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Carbon-dating techniques have now identified this ancient maize cob at about 950 to 1,000 years old. (Greg Powers)

Orginal Article:

Charles C. Mann

Smithsonianmag.com

 

It took millennia, but America’s founding farmers developed

the grain that would fuel civilizations—and still does

Sometimes it’s the little things that count.

Movie archaeologists are often pictured triumphantly extracting precious objects from the earth, instantly solving long-standing mysteries. Think of Indiana Jones’ Cross of Coronado, Staff of Ra and Ark of the Covenant. Real archaeologists mostly find small, almost valueless objects—and won’t know for years, or decades, what mystery they are resolving. Consider this ancient ear of maize, which Walter Hough pulled out of a New Mexico cave more than a century ago.

Hough worked at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (the repository of this artifact) from 1886 to 1935. A kindly man with a static-cling memory who hunted arrowheads as a boy in West Virginia, he spent most of his career on the unsung but vital task of cataloging the museum’s collections. But he also took field trips into the Southwest, and in September 1905 he spent 12 days in what he called an “interesting cave.” It was in a bluff 150 feet above the Tularosa River, in New Mexico, about 30 miles east of the Arizona border. Because the climate there is extremely dry, virtually nothing in the cave had decayed. Formerly used by early colonists as a donkey corral, the cave was full of “rubbish and the droppings of animals, to a depth of 8 feet,” Hough wrote. Just walking around kicked up a choking cloud of dust that forced researchers to wear goggles and cover their faces.

Despite the terrible conditions, the researchers made an impressive haul: dried turkey cadavers, mammal bones, broken crockery, a brush made from grass, incense pipes, stones for grinding, cigarettes made from reeds, yucca-leaf sandals—and about a dozen maize cobs, some with kernels intact. (Archaeologists typically call the grain “maize,” rather than “corn,” because multicolored indigenous maize, usually eaten after drying and grinding, is strikingly unlike the large, sweet yellow-kernel cobs conjured up by the word “corn.”) Hough was working before archaeologists had the tools to accurately date artifacts, or even, pre-GPS, to note their exact location. He simply recorded the locale of his finds and carried them back to Washington, D.C.

It would be four and a half decades before Paul Sidney Martin, an archaeologist at Chicago’s Field Museum, examined Hough’s reports and followed in his footsteps. Most archaeologists specializing in the Southwest believed that its earliest inhabitants were the Anasazi (as the ancestral Pueblo were then known), who built cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, 225 miles north of Tularosa Cave. But a few experts argued that the Tularosa area had housed a different culture, called the Mogollon, after a nearby mountain range. To resolve what was becoming a bitter controversy, Martin and his co-workers went to Tularosa Cave in June 1950—the first researchers there since Hough. In two summers, they unearthed tens of thousands of artifacts. And they made a convincing case that the pottery they found—especially starkly beautiful black-and-white remnants—looked nothing like Anasazi handiwork.

Among the Tularosa objects were, astonishingly, 33,000 ears of ancient maize. Fortuitously, Martin had access to a brand-new technology: radiocarbon dating, just invented at the University of Chicago. It can determine the age of plant remains and other organic materials. Indeed, the Tularosa cobs were among the first archaeological finds ever carbon-dated. Martin reported that some of the cobs were as old as 2,500 years. That suggested the cave had been inhabited before the Anasazi—key evidence, along with the unusual cave artifacts, for a separate Mogollon culture.

From about A.D. 200 to the arrival of the Spaniards, the Mogollon had occupied most of what is now Sonora and Chihuahua in Mexico as well as parts of southern Arizona and New Mexico. Their ancestors began as foragers, then switched to agriculture, including the cultivation of maize, which helped fuel the flowering of Mogollon culture. The Mogollon, in turn, played a large role in introducing maize to societies north of the Rio Grande, a pivotal event as important to North America as the arrival of rice was to China or wheat to the Middle East.

Hough and Martin didn’t have the scientific tools to analyze the genetic makeup of their maize specimens and trace precise origins or lineage. Perhaps hoping that future researchers would pore over his finds as he had pored over Hough’s, Martin and his coworkers sealed thousands of ancient cobs in plastic bags that are stored today at the Field Museum—the world’s greatest collection of Mogollon artifacts and remains.

Lately researchers using DNA probes and other technologies have been detailing the roughly 9,000-year process by which Native Americans transformed teosinte, the smallish semitropical grass with no ears or cobs, into maize, a productive, elaborate plant that can thrive in a cool temperate climate. In a 2003 analysis of cobs from Tularosa and locations in Mexico, researchers found that the earliest samples, some 6,300 years old, were apparently bred by people focused on boosting the crop yield by increasing the size of cobs and kernels. Later, in Mogollon times, growers were selecting for starch and grain qualities useful in making tortillas and tamales.

