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Researchers sample the contents of Ötzi the Iceman’s stomach to figure out the exact species of plants and animals that made up his final meal.

 

original article:

Nationalgeographic.com

By maya wei-haas

 

5,300 Years Ago, Ötzi the

Iceman Died.

Now We Know His Last Meal.

It took 20 years to find his stomach. Now researchers know what was inside—in excruciating detail.

 

ÖTZI THE ICEMAN’S stomach wasn’t where it was supposed to be. The misplaced organ eluded researchers for some 20 years. But in 2009, while looking at new radiographic scans, they finally found it—inexplicably pushed up under his ribs, where the lower lungs usually sit. What’s more, it was completely full.

Since 1991, when a pair of hikers found the 5,300-year-old hunter in the Ötztal Alps, researchers have been scouring Ötzi’s frozen, shriveled form for clues to life in the past and his violent demise. They’ve studied his sheepskin coat and goat skin tights; scrutinized his tooth decay; ogled his likely frostbite-induced nub on his toe; ruminated over parasitic worm eggs in his gut; and cataloged every tattoo inked on his skin.

And now, after putting the stomach contents through a battery of tests, the researchers determined the ice mummy’s final meal: dried ibex meat and fat, red deer, einkorn wheat, and traces of toxic fern. The results, published this week in the journal Current Biology, offer a stunningly detailed peek into an ancient diet and hint at possible food preparation methods.

The Lost Stomach

In the late 90s, with Ötzi’s stomach nowhere to be found, researchers studied the nitrogen isotopes of the mummy’s hair for dietary clues, which suggested the Iceman was a vegetarian. Later analysis of his colon contents pointed to Ötzi’s omnivorous ways, revealing he ate not only cereals but also red deer and goat meat in the day before his death.

 

They located the wandering organ by examining Ötzi’s gall stones, which form in the gallbladder, a small sack sitting below the liver near the stomach. By lining up the position of surrounding organs in radiographic images, the team finally found the stomach.

To sample it, however, scientists had to first defrost the mummy, which is kept at a chilly 21.2 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent microbial invasion. They then used an endoscopic tool to pull 11 blobs of brownish yellow material from his stomach and intestines.

Unlike the mushy intestinal material, the crumbly stomach stuffs were essentially freeze dried, study author Frank Maixner explains. “It has an interesting appearance, actually,” he says.

The research team first took a peek under magnification. “Already under a microscope it was clear it was an omnivore diet,” says Maixner, who is a microbiologist at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy. Tiny flecks of undigested fibers of plants and meat were visible in the sample, surrounded by a cloudy haze of fat. The team then began their array of tests, which included DNA, proteins, lipids, metabolites, and more.

Ötzi’s Last Meal

Lipids and protein analysis indicate that Ötzi was eating both muscle and fat of the ibex (Capra ibex), a goat still common in the Ötztal Alps. The high-fat stomach contents would have supported energy-intensive treks. “Even though maybe ibex fat tastes horrible,” Maixner jokes.

But curiously, though DNA analysis suggests red deer (Cervus elaphus) was also part of the meal, researchers couldn’t figure out what part of the creature Ötzi ate. One possibility is that he consumed its organs, like the spleen, liver, or brain. Degradation may also be an issue. “It’s really hard to say,” Maixner says.

They could, however, look at meat preparation. By studying the meat’s microstructures and chemistry and comparing it to modern cooked and uncooked meats, they surmised Ötzi’s meat was not heated above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s most likely the meat was dried for preservation, Maixner says, since fresh meat spoils quickly. The presence of carbon flecks also hint the meat could have been smoked.

Ötzi also ate einkorn wheat and the toxic bracken fern. When eaten in sufficient doses, bracken has been associated with anemia in cattle, and blindness in sheep. It may also have carcinogenic effects. Yet some people still eat small quantities of the plant.

It’s possible Ötzi also indulged in this greenery. “ You can go as far as he might have treated stomach ache with this fern since we knew that he suffered from some stomach pathogens,” says Maixner. But he adds, “this, for me at least, goes a little bit too far.” Another possibility is that he wrapped his food in fern, accidentally ingesting pieces along with his snack—an idea previously proposed for Ötzi’s ingested moss.

Peeking at the Past Through Ötzi’s Stomach

Together, the diet shows a well-prepared meal, with some fiber, protein and lots of energy-rich fat. “They had knowledge on making preparing the proper clothes, the proper hunting equipment, and this is also true for the diet,” Maixner says. “They were clearly well prepared.”

