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On this day ten years ago…

via To Farm, or Not To Farm

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Animal teeth, bones and plant remains have helped researchers from Cambridge, China and America to pinpoint a date for what could be the earliest sustained human habitation at high altitude.

Archaeological discoveries from the ‘roof of the world’ on the Tibetan Plateau indicate that from 3,600 years ago, crop growing and the raising of livestock was taking place year-round at hitherto unprecedented altitudes.

The findings, published today in Science, demonstrate that across 53 archaeological sites spanning 800 miles, there is evidence of sustained farming and human habitation between 2,500 metres above sea level (8,200ft) and 3,400 metres (11,154ft).

Evidence of an intermittent human presence on the Tibetan Plateau has been dated to at least 20,000 years ago, with the first semi-permanent villages established only 5,200 years ago. The presence of crops and livestock at the altitudes discovered by researchers indicates a more sustained human presence than is needed to merely hunt game at such heights.

Professor Martin Jones, from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, and one of the lead researchers on the project, said: “Until now, when and how humans started to live and farm at such extraordinary heights has remained an open question. Our understanding of sustained habitation above 2-3,000m on the Tibetan Plateau has to date been hampered by the scarcity of archaeological data available.

“But our findings show that not only did these farmer-herders conquer unheard of heights in terms of raising livestock and growing crops like barley and millet, but that human expansion into the higher, colder altitudes took place as the continental temperatures were becoming colder.

“Year-round survival at these altitudes must have led to some very challenging conditions indeed – and this poses further, interesting questions for researchers about the adaptation of humans, livestock and crops to life at such dizzying heights.”

Professor Jones hopes more work will now be undertaken to look at genetic resistance in humans to altitude sickness, and genetic response in crop plants in relation to attributes such as grain vernalisation, flowering time response and ultraviolet radiation tolerance – as well as research into the genetic and ethnic identity of the human communities themselves.

raised interesting questions about the timing and introduction of Western crops such as barley and wheat – staples of the so-called ‘Fertile Crescent’. From 4,000-3,600 years ago, this meeting of east and west led to the joining or displacement of traditional North Chinese crops of broomcorn and foxtail millet. The importation of Western cereals enabled human communities to adapt to the harsher conditions of higher altitudes in the Plateau.

In order to ascertain during what period and at what altitude sustained food produced first enabled an enduring human presence, the research group collected artefacts, animal bones and plant remains from 53 sites across the late Yangshao, Majiayao, Qiija, Xindian, Kayue and Nuomuhong cultures.

Cereal grains (foxtail millet, broomcorn millet, barley and wheat) were identified at all 53 sites and animal bones and teeth (from sheep, cattle and pig) were discovered at ten sites. Of the 53 sites, an earlier group (dating from 5,200-3,600 years ago) reached a maximum elevation of 2,527m while a later group of 29 sites (dating from 3,600-2,300 years ago) approached 3,400m in altitude.

Professor Jones believes the Tibetan Plateau research could have wider and further-reaching implications for today’s world in terms of global food security and the possibilities of rebalancing the ‘global diet’; at present heavily, and perhaps unsustainably, swayed in favour of the big three crops of rice, wheat and maize.

He said: “Our current knowledge of agricultural foods emphasises a relatively small number of crops growing in the intensively managed lowlands. The more we learn about the rich ecology of past and present societies, and the wider range of crops they raised in the world’s more challenging environments, the more options we will have for thinking through food security issues in the future.”

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Source: University of Cambridge press release

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Modern-day barley harvest in Qinghai, farmed at a height of 3,000 meters above sea level. Credit Professor Martin Jones, University of Cambridge

Original article:
popular archaeology

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Topic: Bourbon distillery; 1830’s

archaeological dig at early distillery yields valuable insights

Woodford distillery’s past comes to light with archaeology dig

VERSAILLES — One of Kentucky early distillers, Oscar Pepper, is making history again, this time about what early farm life was like in the Bluegrass.

Brown-Forman owns the Woodford Reserve Distillery near Versailles, on the site of the original Pepper distillery. Late this summer, archaeologists began excavating around the 1812 log cabin built by Elijah Pepper on a hill above Glenn’s Creek, where the first distillery and grist mill were built.