The transformation of a weedy grass into one of the world’s most important foodstuffs—think of the enormous stalks of corn rippling across Midwestern fields—is far more complex than anything we can do today in a lab, even with all our genetic prowess. How the continent’s first farmers accomplished that feat is a mystery. Drab debris found in a cave may hold the clues.

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Original article:

Popular-archaeology.com

 

 

Macchu Picchu

 

AMERICAN SOCIETY OF HUMAN GENETICS, SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Ancient populations in the Andes of Peru adapted to their high-altitude environment and the introduction of agriculture in ways distinct from other global populations that faced similar circumstances, according to findings* presented at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) 2018 Annual Meeting in San Diego, Calif.

John Lindo, PhD, JD, assistant professor of anthropology at Emory University, and a group of international collaborators headed by Anna Di Rienzo, PhD, at the University of Chicago and Mark Aldenderfer, PhD, at the University of California, Merced, set out to use newly available samples of 7,000-year-old DNA from seven whole genomes to study how ancient people in the Andes adapted to their environment. They compared these genomes with 64 modern-day genomes from both highland Andean populations and lowland populations in Chile, in order to identify the genetic adaptations that took place before the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s.

“Contact with Europeans had a devastating impact on South American populations, such as the introduction of disease, war, and social disruption,” explained Dr. Lindo. “By focusing on the period before that, we were able to distinguish environmental adaptations from adaptations that stemmed from historical events.”

They found that Andean populations’ genomes adapted to the introduction of agriculture and resulting increase in starch consumption differently from other populations. For example, the genomes of European farming populations show an increased number of copies of the gene coding for amylase, an enzyme in saliva that helps break down starch. While Andeans also followed a high-starch diet after they started to farm, their genomes did not have additional copies of the amylase gene, prompting questions about how they may have adapted to this change.

Similarly, Tibetan genomes, which have been studied extensively for their adaptations to high altitude, show many genetic changes related to the hypoxia response – how the body responds to low levels of oxygen. The Andean genomes did not show such changes, suggesting that this group adapted to high altitude in another way.

The researchers also found that after contact with Europeans, highland Andeans experienced an effective population reduction of 27 percent, far below the estimated 96 percent experienced by lowland populations. Previous archaeological findings showed some uncertainty to this point, and the genetic results suggested that by living in a harsher environment, highland populations may have been somewhat buffered from the reach and resulting effects of European contact. The findings also showed some selection for immune-related genes after the arrival of Europeans, suggesting that Andeans who survived were better able to respond to newly introduced diseases like smallpox.

Building on these findings, Dr. Lindo and his colleagues are currently exploring a new set of ancient DNA samples from the Incan capital Cusco, as well as a nearby lowland group. They are also interested in gene flow and genetic exchange resulting from the wide-ranging trade routes of ancient Andeans.

“Our findings thus far are a great start to an interesting body of research,” said Dr. Lindo. “We would like to see future studies involving larger numbers of genomes in order to achieve a better resolution of genetic adaptations throughout history,” he said.

 

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Original article:

Washingtonpost.com

By Ben Gurino

New technology allows scientists to visualize ancient Maya cities like never before

In the autumn of 1929, Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her husband Charles flew across the Yucatán Peninsula. With Charles at the controls, Anne snapped photographs of the jungles just below. She wrote in her journal of Maya structures obscured by large humps of vegetation. A bright stone wall peeked through the leaves, “unspeakably alone and majestic and desolate — the mark of a great civilization gone.”

Nearly a century later, surveyors once again took flight over the ancient Maya empire, and mapped the Guatemala forests with lasers. The 2016 survey, whose first results were published this week in the journal Science, comprises a dozen plots covering 830 square miles, an area larger than the island of Maui. It is the largest such survey of the Maya region, ever.

The study authors describe the results as a revelation. “It’s like putting glasses on when your eyesight is blurry,” said study author Mary Jane Acuña, director of El Tintal Archaeological Project in Guatemala.

In the past, archaeologists had argued that small, disconnected city-states dotted the Maya lowlands, though that conception is falling out of favor. This study shows that the Maya could extensively “exploit and manipulate” their environment and geography, Acuña said. Maya agriculture sustained large populations, who in turn forged relationships across the region.

Combing through the scans, Acuña and her colleagues, an international 18-strong scientific team, tallied 61,480 structures. These included: 60 miles of causeways, roads and canals that connected cities; large maize farms; houses large and small; and, surprisingly, defensive fortifications that suggest the Maya came under attack from the west of Central America.

