Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopia’





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


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injera bread

injera bread


Original Article:

From Earl Nurse, CNN, Dec 18, 2015

Gluten-free and rich in protein, fiber and minerals, Teff is starting to gain a foothold as a new “superfood”, along the likes of quinoa and spelt.

The grain has been grown in Ethiopia for thousands of years, but its export was banned by the government until this year. Now it is appearing on supermarket shelves worldwide.

It’s also the main ingredient of injera, the flat pancakes that are the centerpiece of Ethiopian food and the source of livelihood for around 6.5 million small farmers.

“When you look across Ethiopia, Teff is the most important commodity for Ethiopia, both on the production side as well as the consumption side,” says Khalid Bomba, the CEO of the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency. “Teff is native to the country, but is also a huge part of our culture.”

The Ethiopian government ended the export of raw teff in 2006, as rising grain prices prompted fears of a food crisis. Processed teff — in the form of injera — was still exported, mainly to the Ethiopian diaspora in northern Europe, the Middle East and North America.

The export ban was partially lifted this year, after investments in mechanization and better farming techniques increased yields by 40%.

“The concern that the Ethiopian government had in the past about exporting was in making sure that there was sufficient amount of supply for the domestic market — for urban consumers, as well as the rural poor,” Bomba says. “[Rising yields] have given the government confidence that systematic exports of Teff can gain smallholder farmers in Ethiopia… increased income, without harming the domestic consumers.”

Lifting the ban could create a new and lucrative export industry for Ethiopia, as consumers in Europe and North America latch onto the nutritional properties of teff. Teff flour sells for around $6-10 per pound, and the gluten-free seeds are now in high demand at health food shops the world over.

Hailu Tessema, CEO of Mama Fresh, which exports injera to the US and Scandinavia, says that the demand is growing, and importers from countries across Europe and Africa have approached him looking to secure supplies.

“Every year, the demand increases by foreigners from 7-10%,” he says. “So that is good for us, we have got the business in our hands; we have a market.”

If you go to the CNN link there is a video as well. Check it out.

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Topic:Ancient Tool use

The earliest evidence of human tool use may be written on the bones of other animals, but in order to produce reliable conclusions, researchers are calling for improved tools and analysis, including an easy to access large collection of sample specimens and more unified standards.

Archaeologists and anthropologists look beyond the fossils of ancient human relatives to interpret the presence of our ancestors, including the items associated with day-to-day life, from discarded tools to the ashes from fire pits. The marks made by crude stone cutting tools on the bones of animals that early humans ate are another piece of evidence.

These markings have tremendous impact on the understanding of human evolution.

“Most of our interpretations of what early humans were doing depend on correctly identifying what they were doing on bones,” said Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo, an anthropologist and archaeologist at the Complutense University of Madrid, in Spain. “Detecting exactly how these marks were made on the bones is what makes us grant support to one model of human evolution or a different model of human evolution.”

These types of bone marks are difficult to interpret. Cutting tools leave marks on bones, but so can other factors, including other predators’ teeth and weathering. This has led to notable disagreements about individual bone markings; one finding would, if verified, push back the date of the earliest known human tool use by almost a million years.

In 2010, a research group claimed that 3.4 million-year-old fossil bones found in Ethiopia showed evidence of cutting-tool use. Dominguez-Rodrigo and colleagues published months later claiming that trampling of the bones caused the marks.

The Olduvai Gorge site, also located in Ethiopia, is generally accepted as the location where the oldest tools — about 2.6 million years old — were found. However, some of the markings of bones found at that site are disputed.

For decades, researchers have scoured sites in Africa for both marked bones and ancient tools. They have also been experimenting on and collecting the bones of prey animals in order to better understand the effects of many factors, from the biting and tearing of a feeding crocodile to chemical processes.

“Butchery marks are as important as stone tools,” said Jackson Njau, a paleoanthropologist at Indiana University in Bloomington and an associate researcher at the Stone Age Institute. “But stone tools are rocks; they don’t decay.”

Writing in this week’s issue of Science, Njau calls for measures to help scientists make consistent, reliable determinations of the causes of marks.

