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One of the ancient Viking cod bones used in the study. The bones, dating from between 800 to 1066 AD, were found on the site of the early medieval Baltic port of Haithabu. Credit: Dr.James Barrett

Original Article:

Popular-archaeology.com

 

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—Norway is famed for its cod. Catches from the Arctic stock that spawns each year off its northern coast are exported across Europe for staple dishes from British fish and chips to Spanish bacalao stew.
Now, a new study published today in the journal PNAS suggests that some form of this pan-European trade in Norwegian cod may have been taking place for 1,000 years.
Latest research from the universities of Cambridge and Oslo, and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig, used ancient DNA extracted from the remnants of Viking-age fish suppers.
The study analysed five cod bones dating from between 800 and 1066 AD found in the mud of the former wharves of Haithabu, an early medieval trading port on the Baltic. Haithabu is now a heritage site in modern Germany, but at the time was ruled by the King of the Danes.
The DNA from these cod bones contained genetic signatures seen in the Arctic stock that swims off the coast of Lofoten: the northern archipelago still a centre for Norway’s fishing industry.
Researchers say the findings show that supplies of ‘stockfish’ – an ancient dried cod dish popular to this day – were transported over a thousand miles from northern Norway to the Baltic Sea during the Viking era.
Prior to the latest study, there was no archaeological or historical proof of a European stockfish trade before the 12th century.
While future work will look at further fish remains, the small size of the current study prevents researchers from determining whether the cod was transported for trade or simply used as sustenance for the voyage from Norway.
However, they say that the Haithabu bones provide the earliest evidence of fish caught in northern Norway being consumed on mainland Europe – suggesting a European fish trade involving significant distances has been in operation for a millennium.
“Traded fish was one of the first commodities to begin to knit the European continent together economically,” says Dr James Barrett, senior author of the study from the University of Cambridge’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
“Haithabu was an important trading centre during the early medieval period. A place where north met south, pagan met Christian, and those who used coin met those who used silver by weight.”
“By extracting and sequencing DNA from the leftover fish bones of ancient cargoes at Haithabu, we have been able to trace the source of their food right the way back to the cod populations that inhabit the Barents Sea, but come to spawn off Norway’s Lofoten coast every winter.
“This Arctic stock of cod is still highly prized – caught and exported across Europe today. Our findings suggest that distant requirements for this Arctic protein had already begun to influence the economy and ecology of Europe in the Viking age.”

Stockfish is white fish preserved by the unique climate of north Norway, where winter temperature hovers around freezing. Cod is traditionally hung out on wooden frames to allow the chill air to dry the fish. Some medieval accounts suggest stockfish was still edible as much as ten years after preservation.
The research team argue that the new findings offer some corroboration to the unique 9th century account of the voyages of Ohthere of Hålogaland: a Viking chieftain whose visit to the court of King Alfred in England resulted in some of his exploits being recorded.
“In the accounts inserted by Alfred’s scribes into the translation of an earlier 5th century text, Ohthere describes sailing from Hålogaland to Haithabu,” says Barrett. Hålogaland was the northernmost province of Norway.
“While no cargo of dried fish is mentioned, this may be because it was simply too mundane a detail,” says Barrett. “The fish-bone DNA evidence is consistent with the Ohthere text, showing that such voyages between northern Norway and mainland Europe were occurring.”
“The Viking world was complex and interconnected. This is a world where a chieftain from north Norway may have shared stockfish with Alfred the Great while a late-antique Latin text was being translated in the background. A world where the town dwellers of a cosmopolitan port in a Baltic fjord may have been provisioned from an Arctic sea hundreds of miles away.”
The sequencing of the ancient cod genomes was done at the University of Oslo, where researchers are studying the genetic makeup of Atlantic cod in an effort to unpick the anthropogenic impacts on these long-exploited fish populations.
“Fishing, particularly of cod, has been of central importance for the settlement of Norway for thousands of years. By combining fishing in winter with farming in summer, whole areas of northern Norway could be settled in a more reliable manner,” says the University of Oslo’s Bastiaan Star, first author of the new study.
Star points to the design of Norway’s new banknotes that prominently feature an image of cod, along with a Viking ship, as an example of the cultural importance still placed on the fish species in this part of Europe.
“We want to know what impact the intensive exploitation history covering millennia has inflicted on Atlantic cod, and we use ancient DNA methods to investigate this,” he says.
Article Source: University of Cambridge news release

 

 

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The advent of farming, especially dairy products, had a small but significant effect on the shape of human skulls, according to a recently published study from anthropologists at UC Davis.

