Posts Tagged ‘gathers’

New York University—According to a team of researchers, northern Europeans in the Neolithic period initially rejected the practice of farming, which was otherwise spreading throughout the continent. Their findings offer a new wrinkle in the history of a major economic revolution that moved civilizations away from foraging and hunting as a means for survival.

“This discovery goes beyond farming,” explains Solange Rigaud, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHUS) in New York City. “It also reveals two different cultural trajectories that took place in Europe thousands of years ago, with southern and central regions advancing in many ways and northern regions maintaining their traditions.”

CIRHUS is a collaborative arrangement between France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and New York University.

The study, whose other authors include Francesco d’Errico, a professor at CNRS and Norway’s University of Bergen, and Marian Vanhaeren, a professor at CNRS, appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

In order to study these developments, the researchers focused on the adoption or rejection of ornaments—certain types of beads or bracelets worn by different populations. This approach is suitable for understanding the spread of specific practices—previous scholarship has shown a link between the embrace of survival methods and the adoption of particular ornaments. However, the PLOS ONE study marks the first time researchers have used ornaments to trace the adoption of farming in this part of the world during the Early Neolithic period (8,000-5,000 BCE).

It has been long established that the first farmers came to Europe 8,000 years ago, beginning in Greece and marking the start of a major economic revolution on the continent: the move from foraging to farming over the next 3,000 years. However, the pathways of the spread of farming during this period are less clear.

To explore this process, the researchers examined more than 200 bead-types found at more than 400 European sites over a 3,000-year period. Previous research has linked farming and foraging populations with the creation and adornment of discrete types of beads, bracelets, and pendants. In the PLOS ONE study, the researchers traced the adoption of ornaments linked to farming populations in order to elucidate the patterns of transition from foraging and hunting to farming.

Their results show the spread of ornaments linked to farmers—human-shaped beads and bracelets composed of perforated shells—stretching from eastern Greece and the Black Sea shore to France’s Brittany region and from the Mediterranean Sea northward to Spain. By contrast, the researchers did not find these types of ornaments in the Baltic region of northern Europe. Rather, this area held on to decorative wear typically used by hunting and foraging populations—perforated shells rather than beads or bracelets found in farming communities.

“It’s clear hunters and foragers in the Baltic area resisted the adoption of ornaments worn by farmers during this period,” explains Rigaud. “We’ve therefore concluded that this cultural boundary reflected a block in the advancement of farming—at least during the Neolithic period.”


The research was supported, in part, by the French Ministry of National Education, Research, and Technology, the Fyssen Foundation, and the Maria Sklodowska-Curie COFUND Action.

Source: This is an adaptation of a New York University press release entitled Don’t farm on me: Northern Europeans to Neolithic interlopers.

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Popular archaeology

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Plants cultivated in Cuba 1500 years earlier than previously thought.

The use of cultigens and wild plants by pre-contact populations has long been accepted by scholars to have been well established in all regions of the circum-Caribbean and Greater Antilles except for Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean—until now.

An international team of researchers examined a population traditionally understood by Cuban archaeologists as “fisher–gatherers”, who left remains at a shell-matrix site known as Canímar Abajo, in the province of Matanzas, Cuba. Partnering with a team of Cuban and other Canadian researchers, University of Winnipeg (UWinnipeg) professors Dr. Mirjana Roksandic and Dr. Bill Buhay, along with lead study author Chinique de Armas, examined the population’s subsistence practices by using a combination of starch evidence from dental calculus, aided by human bone collagen carbon and nitrogen isotope based probability analyses. Their results showed that the population used cultivated plants in the Caribbean well before the commonly accepted advancement of agricultural groups in the region (around 500 CE). They dated some of the remains to at least 990 – 800 BCE, indicating that the practice was much older than previously assumed. Specifically, they found that this population consumed and processed common bean, sweet potato and a highly toxic plant called zamia that required special treatment prior to consumption.

The bone collagen isotope data was derived at Buhay’s Isotope Laboratory (UWIL) at UWinnipeg. Starch grains were extracted from dental calculus at the University of Toronto (Mississauga) in collaboration with Dr. Sheehan Bestel and independently verified by a leading specialist from Puerto Rico, Dr. Jaime Pagan Jimenez.

The site of Canímar Abajo has been excavated over the last 10 years by Professor Rodríguez Suarez (also a coauthor of the research paper) of the University of Havana, who first started examining the possibility that the early indigenous Cubans used domesticated plants in their diet. 

“This unequivocal evidence of domestic plant consumption will serve to dispel the notion that indigenous Cubans from that time period (2nd millennium BC) were fisher-gatherers with no knowledge of agriculture and cultivated plants” said Suarez.

