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On this day ten years ago…
via Victoria suburb yields 850 BC archeological site

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Professor Oliver Craig sampling pottery Credit: Carl Heron

York.ac.uk

A new study shows that ancient Siberian hunters created heat resistant pots so that they could cook hot meals – surviving the harshest seasons of the ice age by extracting nutritious bone grease and marrow from meat.

The research – which was undertaken at the University of York – also suggests there was no single point of origin for the world’s oldest pottery.

Academics extracted and analysed ancient fats and lipids that had been preserved in pieces of ancient pottery – found at a number of sites on the Amur River in Russia – whose dates ranged between 16,000 and 12,000 years ago.

Potential

Professor Oliver Craig, Director of the BioArch Lab at the University of York, where the analysis was conducted, said: “This study illustrates the exciting potential of new methods in archaeological science: we can extract and interpret the remains of meals that were cooked in pots over 16,000 years ago.

“It is interesting that pottery emerges during these very cold periods, and not during the comparatively warmer interstadials when forest resources, such as game and nuts, were more available.”

Why these pots were first invented in the final stages of the last Ice Age has long been a mystery, as well as the kinds of food that were being prepared in them.

Climatic fluctuation

Researchers also examined pottery found from the Osipovka culture also on the Amur River. Analysis proved that pottery from there had been used to process fish, most likely migratory salmon, which offered local hunters an alternative food source during periods of major climatic fluctuation. An identical scenario was identified by the same research group in neighbouring islands of Japan.

The new study demonstrates that the world’s oldest clay cooking pots were being made in very different ways in different parts of Northeast Asia, indicating a “parallel” process of innovation, where separate groups that had no contact with each other started to move towards similar kinds of technological solutions in order to survive.

Lead author, Dr Shinya Shoda, of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Nara, Japan said:”We are very pleased with these latest results because they close a major gap in our understanding of why the world’s oldest pottery was invented in different parts of Northeast Asia in the Late Glacial Period, and also the contrasting ways in which it was being used by these ancient hunter-gatherers.

“There are some striking parallels with the way in which early pottery was used in Japan, but also some important differences that we had not expected. This leaves many new questions that we will follow up with future research.”

Origin point

Professor Peter Jordan, senior author of the study at the Arctic Centre and Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, the Netherlands said:”The insights are particularly interesting because they suggest that there was no single “origin point” for the world’s oldest pottery. We are starting to understand that very different pottery traditions were emerging around the same time but in different places, and that the pots were being used to process very different sets of resources.

“This appears to be a process of “parallel innovation” during a period of major climatic uncertainty, with separate communities facing common threats and reaching similar technological solutions.”

The last Ice Age reached its deepest point between 26,000 to 20,000 years ago, forcing humans to abandon northern regions, including large parts of Siberia. From around 19,000 years ago, temperatures slowly started to warm again, encouraging small bands of hunters to move back into these vast empty landscapes.

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IMAGE: Hypoxis angustifolia growth habit. view more
Credit: Prof. Lyn Wadley/Wits University

Eurekalert.org

News Release

The discovery also points to food being shared and the use of wooden digging sticks to extract the plants from the ground

University of the Witwatersrand

The inhabitants of the Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the Kwazulu-Natal/eSwatini border were cooking starchy plants 170 thousand years ago,” says Professor Lyn Wadley, a scientist from the Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa (Wits ESI). “This discovery is much older than earlier reports for cooking similar plants and it provides a fascinating insight into the behavioural practices of early modern humans in southern Africa. It also implies that they shared food and used wooden sticks to extract plants from the ground.”

“It is extraordinary that such fragile plant remains have survived for so long,” says Dr Christine Sievers, a scientist from the University of the Witwatersrand, who completed the archaeobotanical work with Wadley. The underground food plants were uncovered during excavations at Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains (on the border of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, and eSwatini [formerly Swaziland]), where the team has been digging since 2015. During the excavation, Wadley and Sievers recognised the small, charred cylinders as rhizomes. All appear to belong to the same species, and 55 charred, whole rhizomes were identified as Hypoxis, commonly called the Yellow Star flower. “The most likely of the species growing in KwaZulu-Natal today is the slender-leafed Hypoxis angustifolia that is favoured as food,” adds Sievers. “It has small rhizomes with white flesh that is more palatable than the bitter, orange flesh of rhizomes from the better known medicinal Hypoxis species (incorrectly called African Potato).”

The Border Cave plant identifications were made on the size and shape of the rhizomes and on the vascular structure examined under a scanning electron microscope. Modern Hypoxis rhizomes and their ancient counterparts have similar cellular structures and the same inclusions of microscopic crystal bundles, called raphides. The features are still recognisable even in the charred specimens. Over a four-year period, Wadley and Sievers made a collection of modern rhizomes and geophytes from the Lebombo area. “We compared the botanical features of the modern geophytes and the ancient charred specimens, in order to identify them,” explains Sievers.

