. They have been located and explored with contemporary methods for geophysical exploration. According to Bulgarian archaeologist Krasimir Leshtakov, the labor invested in the construction of this Early Neolithic proto-city is comparable with the effort for the construction of the earliest Egyptian pyramids.
The fortified urban core, which seems way ahead of its time, and could have been seen as typical for much later time periods because of its structure and complexity, appears to not have been conquered for a long time. Inside it there were rows of houses with stone foundations, each with the area of modern-day three-bedroom apartments, with an oven or hearth. The entire core was built-up, without any yards, but with paved passages with a width of 1.5-2 meters between the homes, and with drainage ditches. It is estimated that each house had about 10-12 inhabitants in extended families of three generations meaning that the total population of this Early Neolithic prehistoric city was maybe 2,000-3,000 people. The families probably specialized in different crafts since the Bulgarian archaeologists have found different tools and products in different homes: broken ceramic vessels in one home; a vertical loom in another; more than a dozen of stone tools in a third; a furnace with traces of smelting copper in a fourth. There were also richer families who were in possession of exotic items such as ostrich eggs, elephant ivory, hippopotamus bones, or rare stones. A cult area in the northern part of the fortified city has revealed a stone arrow, a stone 1-meter phallic structure, the graves of a man and a woman in unusual positions, and a large building with a zoomorphic vessel depicting a bull in its foundations which is similar to prehistoric cult buildings found in Ancient Anatolia – in Catalhoyuk and Hacilar in modern-day Southwest Turkey. The building was probably a sanctuary or the seat of a chieftain.
The Early Neolithic proto-city near Yabalkovo was a complete and complex society with all elements to satisfy a civilized human’s needs: economic, social, religious. The carbon dating of 14 human bones found near Yabalkovo has revealed that the people buried there died in 6,200-6,100 BC. They indicate that the Early Neolithic women who lived there were slim and had an average height of 165 cm (appr. 5 feet 5 inches), while the men were burly, and had an average height of 175-180 cm (5 feet 9-11 inches). The wearing out of the men’s vertebrae indicates that they carried heavy loads on their backs, and that they had rheumatic diseases which, however, were treated successfully. Their teeth indicate that they ate mostly meat and less bread. DNA tests in a laboratory in Ireland have found DNA similarities with bones from Early Neolithic settlements in Anatolia in today’s Turkey.
Contemporary archaeology hypothesizes that Neolithic cultures spread to Europe, i.e. the Balkans, from Asia Minor either through migration, or through cultural exchange between neighboring human societies. Bulgarian archaeologist Krasimir Leshtakov believes that both hypotheses are valid, and that the Early Neolithic people who settled in the Balkans from Asia Minor were not colonists but exiles or refugees chased away by their brethren because they developed a new and distinct culture very quickly. This is taken to mean they were not attached to the place where they came from, and were not colonists driven by a demographic explosion. Several prehistoric cultures formed in the Balkan Peninsula in this way. They do not seem to stem from a single fatherland in Anatolia but instead have more in common with one another, while each one of them has some common features with some of the Early Neolithic cultures in Anatolia. It is assumed that the residents of the Early Neolithic proto-city of Yabalkovo came from Northwest Anatolia, as their settlement shares some similarities with a recently discovered Neolithic settlement near Bursa, Turkey. At the same time, however, the settlement near Yabalkovo reveals characteristic that are more typical of Neolithic settlements in the eastern-most part of Anatolia such as a male deity symbolized by a phallic structure while lacking the female idols or zoomorphic figures found in other Neolithic settlements in Southern Bulgaria.
The people of Yabalkovo are believed to have came from Asia Minor by sea, sailing from a location south of today’s Izmir in Turkey to Europe’s Aegean Sea coast and reaching the region of today’s Haskovo through the Eastern Rhodope Mountains or by going up the valley of the Maritsa River. At least two Neolithic settlements similar to the one near Yabalkovo have been found in Southern Bulgaria along this alleged migration route – one near the city of Kardzhali and another one near the town of Krumovgrad. The proto-city near Yabalkovo probably controlled the raft trade traffic on the Maritsa River because the archaeologists have found there “imported” items from other parts of modern-day Bulgaria – flint from today’s Northeast Bulgaria, nephrite from an unknown distant location, precious stones from the Rhodope Mountains, and copper ore from the Eastern and Northern Rhodope Mountains. The richness of the Early Neolithic proto-city near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo is believed to have led to its demise. It existed for about 600 years. Its mighty fortifications indicate that its inhabitants had a lot to be afraid of. In one of the moats the archaeologists have found the bones of a warrior, a defender, with a 6 cm incision in his skull caused by a stone ax blow. He was probably killed when the proto-city was looted and burned down. The archaeologists have found no necropolis, only several funerals near the Maritsa River indicating that the prehistoric people connected the afterlife with the river.
The Early Neolithic settlement near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo also appears to be the earliest known site with metallurgy in Europe. Tests carried out in the Berlin Museum of Natural History of smelted copper discovered at Yabalkovo in 2003 have proven that this was the earliest case of metallurgy in all of Europe pushing back by 1,500 years the time when metallurgy appeared on the European continent. The copper ore was probably mined under Mount Aida in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains.
A number of artifacts from the Antiquity and Middle Ages have also been discovered on the archaeological site near Bulgaria’s Yabalkovo, one of the most unique ones being an Ancient Thracian bronze statue of a lion with its head turned backwards. The lion statue was found in 2011. It is dated to the 5th-4th century BC, and is the only one of its kind known in world archaeology.
In the fall of 2013, after it had been excavated since 2000, part of the prehistoric settlement near Yabalkovo was covered with concrete for the construction of a section of the Maritsa Highway running in Southern Bulgaria.

