Posts Tagged ‘fire’


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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Topic: Mesolithic adapted fire

New and exciting evidence has been found at a threatened archaeological site on the Severn Estuary that seems to show Mesolithic people knew how to adapt their environment to suit their needs.

Encouraging specific plants

Researchers from the University of Reading found 7500 year-old worked flint tools, bones, charcoal and hazelnut shells while working at Goldcliff, near Newport, south Wales, in September 2012.
Charcoal remains discovered on the site suggest these people used fire to encourage the growth of particular plants, such as hazelnuts, crab apples and raspberries. This evidence may indicate that Mesolithic people were deliberately manipulating the environment to increase their resources, thousands of years before farming began.

A missing diet

Most evidence for hunter-gatherer diet relates to the meat gained by hunting. This is easier to recognise and study than plant based foodstuffs, due to the greater survival of bone in the archaeological record. The Severn Estuary sites are however exceptional in providing evidence for a wide range of plant resources.

A complete environmental picture

Professor Martin Bell, Head of the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology, who is leading the Severn Estuary project, said: “Previously it was thought that these people were mainly hunting deer and simply responding to the spectacular environmental changes around them, such as sea level rise. Now there is increasing evidence that they were adept at manipulating their environment to increase valued plant resources.
“Combining our finds with the trees, pollen and insects from the area we can build a picture of the environmental relationships of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. These people were highly adaptable and continued using the same site as the environment changed dramatically from old woodland to reedswamp, to saltmarsh and back to fen woodland.”

Ancient footprints in the sand

Over the last two summers researchers from the University of Reading have found Mesolithic footprints at Goldcliff. New finds, including the tracks of animals and birds, are frequently being made in the Severn Estuary.
Professor Bell continued: “The 7500 year old footprint trails show how the activity areas represented by flint tools and bones articulated together as parts of a living prehistoric landscape. The footprints include those made by children, which is extremely exciting as the role of children tends not to be visible in the archaeological record. They show children as young as four were actively engaged in the productive activities of the community.”

Severn Tidal Barrage may impact on unique archaeology

The UK House of Commons Select Committee on Climate Change is once again considering a Severn Tidal Barrage. This scheme would have a major impact on the rich archaeological resource of the Severn Estuary.
“From an archaeological point of view construction of a Severn Tidal Barrage would have very serious consequences alongside the more widely recognised ecological risks to fish, birds and many other organisms,” continued Professor Bell. “The tidal range will be reduced, sites will be permanently submerged, sedimentation will increase in some areas and, as patterns of erosion change, some site, including those with exceptional preservation of organic artefacts, may be rapidly destroyed.”

Original article:

past horizons

Jan 14, 2013


Mesolithic foot print

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Topic: importance of ancient cooked food

Primates (such as these western lowland gorillas in Pointe-Noire, Congo) have smaller brains due to their raw food diet.

Surge in brain size 1.8 million years ago linked to cooking, study says.

Did you eat a hot meal today? It’s a smart thing to do, as our ancestors learned.

According to a new study, a surge in human brain size that occurred roughly 1.8 million years ago can be directly linked to the innovation of cooking.

Homo erectus, considered the first modern human species, learned to cook and doubled its brain size over the course of 600,000 years. Similar size primates—gorillas, chimpanzees, and other great apes, all of which subsisted on a diet of raw foods—did not.

“Much more than harnessing fire, what truly allowed us to become human was using fire for cooking,” said study co-author Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

A Diet Unfit for King Kong

Herculano-Houzel and colleague Karina Fonseca-Azevedo measured the body and brain masses of primates and compared them with their caloric intake and hours spent eating. Unsurprisingly, the results showed a direct correlation between calories and body mass. In other words, the bigger you are, the more you have to eat.

But since there are only so many hours in the day, a primate can only become so big. A gorilla, for instance, is the largest primate. Yet it can only eat for ten hours a day, due to limited food supply, the time it takes to find that food, and the lengthy process of chewing through tough fibrous plants.

This results in a maximum weight of around 440 pounds (200 kilograms). On this diet, said Herculano-Houzel, “King Kong could not exist.”

Even if he did, his brain would be comparatively small. That’s because brain matter “costs” more calories than other body mass, according to the “expensive tissue hypothesis.” (See brain pictures.)

And as the team write in their paper, gorillas could never eat enough nutrients to support their enormous size and the expensive tissue of the brain. “Apes can’t afford both brain and body,” said Herculano-Houzel.

Humans can’t either. But when we came to a fork in the evolutionary road—brawn this way, brains that way—we took the cerebral route. This development came to be known as encephalization: We ended up with brains that are much bigger than our body size would indicate.