Njau said that one aspect of the solution would be gathering together a large online collection of samples for making comparisons. He has made extensive efforts to document the marks left by crocodile teeth, which can create patterns similar to those made by stone tools. Because marks that look superficially similar reveal crucial differences under a microscope, researchers must compare a new mark to numerous others before making a firm determination of its origin.

If large collections now held by different researchers and museums were available in an online database of microscopic images, researchers could instantly access images of bones modified by many processes, such as the chewing action of different carnivores or cuts and slices made by researchers recreating butchery techniques with ancient-style tools.

“That would certainly be helpful,” said Pat Shipman, a now-retired anthropologist who in 1981, published one of the first papers on microscopic analysis of bone markings. “How big your comparative sample is and how varied it is and how varied the conditions to which the bone was subjected all influences your ability to make a diagnosis of that mark.”

Dominguez-Rodrigo said that Njau’s ideas could help, but would not completely solve the issues. He emphasized that looking at published photographs cannot convey the same knowledge as looking through a microscope at many bones deformed in a wide variety of ways.

“Nothing replaces doing the experimentation,” said Dominguez-Rodrigo.

“The subtleties are hard to capture and describe,” said Shipman. “You do have to get that gut-level intuitive feel for it.”

Njau said that comparisons are important, but also the criteria used by researchers. He emphasized the need for considering the contextual information of a bone marking in its interpretation so that additional indications of the history surrounding the fossil can be considered. He said that scientists must weigh additional factors when analyzing bones for evidence of tool use, including the presence in the same soil layer of stone artifacts, carnivore activity and other factors.

“We have these resources, it’s time now to put this together to make it available,” said Njau.

Original Article:


April 13, 2012

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Topic: Ancient grain

Teff Grain photo by KEITH BEATY / TORONTO STAR

Ancient Grain Contains Bran and Germ, Can be Used as Cereal or Flour

Teff is an extremely versatile grain that is highly  nutritious. It is also the world’s tiniest, but packs a lot of nutrients,  including Calcium, Potassium and Iron.

The highly nutritious grain, Teff (or Tef), has an ancient and fascinating  history. It is the tiniest grain in the world, taking roughly 150 grains to  weigh as much as one grain of wheat! Because of its small size, teff is not able  to be separated into germ, bran, and endosperm to create other products. And  since it is so small, the bulk of the grain consists of mostly bran and  germ–the most nutritious part of any grain.

The nutrients contained in Teff include:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorous
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Barium
  • Potassium
  • Thiamine
  • Amino acids, especially high levels of lysine

Teff is quite versatile and can be prepared many different ways. It can be  boiled and prepared as a simple hot breakfast cereal. It can be ground and used  as a flour replacement, or since it has slight mucilaginous properties, it works  well as a thickener in sauces or stews. Teff can also be sprouted and used as a  topper on sandwiches or salads.

One simple preparation is to combine 1/2 cup of teff with 2 cups of water.  Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes, or  until water is absorbed. Remove from heat, leave covered, and let sit for 5  minutes. Season to taste with sea salt, butter, maple syrup, fruit, or  herbs.

In soups or stews it can be added uncooked 30 minutes before serving, or  cooked, 10 minutes before serving.

injera flat bread

Teff is commonly used in Ethiopia for the making of injera, a  fermented pancake-like flat bread. Injera is eaten frequently alongside a  stew-type dish. Fermentation is allowed for an average of three days, and can  vary based on individual preference. The fermentation process also causes the  generation of additional  vitamins. Practically gluten free, it is surprising that people are only  beginning to using it in other countries.

Teff has a mild nutty taste. There are different colors of teff, and flavors  vary accordingly. Colors are influenced by growing region. The three general  types are white, red, and brown.

White teff is the preferred variety. It is more particular about its growing conditions, and only grows in the highlands of Ethiopia and is more expensive. In Ethiopia, white teff is a prestigious grain, and is consumed by wealthy Ethiopian families.

Red teff is the least desirable, but contains the highest amounts of iron.  Brown teff contains moderate amounts of iron.

Teff is believed to have originated in Ethiopia between 4000 and 1000 BC. It  was also discovered that teff was so revered 55 centuries ago that it was placed  with the pharaoh’s in the pyramids as their last food for traveling!

Original article:

Teff plant


By Sherry LaBonte, Jul 29, 2007,

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