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Original article on theguardian.com

Donna Ferguson

The Banquet of the Monarchs, c1579, by Alonzo Sanchez Coello
The Banquet of the Monarchs, c1579, by Alonzo Sanchez Coello: ‘high food culture’ in the middle ages.Photograph: Album/Alamy

A love of complex smells and flavours gave our ancestors an edge and stopped hangovers

Human evolution and exploration of the world were shaped by a hunger for tasty food – “a quest for deliciousness” – according to two leading academics.

Ancient humans who had the ability to smell and desire more complex aromas, and enjoy food and drink with a sour taste, gained evolutionary advantages over their less-discerning rivals, argue the authors of a new book about the part played by flavour in our development.

Some of the most significant inventions early humans made, such as stone tools and the controlled use of fire, were also partly driven by their pursuit of flavour and a preference for food they considered delicious, according to the new hypothesis.

“This key moment when we decide whether or not to use fire has, at its core, just the tastiness of food and the pleasure it provides. That is the moment in which our ancestors confront a choice between cooking things and not cooking things,” said Rob Dunn, a professor of applied ecology at North Carolina State University. “And they chose flavour.”

Cooked food tasted more delicious than uncooked food – and that’s why we opted to continue cooking it, he says: not just because, as academics have argued, cooked roots and meat were easier and safer to digest, and rewarded us with more calories.

Some scientists think the controlled use of fire, which was probably adopted a million years ago, was central to human evolution and helped us to evolve bigger brains.

“Having a big brain becomes less costly when you free up more calories from your food by cooking it,” said Dunn, who co-wrote Delicious: The Evolution of Flavour and How it Made Us Human with Monica Sanchez, a medical anthropologist.

However, accessing more calories was not the primary reason our ancestors decided to cook food. “Scientists often focus on what the eventual benefit is, rather than the immediate mechanism that allowed our ancestors to make the choice. We made the choice because of deliciousness. And then the eventual benefit was more calories and fewer pathogens.”

Human ancestors who preferred the taste of cooked meat over raw meat began to enjoy an evolutionary advantage over others. “In general, flavour rewards us for eating the things we’ve needed to eat in the past,” said Dunn.

In particular, people who evolved a preference for complex aromas are likely to have developed an evolutionary advantage, because the smell of cooked meat, for example, is much more complex than that of raw meat. “Meat goes from having tens of aromas to having hundreds of different aroma compounds,” said Dunn.

Prehistoric woolly mammoth hunters
Prehistoric woolly mammoth hunters. Photograph: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy

This predilection for more complex aromas made early humans more likely to turn their noses up at old, rotten meat, which often has “really simple smells”. “They would have been less likely to eat that food,” said Dunn. “Retronasal olfaction is a super-important part of our flavour system.”

The legacy of humanity’s remarkable preference for food which has a multitude of aroma compounds is reflected in “high food culture” today, Dunn says. “It’s a food culture that really caters for our ability to appreciate these complexities of aroma. We’ve made this very expensive kind of cuisine that somehow fits into our ancient sensory ability.”

Similarly, our proclivity for sour-tasting food and fermented beverages like beer and wine may stem from the evolutionary advantage that eating sour food and drink gave our ancestors.

“Most mammals have sour taste receptors,” said Dunn. “But in almost all of them, with very few exceptions, the sour taste is aversive – so most primates and other mammals, in general, will, if they taste something sour, spit it out. They don’t like it.”

Humans are among the few species that like sour, he says, another notable exception being pigs.

At some point, he thinks, humans’ and pigs’ sour taste receptors evolved to reward them if they found and ate decomposing food that tasted sour, especially if it also tasted a little sweet – because that is how acidic bacteria tastes. And that, in turn, is a sign that the food is fermenting, not putrefying.

“The acid produced by the bacteria kills off the pathogens in the rotten food. So we think that the sour taste on our tongue, and the way we appreciate it, actually may have served our ancestors as a kind of pH strip to know which of these fermented foods was safe,” said Dunn.

Human ancestors who were able to accurately identify rotting food that was actually fermenting, and therefore OK to eat, would have had an evolutionary advantage over others, he argues. If they also figured out how to safely ferment food to eat over winter, they further increased their food supply.

The negative consequence of this is that fermented, alcoholic fruit juice, a sort of “proto wine”, would also have tasted good – and that probably led to horrific hangovers.