Though it’s just a single sample, the results give a surprisingly detailed look into Ötzi’s final hours. “I don’t know if we’re going to get a whole lot better than this,” says Katherine Ryan Amato, a biological anthropologist at Northwestern University who wasn’t involved in the work.

Researchers have long used indirect methods to look at diet, broadly looking at transitions through time, she explains. “This actually lets us get at it on a finer scale and talk about it in more detail,” she says, “which is really exciting.”

The events surrounding Ötzi’s death are still debated. His many recent wounds point to violent conflict, and some say Ötzi fled into the mountains while being hunted down. But Maixner says that the last meal points to a slightly different story: “I personally think he was prepared for this trek.”

The mix of cereals and meats—and just two completed arrows in his deer hide quiver—suggests he hadn’t just eaten a fresh kill. Instead, in the hours before his death, Ötzi likely consumed the contents of what Maixner calls “a well-prepared doggy bag.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Original Article:

Szymon Zdziebłowski 

Scienceinpoland.pap.pl

 

The development of agriculture in Europe not only revolutionised food acquisition, but also brought changes in the light sources our ancestors used, says archaeologist Dr. Krzysztof Tunia.

In the area of present-day Poland, until about the 5th millennium BC, to light up the darkness people used light from bonfires and probably torches in the form of wooden fins. Lighting changed with the knowledge of agriculture and farming coming from the Middle East to Europe.

Why did this happen? “Along with the more advanced farming system, the capability to manufacture a variety of ceramic vessels appeared. During excavations in Poland territory – mainly on the Baltic coast – we find not only kitchen forms, but also items that had a different function. They were probably simple lamps” – explains archaeologist from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS Dr. Krzysztof Tunia. He refers to items in the form of shallow “baths” or “boats”. He adds that their main part was a container for flammable substance. The light was obtained by igniting a submerged plant wick.

According to the scientist, the “brightest” area in the late Mesolith and early Neolithic was the Baltic Sea zone, including the northern part of present Poland, where archaeologists find many vessels that served as lamps. The deeper inland you go on the European continent, the less light sources are found. Inland, in his opinion, was dominated by torches. These are usually not preserved to our times and archaeologists do not encounter them during excavations.

Some ceramic lamps used in Central Europe were probably suspended with strings, as their appearance indicates. These objects are cubes with a few centimetres long edges, with a depression in the middle and four holes in the corners. Other lamps were made in the form of figures of bulls, also with a recess on the back and with holes.

“These objects come from areas south of the Carpathians, but perhaps they will be also found in Poland” – says Dr. Tunia.

He adds that so far very few ceramic forms have been discovered in southern Poland, in the shape of double-cone, small vessels with holes for hanging. It can not be ruled out that they were used as lamps, Dr. Tunia believes.

“The main problem was access to flammable substances. Only by the sea there was a sufficiently large amount of available raw material for the production of combustible material used in lamps – it was the fat obtained from marine animals”. The farther south of the Baltic coast, the more common torches were. “I think that torches were not wrapped or smeared with anything, people used the natural resins in the wood material” – said Dr. Tunia.

Archaeologists, like detectives, find indirect evidence for the use of torches in prehistory. For example, during the excavations at a striped flint mine in Krzemionki Opatowskie that was active already in the Neolithic period, they found charcoal – most likely the remains of torches or fires burned there. The first possibility is more likely, because a bonfire would consume too much oxygen miners needed to breathe. Fires were burned near the bottoms of vertical shafts, where torches necessary to illuminate the darkness in the shaft would be lit up – archaeologists believe.

Lines made with charcoal, visible on mine walls, are also considered evidence of the use of torches. Dr Tunia thinks these are traces of charred tips being removed by rubbing the torch against the wall to create a larger flame.

According to the archaeologist, starting from the Neolithic period one can gradually see the desire to light up the darkness among the inhabitants of Europe, but their life was still regulated by the natural rhythm of day and night. Lighting was usually needed in places the sunlight never reached – in the mines, caves or … huts. In households, hearths and fires were being replaced by more advanced clay furnaces. They generated less smoke, they kept warm longer, but they were bad sources of light.

“The darkness was deeper still because those houses did not have many openings. It seems that the main function of a hut was to provide shelter and heat for its inhabitants, and the aspect of interior lighting – especially through openings in the walls, windows and doors – was secondary. In any case, valuable heat would escape through these holes” – says Tunia. Artificial light, even to a limited extent, was needed at any time of the day, for example to prepare a meal.