Cooking was the key, said Herculano-Houzel, whose study appeared this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Heating our food unlocked nutrition: 100 percent of a cooked meal is metabolized by the body, whereas raw foods yield just 30 or 40 percent of their nutrients.

Applying fire to food also softens tough fibers, releases flavors, and speeds up the process of chewing and digesting. The extra nutrition, and the improved eating experience, allowed our prehistoric ancestors to spend less time searching for food—and less time chewing through tough plants for meager caloric reward.

Cooking, therefore, gave us both the nutrition we needed to develop large brains and the time we needed to use them for things more interesting than chewing.

It was at this point, said Herculano-Houzel, that having a large brain stopped being an evolutionary liability—a feature that required a lot of effort to support with nutrients—and became an asset: something that could help us gain those nutrients more easily. We could now spend time thinking of better ways to hunt, to live, to develop culture, art, and early technologies—all the things that made us who we are now.

Evolving or Devolving?

Some today think this was a culinary misstep. They advocate eating prehistoric meals as a way of fighting modern ailments.

Proponents of raw-food diets, for example, don’t prepare their meals at all. Like the gorilla, they simply munch away on raw fruits and vegetables.

Why? Some of them believe that heating food over 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) destroys natural enzymes present in plants—molecular structures that help us digest proteins missing in processed foods. Others consider a retrogressive diet more environmentally sound, citing the various problems caused by modern industrial food production and distribution. And some folks simply eat raw foods as a quick way to shed a few pounds.

But “if you’re healthy, this is a terrible idea,” said Herculano-Houzel. “Sure, you’ll lose weight very fast—you’ll be eating all day and still feel starved.”

That’s because the low nutritional yield from raw foods requires massive consumption. In other words, if you want to sustain an active lifestyle, eating raw foods takes time and energy of its own.

Besides, said Herculano-Houzel, cooked food simply tastes better. “Even apes, when offered a choice of raw food or spaghetti and meatballs, will take the meatballs every time.”

But too much highly caloric, immediately gratifying foods can be dangerous, too. Diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease are all connected to overindulging our taste for refined sugars and processed foods. Humans would do well not to choose the meatballs every time.

Cooking Like a Caveman

“We have not adapted to this modern lifestyle with processed foods and sugars everywhere,” said John Durant, author of the blog Hunter-Gatherer.com. “This is why we’re seeing lots of major health concerns.”

Durant is at the forefront of a different retrogressive movement: the Paleo-diet. Like the raw-foodists, his dietary philosophy entails taking a step back in the evolutionary food chain and eating, literally, like a caveman.

That culinary lifestyle—lots of meat, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, nuts and berries, nothing processed—is at odds with modern meals, which tend to offer thousands of calories, are readily available, and can be eaten quickly.

“In terms of evolutionary biology,” said Durant, “we spent far longer as hunter-gatherers than anything else. So what does our metabolism recognize and process well? We’re best adapted to eat like our natural ancestors.”

Paleo is a relatively new diet, and Durant’s claims about dietary evolution have yet to be scientifically verified or denied. Many doctors warn that cutting dairy and grains could lead to a dangerous lack of important nutrients. Cavemen might have been fit, but they did not have a lengthy lifespan.

Yet even Durant, who frequently runs barefoot in Central Park, thinks raw-food-only diets are a bit extreme. “It’s not really about nutrition,” he said, “just anti-cooking.”

Our Next Meal

Eating like our ancestors may prevent modern diseases of overconsumption, but cooking is, after all, what drove our evolution this far.

So what is the next step? And is there still room for us to evolve? (Read about four ways we may, or may not, evolve.)

Herculano-Houzel thinks so. Human brain size “may not be capped out yet,” she said. “Over the last couple of centuries our body size has increased due mainly to changes in our diet, to increased access to better nutrition.”

She added that we could continue to evolve bigger and bigger brains—with the right diet. What exactly that is, however, is still a matter of taste.

Above photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

Original article:
By Nicholas Mott

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Topic: Fire, Chicken or egg?

The heated archaeological debate about which hominids first started cooking.

Mannequin of a Tautavel Man

Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard, claims that hominids became people—that is, acquired traits like big brains and dainty jaws—by mastering fire. He places this development at about 1.8 million years ago. This is an appealing premise no matter who you are. For those who see cooking as morally, culturally, and socially superior to not cooking, it is scientific validation of a worldview: proof that cooking is literally what makes us human. For the rest of us, it means we have a clever retort the next time one of those annoying raw-food faddists starts going on about how natural it is never to eat anything heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

There’s one problem with Wrangham’s elegant hypothesis: It’s hardly the scientific consensus. In fact, since 2009, when Wrangham explained his theory in the book Catching Fire, several archaeologists have come forward with their own, wildly divergent opinions about what is arguably the oldest intellectual property debate in the world. Who really mastered fire, in the sense of being able to create it, control it, and cook with it regularly? Was it Homo erectus, Neanderthals, or modern humans?

