Posts Tagged ‘China’
ByCATHLEEN O’GRADY (US) –
Bones and burial grounds point male children getting better-quality food.
Around 7,000 years ago in China’s Central Plains, the Yangshao culture began to flourish along the Yellow River. It was another example of the same widespread Neolithic culture that was also emerging in Europe around the time, with new developments in pottery and agriculture. In China, it dominated the region for approximately 2,000 years.
Yangshao remains have offered a team of international researchers insight into an interesting question: did gender differences change alongside agricultural practices? They argue that gender inequality emerged along with the new crops among the Yangshao. The archaeological data has some interesting signs, but it’s possible that the researchers are overstating their case: the only evidence they have is of inequality in people’s diets, which doesn’t tell us much about the structure of inequality of societies.
Millet cereals were domesticated in the region as early as 10,000 years ago and were the primary crop of Yangshao cultures. Wheat, barley, and soybeans were introduced to the region after the end of Yangshao, around 4,000 years ago, although archaeological traces of them remain low for centuries. According to historical records, they were thought to be inferior foods, suitable only for protecting the poor against famine. That only changed around 2,000 years ago, when improved technological methods made it easier to refine them.
Agricultural changes aren’t only reflected in artifacts; they show up in excavated bones, too. Millet uses a type of photosynthesis that differs from the vast majority of plants, and it’s the only domesticated plant in Early China to use this type of photosynthesis. The result of this is that the carbon signature in the bones of people who ate primarily millet looks different from that of people who ate other plants. Nitrogen traces in bones can point to the quantity of animal products in an individual’s diet.
The researchers compared Yangshao bones with remains from the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty, which lasted from 771 to 221 BC. In the Eastern Zhou bones, they found evidence that men and women were eating different diets: men’s bones had evidence of higher consumption of animal products and millet, while women’s bones showed evidence of higher consumption of the more recent (and scorned) crops of wheat, barley, and soy. The Yangshao bones, on the other hand, generally didn’t show a significant difference, with the exception of one of the five sites studied. This suggests that “meals were no longer shared at the household level during Eastern Zhou,” the authors write.
On its own, this is not evidence of a bias favoring males. There could be cultural reasons for a gender-based split in diet that weren’t actively bad for women—although the fact that women were eating more of the food that was considered low quality is a bit telling.
But other strands of evidence corroborate the inequality story: women’s bones from Eastern Zhou, but not Yangshao, showed more signs of childhood malnutrition, and size differences between the sexes increased from Yangshao to Eastern Zhou. Both of these signs indicate that male children had better quality food, pointing to greater parental investment in male children. And female graves in Eastern Zhou had fewer burial items and were less likely to have a coffin than male graves, while again, Yangshao graves were more egalitarian.
It’s an interesting result, but it’s always a mistake to draw too many parallels with modern society from archaeological research. It’s also not clear that this is really evidence of the first emergence of gender inequality in this region of China.
It is evidence of a massive cultural change in how the genders related to each other, certainly. But food-based inequality isn’t the only kind of gender inequality that a society might practice—there are plenty of inarguably patriarchal modern societies where families eat meals together. It’s entirely possible that Yangshao did have inequality, but that it took a different shape and would have left a different kind of archaeological presence.
An open question is how the change in gender practices and agriculture are interwoven. Did the change in agriculture itself lead to the change in gender norms? The causal story is likely to be complicated, and the authors of the paper steer clear of suggesting that one led to the other, but the relationship between them is something that future research can hopefully illuminate.
PNAS, 2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1611742114 (About DOIs).
This post originated on Ars Technica
By Mark Miller
Ancient remnants of oxen stew partially preserved in a cauldron, have been found in the tomb of a Chinese nobleman. The tomb, in Henan Province near the city of Xinyang, dates back about 2,000 years in an area of the Chu Kingdom of the Warring States period. Officials are keeping the exact location of the tomb a secret for reasons of security.
The stew or meat soup contains oxen bones, meat and other ingredients, though stories on the Internet did not mention the other contents. The presence of the bones prompted archaeologists to conclude the cauldron contained beef soup or beef stew.
A brief article on the find in China’s Global Times website says the favorite foods of nobility were often buried with them so they could have feasts in the afterlife.
Global Times mentions other ancient finds of foods dating to antiquity, including:
A pot of lotus root soup from the Han Dynasty of 206 BC to 220 AD was unearthed at Hunan Provinces’ Mawangdui Tombs in 1972.
Dumplings from a Tang Dynasty tomb dating to between 618 and 907 AD in Turpan of Xinjiang region.
