Posts Tagged ‘farming’
Rice was used as a ‘summer crop’ by the Indus civilization.
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—The latest research on archaeological sites of the ancient Indus Civilisation, which stretched across what is now Pakistan and northwest India during the Bronze Age, has revealed that domesticated rice farming in South Asia began far earlier than previously believed, and may have developed in tandem with – rather than as a result of – rice domestication in China.
The research also confirms that Indus populations were the earliest people to use complex multi-cropping strategies across both seasons, growing foods during summer (rice, millets and beans) and winter (wheat, barley and pulses), which required different watering regimes. The findings suggest a network of regional farmers supplied assorted produce to the markets of the civilisation’s ancient cities.
Evidence for very early rice use has been known from the site of Lahuradewa in the central Ganges basin, but it has long been thought that domesticated rice agriculture didn’t reach South Asia until towards the end of the Indus era, when the wetland rice arrived from China around 2000 BC. Researchers found evidence of domesticated rice in South Asia as much as 430 years earlier.
The new research is published today in the journals Antiquity and Journal of Archaeological Science by researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Division of Archaeology, in collaboration with colleagues at Banaras Hindu University and the University of Oxford.
“We found evidence for an entirely separate domestication process in ancient South Asia, likely based around the wild species Oryza nivara. This led to the local development of a mix of ‘wetland’ and ‘dryland’ agriculture of local Oryza sativa indica rice agriculture before the truly ‘wetland’ Chinese rice, Oryza sativa japonica, arrived around 2000 BC,” says study co-author Dr Jennifer Bates
“While wetland rice is more productive, and took over to a large extent when introduced from China, our findings appear to show there was already a long-held and sustainable culture of rice production in India as a widespread summer addition to the winter cropping during the Indus civilisation.”
Co-author Dr Cameron Petrie says that the location of the Indus in a part of the world that received both summer and winter rains may have encouraged the development of seasonal crop rotation before other major civilisations of the time, such as Ancient Egypt and China’s Shang Dynasty.
“Most contemporary civilisations initially utilised either winter crops, such as the Mesopotamian reliance on wheat and barley, or the summer crops of rice and millet in China – producing surplus with the aim of stockpiling,” says Petrie.
“However, the area inhabited by the Indus is at a meteorological crossroads, and we found evidence of year-long farming that predates its appearance in the other ancient river valley civilisations.”
The archaeologists sifted for traces of ancient grains in the remains of several Indus villages within a few kilometers of the site called Rakhigari: the most recently excavated of the Indus cities that may have maintained a population of some 40,000.
As well as the winter staples of wheat and barley and winter pulses like peas and vetches, they found evidence of summer crops: including domesticated rice, but also millet and the tropical beans urad and horsegram, and used radiocarbon dating to provide the first absolute dates for Indus multi-cropping: 2890-2630 BC for millets and winter pulses, 2580-2460 BC for horsegram, and 2430-2140 BC for rice.
Millets are a group of small grain, now most commonly used in birdseed, which Petrie describes as “often being used as something to eat when there isn’t much else”. Urad beans, however, are a relative of the mung bean, often used in popular types of Indian dhal today.
In contrast with evidence from elsewhere in the region, the village sites around Rakhigari reveal that summer crops appear to have been much more popular than the wheats of winter.
The researchers say this may have been down to the environmental variation in this part of the former civilisation: on the seasonally flooded Ghaggar-Hakra plains where different rainfall patterns and vegetation would have lent themselves to crop diversification – potentially creating local food cultures within individual areas.
This variety of crops may have been transported to the cities. Urban hubs may have served as melting pots for produce from regional growers, as well as meats and spices, and evidence for spices have been found elsewhere in the region.
While they don’t yet know what crops were being consumed at Rakhigarhi, Jennifer Bates points out that: “It is certainly possible that a sustainable food economy across the Indus zone was achieved through growing a diverse range of crops, with choice being influenced by local conditions.
“It is also possible that there was trade and exchange in staple crops between populations living in different regions, though this is an idea that remains to be tested.”
