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Discovery reveals plant-based menu of prehistoric man

 

Original Article:

popular- archaeology.com

780,000 year old remains of edible fruits and seeds discovered in the northern Jordan Valley. Credit: Yaakov Langsam

 

THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM—A tiny grape pip (scale 1mm), left on the ground some 780,000 years ago, is one of more than 9,000 remains of edible plants discovered in an old Stone Age site in Israel on the shoreline of Lake Hula in the northern Jordan valley, dating back to the Acheulian culture from 1.75-0.25 million years ago. The floral collection provides rich testimony of the plant-based diet of our prehistoric ancestors.

While around the world remains of Paleolithic plants are scarce, this unique macro-botanical assemblage has allowed researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University to study the vegetal diet of humans from early-mid-Pleistocene, which is central to understanding the evolution, adaptation and exploitation of the environment by hominins.
The findings were recovered during archeological excavations at the waterlogged site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, where the earliest evidence of human-controlled fire in western Asia was discovered in recent years.
Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar of the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who conducted the excavations with colleagues, have long studied findings of hominid occupations in the Levantine Corridor, through which several hominin waves dispersed out of Africa.
In a research paper that will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on December 5, titled “The plant component of an Acheulian diet: a case study from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel”, Prof. Goren-Inbar reveals the discovery of the ancient macrobotanical remains, which for the first time indicate to the rich variety of plant assortments and subsistence opportunities that were available to the early humans on the transition from an African-based to a Eurasian diet.
“In recent years we were met with a golden opportunity to reveal numerous remains of fruits, nuts and seeds from trees, shrubs and the lake, alongside the remains of animals and man-made stone tools in one locality,” Prof. Goren-Inbar said.
Of the remains found on site, Prof. Goren-Inbar and Dr. Yoel Melamed of the Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar Ilan University have identified 55 species of edible plants, including seeds, fruits, nuts, leaves, stems, roots and tubers.

The findings, many of them minor in size, have been preserved for hundreds of thousands of years thanks to the damp conditions in the vicinity of the site, said Dr. Melamed. The basalts under and in the site were dated by Ar/Ar and the dates were further confirmed by results of paleomagnetic analyses.
“This region is known for the wealth of plants, but what surprised us were the sources of plant food coming from the lake. We found more than 10 species that existed here in prehistoric times but no longer today, such as two types of water nuts, from which seven were edible,” explained Dr. Melamed.

The site was submerged under the Jordan River and the Hula Lake in conditions of humidity and lack of oxygen, aided by the fast covering of layers of sediments, in which archaeologists also found stone tools and animal fossils.
Gesher Benot Ya’aqov is also the place where Prof. Goren-Inbar found the earliest evidence of the use of fire in Eurasia (LINK). “The use of fire is very important because a lot of the plants are toxic or inedible. Using fire, like roasting nuts and roots for example, allows the use of various parts of the plant and increases the diversity of the plant component of the Acheulian diet, alongside aquatic and terrestrial fauna,” said Prof. Goren-Inbar.
The use of fire and the availability of a diverse range of flora highlight the ability of prehistoric man to adjust to a new environment, to exploit the environment for his own benefit and to colonize beyond Africa.
Article Source: Hebrew University press release.

 

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IMAGE: AN ANCIENT IRRIGATION SYSTEM ALONG THE TIAN SHAN MOUNTAINS OF CHINA ALLOWED THE CULTIVATION OF CROPS IN ONE OF THE WORLD’S DRIEST CLIMATES. view more
CREDIT: IMAGE COURTESY OF YUQI LI, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS.

 

Using satellite imaging and drone reconnaissance, archaeologists from Washington University in St. Louis have discovered an ancient irrigation system that allowed a farming community in northwestern China to raise livestock and cultivate crops in one of the world’s driest desert climates.

Source: Did ancient irrigation technology travel Silk Road?