About 26 liters (6.87 gallons) of ancient baijiu liquor at Xi’an City of a Shaanxi Province
Rice was used as a ‘summer crop’ by the Indus civilization.
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—The latest research on archaeological sites of the ancient Indus Civilisation, which stretched across what is now Pakistan and northwest India during the Bronze Age, has revealed that domesticated rice farming in South Asia began far earlier than previously believed, and may have developed in tandem with – rather than as a result of – rice domestication in China.
The research also confirms that Indus populations were the earliest people to use complex multi-cropping strategies across both seasons, growing foods during summer (rice, millets and beans) and winter (wheat, barley and pulses), which required different watering regimes. The findings suggest a network of regional farmers supplied assorted produce to the markets of the civilisation’s ancient cities.
Evidence for very early rice use has been known from the site of Lahuradewa in the central Ganges basin, but it has long been thought that domesticated rice agriculture didn’t reach South Asia until towards the end of the Indus era, when the wetland rice arrived from China around 2000 BC. Researchers found evidence of domesticated rice in South Asia as much as 430 years earlier.
The new research is published today in the journals Antiquity and Journal of Archaeological Science by researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Division of Archaeology, in collaboration with colleagues at Banaras Hindu University and the University of Oxford.
“We found evidence for an entirely separate domestication process in ancient South Asia, likely based around the wild species Oryza nivara. This led to the local development of a mix of ‘wetland’ and ‘dryland’ agriculture of local Oryza sativa indica rice agriculture before the truly ‘wetland’ Chinese rice, Oryza sativa japonica, arrived around 2000 BC,” says study co-author Dr Jennifer Bates
“While wetland rice is more productive, and took over to a large extent when introduced from China, our findings appear to show there was already a long-held and sustainable culture of rice production in India as a widespread summer addition to the winter cropping during the Indus civilisation.”
Co-author Dr Cameron Petrie says that the location of the Indus in a part of the world that received both summer and winter rains may have encouraged the development of seasonal crop rotation before other major civilisations of the time, such as Ancient Egypt and China’s Shang Dynasty.
“Most contemporary civilisations initially utilised either winter crops, such as the Mesopotamian reliance on wheat and barley, or the summer crops of rice and millet in China – producing surplus with the aim of stockpiling,” says Petrie.
“However, the area inhabited by the Indus is at a meteorological crossroads, and we found evidence of year-long farming that predates its appearance in the other ancient river valley civilisations.”
The archaeologists sifted for traces of ancient grains in the remains of several Indus villages within a few kilometers of the site called Rakhigari: the most recently excavated of the Indus cities that may have maintained a population of some 40,000.
As well as the winter staples of wheat and barley and winter pulses like peas and vetches, they found evidence of summer crops: including domesticated rice, but also millet and the tropical beans urad and horsegram, and used radiocarbon dating to provide the first absolute dates for Indus multi-cropping: 2890-2630 BC for millets and winter pulses, 2580-2460 BC for horsegram, and 2430-2140 BC for rice.
Millets are a group of small grain, now most commonly used in birdseed, which Petrie describes as “often being used as something to eat when there isn’t much else”. Urad beans, however, are a relative of the mung bean, often used in popular types of Indian dhal today.
In contrast with evidence from elsewhere in the region, the village sites around Rakhigari reveal that summer crops appear to have been much more popular than the wheats of winter.
The researchers say this may have been down to the environmental variation in this part of the former civilisation: on the seasonally flooded Ghaggar-Hakra plains where different rainfall patterns and vegetation would have lent themselves to crop diversification – potentially creating local food cultures within individual areas.
This variety of crops may have been transported to the cities. Urban hubs may have served as melting pots for produce from regional growers, as well as meats and spices, and evidence for spices have been found elsewhere in the region.
While they don’t yet know what crops were being consumed at Rakhigarhi, Jennifer Bates points out that: “It is certainly possible that a sustainable food economy across the Indus zone was achieved through growing a diverse range of crops, with choice being influenced by local conditions.
“It is also possible that there was trade and exchange in staple crops between populations living in different regions, though this is an idea that remains to be tested.”
“Such a diverse system was probably well suited to mitigating risk from shifts in climate,” adds Cameron Petrie. “It may be that some of today’s farming monocultures could learn from the local crop diversity of the Indus people 4,000 years ago.”
The findings are the latest from the Land, Water and Settlement Project, which has been conducting research on the ancient Indus Civilisation in northwest India since 2008.
Article Source: University of Cambridge news release.
Archaeologists discover evidence for a 5,000-year-old beer concoction and the earliest known occurrence of barley in China.