“At some point, our ancestors evolved a version of the gene that produces the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in our bodies, which is 40 times faster than that of other primates,” added Dunn. “And so that really made our ancestors much more able to get the calories out of these fermented drinks, and it would also probably have lessened the extent to which they had hangovers every day from drinking.”

Flavour also drove humanity to innovate and explore, Dunn says. He thinks one reason our ancestors were inspired to begin using tools was to get hold of otherwise inaccessible food that tasted delicious: “If you look at what chimpanzees use tools to get, it’s almost always really delicious things, like honey.”

Having a portfolio of tools that they could use to find tasty things to eatgave our ancestors the confidence to explore new environments, knowing they would be able to find food, whatever the season threw at them. “It really allows our ancestors to move out into the world and do new things.”

Still Life with a Turkey Pie, by Pieter Claesz, 1627.
Still Life with a Turkey Pie, by Pieter Claesz, 1627. Photograph: FineArt/Alamy

Stone tools in particular “fast-forward” the ability of humans to find delicious food. “Once they can hunt, using spears, they have access to this whole world of foods that were not available to them before.”

At this point, Dunn thinks humanity’s pursuit of tasty food started to have terrible consequences for other species. “We know that humans around the world hunted species to extinction, once they figured out how to hunt really effectively.”

Dunn strongly suspects that the mammals that first went extinct were the most delicious ones. “From what we were able to reconstruct, it looks like the mammoths, mastodons and giant sloths all would have been unusually tasty.”

To replicate the eating habits of prehistoric humans, the book, published later this month, details how one scientist dropped a horse who had just died into a pond and assessed how it fermented over time. “He would sample some meat to see if it was safe to eat. He described it as delicious – a little bit like a blue cheese,” said Dunn.

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Prehistoric ancestors

News.mit.edu

Some of the oldest remains of early human ancestors have been unearthed in Olduvai Gorge, a rift valley setting in northern Tanzania where anthropologists have discovered fossils of hominids that existed 1.8 million years ago. The region has preserved many fossils and stone tools, indicating that early humans settled and hunted there.

Now a team led by researchers at MIT and the University of Alcalá in Spain has discovered evidence that hot springs may have existed in Olduvai Gorge around that time, near early human archaeological sites. The proximity of these hydrothermal features raises the possibility that early humans could have used hot springs as a cooking resource, for instance to boil fresh kills, long before humans are thought to have used fire as a controlled source for cooking.

“As far as we can tell, this is the first time researchers have put forth concrete evidence for the possibility that people were using hydrothermal environments as a resource, where animals would’ve been gathering, and where the potential to cook was available,” says Roger Summons, the Schlumberger Professor of Geobiology in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).

Summons and his colleagues have published their findings today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study’s lead author is Ainara Sistiaga, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow based at MIT and the University of Copenhagen. The team includes Fatima Husain, a graduate student in EAPS, along with archaeologists, geologists, and geochemists from the University of Alcalá and the University of Valladolid, in Spain; the University of Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania; and Pennsylvania State University.

An unexpected reconstruction

In 2016, Sistiaga joined an archaeological expedition  to Olduvai Gorge, where researchers with the Olduvai Paleoanthropology and Paleoecology Project were collecting sediments from a 3-kilometer-long layer of exposed rock that was deposited around 1.7 million years ago. This geologic layer was striking because its sandy composition was markedly different from the dark clay layer just below, which was deposited 1.8 million years ago.

“Something was changing in the environment, so we wanted to understand what happened and how that impacted humans,” says Sistiaga, who had originally planned to analyze the sediments to see how the landscape changed in response to climate and how these changes may have affected the way early humans lived in the region.

It’s thought that around 1.7 million years ago, East Africa underwent a gradual aridification, moving from a wetter, tree-populated climate to dryer, grassier terrain. Sistiaga brought back sandy rocks collected from the Olduvai Gorge layer and began to analyze them in Summons’ lab for signs of certain lipids that can contain residue of leaf waxes, offering clues to the kind of vegetation present at the time.

“You can reconstruct something about the plants that were there by the carbon numbers and the isotopes, and that’s what our lab specializes in, and why Ainara was doing it in our lab,” Summons says. “But then she discovered other classes of compounds that were totally unexpected.”