Source: Farming, cheese, chewing changed human skull shape

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Original article:

NBC news.com
by Liam Miller
TEMUCO, Chile — Unearthed 1,000-year-old pottery remains could settle a bubbling debate and prove lager beer has its origins in South America.
Archaeologist Dr. Alberto Perez excavated ceramic pottery remains in southern forests near the Chile-Argentina border in 2016, just north of Patagonia.
A new genetic analysis of the ceramics has shown they contain traces of a yeast called Saccharomyces eubayanus — known as the “lost parent” of lager beer.
Perez’s find suggests that the group who made the ceramic vessels were probably using them to make a fermented drink from plant products, similar to the “chicha” or “mudai” beverage drunk in the region today. That might mean they were doing so using the yeast S. eubayanus to make alcohol more than 200 years before lager production began in Bavaria in the 1400s.
The discovery raises questions about whether South America is the origin of the unusual yeast that allows brewers to ferment lager at cool temperatures and provides its crisp and refreshing flavor.
“This is the first archaeological evidence and earliest evidence of any kind of Saccharomyces eubayanus being used in alcohol production,” said Perez, who is based at Universidad Catolica de Temuco in Chile. “Our findings confirm the historical presence of the yeast in this region and now we have confirmation of its use.”
Lager is the world’s most popular fermented drink and scientists have known since the 1980s that the yeast used to produce it — Saccharomyces pastorianus — is a hybrid between two “parent” yeasts.
One is a well-known warm-brewing yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, used in making ales and bread.
But beer experts suspected the other cold-resistant parent did not come from Europe. Yeasts grow naturally in many places including skin fruits, trees, soil and even on insects. But one with the characteristics of S. eubayanus — which thrives in cold temperatures — has never been found growing wild in Europe.
The cold-resistant missing parent remained a secret until 2011 when Dr. Chris Hittinger from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an international team of geneticists and microbiologists from the U.S., Portugal and Argentina identified S. eubayanus in wild samples from a Nothofagus tree in Patagonian forests.
The discovery was soon followed by a heated debate over a key qustion: How had a yeast from the cold southern regions of South America traveled to Bavaria where lager was invented in the 1400s — when European explorers only made landfall on South America in the late 1400s?
The timing appeared too tight. But some theorized the yeast might have traveled on the boat timber of the early traders who followed Christoper Columbus, or that early lagers had simply been brewed using different strains.
Following a 2014 discovery of wild-growing S. eubayanus on the Tibetan Plateau in western and northwestern China, a Chinese research paper led by Jian Bing and Pei-Jie Han argued that S. eubayanus more likely traveled from Asia on the Silk Road trade route, which was well established in time for lager’s invention.
New studies by Hittinger from 2014 until last year found S. eubayanus in several other locations including North America, while another group found isolates in New Zealand. And there were slightly varying types of S. eubayanus.

We discovered there were several strains of Saccharomyes eubayanus,” Hittinger said. “Our research showed that Patagonia is home to a tremendous diversity of S. eubayanus and one of our models suggested a lager yeast ancestor originated there and spread northwards.”
Yeasts migrate in a number of ways and Hittinger’s team proposed in their 2016 paper that birds or insects were a possible mode of transportation for S. eubayanus, possibly thousands of years before lager was invented and therefore in no need of a human helping-hand.
So how do Perez’s findings fit in?
“The evidence that Saccharomyces eubayanus may have been used to ferment beverages before contact between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres suggests an intriguing twist to the origin of lager yeasts,” said Hittinger, who was not part of Perez’s study. “Future genetic studies will be required to exclude the possibility that these strains are environmental contaminants and to determine how they are related to wild Patagonian strains, wild strains from the Northern Hemisphere, and the domesticated hybrid strains used to brew lagers.”
Perez’s team found the pottery remains near San Martin de Los Andes in Argentina, close to the Chilean border.
“The people who made them around 1,000 years ago would have been from a hunter-gatherer society with a mixed economy based on seasonal produce of mainly seeds and fruits and some cultivated plants,” he said.
His team excavated 6 of the 30 archaeological sites they identified in their survey, discovering and analyzing a large and diverse number of ceramic artifacts. Part of the analysis included making yeast cultures from organic residues extracted from inside the ceramics.
The analysis that led to the discovery of S. eubayanus was performed by an interdisciplinary team led by archaeologist Jose Luis Lanata and the biologist Christian Lopes, both based at Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET).
“Saccharomyces eubayanus turned up in remains from two of the sites,” Perez said. “We had strong evidence showing the ceramics had been used to ferment vegetal products to produce alcoholic beverages.”
He speculated that these fermented drinks likely “played a prominent role in the spiritual and social world of the group.”