A brief primer on these species: H. erectus originated about 1.8 million years ago. These hominids were about as tall as modern humans, but probably hairier and definitely dumber. It’s thought that both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens evolved from H. erectus, with Neanderthals emerging about 600,000 years ago (and going extinct around 30,000 years ago) and modern humans emerging around 200,000 years ago (and still going strong). Neanderthals were shorter and had more complex societies than H. erectus, and they’re thought to have been at least as large-brained as modern humans, but their facial features protruded a little more and their bodies were stouter than ours. It’s thought that Neanderthals died out from competing, fighting, or interbreeding with H. sapiens.

According to Wrangham, H. erectus must have had fire—just look at their anatomy! H. erectus had smaller jaws and teeth (and smaller faces in general), shorter intestinal tracts, and larger brains than even earlier hominids, such as Australopithecus afarensis, for instance, who were boxier, more apelike, and probably duller. Wrangham argues that H. erectus would not have developed its distinctive traits if the species hadn’t been regularly eating softer, cooked food.

This hypothesis stems from a few modern observations. When you eat cooked food, you have access to many more calories than if you eat the same food raw. There are two reasons: Our digestive systems can extract more calories from a cooked steak (for instance) than a raw steak, and it takes much less energy to cook and eat a steak than to gnaw on a raw one for hours. Access to cooked food means a hominid no longer needs enormous teeth to break down all that raw meat and roughage into swallowable hunks, nor does it need as robust a digestive system to process it all. The combination of more calories and less complicated intestines means more energy can be devote to cogitating—hence H. erectus’ relatively big brains, which suck up a lot of calories. As evidence for his theory, Wrangham likes to point to the fact that modern-day humans can’t thrive on an all-raw diet—raw foodists tend to stop menstruating, precluding reproduction.

Wrangham’s theory is elegant, but the archaeological record is a little more complicated. There is definitely evidence of fire around 1.6 million years ago in what is now Kenya. But archaeologists dispute whether this was manmade or natural fire. Further complicating Wrangham’s hypothesis is evidence that hominids may not have brought fire with them when H. erectus moved out of Africa into Europe around a million years ago. If fire was as transformative and beneficial as Wrangham said it was, you’d think our ancestors would have brought it with them when they moved to colder climes—or died out if they were unable to do so.

If H. erectus didn’t bring fire mastery to Europe, who did? Archaeologists Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in the Netherlands and Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Museum found evidence for frequent use of fire by European Neanderthals between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago. Roebroeks and Villa looked at all the data collected at European sites once inhabited by hominids and found no evidence of fire before about 400,000 years ago—but plenty after that threshold. Evidence from Israeli sites put fire mastery at about the same time. H. sapiens arrived on the scene in the Middle East and Europe 100,000 years ago, but our species didn’t have a discernible impact on the charcoal record. Roebroeks and Villa conclude that Neanderthals must have been the ones who mastered fire.

One of the beautiful things about the archaeological record is that archaeologists are always willing to debate about it. Attributing fire to Neanderthals is an overly confident reading of the evidence, according to archaeologist Dennis Sandgathe of British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University. Of course the number of campsites with evidence of fire increased between 1 million and 400,000 years ago, he says—the number of campsites, period, increased during this time in proportion with population growth. But that doesn’t mean the use of fire was universal among European hominids—there are plenty of Neanderthal campsites out there that show little or no evidence of fire, and Sandgathe has personally excavated some of them. What’s more, Sandgathe told me when I asked him about Roebroeks’ and Villa’s data, “We actually have better data than they do when it comes to Neanderthal use of fire.”

According to Sandgathe and his colleagues, hominids didn’t really master fire until around 12,000 years ago—well after Neanderthals had disappeared from the face of the planet (or merged into the human gene pool via interbreeding, depending on your view). Sandgathe and his colleagues excavated two Neanderthal cave sites in France and found, surprisingly, that the sites’ inhabitants used hearths more during warm periods and less during cold periods. Why on earth would Neanderthals not build fires when it was freezing outside? In “On the Role of Fire in Neandertal Adaptations in Western Europe: Evidence from Pech de l’Azé IV and Roc de Marsal, France,” Sandgathe advances the hypothesis that European Neanderthals simply didn’t know how to make fire. All they could do was harvest natural fires—those caused by lightning, for instance—to occasionally warm their bodies and cook their food. (This explains why Sandgathe found more evidence of fire from warm periods: Lightning is far less common during cold spells.)