An unambiguous sign

Within the sediments she brought back, Sistiaga came across lipids that looked completely different from the plant-derived lipids she knew. She took the data to Summons, who realized that they were a close match with lipids produced not by plants, but by specific groups of bacteria that he and his colleagues had reported on, in a completely different context, nearly 20 years ago.

The lipids that Sistiaga extracted from sediments deposited 1.7 million years ago in Tanzania were the same lipids that are produced by a modern bacteria that Summons and his colleagues previously studied in the United States, in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park.

One specific bacterium, Thermocrinis ruber, is a hyperthermophilic organism that will only thrive in very hot waters, such as those found in the outflow channels of boiling hot springs.

“They won’t even grow unless the temperature is above 80 degrees Celsius [176 degrees Fahrenheit],” Summons says. “Some of the samples Ainara brought back from this sandy layer in Olduvai Gorge had these same assemblages of bacterial lipids that we think are unambiguously indicative of high-temperature water.”

That is, it appears that heat-loving bacteria similar to those Summons had worked on more than 20 years ago in Yellowstone may also have lived in Olduvai Gorge 1.7 million years ago. By extension, the team proposes, high-temperature features such as hot springs and hydrothermal waters could also have been present.

“It’s not a crazy idea that, with all this tectonic activity in the middle of the rift system, there could have been extrusion of hydrothermal fluids,” notes Sistiaga, who says that Olduvai Gorge is a geologically active tectonic region that has upheaved volcanoes over millions of years — activity that could also have boiled up groundwater to form hot springs at the surface.

The region where the team collected the sediments is adjacent to sites of early human habitation featuring stone tools, along with animal bones. It is possible, then, that nearby hot springs may have enabled hominins to cook food such as meat and certain tough tubers and roots.

“The authors’ comprehensive analyses paint a vivid picture of the ancient Olduvai Gorge ecosystem and landscape, including the first compelling evidence for ancient hydrothermal springs,” says Richard Pancost, a professor of biogeochemistry at the University of Bristol, who was not involved in the study. “This introduces the fascinating possibility that such springs could have been used by early hominins to cook food.”

“Why wouldn’t you eat it?”

Exactly how early humans may have cooked with hot springs is still an open question. They could have butchered animals and dipped the meat in hot springs to make them more palatable. In a similar way, they could have boiled roots and tubers, much like cooking raw potatoes, to make them more easily digestible. Animals could have also met their demise while falling into the hydrothermal waters, where early humans could have fished them out as a precooked meal.

“If there was a wildebeest that fell into the water and was cooked, why wouldn’t you eat it?” Sistiaga poses.

While there is currently no sure-fire way to establish whether early humans indeed used hot springs to cook, the team plans to look for similar lipids, and signs of hydrothermal reservoirs, in other layers and locations throughout Olduvai Gorge, as well as near other sites in the world where human settlements have been found.

“We can prove in other sites that maybe hot springs were present, but we would still lack evidence of how humans interacted with them. That’s a question of behavior, and understanding the behavior of extinct species almost 2 million years ago is very difficult, Sistiaga says. “I hope we can find other evidence that supports at least the presence of this resource in other important sites for human evolution.”

This research was supported, in part, by the European Commission (MSCA-GF), the NASA Astrobiology Institute, and the Government of Spain.

 

 

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On this day ten years ago…
via Humans made fire 790,000 years ago

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This post is about more recient  food trends than I normally post but it is timely and very interesting.

jlp

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Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world. Resettlement of indigenous communities resulted in the spread of invasive species, the absence of human-set fires, and a general cascade in the interconnected food web that led to the largest mammalian extinction event ever recorded. In this case, the absence of direct human activity on the landscape may be the cause of the extinctions, according to a Penn State anthropologist.

Source: Indigenous hunters have positive impacts on food webs in desert Australia

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The Sima del Elefante site. Image: University of York

Original article:

New research conducted by scientists at the University of York and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona reveals for the first time that Europe’s earliest humans did not use fire for cooking, but had a balanced diet of meat and plants – all eaten raw.

Studying dental plaque from a 1.2 million year old hominin (early human species), recovered by the Atapuerca Research Team in 2007 in Sima del Elefante in northern Spain, archaeologists extracted microfossils to find the earliest direct evidence of food eaten by early humans.

These microfossils included traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules indicating consumption of grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine, insect fragments and a possible fragment of a toothpick.

All detected fibres were uncharred, and there was also no evidence showing inhalation of microcharcoal – normally a clear indicator of proximity to fire.