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Original Article:

heritagedaily.com

An international team of researchers from the University of York, the Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico, Washington State University and Simon Fraser University have been studying the earliest indication of domestic turkeys in ancient Mexico.
The team studied the spatial remains of 55 turkeys, dating from between 300BCE-1500CE in various parts of pre-Columbian Meso-America.
They discovered that Turkeys weren’t just a prized food source, but was also culturally significant for sacrifices and ritual practices.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, Dr Aurélie Manin, said:  “Turkey bones are rarely found in domestic refuse in Mesoamerica and most of the turkeys we studied had not been eaten – some were found buried in temples and human graves, perhaps as companions for the afterlife. This fits with what we know about the iconography of the period, where we see turkeys depicted as gods and appearing as symbols in the calendar.
“The archaeological evidence suggests that meat from deer and rabbit was a more popular meal choice for people in pre-Columbian societies; turkeys are likely to have also been kept for their increasingly important symbolic and cultural role”.
Dr Camilla Speller of the University of York said: “Even though humans in this part of the word had been practicing agriculture for around 10,000 years, the turkey was the first animal, other than the dog, people in Mesoamerica started to take under their control.
“Turkeys would have made a good choice for domestication as there were not many other animals of suitable temperament available and turkeys would have been drawn to human settlements searching for scraps”
Some of the remains the researchers analysed were from a cousin of the common turkey – the brightly plumed Ocellated turkey.  In a strange twist the researchers found that the diets of these more ornate birds remained largely composed of wild plants and insects, suggesting that they were left to roam free and never domesticated.
The team also measured the carbon isotope ratios in the turkey bones to reconstruct their diets. They found that the turkeys were gobbling crops cultivated by humans such as corn in increasing amounts, particularly in the centuries leading up to Spanish exploration, implying more intensive farming of the birds.
Interestingly, the gradual intensification of turkey farming does not directly correlate to an increase in human population size, a link you would expect to see if turkeys were reared simply as a source of nutrition.
By analysing the DNA of the birds, the researches were also able to confirm that modern European turkeys descend from Mexican ancestors.
York University

 

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Piles of clamshells with a stone structure above them are seen at an excavation site at the Sakatsuji Shell Midden in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

Original Article:

japantimes.co.jp
Jan 22, 2018
An ancient heap of shells at Sakatsuji Shell Midden in the city of Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, most likely served as a clam processing site in the latter half of the mid-Jomon Period, approximately 4,500 years ago, an investigation conducted by the city’s board of education has revealed.
While there are ruins in eastern Japan that indicate organized production during the mid-Jomon Period — including the Nakazato shell midden, or mound, which is a national historic site in Tokyo’s Kita Ward — it is extremely rare to find one in the Chubu region or further west. This latest discovery will provide important clues about the culinary lifestyle and economic activities conducted in the Jomon Period.
The Sakatsuji shell mound is one of the Muro cluster of seven shell middens in Aichi Prefecture.
An excavation conducted in the 1970s showed a rough scale of activities there, but details had remained unknown.
The mound is located approximately 3.5 km inland of what is now Mikawa Bay. But prior to the bay being filled in to create rice fields in the Edo Period the shell mound had faced the sea, along a stretch of coastland where the shores are shallow.
As a land consolidation project is scheduled to start in the area that includes the mound, the board of education had been excavating approximately 1,000 square meters of land since May.
The mound, made almost entirely of clamshells, measures roughly 1.6 meters high, about 6 meters wide and more than 24 meters long.
At least four layers have been identified, sandwiched between soil streaked with charcoal.
The team also discovered around 55 objects that looked like furnaces assembled from stones, and the members expect to find more as they continue excavating.
“We believe that the clams were boiled in the furnaces, and their meat stripped from the shells. Afterward the shells were piled up, then the ground was leveled and made into a processing site again,” said a member of the excavation team. “That kind of process must have been repeated again and again.”
The excavation team was not able to find any evidence of residences nearby, so it was likely the workers who dug and processed the clams lived in another area.
The volume of shells discovered was so huge it is hard to believe that they were consumed within the region, and the excavation team has said there is a possibility people dried the clams after they were boiled so that they would last longer and could be used for trading.
The shells are of various sizes. “We found many large shells similar to those seen in high-class Japanese restaurants. The clams must have become quite salty when boiled in sea water, so maybe they were used to make soup stock,” a member of the excavation team said. Several hundred furnaces have been found in the other six shell mounds in Muro. They share the same features as the Sakatsuji midden, which indicates the whole area was bustling with clam processing at the time.
However, the other six shell middens were from the late Jomon Period — approximately 2,300 to 3,800 years ago — which means the clam processing site of Sakatsuji was much older.
Most of the furnaces found in the other shell middens were also without stone structures, and were constructed in such a way that earthenware was placed directly on the floor.
“Perhaps they changed to a simpler furnace in order to meet the growing demand for clams,” said one of the team members.
The excavation will continue until the end of March and an on-site briefing is expected to be held in mid-February.
According to Tomonari Osada, a part-time lecturer specializing in archaeology at Chubu University, the Tokai region during the mid-Jomon Period is believed to have been less socially developed compared to the period immediately before the beginning of the Yayoi Period.
“I would be surprised if the production conducted at the Sakatsuji shell midden was for the sake of trading and distribution to other regions. We need to focus on this site and conduct further analysis to determine whether the objects made of stones were indeed furnaces for boiling (clams).”