By Ivan Dikov

Original Article:

Archaeologyinbulgaria

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studying ancient avian bones found in the northern part of that country, suspect the remains may be that of the oldest known example of chicken domestication. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe their analysis and report on their findings.

Identifying the first culture to domesticate chickens has been hotly debated for over a century, without any clear winner, and it may remain that way as evidence is piling up suggesting that chickens were likely domesticated in a variety of places across the globe and have since undergone comingling, creating a mish-mash of genetic evidence. In this new effort, the researchers sought to find out if ancient bone samples found in four different archeological sites in northern China were chicken ancestors and if so, if they were domesticated. The bones were found alongside charcoal and other animal remains, such as dogs and pigs, both of which are believed to have been domesticated by that time in history, suggesting that the bird bones were from a species that had been domesticated as well. The excavation sites have also given up other findings which suggest the people who’d been barbecuing the animals were farmers, not hunters, which also adds credence to the idea that the birds they were eating were domesticated.

The bones in question (39 in all) had been previously carbon dated to various ages, ranging from 2,300 to 10,500 years ago. The new research focused on gathering genetic evidence and using mitochondrial DNA sequencing to determine if the birds were chicken ancestors, or not. The team compared the DNA of the ancient birds with modern birds of the Galliformes order, which include rock partridges, pheasants and of course chickens and also to samples of ancient bones found in other places, such as Spain, Hawaii, Easter Island and Chile. Their analyses revealed that the birds were members of the genus Gallus, which includes modern chickens. But it’s still not enough to prove that they were actually the first example of domesticated chickens because there is still no conclusive proof that the birds were actually domesticated.

Abstract
Chickens represent by far the most important poultry species, yet the number, locations, and timings of their domestication have remained controversial for more than a century. Here we report ancient mitochondrial DNA sequences from the earliest archaeological chicken bones from China, dating back to ∼10,000 B.P. The results clearly show that all investigated bones, including the oldest from the Nanzhuangtou site, are derived from the genus Gallus, rather than any other related genus, such as Phasianus. Our analyses also suggest that northern China represents one region of the earliest chicken domestication, possibly dating as early as 10,000 y B.P. Similar to the evidence from pig domestication, our results suggest that these early domesticated chickens contributed to the gene pool of modern chicken populations. Moreover, our results support the idea that multiple members of the genus Gallus, specifically Gallus gallus and Gallus sonneratii contributed to the gene pool of the modern domestic chicken. Our results provide further support for the growing evidence of an early mixed agricultural complex in northern China.

Nov 25, 2014 by Bob Yirka

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Original article:
phys.org

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Topic: Chickens

All chickens descend from south east Asia, new archaeological research has   found, with scientists dubbing these common ancestors the “great, great   grandmothers of the chicken world”.

The team of researchers from the University of New England (Armidale,   Australia) studied the ancient DNA – known as mitochondrial DNA – preserved   within 48 archaeological chicken bones and found the same DNA signature   present in bones from Europe, Thailand, the Pacific, Chile, the Dominican   Republic and Spanish colonial sites in Florida.

Project researcher Dr Alison Storey says chickens have been domesticated for   at least 5400 years and it has been difficult to determine the ancient   origin and dispersal of chickens because of the way successive civilisations   carried the domesticated poultry with them wherever they went.

“What we found is that one of the sequences in the different chicken   bones was very similar over a wide geographic area. This tells us that the   chickens that we found in archaeological sites all over the world shared an   ancient ancestor who was domesticated somewhere in southeast Asia   a long time ago,” Dr Storey told the ABC.

“All of our domestic chickens are descended from a few hens that I like   to think of as the ‘great, great grandmothers’ of the chicken world,”   she says.

The report, published in the journal PLos ONE, has implications for the world   of human movement as much as it does for the DNA of poultry. The report   says: “Understanding when chickens were transported out of   domestication centres and the directions in which they were moved provides   information about prehistoric migration, trade routes, and cross cultural   diffusion.”

Original article:

thetelegraph.co.uk

By Anneli Knight, Brisbane, Jul;y 27, 2012

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