Posts Tagged ‘history’
When workers began digging out the Roman cities torched by Mount Vesuvius, the exquisite wall paintings, sumptuous villas and golden jewelry they found quickly grabbed the spotlight. But archaeologists are now looking to a less glamorous feature of these cities: the garbage.
Over the last few years, a team of researchers has taken a systematic look at street trash, buckets and even storage containers from Pompeii and other ruins to understand the relationship between ordinary Romans and their stuff. The extraordinary preservation of objects by volcanic debris allows for extraordinary insights into humdrum possessions, the researchers say.
“We’re actually starting to see evidence of people’s choices and how they dealt with their objects,” says Caroline Cheung, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, involved in the project. “We get a sense of how people were using them, how they were storing them, whether they were throwing them away or keeping them.”
Modest farmhouses and swanky country houses alike were entombed by the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius, which killed an untold number of the 20,000-plus people living in Pompeii and the surrounding area. But the deadly volcanic flows also preserved artifacts with unprecedented fidelity.
The humble objects left behind show that people didn’t necessarily go easy on their possessions, even though the articles of everyday life were often purchased rather than homemade.
Take the objects discovered at a farmhouse near Pompeii, where the cooking range was so heaped with ashes that it’s clear “they just basically didn’t take out the garbage,” says Theodore Peña of the University of California, Berkeley. “Like frat boys.” Peña leads the project, which is taking a close look at artifacts found during previous excavations.
In a storeroom of the kitchen, shelves held gear that “had the hell beaten out of it,” Peña says. There was a bronze bucket full of dents, perhaps where it had banged into the side of the well just outside the farmhouse. There were pots with bits of the rims broken off and a casserole so badly cracked that it was close to falling apart, but people had kept them to use again.
At a complex near Pompeii that seems to have been a wine-bottling facility, there were more than 1,000 amphorae, ceramic vessels that were the shipping containers of their day. Many were patched and waiting to be refilled, presumably with wine, Peña says.
When the researchers delved into street rubbish, they expected to find lots of broken glass, used for perfume bottles and other common items. Instead they found almost none, a sign that even shards of glass were being collected and made into something else.
It’s too early to say whether the people of Pompeii were thrifty adherents of recycling. But the indications so far are that “ceramics and other types of objects were being reused, repurposed or at least repaired,” Cheung says, in contrast to today’s “throwaway society. … If I break a cheap mug, I probably throw it away. I don’t even think about repairing it.”
The research is “very exciting,” says archaeologist Leigh Anne Lieberman, a graduate student at Princeton University who also studies items from the region but was not involved with Peña’s research. The analysis, she says, “allows us to ask questions we didn’t even know we had.”
The analysis also summons the long-gone Romans who once held the same items now being scrutinized nearly 2,000 years later. “Sometimes you look at a pot or lamp and see fingerprints of the person who made the object,” Cheung says. “That’s a tangible piece of the past that connects you to antiquity.”
Oetzi the famous “iceman” mummy of the Alps appears to have enjoyed a fine slice or two of Stone Age bacon before he was killed by an arrow some 5,300 years ago.
His last meal was most likely dried goat meat, according to scientists who recently managed to dissect the contents of Oetzi’s stomach.
“We’ve analysed the meat’s nanostructure and it looks like he ate very fatty, dried meat, most likely bacon,” German mummy expert Albert Zink said at a talk in Vienna late Wednesday.
More specifically, the tasty snack is thought to have come from a wild goat in South Tyrol, the northern Italian region where Oetzi roamed around and where his remains were found in September 1991.
Mummified in ice, he was discovered by two German hikers in the Oetztal Alps, 3,210 metres (10,500 feet) above sea level.
Scientists have used hi-tech, non-invasive diagnostics and genomic sequencing to penetrate his mysterious past.
These efforts have determined Oetzi died around the age of 45, was about 1.60 metres (five foot, three inches) tall and weighed 50 kilos (110 pounds).
He suffered a violent death, with an arrow severing a major blood vessel between the rib cage and the left shoulder blade, as well as a laceration on the hand.
As part of their latest discoveries, Zink’s team also found that Oetzi had an ulcer-inducing bacteria and may have suffered from stomach aches.
But for all his parasites, worn ligaments and bad teeth, he was in “pretty good shape”, Zink wrote in the renowned US magazine Science earlier this month.
By Brenton Driedger
Royal Alberta Museum archaeologists are about to start a lengthy and intricate process of figuring out what ancient Albertans cooked for supper.
Last year, they dug up a 1,600-year-old roasting pit at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta. The oven was intact and still had a prepared meal inside, which could make it the only known artifact of its kind.
“Somebody — probably celebrating the success of a hunt — had a big feast afterward and prepared a bison calf and some kind of a dog, maybe part-wolf, in a pit side by side,” Bob Dawe, the Royal Alberta Museum’s lead archaeologist on the project, said.
“They roasted it overnight in the ground. It would have been a delectable feast in the morning.”
The roasting pit was first discovered in 1990, but archaeologists didn’t excavate it until last year, before packing it up and moving it to Edmonton.
That process involved laying fiberglass-reinforced plaster strips all over it until they hardened. Dawe said when the plaster hardened, they could pick up the pit with a crane and put it on a truck bound for Edmonton. That was a lot of work, but there’s still a lot left to do.
“It looks like a 3,000-pound plaster lozenge, not quite two metres in diametre and about half a metre thick,” Dawe laughed.
“We retrieved this assembly of rocks and sediment and bones intact with some great difficulty.”
Dawe expects it to take months to cut off the top, scrape away the dirt, and carefully clean and preserve every bone. They want it ready to display when the new museum opens in downtown Edmonton later this year.
One of the barriers to the work will be psychological, since one set of remains belongs to a dog.
“A lot of dog-lovers are a little concerned that a dog was part of the meal, and as a dog lover myself I find that a little bit bothersome, but people have been using dogs as food in the Americas for 10,000 years and they still use dogs as food all over the world,” said Dawe.
“I have a dog, and I’m sure my dog would be unhappy to hear that I’m digging up one of his ancestors.”
This is another Article on crops and the Chaco Culture published in January with expanded information.
by Blake de Pastino
For more than a century, researchers have been studying the intricacies of Chaco Canyon — the cluster of settlements and multi-story “great houses” in northwestern New Mexico that, at its peak around the year 1100, may have been home to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
Recently, researchers have been at odds over a simple, central question in the history of this monumental community:
How did the people of Chaco manage to grow food in such an arid environment?
According to new research, the answer is even simpler.
Dr. Larry V. Benson, a former hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an anthropologist at the University of Colorado, has studied soil and other environmental records from the region, and concludes that Chaco Canyon was both too dry and too salty to grow corn or beans, two of the staple crops of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived there.
As a result, Benson proposes a new theory about how Chacoans fed themselves: They imported their food.
“The important thing about this study is that it demonstrates you can’t grow great quantities of corn in the Chaco valley floor,” Benson said of his new findings, in a press statement.
“And you couldn’t grow sufficient corn in the side canyon tributaries of Chaco that would have been necessary to feed several thousand people.
“Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”
Benson is the scientist behind many sometimes contentious anthropological findings around the West.
In 2013, he played a role in the discovery of petroglyphs in Nevada that were determined to be the oldest on the continent.
More recently, he concluded that the circular masonry feature at Mesa Verde National Park known as Mummy Lake wasn’t a reservoir, as many had thought, but a ceremonial structure.
Benson’s new research is a riposte to a study released in September that promised to “shake up” the field of Southwestern archaeology with its findings that Chaco Canyon’s soil was not too salty to farm, as Benson and others had previously asserted.
In fact, this research concluded, