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First posted at phys.org

by  Autonomous University of Barcelona

Diet of pre-Columbian societies in the Brazilian Amazon reconstructed
Human burial with incised ceramic at the archaeological site of Bacanga at Sao Luas Island. Credit: André Colonese

An international study led by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA-UAB) and the Department of Prehistory at the UAB has reconstructed the diets of pre-Columbian groups on the Amazon coast of Brazil, showing that tropical agroforestry was regionally variable.

During the past few decades, there has been an increased interest in the origin and evolution of pre-Columbian economies in the Amazon. However, the paucity of human remains from this period has limited our understanding of the contribution of plants, terrestrial animals and fish to individual diets and, therefore, their role in supporting population growth and cultural changes in this region before European contact.

This new study, published in Scientific Reports, used stable isotopic analysis and Bayesian Mixing Models to reconstruct the diets of human individuals living along the Brazilian Amazon coast between 1,000 and 1,800 years ago.

They found that despite the proximity to marine resources and the evidence of fishing, diets were based mainly on terrestrial plants and animals. Land mammals and plants were the main sources of caloric intake. Land animals were also the main source of dietary protein, compared to fish.

Among the taxonomically identified animals, they found rodents such as paca, cavia or cutia, a brocket deer and catfish. In the late Holocene a large variety of wild and cultivated plants such as cassava, corn, squash, among others, were consumed.

Diet of pre-Columbian societies in the Brazilian Amazon reconstructed
The archaeological site of Bacanga at Sao Luas Island. Credit: André Colonese

“The results call into question the widespread assumption that fish was the main economic component and the largest source of protein among pre-Columbian populations living in proximity to aquatic environments in lowland Amazonia,” says Colonese. He adds that the results indicate these populations dedicated considerable efforts to hunting, forest management and plant cultivation.

“Our study provides unprecedented quantitative information on the extent to which distinct food categories from agroforestry systems fulfilled the caloric and protein requirements of populations in the pre-Columbian Amazon, and corroborates the growing consensus that these diversified subsistence economies fuelled cultural, demographic and environmental transformations in the eastern Amazon basin during the Late Holocene.”

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reprinted from Exeter.ac.uk

Early Muslim communities in Africa ate a cosmopolitan diet as the region became a trading centre for luxury goods, the discovery of thousands of ancient animal bones has shown.

Halal butchery practices became common when Islam spread through Ethiopia as vibrant communities developed because of the import and export of products around the Red Sea, and to Egypt, India, and the Arabian Peninsula, archaeologists have found.

New excavations at three sites in the east of the country completed by the University of Exeter and the Ethiopian Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage have uncovered around 50,000 animal bones dating from the eighth/ninth centuries onwards, and showing people living there at this early time ate a Muslim diet 400 years before major Mosques or burial sites were built in the 12th century.

The team, led by Professor Timothy Insoll, and involving archaeozoologist Jane Gaastra from the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies, found the first evidence in Africa for ancient halal butchery during the excavations, at Harlaa, Harar, and Ganda Harla.

Previous excavations led by Professor Insoll have revealed the Mosques and burial sites, as well as the remains of luxury materials such as ceramics from China and Egypt, marine shell from the Red Sea and beads from India.

Harlaa was established in the 6th and 7th centuries before Islam arrived in Ethiopia. It was abandoned in the 15th century when Harlaa and Ganda Harlaa were established, possibly because of plague or environmental change, and with the increasing spread of Islam better places to farm could be lived in.

During the period from which the animal bones date people may have been using smaller Mosques not yet discovered by archaeologists, and built larger buildings for worship as Muslim communities grew.

Professor Insoll said: “We didn’t expect to find bones of this quality and quantity. They are so well preserved that we can clearly see both cuts and evidence of wear. We’ve also found bones in both residential areas and places of work”.

“This is significant new information about people’s religious identity at the time. It shows in the early days of Islam in the region people were just starting to adopt religious practices, so were sometimes pragmatic and didn’t follow all of them.”

Analysis of wear on the bones show cattle were used for ploughing and turning grinding stones, and other species such as camels, horses, and donkeys, may have been used as pack animals to carry trade goods and other commodities. Analysis of the age data of cattle bones at Harlaa indicated 80 to 90 per cent of animals survived beyond 3 years of age, showing they were kept for milk or for work rather than bred to eat.