 

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(Courtesy Bob Dawe, Royal Alberta Museum)Removal of plaster-covered roasting pit, Head-Smashed-In, Canada

 

Source: A Removable Feast

Royal Alberta Museum archaeologist Bob Dawe recently returned to the scene of an unusual discovery he made in 1990. While excavating at Head-Smashed-In, a prehistoric buffalo jump in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, he uncovered an intact 1,600-year-old sandstone-lined roasting pit. Such archaeological features are often found near buffalo jumps and were probably used to cook large quantities of meat for celebratory feasts—but they are always empty. This example was brimming with bones belonging to a buffalo calf, at least two adult buffalo, and a canine, probably a dog-wolf hybrid. The people who had hoped to dine on the meat, likely ancestors of today’s Blackfoot, never retrieved it. Sensing excavation of the pit would be a complicated affair, Dawe covered it up and vowed to return when he had the time to investigate it properly.

Last summer, with the help of paleontologists, Dawe and his team dug around the roasting pit and encased it in a plaster jacket so they could lift it out of the earth intact. Dawe plans to methodically excavate the feature in the laboratory, and eventually put it on display, but he doesn’t expect to ever find out just why the lavish banquet remained in the ground. “It would have been quite a feast,” says Dawe, “so something drastic must have happened. Maybe there was a blizzard, or a prairie fire. Or maybe other people drove them away.”

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Original article:

Livescience.com

By Rossella Lorenzi,

Scientists discovered charred honeycombs, preserved honeybees (shown here) and honeybee products on the floor of a workshop at an Etruscan trade center in Milan, Italy.
Credit: Lorenzo Castellano

 

The charred remains of 2,500-year-old honeycombs, as well as other beekeeping artifacts, have been discovered in an Etruscan workshop in northern Italy.

The findings included the remains of a unique grapevine honey produced by traveling beekeepers along rivers, according to a new study.

“The importance of beekeeping in the ancient world is well known through an abundance of iconographic, literary, archaeometric and ethnographic [or cultural] sources,” Lorenzo Castellano, a graduate student at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University and first author of the new study, told Live Science. (In archaeometry, scientists use physical, chemical and mathematical analyses to study archaeological sites.)

Even so, since honeycombs are perishable, direct fossil evidence of them is “extremely rare,” he added. [24 Amazing Archaeological Discoveries]

Castellano and his colleagues at the University of Milan and the Laboratory of Palynology and Paleoecology of the Institute for the Dynamics of Environmental Processes at Italy’s National Research Council (CNR-IDPA) in Milan found several charred honeycombs, preserved honeybees and honeybee products scattered on the floor of a workshop at the Etruscan trade center of the ancient site of Forcello, near Bagnolo San Vito in the Mantua province.

Dating to around 510 B.C. to 495 B.C., the building had been destroyed by a violent fire and was later sealed by a layer of clay so it could be built over.
“The findings are therefore preserved in situ, albeit heavily fragmented and often warped by the heat of fire,” Castellano and his team wrote in July in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The researchers examined bee-breads (a mixture of pollen and honey), fragments of charred honeycombs, remains of Apis mellifera (honeybees) and a large amount of material resulting from honeycombs that had melted and clumped together.

Chemical analysis and an examination of pollen and spores collected at the site confirmed the presence of beeswax and honey on a large portion of the room. Moreover, they found that pollen from a grapevine (Vitis vinifera) abounded in samples from the melted honey and in the honeycomb fragments, indicating the presence of a unique grapevine honey produced from predomesticated or early-domesticated varieties of grapevine.

“Vitis pollen is missing in bee-breads, suggesting that we are dealing with an unprecedented Vitis honey preserved by charcoalification,” the researchers concluded. (Charcoalification, also called carbonization, is a process in which organic carbon substances are converted into a carbon-containing residue.)
Today, grapevine honey really has nothing to do with bee-produced honey; it is a kind of syrup produced by boiling grape juice.

The analyses revealed other unique aspects about the Etruscan beekeeping.

Pollen composition showed that honeybees were feeding on plants, including grapevines and fringed water lily, from an aquatic landscape, some of which weren’t known to grow in the area.

Such a scenario would have been possible beekeepers who collected bees along a river while aboard a boat, bringing the bees and their hives to workshops to extract the honey and beeswax.