According to the team linguist Dr. Ivan Roksandic, “these people have often been called Ciboney”, a name erroneously translated as “cave people.” The notion of highly mobile cave dwellers stems from colonial attitudes towards indigenous groups in the Caribbean, and the new inferred diet information revealed in this study “adds substantially to our understanding of their inherent environmental competence” he adds.

“Canímar Abajo is just beginning to produce surprises that challenge the archaeological paradigm for the region” according to another team member, Professor David Smith of the University of Toronto (Mississauga). Mirjana Roksandic adds that, “this is just the beginning of a very fruitful collaboration which is posed to extend this combined methodology of physical (dental calculus starch grains) and chemical (bone collagen isotopes) analysis to other sites in Cuba and the Caribbean”.


Map of Cuba showing the province of Matanzas (in red), where the site of Canimar Abajo is located. Wikimedia Commons

Their findings* were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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Popular archaeology

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Topic: Cheese

Milk products may be why the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was given up in favor of a more settled, and yogurt-eating, existence.


People were processing dairy products in the African Sahara more than 7,000 years ago.

The first dairy farmers lived in Anatolia, now modern-day Turkey.

Dairy farming may have pushed people to settle down.

More than 7,000 years ago, prehistoric people in the African Sahara were making dairy products, such as butter, yogurt and cheese.

The discovery, based on the identification of dairy fats on ancient pottery shards found in Libya, is the first to provide a definitive date for early dairy farming in Africa. Adding to findings from Europe and the Middle East, the study points to milk products as a main reason why people in many places may have chosen to give up the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favor of a more settled existence.

“What we’re really beginning to know is that cattle were incredibly significant to early peoples,” said Julie Dunne, an archaeological scientist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. “They gave a remarkably calorific source of food and allowed populations to expand dramatically. Milk and dairying seem to be so significant in human development, remarkably so.”

Plenty of research has documented the domestication of sheep, goats and cattle, as well as the use of dairy products, beginning around 9,000 years ago in parts of modern-day Turkey, 8,000 years ago in eastern Europe and 6,000 years ago in Britain.

In Africa, details have been murkier. Fossil evidence suggests the arrival of domesticated milk-producers in North Africa by about 8,000 years ago with an increase in animal numbers over the next 1,000 years, but remains are spotty. And even though archaeologists have discovered vivid rock art depicting cattle and even milking scenes in Algeria and other parts of the Sahara, it is impossible to accurately date those paintings.

For the new study, Dunne and colleagues analyzed organic residues on 81 well-dated pieces of pottery taken from the Takarkori rock shelter in the Libyan Sahara. The samples turned out to be incredibly well preserved, containing fat residues at high concentrations, probably because of the region’s dry conditions — though the climate there was much wetter during the period considered in the new study.

Evidence showed that some pots were used to hold plant oils. But many contained chemical signatures that were unambiguously from animal fats, the researchers report today in the journal Nature. Analyses revealed the remains of dairy products made from cow, goat and sheep’s milk, dating back to between 7,200 and 5,800 years ago.

At that time, Africans had not yet developed the genetic mutations that allow people to digest milk, according to other research. So, the Sahara’s lactose-intolerant dairy farmers were likely making yogurt and cheese rather than drinking straight from the udders of their animals. Only after people learned to process dairy foods did their bodies develop the ability to drink pure milk — through mutations that appear to have happened independently as many as three or four times in Africa.

It is now becoming clear that dairying was a transformative development in human history, said Joachim Burger, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Mainz in Germany. Given their carbohydrate and nutrient profiles, dairy products would have been far superior to what people could get from hunting and gathering alone. And when our ancestors figured that out, society changed forever.

“The general question behind all this is what actually made man to become sedentary and change his lifestyle completely,” Burger said. “Milk is not just a side effect of this change. It may even be a driving force behind it.”

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By Emily Sohn Wed Jun 20, 2012

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The moment when the hunter-gatherers laid down their spears and began farming around 11,000 years ago is often interpreted as one of the most rapid and significant transitions in human history – the ‘Neolithic Revolution’.

By producing and storing food, Homo sapiens both mastered the natural world and took the first significant steps towards thousands of years of runaway technological development. The advent of specialist craftsmen, an increase in fertility and the construction of permanent architecture are just some of the profound changes that followed.

Of course, the transition to agriculture was far from rapid. The period around 14,500 years ago has been regarded as the point at which the first indications appear of cultural change associated with agriculture: the exploitation of wild grains and the construction of stone buildings. Farming is believed to have begun in what is known as the Fertile Crescent in the Levant region, which stretches from northern Egypt through Israel and Jordan to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and then occurred independently in other regions of the world at different times from 11,000 years ago.