Archaeologists found the remains of pigs in Harlaa and Ganda Harlaa, which could have been domesticated or wild, unexpected in an Islamic area, as pigs are haram, ot forbidden in Islamic halal diet. This suggests the region was cosmopolitan, with visitors and residents from different areas and with different religions. Another explanation could be that early Muslims in the area ate pork during this period for practical reasons. No pig remains were found at Harar, which was a city of Muslim scholarship and pilgrimage. Similar halal butchery techniques were used in all three sites, showing the influence of Muslim traders who arrived in the area and the spread of Islam to first Harlaa, and then Harar and Ganda Harla.

People also ate and hunted warthog, bushpig, aardvark, porcupine, hare, gennet, mongoose and leopard.

At Harlaa researchers also found evidence of marine fish imported from the Red Sea some 120 kilometres away. These had all been processed prior to being sent to Harlaa, either in dried or salted form to preserve them. This was indicated by the complete absence of fish heads showing these had 2 been removed, probably at the Red Sea coast. No local freshwater fish species were found suggesting the people eating the fish were used to a sophisticated diet.

Similar animal body portions were found at each site, indicating wealth or status may not have been a factor in access to meat.

The study, published in the Journal of African Archaeology, indicates that the discarded remains of meals eaten many hundreds of years ago can provide very important information on diet, but also religious conversion, trade, and the use of animals for transport and work purposes in Islamic societies in Africa which have been largely neglected by archaeologists.

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York.ac.uk

Living specimen of the marine mollusc Conomurex fasciatus. Millions of these shells were found on the Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia a as the food refuse of prehistoric fishers. Photo credit: Dr Niklas Hausmann

Prehistoric pioneers could have relied on shellfish to sustain them as they followed migratory routes out of Africa during times of drought, a new study suggests.

Living specimen of the marine mollusc Conomurex fasciatus. Millions of these shells were found on the Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia as the food refuse of prehistoric fishers. Photo credit: Dr Niklas Hausmann

The study examined fossil reefs near to the now-submerged Red Sea shorelines that marked prehistoric migratory routes from Africa to Arabia. The findings suggest this coast offered the resources necessary to act as a gateway out of Africa during periods of little rainfall when other food sources were scarce.

The research team, led by the University of York, focused on the remains of 15,000 shells dating back 5,000 years to an arid period in the region. With the coastline of original migratory routes submerged by sea-level rise after the last Ice Age, the shells came from the nearby Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia.

Plentiful

The researchers found that populations of marine mollusks were plentiful enough to allow continuous harvests without any major ecological impacts and their availability would have enabled people to live through times of drought.

Lead author, Dr Niklas Hausmann, Associate Researcher at the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “The availability of food resources plays an important role in understanding the feasibility of past human migrations – hunter-gatherer migrations would have required local food sources and periods of aridity could therefore have restricted these movements.

“Our study suggests that Red Sea shorelines had the resources necessary to provide a passage for prehistoric people.”

Healthy population

The study also confirms that communities settled on the shorelines of the Red Sea could have relied on shellfish as a sustainable food resource all year round.

Dr Hausmann added: “Our data shows that at a time when many other resources on land were scarce, people could rely on their locally available shellfish. Previous studies have shown that people of the southern Red Sea ate shellfish year-round and over periods of thousands of years. We now also know that this resource was not depleted by them, but shellfish continued to maintain a healthy population.”

Fossil reefs

The shellfish species found in the archaeological sites on the Farasan Islands were also found in abundance in fossil reefs dating to over 100 thousand years ago, indicating that these shellfish have been an available resource over longer periods than archaeological sites previously suggested.

Co-author of the study, Matthew Meredith-Williams, from La Trobe University, said: “We know that modelling past climates to learn about food resources is extremely helpful, but we need to differentiate between what is happening on land and what is happening in the water. In our study we show that marine foods were abundant and resilient and being gathered by people when they couldn’t rely on terrestrial food.”

 

 

 

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Newsweek.com

Researchers have found a vast number of animal remains—including those of fish—at a site in the Sahara Desert, casting new light on the ancient peoples who used to live there.

Recent investigations at the Takarkori rock shelter in southwestern Libya’s Acacus Mountains revealed nearly 18,000 individual specimens, almost 80 percent of which were fish—such as catfish and tilapia—according to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The remains have been dated to between 10,200 and 4,650 years ago, covering much of the early middle and Holocene period—the current geological epoch. The rest of the remains consisted of mammals (around 19 percent,) while the team also found a small quantity of bird, reptile, mollusk and amphibian remains.