“Such a diverse system was probably well suited to mitigating risk from shifts in climate,” adds Cameron Petrie. “It may be that some of today’s farming monocultures could learn from the local crop diversity of the Indus people 4,000 years ago.”
The findings are the latest from the Land, Water and Settlement Project, which has been conducting research on the ancient Indus Civilisation in northwest India since 2008.
Article Source: University of Cambridge news release.
CREDIT: KENNETH BARNETT TANKERSLEY
Despite long-held assumptions, UC researchers find the diversity of salts in water and soil beneficial — not harmful — for cultivating maize in ancient New Mexico.
A team of University of Cincinnati researchers had to go deep to uncover brand new knowledge that they say will “shake up” the archaeological field in the southwestern United States.
Various salt compounds found deep in the soil of New Mexico’s desert may be the key to understanding how crops were cultivated in ancient Chaco Canyon — despite the backdrop of what seems an otherwise arid and desolate landscape, according to a University of Cincinnati study.
Prior studies on the canyon’s environment suggest that water management techniques used by the Ancestral Puebloans during periods of drought eventually resulted in toxic levels of salinity (salt) in the water. This left scientists doubting any viability of the soil for growing corn, which they believe eventually led to the abandonment of the Chaco culture.
But recent research at the University of Cincinnati finds the contrary is true.
In fact, the researchers found that together with volcanic minerals already indigenous to the area, the calcium sulfate mixture actually increased the soil’s fertility for cultivating maize. This find, they say reveals further evidence for the development and maintenance of a thriving agricultural urban center.
“One thing we can say with a great degree of certainty — the Ancestral Puebloans did not abandon Chaco Canyon because of salt pollution,” says Kenneth Barnett Tankersley, UC associate professor of anthropology and geology. “Previous investigations of this area only looked at surface soil samples and found what they thought were toxic levels of salt, but the studies lacked an in-depth chemical analysis of the type of salt found in the water and soil and an anthropological look at how the culture lived.”
By investigating modern Puebloan culture as well as looking at the geological environment, the researchers used a holistic approach to investigate how the culture flourished. Analyzing 1,000-year-old sediment, water and salt compounds and examining the water management technology of early Chaco Canyon dwellers led the research to conclusions that Tankersley described as remarkable.
All salts are not created equal
“What we have found regarding water management, salt issues and salt contamination will shake up southwestern archaeology anywhere in the world for any era,” Tankersley contends. “Harsh salts such as chloride minerals can indeed be deleterious to plants such as maize, however, not all salts are chlorides, and not all salts are harmful to plants.”
The UC interdisciplinary team of faculty and graduate students from the departments of geology, anthropology and geography published the conclusions and details of the study this month in the Journal of Archaeological Science titled, “Evaluating soil salinity and water management in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.”
In contrast to earlier studies that suggested the salts were toxic, the researchers exhumed samples from deeper in the earth and found that salts in the canyon’s water and soil from 1,000 years ago were instead non-deleterious sulfate minerals.
Looking back, according to the researchers, Ancestral Puebloans flourished in this area from the ninth to 12th centuries in the arid, yet fertile land they referred to as an oasis. But during this time the Puebloans suffered severe droughts in the canyon on several occasions, leaving them searching for other ways to manage water.
Early bottled water
Described by Tankersley as an unprecedented structural endeavor by pre-Columbian Native Americans, Chaco Canyon is characterized by the construction of monumental great houses and ceremonial Kivas surrounded by mountain chains dotting the horizon.
He describes them as multistory, planned structures comprised of millions of pieces of dressed sandstone and thousands of roof beams — some functioning as residences and others as sacred and ceremonial centers.
“The settlement was surrounded by mountains, which would provide water in the spring after the snow melted,” says Tankersley. “During the rainy season when floodwaters hit, the Puebloans would capture runoff water from small canyons known as the Rincons and local arroyos (periodic streams) such as Chaco Wash and the Escavada Wash.
“This process helped the water gather essential minerals along the way providing a rich fertilizer and an efficient irrigation system.”