Roebroeks and Villa think Sandgathe’s reasoning is flawed: After all, there isn’t evidence of fire at every modern human campsite, either, when you look at sites from the Upper Paleolithic period, which concluded about 10,000 years ago. “However, nobody would argue that Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers were not habitual users of fire,” they wrote in a response to Sandgathe et al.’s criticism of their work. Wrangham, meanwhile, thinks both Sandgathe et al. and Roebroeks et al. ignore some critical nonarchaeological evidence: his point that contemporary humans can’t survive on a diet of uncooked food. Accepting Sandgathe’s hypothesis, Wrangham wrote in an email, “means that the contemporary evidence is wrong, or that humans have adapted to need cooked food only in the last 12,000 years. Both suggestions are very challenging!”

Why on earth can’t scientists agree on whether people mastered fire 1.8 million years ago or 12,000 years ago? That’s a 150-fold difference. Well, figuring out who burned what, when, is not an easy business. For one thing, archaeologists can’t always tell what caused a fire: a volcano, for instance, a lightning strike, or hominid ingenuity. And even if there is clear evidence of hominid fire use—a hearth at a formerly inhabited cave, for instance—it’s almost impossible to tell whether it was created by people from scratch or merely stolen from a natural fire and then transported to a hearth, where it was kept alive as long as possible. Scientists call this kind of fire use opportunistic.

What’s more, even when people were creating fires, the evidence of said fires doesn’t always stay put. Ashes have a tendency to blow away instead of embedding themselves neatly in the archaeological record, while water can take evidence of fire from its original location and carry it someplace completely different. Then there’s human error: As Sandgathe et al. write in their discussion of the available evidence, “There are … examples where residues originally interpreted as the remains of fires are later identified as something else.” (I hate it when that happens.) At one site in China, for instance, layers of earth originally believed to be ashes were later revealed to be silt and unburned bits of organic matter.

Archaeological methods are improving, and they may well end up bearing out Wrangham’s hypothesis. In a paper published earlier this year, archaeologists used advanced techniques (known as micromorphological and Fourier-transform infrared microspectroscopy) to examine sediment and reveal evidence of fire at a million-year-old South African cave site.

Wrangham is also hopeful that other disciplines will provide evidence for his theory. “I suspect genetics will help,” he says. “If we can pin down the genes underlying the adaptation to cooked food, we may be able to date the control of fire close enough to settle the big question.”

“Sure, that would be pretty compelling evidence,” admits Sandgathe. But he’s hopeful that genetics will bolster his hypothesis: that Neanderthals survived frigid glacial periods not because they regularly used fire, but because they had thick body hair. “At some point someone may announce the discovery of the gene or genes that code for thickness of body hair, and so could answer that question,” he says.

Judging from the way things are going, this debate may rage on for a good while longer. And there is room for more than one right answer: It’s possible that different groups mastered fire independently of one another at different points in time. But laypeople can take comfort in knowing that, even if we don’t know yet who first mastered fire—our simple ancestors almost 2 million years ago, our more advanced cousins 400,000 years ago, or our direct antecedents about 10,000 years ago—there’s no doubt who holds the intellectual property rights to it today. We even put it in an oven and made it our own.

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By By , Oct 5, 2012

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‘Inhabitants of Madrid’ ate elephants’ meat and bone marrow 80,000 years ago.



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Topic :Fire

Evidence that human ancestors used fire one million years ago.

Original article:
April 2, 2012

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Topic: Cooking dates to almost 2 million years ago

This chimp and other non-human primates spend nearly half their time eating, but new research demonstrates that the cooking skills of Homo erectus allowed the lineage to save time and extract more nutrients, paving the way for bigger brains.

Nearly 2 million years ago, it seems the original naked chef was cooking up a storm. Homo erectus, the extinct hominid that’s a mere branch or so away from humans on the family tree, was the first to master cooking, new evidence suggests. This seminal event had huge implications for hominid evolution, giving the ancestors of modern humans time and energy for activities such as running, thinking deep thoughts and inventing things like the wheel and beer-can chicken.

“In the big picture, eating cooked food has huge ramifications,” says Harvard’s Chris Organ, a coauthor of the new study. Cooking and other food-processing techniques aren’t just time-savers; they provide a bigger nutritional punch than a raw diet. The new work is further evidence that cooking literally provided food for thought, making it easier for the body to extract calories from the diet that could then be used to grow a nice, big brain.