The researchers say that the animal remains were human food waste given that they displayed cut marks and signs of burning. This has implications for our understanding of the people who used to live in the area, indicating that fish was an important food.

“The key findings are no doubt the fish remains. Although not uncommon in early Holocene contexts across North Africa, the quantity of fish we have found and studied are unprecedented in the central Sahara,” Savino di Lernia, from the Sapienza University of Rome and University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, told Newsweek. “The study adds fresh information about climate change as well as cultural adaptations. It is particularly intriguing that fish was common also in the diet of early herders.”

“I believe that the quantity of fish remains in the earliest layers of occupation is really stunning. I particularly liked the fact that early herders were quite good fishers, and fish was an important staple food,” he said.

Today, the environment of the Acacus Mountains is windy, hot and extremely dry. But the fossil record here indicates that for large parts of the early and middle Holocene, the region—like other areas of the Central Sahara—was humid and rich in water, as well as plants and animals. During this period, the area was also home to prehistoric humans who left behind several notable rock art sites.

But over thousands of years, the area became increasingly dry and, thus, less capable of sustaining standing bodies of water that are home to fish. This change in the climate is reflected in the study results. Around 90 percent of all the animal remains dated to between 10,200 to 8,000 years ago were fish. However, this figure decreases to 40 percent for those dated to between 5,900 and 4,650 years ago.

This changing environment forced the hunter-gatherers who once relied on the fish to adapt and alter their diet, with the researchers documenting a shift towards eating more mammals over time.

According to the authors, the results provide, “crucial information on the dramatic climate changes that led to the formation of the largest hot desert in the world.”

“Takarkori rock shelter has once again proved to be a real treasure for African archaeology and beyond: a fundamental place to reconstruct the complex dynamics between ancient human groups and their environment in a changing climate,” they said in a statement.

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Archaeology.org

How monotonous was Neanderthal cuisine? The bones of large herbivores found at Neanderthal sites across Europe and Asia seem to indicate that their meals consisted of one course: meat. Several new studies, however, reveal a wider variety of menu options.

Isotope analysis of bones from Kudaro 3 in the Caucasus Mountains (in a disputed area of Georgia) show that Neanderthals there dined on salmon. Fish was also on the menu in southeastern France, at Abri du Maras, where analysis of the residue left on stone tools shows that Neanderthals also ate duck, rabbit, and possibly mushrooms. And when the meals were over, Neanderthals cleaned up with toothpicks that left grooves in their teeth found at Cova Foradà in Spain.

Neanderthals may have made for good dinner companions, but maybe not everything they ate accorded with modern tastes. Research published in 2012 shows that the tartar on Neanderthal teeth contains microfossils from a wide variety of plant foods and medicines (“Neanderthal Medicine Chest,”November/December 2012). But Laura Buck and Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum suggest that Neanderthals may not have directly eaten these plants, but rather ate herbivores’ stomachs containing them. Before you make a face: “We know that many modern hunter-gatherers eat the stomach contents of their prey,” says Stringer. “The Inuit regarded this as a special treat.”

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Carp

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Sahara desert

Bones of fish eaten by humans thousands of years ago offer clue to region’s ancient climate

The Sahara’s shift from savannah with abundant lakes to a largely arid expanse has been traced in the remains of fish eaten thousands of years ago.

Researchers analysing material found in a rock shelter in the Acacus mountains in south-west Libya say they have found more than 17,500 animal remains dating from between 10,200 and 4,650 years ago, 80% of which are fish. About two-thirds of the fish were catfish and the rest were tilapia. The team say telltale marks on the bones reveal the fish were eaten by humans who used the shelter.

It is not the first time fish remains have been found in what are now dry regions of the desert, but the team say it is the first time the ancient climate of the region has been traced through animal remains.

“All the other finds are surface finds, [from] just one layer, one period, one event. Whereas what we have here is a 5,000-year sequence with a lot of bones – so that makes it special,” said Dr Wim van Neer from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, a co-author of the study.

The discovery is the latest in a string of finds from the large Takarkori rock shelter, a site, about 50-60 metres long and 30 metres high, that is thought to have been first used by hunter gatherers more than 10,000 years ago.

Prof Savino di Lernia, a co-author of the study from Sapienza University of Rome, said previous finds at the shelter included evidence of rock art, the earliest signs in Africa of wild cereals being cultivated and their seeds stored, and evidence from pottery shards of dairy practices in Africa dating back nearly 7,000 years ago.