Only the outlines of prehistoric houses and their foundations or underground parts survive to our times. Reconstructing them is very difficult. It most often is based on ethnographic analogies. “And here we often see that in communities still living outside the mainstream of civilization, the huts are dark, without window openings, smoky, but providing shelter and warmth. I had the opportunity to see such houses in Andean communities” – adds the archaeologist.

According to Dr. Tunia, specialized analyses of possible ceramic lamps could bring advances in research on prehistoric lighting. “They have not been analysed so far, so it will be the next step to understanding an important aspect of our ancestors` lives” – the scientist concludes.

PAP – Science in Poland

 

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Researchers pack the shaft at Augusta Raurica with snow. File photo: Peter-Andrew Schwarz

 

Original article:

Thelocal.ch

 

 

Archaeologists near the Swiss city of Basel are trying to definitively establish if mysterious shafts discovered at Switzerland’s extensive Augusta Raurica site in 2013 could have been ancient refrigerators.

The Romans used shafts like the four-metre deep examples at Augusta Raurica – some 20 kilometres from Basel – as cool stores during summer.

The shafts were filled with snow and ice during winter and then covered with straw to keep the space cool well into the summer months. This then allowed for everything from cheese to wine – and even oysters – to be preserved during warm weather.

Now a team lead by Peter-Andrew Schwarz from the University of Basel is attempting, for the third time, to demonstrate that the Augusta Raurica shafts were indeed used as fridges, Swiss news agency SDA/ATS reports.

A first attempt to recreate the ancient cool box failed after archaeologists at the dig filed the shaft with snow all in one go. But that experiment showed temperatures in the shaft were above freezing point even in winter.

The second try was more successful: the shaft was gradually filled with snow and ice blocks were placed inside as well. Using these methods, snow remained until June.

Now, however, researchers plan to use methods developed by the so-called ‘nevaters’ or ice-makers on the Spanish island of Majorca. This will see Schwarz and his team placing 20–30-centimetre-thick layers of snow into the shaft. These individual layers will then be compacted down with a straw cover placed on top of each one.

“With this method, people in Majorca could keep food cool in summer before the arrival of electric fridges,” Schwarz told regional daily Basler Zeitung in 2017.

Work at the site of the ‘fridge’ will continue until Friday with the dig open to the public.

The experiment won’t prove that the mysterious shaft was actually a Roman fridge but will show that this is possible, Schwarz told the SDA/ATS news agency.

A final evaluation will be made in August.

 

 

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hArchaeological Service of the Canton of Bern

Original article:

Food and wine.com

How and when wheat and other grains became domesticated has long been a mystery.
JILLIAN KRAMER July 28, 2017

It’s not exactly difficult to get grains these days. You can add them to your cart at the grocery store and have oats, cereal, or rice in your house in just a matter of minutes. It wasn’t always that easy; the domestication of wheat-bearing plants was a huge and somewhat mysterious step for the human race. And thanks to a discovery by a team of archeologists, we’re starting to understand just when and where the exploitation (which is to say, human cultivation and use) of some grains occurred.
Archeologists from the University of York set out to the Swiss Alps on a dig, where they discovered a Bronze Age wooden container lodged in an ice patch some 8,600 feet up a mountain. Thinking the container was for some kind of porridge, the team was surprised to find lipid-based biomarkers for whole wheat or rye grain—called alkylresorcinols—in place of the milk residue they had expected to find. But that residue, they say, could help other archeologists trace the development of early grain farming in Eurasia

Here’s why this discovery is such a big deal: plants are all-but-impossible to find in archeological deposits because they degrade so quickly. A deposit like this one, the archeologists say, is really the first of its kind to be found and recorded.

“This is an extraordinary discovery, if you consider that of all domesticated plants, wheat is the most widely grown crop in the world,” University of York archeologist André Colonese said in a statement, “and the most important food grain source for humans, lying at the core of many contemporary culinary traditions.” Next, Colonese said, the team will search for lipid-based grain biomarkers in ceramic artifacts.
In the meantime, here’s what the discovery already tells the team: “Strong evidence that cereals were being transported across this [Swiss] alpine pass,” Jessica Hendy, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said in a statement.

As they make additional, similar discoveries, the archeologists should also be able to glean “when and where this food crop spread through Europe,” Hendy said

 

 

 

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Photo by Ivy Close Images/Alamy Stock Photo

 

Original Article:

hakaimagazine.com

Authored by
by Zach Zorich

A new study is examining how Vikings adapted to climate change.