Piles of clamshells with a stone structure above them are seen at an excavation site at the Sakatsuji Shell Midden in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture. | CHUNICHI SHIMBUN

 

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Photo by Ivy Close Images/Alamy Stock Photo

 

Original Article:

hakaimagazine.com

Authored by
by Zach Zorich

A new study is examining how Vikings adapted to climate change.

In Norway’s Lofoten Islands, archaeologists unearthed one of the largest Viking buildings ever found. The massive 83-meter longhouse, discovered in what is now the town of Borg, was an ostentatious display by powerful chieftains who ruled what at first glance seems to be a marginal area—a cluster of islands just shy of the Arctic Circle. For more than 2,500 years, the people of the Lofotens grew barley and wheat and pulled cod from the frigid North Atlantic. The Lofotens were at the center of Viking politics, yet at the very edge of where the brisk northern climate made farming possible. This makes the Lofotens an ideal place to explore how climate change affected Viking life.
Each year, the landowners in the Lofotens would make critical decisions: which crops to plant, how much livestock to raise, how much cod to fish, whether to send ships to raid the wealthy European villages to the south. In weighing all of these options, minor shifts in climate could be a major factor, says William D’Andrea, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York. Over the next three years, D’Andrea and Nicholas Balascio, a paleoclimatologist at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, will be working to reconstruct the effects of short-term climate variability on the islands.
The study is just getting underway, but D’Andrea and Balascio think that by examining everything from plant pollen to animal waste, as recorded in lakebed sediments, they can gain an understanding of how the islands’ people and their activities might have changed to adapt to the changing climate. The researchers will be looking for biomarkers—molecules unique to specific animals or plants—to see how much and what types of livestock and crops were being raised from year to year.
“These marginal communities can be very sensitive to these natural environmental changes,” Balascio says. For instance, the changing climate may have caused the Vikings to move their farms to new locations to take advantage of the best conditions for their fields.
Falling sea levels provided another challenge for the Lofoten Vikings. The Lofoten Islands, like much of Scandinavia, are to this day rebounding from the loss of the massive ice sheets that covered the land during the last ice age. This phenomenon, called isostatic rebound, is causing the islands to rise, effectively making the sea level fall. This means that boathouses built at the water’s edge could be stranded inland a few decades later.
The locations of harbors deep enough to accommodate the Vikings’ famed sailing ships also changed over time. The falling sea may have made the harbor near Borg inaccessible to large ships and played a role in why the longhouse was abandoned. While these changes are geological rather than climatological, the ways the Vikings adapted to falling seas is also a focus of D’Andrea and Balascio’s project.
But on the climate front, one particularly important variable driving the seasonal fortunes of the Lofoten Vikings was a recurring pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The NAO is a set of rhythms that plays out over months and even decades, driven by shifts in atmospheric pressure in the tropics and the Arctic that cause changing wind patterns across the northern hemisphere. For northern Europe and the Lofotens, the NAO means swings between weather that is wet and mild and cold and dry. The researchers are hoping to understand how farmers and fishers adjusted when they were faced with an oscillating climate that made farming and herding difficult, in some cases for years at a time.
Some experts think that during periods of climate-induced difficulty, Vikings responded by conducting more raids. But proving that connection will be difficult, says D’Andrea, and likely out of the scope of their research. The historical records of Viking raids aren’t detailed enough to properly compare them with climate data, he says.
But he does hope that the project will provide insights into how people throughout history adapted to climate change—insights that could potentially inform modern thinking about climate adaptation.
“When you look at a society over a 1,000-year period, you realize that changes are actually something that happen,” says D’Andrea. “We can deal with them in thoughtful, proactive ways, or we can ignore them.” Hopefully the answer to our problems won’t be to go raiding.