Moreover, the researchers found evidence for water from ponds and puddles collected in ceramic jars during periods of drought, which the Puebloans stacked and stored in thickly walled rooms inside the great houses.
Tankersley explains this as an efficient way to keep the water at a constant cool temperature for drinking during dry periods.
Not only were these early denizens ahead of their time for such sophisticated infrastructure in these early mesa lands, but Tankersley describes the Ancestral Puebloans as master artisans who loved color.
“Among our research we also found evidence for sulfates being used as a base for paint pigments,” says Tankersley. “We already know that sulfate mineral salts were among the most important and sacred raw materials of past and present Puebloan cultures. They even influenced the selection of Pueblo sites such as the Santa Domingo Pueblo, chosen because of its close proximity to a deposit of calcium sulfate referred to as gypsum.
“When ground up and mixed with water, gypsum created a whitewash to paint the inside and outside of their homes.”
After uncovering a range of decorated crafts, ceramics and refined stone artifacts, he says scientists have unearthed strong evidence for amalgams made of sulfate gypsum and other local minerals to create a variety of pigments to decorate objects and paint murals on walls.
Many of their painted designs were stylized birds, deer, snakes, goats and ceremonial designs in story-form pictographs — illustrations Tankersley describes as the earliest known form of writing.
One of the most valuable resources the researchers had while combing through the desert was the friendships they built with the Puebloans and Navajo who still live in the immediate vicinity of the canyon, Tankersley said.
“The first president of our flagship organization, the Society for American Archaeology, was a Native American and since then somehow archaeologists got away from talking to indigenous people,” says Tankersley. “This brings back what we call ethnoarchaeology — comparing past human livelihoods with those of the modern direct descendants.
“When compared to what their ancestors did, the great thing about the Puebloans is that they have a high degree of cultural continuity.”
Further dialogue with the Native Americans helped shed light on how corn grown in different regions was found among the local samples the researchers investigated. Comparing the chemical isotope signatures in various corncobs to the same chemical signature in water from the areas outside Chaco Canyon, the researchers found specimens from sites as far as 300 km away.
“We explain this movement of maize into Chaco Canyon from significant distances away in terms of ‘kinship mobility,'” says Tankersley. “This is the distance goods and services, ceremonial or economic, moved between extended families.”
He further describes Ancestral Puebloans as a sharing culture — families gathering over great distances to share produce, exchange wares and participate in seasonal feasts and celebrations.
Understanding human behavior and culture is something the researchers value as much as analyzing the chemical and geological environment and Tankersley says that without this holistic approach much of research is left unsolved or misguided, in his opinion.
While the focus of this research was on Chaco Canyon, the researchers found the conclusions for water management systems and kinship mobility relevant to modern urban centers built in arid environments anywhere and anytime in the world.
Furthermore, the theory — that Ancestral Puebloan water management systems built in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, had led to catastrophic salt pollution and ultimately the abandonment of the area — can no longer be supported, the researchers contend.
Researchers involved in this project: Kenneth B. Tankersley, UC Department of Anthropology and Geology; Vernon L. Scarborough, UC Department of Anthropology; Lewis A. Owen, UC Department of Geology; Warren D. Huff, UC Department of Geology; Nicholas P. Dunning, UC Department of Geography; Christopher Carr, UC Department of Geography; Jessica Thress, UC Department of Anthropology; Samantha G. Fladd, University of Arizona-Tucson, School of Anthropology; Katelyn J. Bishop, UCLA, Department of Anthropology; Stephen Plog, University of Virginia-Charlottesville, Department of Anthropology and Adam S. Watson, American Museum of Natural History, Department of North American Archaeology.
BY AMY MCDERMOTT, JULY 14, 2016
Fertile Crescent cultures diverged to take farming east and west
The cradle of agricultural civilization was culturally diverse.
Two societies lived side-by-side 10,000 years ago in the rich Near Eastern valleys of the Fertile Crescent, where humans first learned to farm, a new study finds. Over time, one group expanded west, carrying agriculture into Europe. The other spread east, taking their traditions into South Asia, researchers report online July 14 in Science.