In Norway’s Lofoten Islands, archaeologists unearthed one of the largest Viking buildings ever found. The massive 83-meter longhouse, discovered in what is now the town of Borg, was an ostentatious display by powerful chieftains who ruled what at first glance seems to be a marginal area—a cluster of islands just shy of the Arctic Circle. For more than 2,500 years, the people of the Lofotens grew barley and wheat and pulled cod from the frigid North Atlantic. The Lofotens were at the center of Viking politics, yet at the very edge of where the brisk northern climate made farming possible. This makes the Lofotens an ideal place to explore how climate change affected Viking life.
Each year, the landowners in the Lofotens would make critical decisions: which crops to plant, how much livestock to raise, how much cod to fish, whether to send ships to raid the wealthy European villages to the south. In weighing all of these options, minor shifts in climate could be a major factor, says William D’Andrea, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York. Over the next three years, D’Andrea and Nicholas Balascio, a paleoclimatologist at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, will be working to reconstruct the effects of short-term climate variability on the islands.
The study is just getting underway, but D’Andrea and Balascio think that by examining everything from plant pollen to animal waste, as recorded in lakebed sediments, they can gain an understanding of how the islands’ people and their activities might have changed to adapt to the changing climate. The researchers will be looking for biomarkers—molecules unique to specific animals or plants—to see how much and what types of livestock and crops were being raised from year to year.
“These marginal communities can be very sensitive to these natural environmental changes,” Balascio says. For instance, the changing climate may have caused the Vikings to move their farms to new locations to take advantage of the best conditions for their fields.
Falling sea levels provided another challenge for the Lofoten Vikings. The Lofoten Islands, like much of Scandinavia, are to this day rebounding from the loss of the massive ice sheets that covered the land during the last ice age. This phenomenon, called isostatic rebound, is causing the islands to rise, effectively making the sea level fall. This means that boathouses built at the water’s edge could be stranded inland a few decades later.
The locations of harbors deep enough to accommodate the Vikings’ famed sailing ships also changed over time. The falling sea may have made the harbor near Borg inaccessible to large ships and played a role in why the longhouse was abandoned. While these changes are geological rather than climatological, the ways the Vikings adapted to falling seas is also a focus of D’Andrea and Balascio’s project.
But on the climate front, one particularly important variable driving the seasonal fortunes of the Lofoten Vikings was a recurring pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The NAO is a set of rhythms that plays out over months and even decades, driven by shifts in atmospheric pressure in the tropics and the Arctic that cause changing wind patterns across the northern hemisphere. For northern Europe and the Lofotens, the NAO means swings between weather that is wet and mild and cold and dry. The researchers are hoping to understand how farmers and fishers adjusted when they were faced with an oscillating climate that made farming and herding difficult, in some cases for years at a time.
Some experts think that during periods of climate-induced difficulty, Vikings responded by conducting more raids. But proving that connection will be difficult, says D’Andrea, and likely out of the scope of their research. The historical records of Viking raids aren’t detailed enough to properly compare them with climate data, he says.
But he does hope that the project will provide insights into how people throughout history adapted to climate change—insights that could potentially inform modern thinking about climate adaptation.
“When you look at a society over a 1,000-year period, you realize that changes are actually something that happen,” says D’Andrea. “We can deal with them in thoughtful, proactive ways, or we can ignore them.” Hopefully the answer to our problems won’t be to go raiding.

 

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Note: some of the details in the photo below were hard to copy clearly due to the colors of the text. please zoom to get a better look.

jlp

 

Original article:

popular archaeology

BOYCE THOMPSON INSTITUTE—Centuries ago, the ancient networks of the Silk Road facilitated a political and economic openness between the nations of Eurasia. But this network also opened pathways for genetic exchange that shaped one of the world’s most popular fruits: the apple. As travelers journeyed east and west along the Silk Road, trading their goods and ideas, they brought with them hitchhiking apple seeds, discarded from the choicest fruit they pulled from wild trees. This early selection would eventually lead to the 7,500 varieties of apple that exist today.
Researchers at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) have been working hard to excavate the mysteries of the apple’s evolutionary history, and a new publication this week in Nature Communications reveals surprising insights into the genetic exchange that brought us today’s modern, domesticated apple, Malus domestica.
In collaboration with scientists from Cornell University and Shandong Agricultural University in China, the researchers sequenced and compared the genomes of 117 diverse apple accessions, including M. domestica and 23 wild species from North America, Europe, and East and central Asia.
A tale of two roads
The most exciting outcome of this genomic comparison is a comprehensive map of the apple’s evolutionary history. Previous studies have shown that the common apple, Malus domestica arose from the central Asian wild apple, Malus sieversii, with contributions from crabapples along the Silk Road as it was brought west to Europe.
With the results of this new study, the researchers could zoom in on the map for better resolution. “We narrowed down the origin of domesticated apple from very broad central Asia to Kazakhstan area west of Tian Shan Mountain,” explained Zhangjun Fei, BTI professor and lead author of this study.
In addition to pinpointing the western apple’s origin, the authors were excited to discover that the first domesticated apple had also traveled to the east, hybridizing with local wild apples along the way, yielding the ancestors of soft, dessert apples cultivated in China today.
“We pointed out two major evolutionary routes, west and east, along the Silk Road, revealing fruit quality changes in every step along the way,” summarized Fei.
Although wild M. sieversii grows east of Tian Shan Mountain, in the Xinjiang region of China, the ecotype there was never cultivated, and did not contribute to the eastern domesticated hybrid. Instead, it has remained isolated all these centuries, maintaining a pool of diversity yet untapped by human selection. First-author Yang Bai remarked, “it is a hidden jewel for apple breeders to explore further.”
The sour (but firm) side of the story
As the apple traveled west along the Silk Road in the hands of travelers, trees grew from dropped seeds and crossed with other wild apple varieties, including the incredibly sour European crabapple, Malus sylvestris. The sourness of crabapples was once described by Henry David Thoreau as, “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.”
The authors found that M. sylvestris has contributed so extensively to the apple’s genome that the modern apple is actually more similar to the sour crabapple than to its Kazakhstani ancestor, M. sieversii.
“For the ancestral species, Malus sieversii, the fruits are generally much larger than other wild apples. They are also soft and have a very plain flavor that people don’t like much,” Bai remarked.
The hybridization between ancient cultivated apples and M. sylvestris, followed by extensive human selection, gave us new apples that are larger and fuller in flavor, and with a crispy firmness that gives them a longer shelf life.
Bai further explained, “The modern domesticated apples have higher and well-balanced sugar and organic acid contents. That is how the apple started to become a popular and favored fruit.”
A sizeable discovery with big potential
A new flavor and texture may have put the apple into our pies, but size matters a great deal too. In crop breeding, one of the most desirable traits selected for is a larger fruit or seed. In nearly all cases of fruit domestication, the wild ancestor has tiny fruit that were shaped into their large, nutritious cultivated counterpart through centuries of selection. For example, the domesticated tomato is at least 100 times larger than its wild relatives.
“This is not quite the case for apple. Its domestication started with a medium to large-sized fruit,” asserted Bai. “It has great potential for further enlarging fruit size in breeding programs.”
By comparing the many different apple genomes, the researchers were able to find evidence supporting two different evolutionary steps contributing to apple’s size increase – one before, and one after domestication.
The large size of Malus sieversii compared to other wild apples gave it a great advantage for domestication. It had already evolved to a suitable size before it was even cultivated, likely making it more attractive to growers who would then not need to spend much effort selecting for larger fruits.
Such a lack of size selection also means that the genes responsible for size increase still retain a variability that holds potential for future selection. But it can also make identification of the size-associated genes difficult. Despite this, the extensive breadth of the new study allowed the researchers to identify several genetic markers underlying the fruit size increases, which is great news for breeders who might want to further increase the apple’s girth.
The apple (genome) falls far from the tree
While consumers may ask for better apples, breeders are met with difficulty when it comes to polishing apple traits. One major issue is that apple can’t self-pollinate. It can only cross with other varieties, introducing too much genetic variability with each generation. While genetic change is necessary to tweak a trait of interest, too much change will tweak everything. Combined with the several years to get from apple seed to fruit, this makes breeding for desired traits a challenge.
“The genomic regions and candidate genes under human selection for a certain trait identified in this study will be very helpful and inspiring to breeders working on the same trait,” asserted Fei, who expects that the results from this study will, “improve speed and accuracy of ‘marker-assisted selection’ in apple.”
Now with an extensive and diverse collection of representative apple genomes, thorough and careful analyses have allowed Fei’s group to distinguish important genetic markers that will greatly aid breeders in their quest for better apples – be it for disease resistance, shelf-life, taste, or even size.
When asked how big she thinks an apple could get through breeding, Bai responded with a twinkle in her eye, “Well, in my wild imagination, maybe one day it can be as big as a watermelon.”