 

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The finds from Clapham’s Coffee House, some of which are pictured here, included teapots, wine glasses, and clay pipes. (Image: Cambridge Archaeological Unit)
Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Original Article:

cam.ac.uk

 

Customers today may settle for a flat white and a cinnamon swirl, but at coffee shops 250 years ago, many also expected ale, wine, and possibly a spot of calf’s foot jelly, a new study has shown.

Following its identification during an archaeological survey, researchers are publishing complete details of the most significant collection of artefacts from an early coffee shop ever recovered in the UK. The establishment, called Clapham’s, was on a site now owned by St John’s College, Cambridge, but in the mid-to-late 1700s it was a bustling coffeehouse – the contemporary equivalent, academics say, of a branch of Starbucks.

Researchers from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit – part of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge – uncovered a disused cellar which had been backfilled with unwanted items, possibly at some point during the 1770s. Inside, they found more than 500 objects, many in a very good state of preservation. These included drinking vessels for tea, coffee and chocolate, serving dishes, clay pipes, animal and fish bones, and an impressive haul of 38 teapots.

The assemblage has now been used to reconstruct what a visit to Clapham’s might have been like, and in particular what its clientele ate and drank. The report suggests that the standard view of early English coffeehouses, as civilised establishments where people engaged in sober, reasoned debate, may need some reworking.

Customers at Clapham’s, while they no doubt drank coffee, also enjoyed plenty of ale and wine, and tucked into dishes ranging from pastry-based snacks to substantial meals involving meat and seafood. The discovery of 18 jelly glasses, alongside a quantity of feet bones from immature cattle, led the researchers to conclude that calf’s foot jelly, a popular dish of that era, might well have been a house speciality.

Craig Cessford, from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, said that by modern standards, Clapham’s was perhaps less like a coffee shop, and more like an inn.

“Coffee houses were important social centres during the 18th century, but relatively few assemblages of archaeological evidence have been recovered and this is the first time that we have been able to study one in such depth,” he said.

“In many respects, the activities at Clapham’s barely differed from contemporary inns. It seems that coffeehouses weren’t completely different establishments as they are now – they were perhaps at the genteel end of a spectrum that ran from alehouse to coffeehouse.”

Although the saturation of British high streets with coffee shops is sometimes considered a recent phenomenon, they were in fact also extremely common centuries ago. Coffee-drinking first came to Britain in the 16th century and increased in popularity thereafter. By the mid-18th century there were thousands of coffeehouses, which acted as important gathering places and social hubs. Only towards the end of the 1700s did these start to disappear, as tea eclipsed coffee as the national drink.