Indeed, the finding confirms what Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote more than four centuries later about the town of Ostiglia, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the site. According to Pliny, the Ostiglia villagers simply placed the hives on boats and carried them 5 miles (8 km) upstream at night.

“At dawn, the bees come out and feed, returning every day to the boats, which change their position until, when they have sunk low in the water under the mere weight, it is understood that the hives are full, and then they are taken back and the honey is extracted,” Pliny wrote.

The finding also shows the Etruscans’ high level of specialization in beekeeping.

“It also provides unique information on the ancient Po Plain environment [a geographical feature in northern Italy] and on honeybees’ behavior in a pre-modern landscape,” Castellano and colleagues concluded.

One of the honeycomb fragments found at the Etruscan workshop showed clearly the structure’s hexagonal, thin-walled cells.
Credit: Lorenzo Castellano

 

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Excavations of architecture and associated deposits left by hunter-gatherers in the Black Desert in eastern Jordan have revealed bones from wild sheep — a species previously not identified in this area in the Late Pleistocene. According to the team of University of Copenhagen archaeologists, who led the excavations, the discovery is further evidence that the region often seen as a ‘marginal zone’ was capable of supporting a variety of resources, including a population of wild sheep, 14,500 years ago.

Source: Wild sheep grazed in the Black Desert 14,500 years ago

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Original article:

Nature.com

Changes to flowering times helped the staple crop spread into new areas thousands of years ago.

Genome sequences from nearly 2,000-year-old cobs of maize (corn) found in a Utah cave paint a portrait of the crop at the dawn of its adaptation to the highlands of the US southwest. That maize, researchers found, was small, bushy and — crucially — had developed the genetic traits it needed to survive the short growing seasons of high altitudes.

The team’s study1, published on 3 August in Science, is remarkable in how it tackles complex genetic traits governed by the interactions of many different genes, say researchers. It uses that information to create a detailed snapshot of a crop in the middle of domestication. Such insights could help modern plant breeders to buffer crops against global climate change.

Geneticists of both modern and ancient crops have poured tremendous effort into understanding maize, which was one of the most important subsistence crops in the New World thousands of years ago, and is a cornerstone of global agriculture today.

Maize originated in Mexico and rapidly spread into the lowlands of the southwest United States about 4,000 years ago. But communities at higher altitudes did not fully embrace the crop until 2,000 years later — a delay that has long puzzled archaeologists studying the region, says Kelly Swarts, a quantitative geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. “There was always the question: why wasn’t this catching on? Why weren’t people doing agriculture in the uplands?” she says.

Swarts and her colleagues turned to a site in a Utah cave called Turkey Pen Shelter, where a farming community lived about 2,000 years ago. Inhabitants of the cave raised turkeys, wove intricate baskets and shoes, and had the resources needed to store and process corn. Maize, which they probably served in soups and stews, comprised about 80% of their diet.

Complex crops

Swarts’s team sequenced the genomes of fifteen 1,900-year-old maize cobs found in the shelter and compared their sequences to those in a database of genomes and physical traits from some 2,600 modern maize lines. The researchers then used that information to extrapolate the physical characteristics of the Turkey Pen maize plants, including complex traits such as flowering time. The analysis revealed a crop that was shorter and more branched than modern varieties. “More like little bushes,” says Swarts, though the role of these traits is unclear. The crop also flowered more quickly than lowland varieties — an important adaptation to life in the highlands, which have a shorter growing season than lower elevations.

The analysis could open the way for similar studies of complex traits in other plants and animals, including humans, says Matthew Hufford, who studies evolutionary genomics in maize at Iowa State University in Ames. “We just now have the genetic tools and the analytic tools to make really good use of them.”

Plant evolutionary biologist Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick, UK looks forward to seeing the same approach applied to earlier stages of maize domestication. “That stuff was 1,900 years old, and a lot of the whistles and bangs had already happened,” he says. “It’s going to be really cool to see what a full 5,000-year-old maize phenotype looks like.”

A key finding from the study, says Hufford, was the realization that the genetic variants needed to adapt to highland life were already circulating in maize populations thousands of years ago “The diversity needed for high altitudes was there, but getting it in the right combination took 2,000 years,” he says.

And that diversity could be crucial for breeders as they try to adapt modern maize to a rapidly changing climate, says Swarts. “It’s really promising for maize’s future that it has so much standing variation — assuming we can conserve that diversity,” says Swarts. “If we needed to do this, it wouldn’t take 2,000 years. We could do it a lot faster now.”

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