Recent evidence, however, has suggested that the first stirrings of the revolution began even earlier, perhaps as far back as 19,000 years ago. Stimulating this reinterpretation of human prehistory are discoveries by the Epipalaeolithic Foragers in Azraq Project (EFAP), a group of archaeologists and bioarchaeologists working in the Jordanian desert comprising University of Cambridge’s Dr. Jay Stock, Dr. Lisa Maher (University of California, Berkeley) and Dr. Tobias Richter (University of Copenhagen).

Over the past four years, their research has uncovered dramatic evidence of changes in the behaviour of hunter-gatherers that casts new light on agriculture’s origins, as Dr. Stock described: “Our work suggests that these hunter-gatherer communities were starting to congregate in large numbers in specific places, build architecture and show more-complex ritual and symbolic burial practices – signs of a greater attachment to a location and a changing pattern of social complexity that imply they were on the trajectory toward agriculture.”

Fertile Crescent

Working at the fringes of the Fertile Crescent, at sites in the Azraq Basin and the marshlands of Jordan, the EFAP team is excavating the archaeological remains of the hunter-gatherers who occupied the region. Such sites have been under studied, said Dr Stock: “Because these early hunter-gatherers have been perceived as building only transient camp sites, they have been largely disregarded in explanations of the development of agriculture. Instead, excavations have focused on the later ‘Natufian’ period, beginning around 14,500 years ago, since this period more clearly shows cultural precursors of the transition to agriculture.”

Today, the Azraq Basin is a 12,000 sq km area of dusty, wind-blown desert, and a very challenging place to work. Temperatures can soar to 45°C, requiring the researchers to start field work at 5 am and finish by midday when the heat and winds become too strong to allow work to continue.

But when the first humans were leaving Africa, the open grasslands and lush marshlands of the Fertile Crescent teemed with gazelle, antelope and plant life. Given this region is situated at the crossroads between Africa and the rest of the world, it is perhaps unsurprising that it should be the site of regional agricultural innovation.

Few previous archaeological excavations have been carried out in this inhospitable terrain, most instead focusing on regions closer to the Mediterranean. With funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the researchers set out four years ago to redress the balance.

Complex burials

Dr. Stock’s expertise lies in the analysis of hunter-gatherer bones. Over the past 15 years, he has analysed over 1,400 skeletons from around the world to understand what it is about early humans that made them such successful colonisers of the natural environment.

One of the most startling of the researchers’ findings in Jordan has been the hunter-gatherer graves. Evidence suggests that, far from simple burials, the hunter-gatherers had elaborate mortuary and sociocultural practices. In one grave in ʻAyn Qasiyya, an adult male was placed in marshland in a sitting position, and was likely to have been tightly wrapped in cloth. A previous finding by another archaeologist at Kharaneh IV was a burial of an older man underneath a hut floor, his age suggesting that he would have required the care of others in life.

At another site, ‘Uyun-al-Hammam, a University of Toronto-based project led by Dr. Maher has excavated a total of 11 burials, some of which show elaborate mortuary treatments. Indeed, one grave that includes a human buried together with a fox, said Dr. Maher: “suggests a close emotional or symbolic tie between humans and foxes prior to the first domesticated animal – the dog – and shows continuity in burial and social practices with the later Neolithic”. Dr. Stock’s study of the human remains demonstrates that these people were ancestral to the later farmers.

The researchers argue that these examples may represent an increasing cultural sophistication and a greater complexity in the relationship between humans and animals – trends that had only previously been identified in later time periods.

Mega camp site

A major focus of the work of the EFAP team over the past four years has been the excavation of the site of Kharaneh IV, in the Azraq Desert of eastern Jordan. The site is much more than the sort of temporary camp site normally ascribed to hunter-gatherer groups. Covering almost two hectares, the 19,000-year-old site was occupied for 1,200 years and is, as Dr. Stock described, “so huge, it’s the earliest sign of human activity that is large enough to be visible on Google Earth.”

“To produce the debris of stone tools and bones, in some places almost 3 m deep, we believe that many groups of hunter-gatherers would meet and live together for several months of the year before splitting into mobile groups at other times.”

The team is researching the area in astonishing detail – in a technique known as 100% flotation, every square centimetre excavated is floated to check for plant remains and charcoal. As Dr. Richter pointed out: “even very small remains are providing very important clues towards our understanding of the relationship between prehistoric humans and their habitat”.