“We hoped to find any artifacts or architectural remains that would help fill in the picture of life there at the Pepper house,” said Dr. Kim McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, which is a partnership between the University of Kentucky Department of Anthropology and the Kentucky Heritage Council.

McBride and the other archaeologists located an area just to the side of the house, which is still standing, that proved a surprisingly rich source of one of archaeology’s best resources: trash.

“It’s other people’s garbage we are working with but we use that to get a picture of the culture, the socioeconomic status, such as how much they were spending on material goods,” McBride said. “By combining the archaeology with oral history and documentary research, we can get a picture of 19th-century life.”

They knew that Elijah and Sarah Pepper built the cabin around 1812 and used the nearby limestone springs for a grain mill and for making whiskey. Stone buildings built from 1838 are still used today by Woodford Reserve, along with post-Prohibition warehouses.

Elijah Pepper’s son, Oscar, and Scotsman James Crow in the 1830s revolutionized the bourbon industry by using scientific and hygienic practices and writing down their processes, said Chris Morris, present day master distiller at Woodford Reserve.

“Oscar Pepper was born in that house, as were so many other Peppers, and James Christopher Crow probably ate dinner in that house, slept in that house,” Morris said.

Elijah Pepper passed away in 1825, and Oscar Pepper took over the farm and distilling, Morris said.

“He built our current distillery between 1838 and 1840, that beautiful limestone building. He hired James Christopher Crow to be his distiller, and Crow worked most of his life in that stone building,” Morris said. “Historians credit Pepper and Crow with pretty much defining bourbon as we know it today. They have no claims on any inventions — they did not invent the sour mash process but they perfected it. They did not invent charring and using new barrels but they perfected it. … And the most important thing they did was they wrote this down. … We owe those two gentlemen a lot.”

Through oral histories and documents, the archaeologists knew that a long-lost structure, built at the same time as the cabin, once stood at the side of the house. But when they began digging they soon realized it was much larger than they had thought.

“We were really surprised and delighted to find the mirror image of the structure,” McBride said. “The eastern room had been really heavily turned over to yard use. There was a drilled well in there, and it was right near the back door, so that area had been heavy yard work area. That didn’t lead us to expect that this was really twice as big as what you could see on the surface. … Often what you find underground is more complicated — when you find out what you thought was an end wall is a divider wall.”

They eventually uncovered stone walls measuring 44.5 feet from east to west by 17.5 feet north to south, with chimneys on the east and west ends and a dividing wall in the middle.

The chimney on the east end was probably for heat but the one on the west end had a substantial fire box with a stone platform, probably large cooking pots, she said.

“This was probably a combination kitchen and slave quarters,” McBride said, which were common in that era. Records indicated the Peppers had six slaves when they settled in Woodford County and acquired more.

“After 1865, we have the death of Oscar Pepper and the estate is in transition, and with emancipation the structure was probably no longer needed,” McBride said.

Many of the most interesting artifacts the archaeologists found were probably dumped into what became a rubbish tip.

Yesterday’s trash, today’s treasure.

Lots of toys — especially marbles and doll parts — smoking pipes, coins, fasteners including hooks and eyes from corsets, and buttons were unearthed, as well as an inkwell, a salt shaker, broken glass stemware, pottery, eating utensils such as bone handled forks and knives, and what they think might have been a pool cue ball.

There was a tremendous assemblage of animal bones, including some with bullet holes, “so that will give us good insight into diet,” McBride said,

“The excavation is just the beginning. We bring everything back to an archaeology lab, where it’s cleaned, sorted, and cataloged. … We hope Woodford Reserve will find some of them useful for exhibits interpreting life at Pepper house, and they will be available for other scholars to use.”

Morris’ dream is to display the artifacts, possibly in the distillery’s popular visitors’ center. He also would love to use the stone foundation and the cabin in some way, possibly in another public distillery space.

With bourbon again on the rise, the Woodford distillery is expanding and Brown-Forman will be building several new barrel warehouses, including one very close to where the house is. They haven’t determined whether the cabin will be moved.

“We’re still working on plans for what we’re going to do with the house,” Morris said.

And the archaeologists aren’t done: Morris said they will be coming back to dig around the original distillery and grist mill site along the creek.

“I can’t wait to see what they find there,” Morris said.

Original article:

Kentucky.com

By Janet Patton —October 14, 2013

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