Hypoxis rhizomes are nutritious and carbohydrate-rich with an energy value of approximately 500 KJ/100g. While they are edible raw, the rhizomes are fibrous and have high fracture toughness until they are cooked. The rhizomes are rich in starch and would have been an ideal staple plant food. “Cooking the fibre-rich rhizomes would have made them easier to peel and to digest so more of them could be consumed and the nutritional benefits would be greater,” says Wadley.

Wooden digging sticks used to extract the plants from the ground

“The discovery also implies the use of wooden digging sticks to extract the rhizomes from the ground. One of these tools was found at Border Cave and is directly dated at circa 40,000 years ago,” says co-author of the paper and co-director of the excavation, Professor Francesco d’Errico, (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Université de Bordeaux, France and University of Bergen, Norway). Dr Lucinda Backwell (Instituto Superior de Estudios Sociales, ISES-CONICET, Tucumán, Argentina) also co-authored the paper and was a co-director of the excavation.

The plants were cooked and shared

The Hypoxis rhizomes were mostly recovered from fireplaces and ash dumps rather than from surrounding sediment. “The Border Cave inhabitants would have dug Hypoxis rhizomes from the hillside near the cave, and carried them back to the cave to cook them in the ashes of fireplaces,” says Wadley. “The fact that they were brought back to the cave rather than cooked in the field suggests that food was shared at the home base. This suggests that the rhizomes were roasted in ashes and that, in the process, some were lost. While the evidence for cooking is circumstantial, it is nonetheless compelling.”

Discoveries at Border Cave

This new discovery adds to the long list of important finds at Border Cave. The site has been repeatedly excavated since Raymond Dart first worked there in 1934. Amongst earlier discoveries were the burial of a baby with a Conus seashell at 74,000 years ago, a variety of bone tools, an ancient counting device, ostrich eggshell beads, resin, and poison that may once have been used on hunting weapons.

The Border Cave Heritage Site

Border Cave is a heritage site with a small site museum. The cave and museum are open to the public, though bookings are essential [Olga Vilane (+27) (0) 72 180 4332]. Wadley and her colleagues hope that the Border Cave discovery will emphasise the importance of the site as an irreplaceable cultural resource for South Africa and the rest of the world.

About Hypoxis angustifolia

Hypoxis angustifolia is evergreen, so it has visibility year-round, unlike the more common deciduous Hypoxis species. It thrives in a variety of modern habitats and is thus likely to have had wide distribution in the past as it does today. It occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, south Sudan, some Indian Ocean islands, and as far afield as Yemen. Its presence in Yemen may imply even wider distribution of this Hypoxis plant during previous humid conditions. Hypoxis angustifolia rhizomes grow in clumps so many can be harvested at once. “All of the rhizome’s attributes imply that it could have provided a reliable, familiar food source for early humans trekking within Africa, or even out of Africa,” said Lyn Wadley. Hunter-gatherers tend to be highly mobile so the wide distribution of a potential staple plant food would have ensured food security.

 

 

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Heritagedaily.com

Scientists have reconstructed the cooking techniques of the early inhabitants of Puerto Rico by analysing the remains of clams.

 

Led by Philip Staudigel, who conducted the analysis as a graduate student at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Cardiff University, the team has used new chemical analysis techniques to identify the exact cooking temperatures at which clams were cooked over 2500 years ago.

With cooking temperatures getting up to around 200oC according to the new analysis, the team believe the early Puerto Ricans were partial to a barbeque rather than boiling their food as a soup.

The study, which also involved academics from the University of Miami and Valencia College, has been published today in the journal Science Advances.

Whilst the results throw new light on the cultural practices of the first communities to arrive on the island of Puerto Rico, they also provide at least circumstantial evidence that ceramic pottery technology was not widespread during this period of history – it’s likely that this would be the only way in which the clams could have been boiled.

Lead author of the study Dr Philip Staudigel, currently at Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “Much of peoples’ identity draws upon on where they came from, one of the most profound expressions of this is in cooking. We learn to cook from our parents, who learned from their parents.

“In many parts of the world, written records extend back thousands of years, which often includes recipes. This is not the case in the Caribbean, as there were no written texts, except for petroglyphs. By learning more about how ancient Puerto Rican natives cooked their meals, we can relate to these long-gone peoples through their food.”

In their study, the team analysed over 20kg of fossilised clam shells at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Stable Isotope Lab, which were collected from an archaeological site in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.

The pre-Arawak population of Puerto Rico were the first inhabitants of the island, arriving sometime before 3000 BC, and came from Central and/or South America. They existed primarily from fishing, hunting, and gathering near the mangrove swamps and coastal areas where they had settled.

The fossilised shells, dating back to around 700 BC, were cleaned and turned into a powder, which was then analysed to determine its mineralogy, as well as the abundance of specific chemical bonds in the sample.

When certain minerals are heated, the bonds between atoms in the mineral can rearrange themselves, which can then be measured in the lab. The amount of rearrangement is proportional to the temperature the mineral is heated.

This technique, known as clumped isotope geochemistry, is often used to determine the temperature an organism formed at but in this instance was used to reconstruct the temperature at which the clams were cooked.