Archaeological artifacts from a site in northern China suggest a 5,000-year-old recipe for beer, according to a study*. The time of onset of beer brewing in ancient China remains unclear. Jiajing Wang and colleagues report the discovery of brewing artifacts in two pits dated to around 3400-2900 BC and unearthed at Mijiaya, an archaeological site near a tributary of the Wei River in northern China. Yellowish remnants found in wide-mouthed pots, funnels, and amphorae suggest that the vessels were used for beer brewing, filtration, and storage. Stoves found in the pits likely provided heat for mashing grains. Morphological analysis of starch grains and phytoliths found inside the artifacts revealed broomcorn millets, barley, Job’s tears, and tubers; some starch grains bore marks reminiscent of malting and mashing. The presence of oxalate, a byproduct of beer brewing that was identified using ion chromatography, in some of the artifacts further supported their use as brewing vessels. Together, the lines of evidence suggest that the Yangshao people may have concocted a 5,000-year-old beer recipe that ushered the cultural practice of beer brewing into ancient China. According to the authors, the identification of barley residues in the Mijiaya artifacts represents the earliest known occurrence of barley in China, pushing back the crop’s advent in the country by approximately 1,000 years and suggesting that the crop may have been used as a beer-making ingredient long before it became an agricultural staple.
NANJING – Chinese archaeologists said they have found a paddy dating back more than 8,000 years, which could be the earliest wet rice farming site in the world.
The field, covering less than 100 square meters, was discovered at the neolithic ruins of Hanjing in Sihong county in East China’s Jiangsu province in November 2015, according to a spokesman with the archeology institute of Nanjing Museum.
At a seminar held in late April to discuss findings at the Hanjing ruins, more than 70 scholars from universities, archeology institutes and museums across the country concluded that the wet rice field was the oldest ever discovered.
Researchers with the institute found that the paddy was divided into parts with different shapes, each covering less than 10 square meters.
They also found carbonized rice that was confirmed to have grown more than 8,000 years ago based on carbon dating, as well as evidence that the soil was repeatedly planted with rice.
Lin Liugen, head of the institute, said Chinese people started to cultivate rice about 10,000 years ago and carbonized rice of the age has been found, but paddy remnants are quite rare.
Lin said the findings would be significant for research on the origin of rice farming in China.
By David Keys, Jan 10, 2016
Archaeologists have discovered the oldest tea in the world among the treasures buried with a Chinese emperor.
New scientific evidence suggests that ancient Chinese royals were partial to a cuppa – at least 2150 years ago.
Indeed, they seem to have liked it so much that they insisted on being buried with it – so they could enjoy a cup of char in the next world.
Previously, no tea of that antiquity had ever been found – although a single ancient Chinese text from a hundred years later claimed that China was by then exporting tea leaves to Tibet.
The new discovery was made by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
By examining tiny crystals trapped between hairs on the surface of the leaves and by using mass spectrometry, they were able to work out that the leaves, buried with a mid second century BC Chinese emperor, were actually tea.
The scientific analysis of the food and other offerings in the Emperor’s tomb complex have also revealed that, as well as tea, he was determined to take millet, rice and chenopod with him to the next life.
The tea aficionado ruler – the Han Dynasty Emperor Jing Di – died in 141 BC, so the tea dates from around that year. Buried in a wooden box, it was among a huge number of items interred in a series of pits around the Emperor’s tomb complex for his use in the next world.
Other items included weapons, pottery figurines, an ‘army’ of ceramic animals and several real full size chariots complete with their horses.
The tomb, located near the Emperor Jing Di’s capital Chang’an (modern Xian), can now be visited. Although the site was excavated back in the 1990s, it is only now that scientific examination of the organic finds has identified the tea leaves.
The tea-drinking emperor himself was an important figure in early Chinese history. Often buffeted by intrigue and treachery, he was nevertheless an unusually enlightened and liberal ruler. He was determined to give his people a better standard of living and therefore massively reduced their tax burden. He also ordered that criminals should be treated more humanely – and that sentences should be reduced. What’s more, he successfully reduced the power of the aristocracy.
“The discovery shows how modern science can reveal important previously unknown details about ancient Chinese culture. The identification of the tea found in the emperor’s tomb complex gives us a rare glimpse into very ancient traditions which shed light on the origins of one of the world’s favourite beverages,” said Professor Dorian Fuller, Director of the International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology, based in UCL, London.
The research has just been published in Nature’s online open access journal Scientific Reports.
The tea discovered in the Emperor’s tomb seems to have been of the finest quality, consisting solely of tea buds – the small unopened leaves of the tea plant, usually considered to be of superior quality to ordinary tea leaves.