Fiery debate

The timing of the earliest use of fire for cooking is hotly contested, with some researchers arguing habitual use started around 1.8 million years ago while others suggest it was as late as 300,000-400,000 years ago.

Possible evidence for fire has been found at some very early sites in Africa. However, the lack of evidence for fire at Sima del Elefante suggests that this knowledge was not carried with the earliest humans when they left Africa.

The earliest definitive evidence in Europe for use of fire is 800,000 years ago at the Spanish site of Cueva Negra, and at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel, a short time later.

Taken together, this evidence suggests the development of fire technology occurred at some point between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago, revealing a new timeline for when the earliest humans started to cook food.

Diet implications

Dr Karen Hardy, lead author and Honorary Research Associate at the University of York and ICREA Research Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, said: “Obtaining evidence for any aspect of hominin life at this extremely early date is very challenging. Here, we have been able to demonstrate that these earliest Europeans understood and exploited their forested environment to obtain a balanced diet 1.2 million years ago, by eating a range of different foods and combining starchy plant food with meat.

“This new timeline has significant implications in helping us to understand this period of human evolution – cooked food provides greater energy, and cooking may be linked to the rapid increases in brain size that occurred from 800,000 years ago onwards.

“It also correlates well with previous research hypothesising that the timing of cooking is linked to the development of salivary amylase, needed to process cooked starchy food. Starchy food was an essential element in facilitating brain development, and contrary to popular belief about the ‘Paleodiet’, the role of starchy food in the Palaeolithic diet was significant.”

Dr Anita Radini, PhD student at the University of York said: “These results are very exciting, as they highlight the potential of dental calculus to store dietary and environmental information from deep in the human evolutionary past. It is also interesting to see that pollen remains are preserved often in better conditions than in the soil of the same age. Overall this is a very positive step in the discipline, in terms of preservation of material in the calculus matrix.”

Diet and environment 1.2 million years ago revealed through analysis of dental calculus from Europe’s oldest hominin at Sima del Elefante, Spain is published in Naturwissenschaften. To read, visit: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00114-016-1420-x

 

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Since my absence many articles on ancient foods have piled up on my desk. I shall endeavor to get to them all starting with last August and working my way forward to the present.

Thank you. JLP

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The above photo is from my library, J LP

Original Article in The Huffington Post

 By Jacqueline Howard
Posted: 07/10/2015

What was the culinary experience like for our prehistoric forebears?

No one knows for sure. But a provocative new study suggests that any meat our distant ancestors scavenged would have been teeming with harmful bacteria.

What’s more, the study suggests, early hominins would have had trouble avoiding food-borne illness unless they cooked the carrion or opted to consume bone marrow rather than flesh.

“Some would argue the archaeological record indicates that meat was scavenged before the earliest accepted dates of controlled fire-use, but our research suggests that cooking might be more ancient,” Alex Smith, the study’s lead author and a researcher in Harvard University’s department of human evolutionary biology, told The Huffington Post in an email.

Most scientists agree that cooking dates back about 1.9 million years.

To take a closer look at the possible link between scavenging and cooking, the researchers measured the growth of bacteria on raw boar meat and bone marrow over a 24-hour period and how effectively roasting the meat eliminated the bacteria.

What did the researchers find?

The number of bacteria on the raw meat spiked to potentially dangerous levels within 24 hours, but roasting the meat over hot coals killed most of the bacteria. As for the bone marrow, fewer bacteria grew on it than on the meat, which suggests that it would have been somewhat safer to eat than meat.

“The accumulation of bacteria on exposed tissue and the reduction of this bacterial load via cooking were not surprising findings,” Smith said in the email. “What is surprising is that two processes known to influence the biological value of food (bacterial decomposition and cooking) are often absent from discussions about hominin scavenging ecology… We hope this research brings the importance of cooking and its effects to discussions on early hominin carnivory.”

A paper describing the research was published in the July 2015 edition of the Journal of Human Evolution.

 

 

 

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Evidence suggests Neanderthals boiled food

Neanderthal cooking likely wouldn’t have won any prizes on Top Chef, but a paleontologist suggests that our ancient cousins knew how to cook a mean stew, without even a stone pot to their name.