The abundance of bonds in the powdered fossils was then compared to clams which were cooked at known temperatures, as well as uncooked modern clams collected from a nearby beach.

Results showed that that the majority of clams were heated to temperatures greater than 100°C – the boiling point of water – but no greater than 200°C. The results also revealed a disparity between the cooking temperature of different clams, which the researchers believe could be associated with a grilling technique in which the clams are heated from below, meaning the ones at the bottom were heated more than the ones at the top.

“The clams from the archaeological site appeared to be most similar to clams which had been barbequed,” continued Dr Staudigel.

“Ancient Puerto Ricans didn’t use cookbooks, at least none that lasted to the present day. The only way we have of knowing how our ancestors cooked is to study what they left behind. Here, we demonstrated that a relatively new technique can be used to learn what temperature they cooked at, which is one important detail of the cooking process.”

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I just had to share this. All about food with amazing photos,envoking both the ancient and modern.  JLP

 

Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of national feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go. – Anthony Bourdain If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. – J.R.R. […]

via Everything We Are — Steve McCurry’s Blog

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Lama

Forbes.com

 

An archaeologist working at a site along the north coast of Peru recently discovered a cooking pot carefully buried under a house floor. The simple, well-used pot contained portions of a llama’s face as well as a mishmash of other ingredients that may have been chosen for what they represented rather than how they tasted.

The pot was discovered at Wasi Huachuma, a site dating to between 600-850 AD. This period of history involved increased urbanization, irrigation, and other changes to the Moche culture in Peru. By the end of the era, environmental and political instability had led to interpersonal conflict. Wasi Huachuma was positioned just a few kilometers from three different centers of power in this unstable environment, and itself had seven distinct sectors. The most complex part of the site included residential structures, terraces, and a cemetery.

Underneath one house floor in this complex sector was a standard cooking pot, “on its side, with the mouth opening to the east and splash zone of botanical and faunal materials surrounding it,” found by archaeologist Guy Duke of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who published his analysis in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Its shape, he noticed, was similar to those found elsewhere in this time period in Peru, often used for boiling and brewing chicha (corn beer) and stews.

The pot was not a new one; Duke saw evidence of burning on the outside and inside that suggested it had been used before. And the contents of the pot were surprising. Duke reports that he found bones from domestic animals in the pot, including guinea pig and llama that had been raised locally. Additionally, maize, common beans, squash, potato, and chili pepper were found, along with crabs, flathead mullet, and the plant coca.

“While the method of cooking was simple – add ingredients plus water to the pot, heat to boil,” Duke says,  “understanding how and whether to apply particular knowledge was dependent on the material.” For example, butchering the llama to extract the jaw piece requires different skills than cleaning a deep sea fish or preparing potatoes and squash. Even more importantly, most of the stew’s ingredients had ritual significance based on what archaeologists know about the Moche culture. Camelids like llamas produced wool, were eaten, and were also ritually important; maize or corn figures into Moche iconography; fish were sometimes burial offerings.

All of these ingredients, while commonly eaten, did not add up to any known Moche stew recipe. Because the stew pot was buried underneath a house, purposefully marked by a stone, Duke surmises that “the vessel and its contents were a dedicatory offering of some sort.” He explains that “this deposit, in this location, was purposeful, intentional, and laden with meaning. Each element of it was chosen from an array of materials available, some from the local fields and seas, some from much further afield, though not necessarily any less familiar. The materials assembled in this dedicatory deposit neatly bundle together the various geographic and environmental regions accessed by the Moche.”

Zooarchaeologist Tanya Peres of Florida State University is impressed by Duke’s work, telling me that his research “is critical in teaching us about the nuanced ways in which food items, cookware, and culinary tools, when analyzed contextually, lend us information about foodways, social and ceremonial meanings.” Peres is particularly intrigued by what the pot may have meant to the person or people who put it there. “Were the animal and plant remains placed in the vessel at different points in the Moche calendars? Might this be evidence of an older generation maintaining the old customs? Or a younger generation adopting new ways of practicing Moche culture?”

Duke essentially sees the pot and its stew as an “amalgam of products with a variety of social significances, from the practical to the supernatural, all of which were part of the everyday lived experience of a Moche person.” Peres agrees and notes that “the way Duke tells the story of the pot, the entirety of Moche culinary knowledge is wrapped up in this one vessel. It is a compelling, evidence-based foodways story.”

While the discovery of the stew pot and its contents is unique in ancient Peru, Duke believes that “the convergences of these foods, these practices, at this obscure site highlight the intricate interconnectedness of the surrounding area and the regions beyond. This singular deposit encapsulates the role of the everyday in the special and, perhaps even more importantly, the special in the everyday.”

 

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New discoveries made at the Klasies River Cave in South Africa’s southern Cape, where charred food remains from hearths were found, provide the first archaeological evidence that anatomically modern humans were roasting and eating plant starches, such as those from tubers and rhizomes, as early as 120,000 years ago.

Source: Earliest evidence of the cooking and eating of starch

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