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Posts Tagged ‘Food’

My Oncidium orchid won first prize last Sunday at my Orchid society. A picture was requested by one of the followers of this blog so here it is:

Oncidium orchid

Now since this is a food blog I thought I would also point out that Vanilla comes from an orchid. This is what the American Orchid Society says about the species:

Vanilla belongs to a group that includes some of the most primitive orchids. The name is derived from the Spanish word vainilla meaning small pod and is characterized by vine-like plants that climb and branch. A leaf and short roots that attach to tree trunks and branches are present at each node. The flowers, produced from congested racemes opposite the leaf axils, are large and showy and short-lived, but produced in succession so that the plant is attractive for weeks or even months at a time. Vanilla is one of the few orchids, other than those grown for the cut flower trade, with widespread commercial use. V. planifolia is widely cultivated for its long, slender, fleshy pods that are essential for the manufacture of vanilla flavoring.
In addition to its commercial value, the presence of fleshy, fragrant seed pods and seed with a hard seed coat may also prove indispensible to the understanding of orchid evolution. These characteristics suggest animal-mediated seed dispersal. Recent research has established the pollinator to be a Euglossine bee (also called Orchid Bees) consistent with the pollination of many very fragrant orchids in the neotropics. However, it has also been reported that the seed capsules are eaten by bats thereby effecting seed dispersal.
The pantropical yet isolated distribution of Vanilla, coupled with the ephemeral nature of the flowers has given rise to significant confusion as to the number of species in the genus.

Vanilla Orchid

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IMAGE: Hypoxis angustifolia growth habit. view more
Credit: Prof. Lyn Wadley/Wits University

Eurekalert.org

News Release

The discovery also points to food being shared and the use of wooden digging sticks to extract the plants from the ground

University of the Witwatersrand

The inhabitants of the Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the Kwazulu-Natal/eSwatini border were cooking starchy plants 170 thousand years ago,” says Professor Lyn Wadley, a scientist from the Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa (Wits ESI). “This discovery is much older than earlier reports for cooking similar plants and it provides a fascinating insight into the behavioural practices of early modern humans in southern Africa. It also implies that they shared food and used wooden sticks to extract plants from the ground.”

“It is extraordinary that such fragile plant remains have survived for so long,” says Dr Christine Sievers, a scientist from the University of the Witwatersrand, who completed the archaeobotanical work with Wadley. The underground food plants were uncovered during excavations at Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains (on the border of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, and eSwatini [formerly Swaziland]), where the team has been digging since 2015. During the excavation, Wadley and Sievers recognised the small, charred cylinders as rhizomes. All appear to belong to the same species, and 55 charred, whole rhizomes were identified as Hypoxis, commonly called the Yellow Star flower. “The most likely of the species growing in KwaZulu-Natal today is the slender-leafed Hypoxis angustifolia that is favoured as food,” adds Sievers. “It has small rhizomes with white flesh that is more palatable than the bitter, orange flesh of rhizomes from the better known medicinal Hypoxis species (incorrectly called African Potato).”

The Border Cave plant identifications were made on the size and shape of the rhizomes and on the vascular structure examined under a scanning electron microscope. Modern Hypoxis rhizomes and their ancient counterparts have similar cellular structures and the same inclusions of microscopic crystal bundles, called raphides. The features are still recognisable even in the charred specimens. Over a four-year period, Wadley and Sievers made a collection of modern rhizomes and geophytes from the Lebombo area. “We compared the botanical features of the modern geophytes and the ancient charred specimens, in order to identify them,” explains Sievers.

Hypoxis rhizomes are nutritious and carbohydrate-rich with an energy value of approximately 500 KJ/100g. While they are edible raw, the rhizomes are fibrous and have high fracture toughness until they are cooked. The rhizomes are rich in starch and would have been an ideal staple plant food. “Cooking the fibre-rich rhizomes would have made them easier to peel and to digest so more of them could be consumed and the nutritional benefits would be greater,” says Wadley.

Wooden digging sticks used to extract the plants from the ground

“The discovery also implies the use of wooden digging sticks to extract the rhizomes from the ground. One of these tools was found at Border Cave and is directly dated at circa 40,000 years ago,” says co-author of the paper and co-director of the excavation, Professor Francesco d’Errico, (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Université de Bordeaux, France and University of Bergen, Norway). Dr Lucinda Backwell (Instituto Superior de Estudios Sociales, ISES-CONICET, Tucumán, Argentina) also co-authored the paper and was a co-director of the excavation.