“We thought the people of the Fertile Crescent were one group genetically and culturally, but in fact they were probably two or more,” says paleogeneticist Joachim Burger of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany, who led the new study. It’s time to rethink the textbook idea that modern Europeans and South Asians descend from a single Stone Age people, he says.
Earlier this year, Burger’s team reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the first European farmers came from western Anatolia near the present site of Istanbul. Scientists suspected that the Anatolians had started out even further east, at older sites in Iran, Iraq, Syria and southeastern Turkey where farming began about 10,000 years ago.
But DNA from 7,000- to 10,000-year-old remains, found at two ancient Iranian settlements, told a different story. Carbon and nitrogen ratios in bones showed that the people there ate more cultivated cereals than meat. While they were farmers and had lived several thousand years before the Anatolians, genetic analysis showed that the two blood lines were not closely related.
In fact, the two groups had probably separated more than 45,000 years earlier, just after humans left Africa, says statistical geneticist Garrett Hellenthal of University College London, a coauthor of the new study. Even 10,000 years ago, the ancestors of Iranians and Anatolians had already been isolated for 36,000 to 67,000 years.
Evidence of the Anatolian farmers is a few thousand years younger than the Iranian remains, but both cultures “must have known each other to some extent,” Burger says.
People in the two groups probably looked different and spoke separate languages, Burger says. They didn’t intermarry, but undoubtedly shared the ideas of early agriculture. It would have taken centuries to convert from hunting and gathering to an agrarian way of life.
“Domestication of wild beasts is nothing you do over the weekend,” Burger says. And “you don’t invent something crazy and complicated like farming coincidently at the same time.”
Not everyone agrees with that conclusion. “The change from hunting to farming happened probably several times,” says archaeologist Roger Matthews of the University of Reading in England, who was not involved in the new work. While both the Anatolians and Iranians were farmers, “it’s not actually the same idea they’re coming up with,” he says. In the east, early agrarians focused on goats as well as barley and wheat, while in the west, shepherds raised sheep and other foods. Both communities probably took initial but separate steps toward farming, Matthews says.
Sometime after farming was developed, the two cultures began to move apart. Why they spread so differently is still a mystery. More DNA samples from ancient people east of the Fertile Crescent are necessary to confirm that people spread from Iran eastward, says anthropologist Christina Papageorgopoulou of the Democritus University of Thrace in Greece. She coauthored the Anatolian study but was not involved in the new work.
More DNA from within the Fertile Crescent could also reveal a border or boundary between ancient Anatolians and Iranians. “I cannot imagine there was a connection,” she says. If there had been, scientists would see have seen it in the DNA. “I think there is some kind of barrier there.”
At this point, scientists can speak broadly about the blood relationships between these early farmers, but more high-quality DNA samples would let researchers zoom in to the village or household scale, to “come closer to ancient humans and how they lived,” Burger says. His vision is to analyze whole Stone Age villages, to reconstruct ancient family trees, understand who migrated where and move “from a global to a village view.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated July 15, 2016, to correct two country labels on the map.
July 12, 2016
Evidence of a prehistoric “farming collective” has been discovered after aerial laser scanning was carried out in the South Downs National Park.
Large-scale farming from before the Roman invasion suggests a high level of civilisation, archaeologists said.
The survey also revealed the route of a long-suspected Roman road between Chichester and Brighton.
It covered an area between the Arun river valley in West Sussex and Queen Elizabeth Country Park in Hampshire.
The “Lidar” survey technique uses an aircraft-mounted laser beam to scan the ground and produce a 3D model of features that survive as earthworks or structures in open land or woodland.
Images of land between Lamb Lea Woods and Charlton Forest showed that a field system already protected as a scheduled monument was just a small part of a vast swathe of later pre-historic cultivation extending under a now wooded area.
James Kenny, archaeological officer at Chichester District Council, said it suggested a civilisation closer to ancient Greece, Egypt or Rome than what is known of prehistoric Britain.