This female Neanderthal, found in a cave in Gibraltar, may have enjoyed foods heated
in birch bark trays [Credit: Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic]
“I think it’s pretty likely the Neanderthals boiled,” said University of Michigan paleontologist John Speth at a recent meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Austin, Texas. “They were around for a long time, and they were very clever with fire.”

Neanderthals were a species of early humans who lived in Europe and the Near East until about 30,000 years ago. Conventional wisdom holds that boiling to soften food or render fat from bones may have been one of the advantages that allowed Homo sapiens to thrive, while Neanderthals died out.

But based on evidence from ancient bones, spears, and porridge, Speth believes our Stone Age cousins likely boiled their food. He suggests that Neanderthals boiled using only a skin bag or a birch bark tray by relying on a trick of chemistry: Water will boil at a temperature below the ignition point of almost any container, even flammable bark or hides.

“You can boil in just about anything as long as you take it off the flame pretty quickly,” Speth says. His presentation included video of water boiling in a paper cup (the water keeps the paper from reaching its ignition temperature) and mention of scenes in Jean Auel’s 1980 novel, Clan of the Cave Bear (later a movie), in which Neanderthals boiled stews in hide pouches.

“This wasn’t an invention of some brainy modern people,” Speth says.

Quest for Fire

While conceding that Neanderthals were handy with wood and fire, paleontologists such as Mary Stiner of the University of Arizona in Tucson want to let Speth’s idea simmer for a while before they swallow it.

“Whether they went as far as boiling stuff in birch bark containers or in hides is harder to evaluate,” Stiner says. “I am not convinced.”

The use of fire by humans goes back more than 300,000 years in Europe, where evidence is seen in Neanderthal hearths.

But most research has supported the idea that Stone Age boiling, which relied on heating stones in fire pits and dropping them into water, arrived on the scene too late for Neanderthals.

Evidence of cracked “boiling stones” in caves used by early modern humans, for example, goes back only about 26,000 years, too recent for Neanderthals. And pottery for more conventional boiling appears to be only about 20,000 years old.

Birch Bubbling

But who needs boiling stones or pots? Speth suggests that Neanderthals boiled foods in birch bark twisted into trays, a technology that prehistoric people used to boil maple syrup from tree sap.

Archaeologists have demonstrated that Neanderthals relied on birch tar as an adhesive for hafting spear points as long as 200,000 years ago. Making birch tar requires clever cooking in an oxygen-free container, says paleontologist Michael Bisson of Canada’s McGill University.

“I’ve burned myself trying to do it,” Bisson says, adding that Neanderthals were plenty clever when it came to manipulating birch. They likely ignited rolled-up birch bark “cigars” and plunged them into holes to cook the tar in an oxygen-free environment.

If the tar is exposed to oxygen in the air as it cooks, “it explodes,” Bisson adds.

Supporting the boiling idea, Speth said that animal bones found in Neanderthal settings are 98 percent free of scavenger’s gnawing marks, which he says suggests the fat had been cooked off.

And some grains found in the teeth of a Neanderthal buried in Iraq’s Shanidar Cave site appear to have been cooked, according to a 2011 Proceedings of the National Academies of Science report.

“It is speculative, but I think it is pretty likely that they knew how to boil,” Speth says.

In a separate talk at the meeting, University of Michigan paleontologist Andrew White noted recent evidence that Neanderthal mothers weaned their children at an earlier age than human mothers typically do. He said the early transition from milk to food supports the theory that Neanderthals boiled their youngsters’ food to make it more digestible.

The idea that Neanderthals could probably boil their food first came to Speth as he watched an episode of the TV show Survivorman. Stuck in East Africa with only dirty water to drink, host Les Stroud sterilized the muddy liquid by boiling it in a plastic bag.

“Who says you can’t learn anything from TV?” says Speth. “I figured if we could boil water in a plastic bag, then Neanderthals could do it in a birch tray.”

Author: Dan Vergano | Source: National Geographic [April 30, 2014]

Original article:

archaeologynewsnetwork

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Fossils offer new clues into Native American’s ‘journey’ and how they survived the last Ice Age.

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Topic: Preparing hunted game

Big-game hunts about 12,000 years ago involved feasting on a meaty morsel popular with today’s gourmets, followed by chopping, hauling, bone tossing, jewelry making and boasting.

All of these activities are suggested by remains found at a prehistoric Danish butchering site, called Lundy Mose, which is described in a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Bone fragments belonging to wild boar, red deer and aurochs were unearthed. But the hunters clearly had a taste for elk meat, since elk remains were prevalent at the site, located in South Zealand, Denmark.