The plants were cooked and shared

The Hypoxis rhizomes were mostly recovered from fireplaces and ash dumps rather than from surrounding sediment. “The Border Cave inhabitants would have dug Hypoxis rhizomes from the hillside near the cave, and carried them back to the cave to cook them in the ashes of fireplaces,” says Wadley. “The fact that they were brought back to the cave rather than cooked in the field suggests that food was shared at the home base. This suggests that the rhizomes were roasted in ashes and that, in the process, some were lost. While the evidence for cooking is circumstantial, it is nonetheless compelling.”

Discoveries at Border Cave

This new discovery adds to the long list of important finds at Border Cave. The site has been repeatedly excavated since Raymond Dart first worked there in 1934. Amongst earlier discoveries were the burial of a baby with a Conus seashell at 74,000 years ago, a variety of bone tools, an ancient counting device, ostrich eggshell beads, resin, and poison that may once have been used on hunting weapons.

The Border Cave Heritage Site

Border Cave is a heritage site with a small site museum. The cave and museum are open to the public, though bookings are essential [Olga Vilane (+27) (0) 72 180 4332]. Wadley and her colleagues hope that the Border Cave discovery will emphasise the importance of the site as an irreplaceable cultural resource for South Africa and the rest of the world.

About Hypoxis angustifolia

Hypoxis angustifolia is evergreen, so it has visibility year-round, unlike the more common deciduous Hypoxis species. It thrives in a variety of modern habitats and is thus likely to have had wide distribution in the past as it does today. It occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, south Sudan, some Indian Ocean islands, and as far afield as Yemen. Its presence in Yemen may imply even wider distribution of this Hypoxis plant during previous humid conditions. Hypoxis angustifolia rhizomes grow in clumps so many can be harvested at once. “All of the rhizome’s attributes imply that it could have provided a reliable, familiar food source for early humans trekking within Africa, or even out of Africa,” said Lyn Wadley. Hunter-gatherers tend to be highly mobile so the wide distribution of a potential staple plant food would have ensured food security.

 

 

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On this day ten years ago…
via Gozo rock holds ancient wine presses

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Pig jaw 

Cardiff University

Eurekalert.org

People transported animals over huge distances for mass gatherings at one of Ireland’s most iconic archaeological sites, research concludes.

Dr Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University led the study, which analysed the bones of 35 animals excavated from Navan Fort, the legendary capital of Ulster. Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, Memorial University Newfoundland and the British Geological Survey were also involved in the research.

The site had long been considered a centre for ritual gatherings, as excavations found a huge 40m diameter building and a barbary ape cranium, likely from at least as far as Iberia. Results suggest the pigs, cattle and sheep were brought from across Ireland, perhaps being reared as far afield as Galway, Donegal, Down, Tyrone and Antrim. Evidence suggests some were brought over more than 100 miles.

Dr Madgwick, based in Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion, said: “Our results provide clear evidence that communities in Iron Age Ireland were very mobile and that livestock were also moved over greater distances than was previously thought.

“The high proportion of pig remains found there is very rare for this period. This suggests that Navan Fort was a feasting centre, as pigs are well-suited as feasting animals and in early Irish literature pork is the preferred food of the feast.

“It is clear that Navan Fort had a vast catchment and that the influence of the site was far-reaching.”

Researchers used multi-isotope analysis on samples of tooth enamel to unlock the origins of each animal. Food and water have chemical compositions linked to the geographical areas where they are sourced. When animals eat and drink, these chemical signals are archived in their teeth, allowing scientists to investigate the location where they were raised.

Co-author of the research, Dr Finbar McCormick, of Queen’s University, Belfast, said: “In the absence of human remains, multi-isotope analysis of animals found at Navan Fort provides us with the best indication of human movement at that time.

“Feasting, almost invariably associated with sacrifice, was a social necessity of early societies where the slaughter of a large domesticate necessitated the consumption of a large amount of meat in a short period of time.”

Earlier this year, Dr Madgwick’s research of 131 pigs found at sites near Stonehenge revealed animals came from as far away as Scotland and numerous other locations across the British Isles. Before this, the origins of people who visited this area and the extent of the population’s movements at the time had been long-standing enigmas in British prehistory.

Dr Madgwick added: “Transporting animals across the country would have involved a great deal of time and effort so our findings demonstrate the important role they played in society. Food was clearly a central part of people’s exchanges and traditions.”

 

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Happy New Year everyone!
On this day ten years ago…
via Archaeologists Find Early Known Domestic Horses: Harnessed and Milked

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On this day ten years ago…
via Ancient Farm Discovery Yields Clues to Maya Diet

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Source: Where’s the Beef? – Archaeology Magazine

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