To date, they have found plant remains, animal bones carved with repeated incised motifs, stones carved with geometric patterns, stone tools in their thousands, hearths, pierced shells and, just recently, oval hut structures. As the work continues, all indications point towards an advanced cultural and technological complexity in the exploitation of bone, shell, plants and architecture. “The size of the site, combined with evidence for huts and other symbolic goods, imply that Kharaneh IV was long-term and repeatedly occupied,” said Dr. Stock. “It could be regarded as a precursor to later farming villages.”

The revolution that wasn’t

The team’s discoveries extend many aspects of the behavioural complexity associated with the Neolithic to about 10,000 years earlier, pushing back the true roots of the transition to agriculture.

“On evolutionary timescales, the transition to agriculture can undoubtedly be regarded in revolutionary terms,” said Dr Stock. “But, we can now see this as a culturally dynamic process that began much earlier than previously thought.”

“This picture would not have come together through the excavation of one site alone,” he added. “The burial complexity of ʻUyun-al-Hammam and ʻAyn Qasiyya, together with the architecture and size of the settlement at Kharaneh IV, collectively offer glimpses of a protracted period in which humans worked through the cultural and biological changes that needed to happen before village life and the systematic exploitation of grain could emerge.”

Provided by University of Cambridge (news : web)

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Topic: Farming/Europe

Central and western Europe‘s first farmers weren’t crafty, native hunter-gatherers who gradually gave up their spears for seeds, a new study says.

Instead, they were experienced outsiders who arrived on the scene around 5500 B.C. with animals in tow—and the locals apparently didn’t roll out the welcome wagon.

Within a few generations, all the farmers—probably coming from southeast Europe—moved into central Europe bringing their culture, [livestock], and everything,” Joachim Burger, a molecular archaeologist at the University of Mainz in Germany, said via email.

The finding is based on analysis of genetic material in the skeletal remains of ancient hunter-gatherers and early farmers found in Germany, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia—though farming is thought to have reached areas as far west as western France during the period of rapid expansion, about 7,500 years ago.

The study goes against a long-standing idea that Europe’s first farmers were former hunter-gatherer populations that had settled the region after the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago.

Perhaps, the thinking went, the hunter-gatherers had observed farming practices during their travels or had learned from neighbors.

Instead, the researchers found, the hunter-gatherers and the early farmers remained segregated, according to the study, to be published tomorrow in the journal Science.

Though the two groups had “cultural contacts,” Burger said, they generally didn’t mate, at least initially, according to the genetic analysis.

“We have to think of parallel existing societies of hunter-gatherers and farmers,” Burger said. “They were different people.”

Missing Link in European “Evolution”

The researchers were able to identify the remains of hunter-gatherers because the specimens were either more than 8,000 years old—and therefore older than the first European farms—or were surrounded by “hunting” artifacts, such as arrowheads and bear-tooth necklaces. Farmers, by contrast, were found with root-digging tools and livestock bones, among other things.

When the researchers compared the genetic material of the two ancient groups with modern-European genes, a mystery emerged.

The two lineages “don’t look like the complete set of ancestors necessary to build the modern gene pool,” Burger said.

The puzzle highlights how little we know about where modern Europeans came from.

“Another, unidentified factor must come in, maybe an additional migration” or genetic mutation, he said.

Archaeologist Ron Pinhasi, of University College Cork in Ireland, agreed that more ancient migrations might await discovery.

Pinhasi, who was not involved in the new study, said the report “raises the possibility that the modern European genetic structure has been shaped by a series of subsequent migrations [or] dispersals during prehistoric and historic times.”

Where Did Europe’s First Farmers Come From?

Though study author Burger is placing his bets on southeastern Europe—specifically parts of what are now western Hungary and southwestern Slovakia—no one knows where the early immigrant farmers came from.

To pinpoint the pioneers’ origins, Burger, Pinhasi, and others are working on a separate project, which also uses genetic material from skeletal remains.

According to Burger, it’s possible that the first farmers in Europe were part of a vast chain of farming populations that stretched perhaps as far as the ancient Near East, including Anatolia (now Turkey) and Mesopotamia (roughly present-day Iraq)—where agriculture is thought to have been born about 11,000 years ago.

Pinhasi recently reached the same conclusion—detailed in a separate study published in the journal PLoS ONE in August—by comparing skulls from hunter-gatherers and early farmers found at sites from Europe to the Near East.

More evidence that these far-flung farming populations were genetically similar should be forthcoming, he said. And that would confirm “that agriculture was certainly introduced into Europe from western Anatolia.”

Original article by John Roach
for National Geographic News
September 3, 2009

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