Clapham’s was owned by a couple, William and Jane Clapham, who ran it from the 1740s until the 1770s. It was popular with students and townspeople alike, and a surviving verse from a student publication of 1751 even attests to its importance as a social centre: “Dinner over, to Tom’s or Clapham’s I go; the news of the town so impatient to know.”

The researchers think that the cellar was perhaps backfilled towards the end of the 1770s, when Jane, by then a widow, retired and her business changed hands. It then lay forgotten until St John’s commissioned and paid for a series of archaeological surveys on and around the site of its Old Divinity School, which were completed in 2012.

Some of the items found were still clearly marked with William and Jane’s initials. They included tea bowls (the standard vessel for drinking tea at the time), saucers, coffee cans and cups, and chocolate cups – which the researchers were able to distinguish because they were taller, since “chocolate was served with a  frothy, foamy head”. They also found sugar bowls, milk and cream jugs, mixing bowls, storage jars, plates, bowls, serving dishes, sauceboats, and many other objects.

Even though Clapham’s was a coffeehouse, the finds suggest that tea was fast winning greater affection among drinkers; tea bowls were almost three times as common as coffee cans or cups.

Perhaps more striking, however, was the substantial collection of tankards, wine bottles and glasses, indicating that alcohol consumption was normal. Some drinkers appear to have had favourite tankards reserved for their personal use, while the team also found two-handled cups, possibly for drinking “possets” – milk curdled with wine or ale, and often spiced.

Compared with the sandwiches and muffins on offer in coffee shops today, dining was a much bigger part of life at Clapham’s. Utensils and crockery were found for making patties, pastries, tarts, jellies, syllabubs and other desserts. Animal bones revealed that patrons enjoyed shoulders and legs of mutton, beef, pork, hare, rabbit, chicken and goose. The researchers also found oyster shells, and bones from fish such as eel, herring and mackerel.

Although coffeehouses have traditionally been associated with the increasing popularity of smoking in Britain, there was little evidence of much at Clapham’s. Just five clay pipes were found, including one particularly impressive specimen which carries the slogan “PARKER for ever, Huzzah” – possibly referring to the naval Captain Peter Parker, who was celebrated for his actions during the American War of Independence. The lack of pipes may be because, at the time, tobacco was considered less fashionable than snuff.

Together, the assemblage adds up to a picture in which, rather than making short visits to catch up on the news and engage in polite conversation, customers often settled in for the evening at an establishment that offered them not just hot beverages, but beer, wine, punch and liqueurs, as well as extensive meals. Some even seem to have “ordered out” from nearby inns if their favourite food was not on the menu.

There was little evidence, too, that they read newspapers and pamphlets, the rise of which historians also link to coffeehouses. Newspapers were perishable and therefore unlikely to survive in the archaeological record, but the researchers also point out that other evidence of reading – such as book clasps – has been found on the site of inns nearby, while it is absent here.

“We need to remember this was just one of thousands of coffeehouses and Clapham’s may have been atypical in some ways,” Cessford added. “Despite this it does give us a clearer sense than we’ve ever had before of what these places were like, and a tentative blueprint for spotting the traces of other coffeehouse sites in archaeological assemblages in the future.”

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Carbonized rice

HANGZHOU, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) — A huge pile of carbonized unhusked rice dating back 5,000 years was found in the ruins of ancient Liangzhu City in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province.
The pile was about 60 cm thick and covered about 5,000 square meters, the provincial institute of archaeology said Wednesday. The pile stored about 100,000 kg of carbonized rice.
Liu Bin, head of the institute, said grain storage was an important symbol of city, and the discovery demonstrated that Liangzhu had a relatively developed paddy agriculture.
The ancient city of Liangzhu was discovered in 2007 in Hangzhou’s Yuhang District. In 2015, archaeologists found a large water project while excavating the neolithic remains of the city. It is believed to be the world’s earliest water conservation system.

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