Naturally mummified human remains of Neolithic pastoralists have also been discovered at the shelter, while the uppermost layers of the site are composed of dung left by the animals of nomadic herders that later camped at the site between 5,900 and 4,650 years ago.

Writing in the journal Plos One, Van Neer and colleagues report that fish account for about 80% of the animal remains discovered at the site during the 5,000-year period it was used by humans, with mammals making up just over 19%. Birds molluscs and other animals such as turtles account for the rest.

The team found the predominance of fish was not steady but fell from about 90% in the earliest layers to about 48% in those from the most recent period of its occupation.

“The amount of fish is decreasing through time and the contribution of mammals increases, showing that people at Takarkori focussed gradually more on hunting and livestock keeping,” the authors write. But, they add: “It is unclear if this was an intentional process or if this shift could be related to increasing aridity, which made the environment less favourable for fishes.”

The findings chime with previous evidence from the Sahara, including from sediments and geological features, that have highlighted a shift in the climate from a wetter environment with vegetation and abundant lakes more than 10,000 years ago, to a period of fluctuating dry and wet conditions, until about 5,500 years ago the region became increasingly arid, resulting in the landscape seen today.

“[As it became drier] it is possible [there] was more distance that had to be covered to exploit these fish, and that is why we have a decrease,” said Van Neer. “People are opportunistic – if it is easy to get they take it.”

Dr Clayton Magill of Heriot-Watt University, who was not part of the research team but previously explored climate change in the African savannah, said the shift to desert conditions in the Sahara region was one of the most remarkable ecological transitions in the Earth’s recent past.

The new study, he said, showed that such large-scale climate change could affect species differently and increased our understanding of our human ancestors and their relationship with the climate. “[The study] links climate change with changes in culture, whether related to subsistence strategies or social behaviour, thus marking a shift towards coupled human and natural landscapes in which humans are affected by and, in turn, affect their environments,” he said.

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On this day ten years ago…
via Neanderthals Enjoyed Surf and Turf Meals

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On this day ten years ago…
via Earliest evidence found of settlers in Scotland

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Sciencedaily.co,

I see I previously published this but I’ll leave it for those interested who did not see it before.

Fish has been a predominant and high-quality protein and oil source in the human diet since ancient times. A new study by researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), the Zinman Institute of Archaeology and the Oranim Academic College examined traditional fish preparation employed by fisherfolk in Panama and Egypt, revealing patterns of modifications to the fishes’ skeletons, which are comparable to those found among fish remains recovered in archaeological sites.

Despite its relevance as a nutritious food for coastal populations and its importance for trade with inland communities, archaeologists have little insight into the methods used for the long-term processing and preservation of fish in the past. This drew Richard Cooke, STRI staff archaeologist, and Irit Zohar, curator of biological collections at Oranim Academic College and researcher at the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, to document the traditional methods currently practiced by fisherfolk in the coastal populations around Parita Bay in central Pacific Panama and at Nabek Oasis in southern Sinai-Egypt. Through participant observations, imaging of the preparation methods employed and measurements of the fish species processed, they reached several conclusions.

“We discovered that in most cases, archaeologists and historians would find it very difficult to identify a fish-processing site, since most of the discarded remains are either thrown to the water or consumed by local animals,” Cooke said.

They also found that three main preparation techniques prevail in today’s fishing communities, regardless of their geographic location, and that fish-body size influences which method is applied. In addition, these traditional techniques leave behind particular bone fragmentation patterns that mirror those found among fish remains in archaeological sites, suggesting that ancient humans were using the same three methods that are still in use today.

“This study provides a powerful model for identifying fish butchering and preservation methods at archaeological sites around the world, and at many time periods,” Zohar said. “It also vouches for the universality of human behavior for the long-term preservation of fishes of different kinds and sizes, ensuring a range of nutritious and healthful dietary resources for communities located far from the bounties of the oceans.”

Lastly, their results reveal the antiquity of traditional butchering methods practiced in coastal sites, which resemble those observed in Egyptian reliefs from over 4,000 years ago.

“Studying modern ethnographic examples contributes to our understanding of fish preservation techniques used by ancient humans for long-term storage,” Cooke said. “Our findings demonstrate the need to further document traditional fishing methods and fish procurement, before these methods disappear.”


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Materials provided by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

 

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