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One of the ancient Viking cod bones used in the study. The bones, dating from between 800 to 1066 AD, were found on the site of the early medieval Baltic port of Haithabu. Credit: Dr.James Barrett

Original Article:

Popular-archaeology.com

 

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—Norway is famed for its cod. Catches from the Arctic stock that spawns each year off its northern coast are exported across Europe for staple dishes from British fish and chips to Spanish bacalao stew.
Now, a new study published today in the journal PNAS suggests that some form of this pan-European trade in Norwegian cod may have been taking place for 1,000 years.
Latest research from the universities of Cambridge and Oslo, and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig, used ancient DNA extracted from the remnants of Viking-age fish suppers.
The study analysed five cod bones dating from between 800 and 1066 AD found in the mud of the former wharves of Haithabu, an early medieval trading port on the Baltic. Haithabu is now a heritage site in modern Germany, but at the time was ruled by the King of the Danes.
The DNA from these cod bones contained genetic signatures seen in the Arctic stock that swims off the coast of Lofoten: the northern archipelago still a centre for Norway’s fishing industry.
Researchers say the findings show that supplies of ‘stockfish’ – an ancient dried cod dish popular to this day – were transported over a thousand miles from northern Norway to the Baltic Sea during the Viking era.
Prior to the latest study, there was no archaeological or historical proof of a European stockfish trade before the 12th century.
While future work will look at further fish remains, the small size of the current study prevents researchers from determining whether the cod was transported for trade or simply used as sustenance for the voyage from Norway.
However, they say that the Haithabu bones provide the earliest evidence of fish caught in northern Norway being consumed on mainland Europe – suggesting a European fish trade involving significant distances has been in operation for a millennium.
“Traded fish was one of the first commodities to begin to knit the European continent together economically,” says Dr James Barrett, senior author of the study from the University of Cambridge’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
“Haithabu was an important trading centre during the early medieval period. A place where north met south, pagan met Christian, and those who used coin met those who used silver by weight.”
“By extracting and sequencing DNA from the leftover fish bones of ancient cargoes at Haithabu, we have been able to trace the source of their food right the way back to the cod populations that inhabit the Barents Sea, but come to spawn off Norway’s Lofoten coast every winter.
“This Arctic stock of cod is still highly prized – caught and exported across Europe today. Our findings suggest that distant requirements for this Arctic protein had already begun to influence the economy and ecology of Europe in the Viking age.”

Stockfish is white fish preserved by the unique climate of north Norway, where winter temperature hovers around freezing. Cod is traditionally hung out on wooden frames to allow the chill air to dry the fish. Some medieval accounts suggest stockfish was still edible as much as ten years after preservation.
The research team argue that the new findings offer some corroboration to the unique 9th century account of the voyages of Ohthere of Hålogaland: a Viking chieftain whose visit to the court of King Alfred in England resulted in some of his exploits being recorded.
“In the accounts inserted by Alfred’s scribes into the translation of an earlier 5th century text, Ohthere describes sailing from Hålogaland to Haithabu,” says Barrett. Hålogaland was the northernmost province of Norway.
“While no cargo of dried fish is mentioned, this may be because it was simply too mundane a detail,” says Barrett. “The fish-bone DNA evidence is consistent with the Ohthere text, showing that such voyages between northern Norway and mainland Europe were occurring.”
“The Viking world was complex and interconnected. This is a world where a chieftain from north Norway may have shared stockfish with Alfred the Great while a late-antique Latin text was being translated in the background. A world where the town dwellers of a cosmopolitan port in a Baltic fjord may have been provisioned from an Arctic sea hundreds of miles away.”
The sequencing of the ancient cod genomes was done at the University of Oslo, where researchers are studying the genetic makeup of Atlantic cod in an effort to unpick the anthropogenic impacts on these long-exploited fish populations.
“Fishing, particularly of cod, has been of central importance for the settlement of Norway for thousands of years. By combining fishing in winter with farming in summer, whole areas of northern Norway could be settled in a more reliable manner,” says the University of Oslo’s Bastiaan Star, first author of the new study.
Star points to the design of Norway’s new banknotes that prominently feature an image of cod, along with a Viking ship, as an example of the cultural importance still placed on the fish species in this part of Europe.
“We want to know what impact the intensive exploitation history covering millennia has inflicted on Atlantic cod, and we use ancient DNA methods to investigate this,” he says.
Article Source: University of Cambridge news release

 

 

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