“Due to very good conditions of bone preservation, Lundby Mose offers exceptional opportunities for detailed reconstruction of exploitation patterns, and allows a very precise picture of the different activities involved in elk exploitation,” archaeologist Charlotte Leduc of the University of Paris wrote.

Her detailed analysis of the remains determined that the hunters first cut around the elk heads and other parts of the body in order to remove the hides. At least one of the hides then likely became a perishable container, comparable to a garbage bag, upon which refuse was placed and later bundled.

The hunters then removed meat from easy-to-access parts, such as the limbs, and likely feasted on it right then and there. No roasting pit or evidence for fire is mentioned, so it might have been consumed raw.

All skeletal parts containing marrow — now a delicacy in many fine restaurants — were fractured to enable its extraction.

Wietske Prummel of the University of Groningen, who analyzed another prehistoric Northern European butchering site, told Discovery News that marrow was usually “consumed by hunters immediately after butchering. It was their reward for the successful kill.”

The hunters skillfully cut around the body, trimming fat and boning meat for later easy consumption. Leduc thinks much of the meat could have been transported to a nearby settlement site.

Before that happened, however, the hunters removed select bones, such as from the long limbs, likely for making bone weapons and tools. They also removed the antlers.

The elk’s shoulder blade bones were taken out and afterwards, back at the settlement, “were sometimes worked and used presumably as knives for fish processing,” Leduc suspects.

As the hunters worked, they appear to have dumped waste material onto the reserved hide. It was later tossed into a nearby lake.

The front teeth of the elks were missing, suggesting “a specific status of front teeth for the hunters,” according to Leduc. Other prehistoric hunt scenes support this theory, as do discoveries of prehistoric tooth bling.

This series of events likely played out countless times, even long before 12,000 years ago.

“Modern humans hunted and butchered large game and cooked the meat from circa 45,000 years ago when they arrived in Europe,” Marcel Niekus of the University of Groningen, told Discovery News.

The practices probably even went back to Neanderthal times, but not necessarily to the benefit of these now-extinct members of the human family tree.

A prior study in the Journal of Anthropological Science, authored by Fernando Rozzi of France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), suggests that around 30,000 years ago, a person in France might have consumed a Neanderthal child and made a necklace out of its teeth.

Original article:
discovery.com

OCT 7, 2013 BY JENNIFER VIEGAS

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Topic: Whale meat

The remains of two barnacle species that once lived exclusively on the exterior of whales have been found in a camp fire at the Cueva de Nerja (the Caves of Nerja) in Málaga, Spain. Researchers from the University of Valencia have dated the charcoal from the fire to between 14,500 and 13,500 years ago.

Earliest consumption of whale meat

Scientists at the University, coordinated by Professor Joan Emili Aura Tortosa, analysed stone artefacts, horn and bone found in the fire along with the charcoal to arrive at the date. The scientific results show evidence of human consumption of whale meat during Prehistory in Europe.

The remains of the whale barnacles were found in occupation layers dating to the end of the last glacial maximum and associated with the Upper Palaeolithic Magdalenian period.

The association of the remains of barnacles with hunting and fishing equipment made of bone and stone is the oldest indirect evidence of whale consumption though not of whale hunting.

The whale may have become stranded on a beach at low tide and hunters would have taken the opportunity to take meat, fat and skin back to the cave for processing and consumption.

No whale bones have been identified in Nerja, unlike dolphins and seals, which are represented by various skeletal parts (jaws, teeth, vertebrae , ribs, etc), which suggests the hunters are only using (or able to transport) the flesh and skin of the whale.

Palaeoecological data

Whale barnacles are crustaceans living on the skin of whales and so their presence within the cave’s archaeological deposits could only be the result of human action, with the coastline during this period lying around 4 km away. Currently, the cave is situated less than 1 km away from the sea.

The two species identified have been associated with a type of Southern Hemisphere whale (Eubalaena australis), although there are also suggestions of the barnacles being found on the north Atántico (Eubalaena glacialis).

This study also has relevance to palaeoecological studies, as it confirms a significant drop in the temperature of sea water in the region, previously suggested by research surveys conducted in the Alboran Sea, and also alters the distribution of these species of whales in the past.

Source: University of Valencia

Original article:

past horizons

Feb 27, 2013

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