Humans are the only animals who cook, and compared to our living primate relatives we spend very little time gathering and eating food. We also have smaller jaws and teeth.

Homo erectus also had small teeth relative to others in the human lineage, and the going idea was that hominids must have figured out how to soften up their food by the time that H. erectus evolved. But behavioral traits such as the ability to whip up a puree or barbecue ribs don’t fossilize, so a real rigorous test of the H. erectus-as-chef hypothesis was lacking.

Organ and his colleagues, including Harvard’s Richard Wrangham, an early champion of the cooking hypothesis, decided to quantify the time one would expect humans to spend eating by looking at body size and feeding time in our living primate relatives. After building a family tree of primates, the researchers found that people spend a tenth as much time eating relative to their body size compared with their evolutionary cousins — a mere 4.7 percent of daily activity rather than the expected 48 percent if humans fed like other primates.

Then the team looked at tooth size within the genus Homo. From H. erectus on down to H. sapiens, teeth are much smaller than would be predicted based on what is seen in other primates, the team reports online the week of August 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Tooth size becomes dramatically smaller than what we would expect,” says paleoanthropologist David Strait of the University at Albany in New York, who was not involved with the work. “This is really compelling indirect evidence the human lineage became adapted to and dependent on cooking their food by the time Homo erectus evolved.”

Note: If you have not read it yet you might be interested in the book, Catching Fire-How Cooking Made Us Human, by Richard Wrangham mentioned in the above article. 

Original article:


By Rachel Ehrenberg

Web edition : Monday, August 22nd, 2011

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Topic : Pictures of the fort

Here are a couple of the pictures I missed on Wednesday-living quarters and an outdoor, cooking site with everything but a large cast iron kettle.

If you look hard enough you can see a long chain dangling over the covered campfire.
 As I remember there are several such room in the fort, meals were probably taken together. All such rooms had a fire-place for warmth.

Photos by Michael Poe

Article By Joanna Linsley-PoeAncientFoods

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Topic: Fire-there goes Raw Food



 My Thoughts:

Did they mean discover fire, I hope so.  I do wonder why it took so long for the first fast food diner -oh wait once we could control fire, everything was fast food-or at least a bit easier to eat; Good Eats, well that might have had to wait for spices and let’s not forget salt! 


A study has found that fire was invented about 790,000 years ago, prompting the migration of ancient humans from Africa to Europe.

Studying the flints found at an archaeological site on the bank of the river Jordan, Hebrew University scientists in Jerusalem (al-Quds) found that ancient humans could start fire, rather than relying on natural phenomena such as lightning.

“The new data shows there was a continued, controlled use of fire through many civilizations and that they were not dependent on natural fires,” archaeologist Nira Alperson-Afil said on Sunday.

Although no ancient matches or lighters were found at the site, experts believe that burned flint patterns found in the same place throughout 12 civilizations proves a fire-making ability, Reuters reported.

Since the site is located in the Jordan valley, between Africa and Europe, experts believe the invention of fire has had a great role in the migration of humans northward.

“Once they mastered fire to protect themselves from predators and provide warmth and light, they were secure enough to move into and populate unfamiliar territory,” said Alperson-Afil.

Original Article:


October 27, 2008

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Topic-Ancient Rice

New findings indicate that farming in the Yangtze Basin existed as early as 4,000 years ago.   Excavation in the Xiezi Area of Hubei Province yielded a total of 402 cultural relics, including carbonized rice.

Stone tools, pottery, bronze, jade and porcelain were unearthed, as well as a number of spinning wheels, drop spindles made of clay and other textile tools. There were also stone mounds and smelting relics such as slag.  A variety of grains and seeds were found, and experts believe there may be carbonized wheat among the plant findings at the site.

The discovery effort took about four months, according to a report on Sept. 12 in a Chutian newspaper. The Hubei Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology announced the findings. The relics were determined to be from the Neolithic Era or New Stone Age at the time of the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600–1050 B.C.) and Western Zhou Dynasty (ca. 1046–771 B.C.)

The Xiezi Area is known for its geographic shape: It looks like a crab. Approximately 7.4 acres (30,000 sq. meters) in size, it is surrounded by ponds and swamps with farms distributed around the area.

The combination of the relics that were found and their stratigraphic age provides valuable information about the diet structure, production methods, and living conditions of the inhabitants of the area during the time of the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties.

Archeological team leader, Luo Yunbin explained that there had been speculation in the past about edible rice production in the Yangtze Basin, but the new findings provide solid physical evidence that there was agricultural development in that area during ancient times.

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