“We were all humbled,” said Tulane University anthropologist Marcello Canuto, the study’s lead author. “All of us saw things we had walked over and we realized, oh wow, we totally missed that.”

Preliminary images from the survey went public in February, to the delight of archaeologists like Sarah Parcak. Parcak, who was not involved with the research, wrote on Twitter, “Hey all: you realize that researchers just used lasers to find *60,000* new sites in Guatemala?!? This is HOLY [expletive] territory.

Parcak, whose space archaeology program GlobalXplorer.org has been described as the love child of Google Earth and Indiana Jones, is a champion of using satellite data to remotely observe sites in Egypt and elsewhere. “The scale of information that we’re able to collect now is unprecedented,” Parcak said, adding that this survey is “going to upend long-held theories about ancient Maya society.”

With support from a Guatemala-based heritage foundation called Pacunam, the researchers conducted the massive and expensive survey using lidar, or light detection and ranging. They mapped several active archaeological sites, plus well-studied Maya cities like Tikal and Uaxactun.

Lidar’s principles are similar to radar, except instead of radio waves lidar relies on laser light. From an aircraft flying just a few thousand feet above the canopy, the surveyors prickled each square meter with 15 laser pulses. Those pulses penetrate vegetation but bounce back from hard stone surfaces. Using lidar, you can’t see the forest through the invisible trees.

Beneath the thick jungle, ruins appeared. Lots and lots of them. Extrapolated over the 36,700 square miles, which encompasses the total Maya lowland region, the authors estimate the Maya built as many as 2.7 million structures. These would have supported 7 million to 11 million people during the Classic Period of Maya civilization, around the years 650 to 800, in line with other Maya population estimates.

“We’ve been working in this area for over a century,” Canuto said. “It’s not terra incognita, but we didn’t have a good appreciation for what was really there.”

Archaeologist Arlen Chase, a Maya specialist at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas who was not involved with this survey, said for years he has argued that the Maya society was more complex than widely accepted. In 1998, he and archaeologist Diane Chase, his wife, described elaborate agricultural terraces at the Maya city of Caracol in Belize. “Everybody would not believe we had terraces!” he said.

He gets much less push back now, he said. “The paradigm shift that we’ve predicted was happening is in fact happening” Chase said, which he credits to lidar data. He has seen lidar evolve from a “hush-hush type of technology” used by the military to map Fallujah streets to a powerful archaeological tool.

Chase, who previously used lidar at Caracol, where as many as 100,000 people lived, compares this technology to carbon-14 dating. Radiocarbon dating gives archaeologists a much more accurate timeline. Lidar is about to do the same for archaeologists’ sense of space, particularly in densely forested areas near the equator. Two years ago, researchers used lidar mapped dense urban infrastructure around Angkor, the seat of the medieval Khmer Empire in Cambodia.

“We’re just getting started in so many major sites around the world, whether it’s Angkor Wat, whether it’s Tikal in Central America or major sites in Egypt,” Parcak said.

For all its power, lidar cannot supplant old-fashioned archaeology. For 8 percent of the survey area, the archaeologists confirmed the lidar data with boots-on-the-ground visits. This “ground truthing” suggests that the lidar analysis was conservative — they found the predicted structures, and then some.

“There is still much more ground to cover and work to do,” said Acuña, who will continue to study the large ancient Maya city of El Tindal.

Could you imagine, Canuto said, what might be found through a lidar survey of the Amazon? With technology like this, no forested frontiers are final.

 

 

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Knowledge of the diet of people living in the prehistoric settlement of Çatalhöyük almost 8000 years ago has been complemented in astonishing scope and detail by analyzing proteins from their ceramic bowls and jars. Using this new approach, an international team of researchers has determined that vessels from this early farming site in central Anatolia, in what is now Turkey, contained cereals, legumes, dairy products and meat, in some cases narrowing food items down to specific species.

Source: Cuisine of early farmers revealed by analysis of proteins in pottery from Çatalhöyük

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Humans may have been cultivating plants on a narrow coastal strip in Brazil as far back as 4,800 years ago, according to a new study.

Source: Coastal strip in Brazil sheds new light on early farming

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Analysis of fatty residue in pottery from the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia revealed evidence of fermented dairy products — soft cheeses and yogurts — from about 7,200 years ago, according to an international team of researchers.

Source: Evidence of 7,200-year-old cheese making found on the Dalmatian Coast

the above article is similar to the post yesterday but I thought it worthwhile to give everyone both to read. JLP

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