“One of our biggest findings is the discovery of a vast area farmed by pre-historic people on an astonishing scale,” said Trevor Beattie, chief executive of the South Downs National Park Authority,
Mr Kenny added that the evidence raised questions about who was growing the crops, who was eating the food and where they were living.
“The scale is so large that it must have been managed, suggesting that this part of the country was being organised as a farming collective,” he said.
The route of the road suggests the Romans would have headed out from their settlement at Chichester on Stane Street, the road to London, before branching east towards Arundel.
“The recognition of the ‘missing link’ in the Roman road west of Arundel was a highlight in a project full of exciting results,” said Helen Winton, aerial investigation manager at Historic England.
BERLIN – Scientists say a previously unknown group of Stone Age farmers may have introduced agriculture to South Asia, challenging earlier theories that attributed the spread of farming to a different population.
Previous research held that a single group of hunter-gatherers developed agriculture in the Middle East some 10,000 years ago and then migrated to Europe, Asia and Africa, where they gradually replaced or mixed with the local population.
But scientists who analyzed ancient human remains found in the Zagros mountains of present-day Iran say they belonged to a completely separate people who appear to have taken up farming around the same time as their cousins further west in Anatolia, now Turkey.
“There was this idea that there’d been one group of genius inventors who developed agriculture,” said Joachim Burger, one of the authors of the study published online Thursday in the journal Science. “Now we can see there were genetically diverse groups.”
Scientists from Europe, the United States and Iran who examined the DNA of 9,000 to 10,000-year-old bone fragments discovered in a cave near Eslamabad, 600 kilometers (370 miles) southwest of the Iranian capital of Tehran, found they belonged to a man with black hair, brown eyes and dark skin.
Intriguingly, the man’s diet included cereals, a sign that he had learned how to cultivate crops, said Fereidoun Biglari of National Museum of Iran, who was also involved in the study.
Along with three other ancient genomes from the Zagros mountains, researchers were able to piece together a picture of a population whose closest modern relatives can be found in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and among members of Iran’s Zoroastrian religious community, said Biglari.
The Zagros people had very different genes than modern Europeans or their crop-planting ancestors in western Anatolia and Greece, said Burger, an anthropologist and population geneticist at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.
He said the study’s authors calculated that the two populations likely split at least 50,000 years ago, shortly after humans first ventured out of Africa.
Burger said even though the two ancient farming populations didn’t mix, it’s probable that they knew of – and even learned from – each other, given that the development of agriculture is highly complex and therefore unlikely to have spontaneously occurred twice around the same time.
“You have to build houses, clear forests, cultivate several plants and ensure a plentiful supply of water. You also have to domesticate several animals, be able to grind flour, bake bread,” said Burger. “This is a huge process that takes several thousand years.”
Burger said the findings could help shed light on important developments in human history that have been neglected due to researchers’ long habit of focusing on ancient migratory movements into Europe.
By Travis M. Andrews June 14
Finding buried treasure is a dream as old as stories themselves. Treasure chests overflowing with gold doubloons, shiny lamps containing genies, gargantuan lumps of butter that are thousands of years old.
Okay, maybe most don’t dream of unearthing enormous chunks of butter, but that’s exactly what Jack Conway discovered in the Emlagh bog in County Meath, Ireland, at the beginning of June, Atlas Obscura reported.
Conway is a turf cutter, meaning he harvests “turf” or peat — it’s a type of moss — from a bog to burn for warmth during the winter. He was chopping turf at the bog when he came across a 22-pound chunk of butter, the Irish Times reported. Researchers at the Cavan Museum estimated it to be more than 2,000 years old.
Bog butter is just that: butter made from cow’s milk that’s been buried in a bog, though, after thousands of years, it often has the consistency of cheese.
It’s actually not that uncommon of a find for turf cutters in Ireland, either. As Smithsonian magazine noted, a 3,000-year-old, three-foot-wide barrel stuffed with 77 pounds of bog butter was found in 2009. Even more shocking, turf cutters found a 5,000-year-old wooden keg containing 100 pounds of the butter in 2013.
People have actually been stumbling upon bog butter for at least two centuries. In the 1892 edition of the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, the Rev. James O’Laverty recounts finding a lump that “still retains the marks of the hand and fingers of the ancient dame who pressed it into its present shape” and that “tastes somewhat like cheese.”
In her article “Bog Butter: A Two Thousand Year History” in the Journal of Irish Archaeology, Caroline Earwood wrote: “It is usually found as a whitish, solid mass of fatty material with a distinctive, pungent and slightly offensive smell. It is found either as a lump, or in containers which are most often made of wood but include baskets and skins.”
The earliest discoveries of bog butter date to the Iron Age, but she wrote that it may have existed earlier.
No one is sure exactly why the butter was buried in bogs — some think it was sometimes an offering to the gods — but evidence strongly suggests it was a method of preservation.
Most bog butter doesn’t contain salt, which was often used as a means of preserving food before modern refrigeration. The bogs, which are essentially cold-water swamps, and their native peat do a fine job of keeping food fresh. A University of Michigan researcher found that meat left in a bog for two years was just as preserved as meat kept in his freezer, the University Record reported in 1995.
Peat is compressed plant matter, which Nature reported is both cool and contains little oxygen while remaining highly acidic, allowing it to act as a sort of refrigerator. It seems to work — Savina Donohoe, curator of Cavan County Museum who sent Conway’s butter lump to the National Museum of Ireland, said it smelled just like, well, butter.
“It did smell like butter. After I had held it in my hands, my hands really did smell of butter,” Donohoe told UTV Ireland. “There was even a smell of butter in the room it was in.”
In fact, peat bogs are such wonderful environments for preserving organic matter, they’ve been known to almost perfectly mummify corpses.
Hundreds of “bog bodies” have been found during the past two centuries, according to the USA Today. The oldest one unearthed is a preserved skeleton called the Koelbjerg Woman, which dates to about 8000 B.C.
Other bodies, though, retain their skin and internal organs. The Tollund Man, for example, still had his leathery skin intact when he was found in the Bjaeldskovdal bog in Denmark and is considered by some to be the most well preserved body ever found from prehistoric times. He was so well preserved that the men who found him thought they had stumbled on a modern murder scene, PBS reported. He was actually about 2,400 years old.
Given that level of preservation, most of the butter is edible. Irish celebrity chef Kevin Thornton, who owns the Michelin-starred Thornton’s Restaurant in Dublin, claimed to have tasted a 4,000-year-old sample of bog butter.
“I was really excited about it. We tasted it,” he told the Irish Independent in 2014. “There’s fermentation but it’s not fermentation because it’s gone way beyond that. Then you get this taste coming down or right up through your nose.”
Andy Halpin, assistant keeper in the Cavan Museum’s Irish antiquities division, said one could probably eat the butter, though he’s not sure why one would.
“Theoretically the stuff is still edible, but we wouldn’t say it’s advisable,” Halpin told the Irish Times.
Curious what it might taste like, Ben Reade, head of culinary research and development at Nordic Food Lab created his own bog butter, albeit one aged for a bit less time than the aforementioned.
Echoing the lines from James Farewell’s 1689 poem “The Irish Hudibras” — “butter to eat with their hog, was seven years buried in a bog” — they buried one large birch barrel of butter in the ground, where it will remain for seven years. The other remained in the ground for only three months, before it was tasted at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen and at the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in 2012, in Britain.
He wrote of the flavors:
In its time underground the butter did not go rancid, as one would expect butter of the same quality to do in a fridge over the same time. The organoleptic qualities of this product were too many surprising, causing disgust in some and enjoyment in others. The fat absorbs a considerable amount of flavor from its surroundings, gaining flavor notes which were described primarily as “animal” or “gamey,” “moss,” “funky,” “pungent,” and “salami.” These characteristics are certainly far-flung from the creamy acidity of a freshly made cultured butter, but have been found useful in the kitchen especially with strong and pungent dishes, in a similar manner to aged ghee.
Even so, if you happen to find a lump of butter buried in the back yard, it may be best to forgo it for the store-bought variety.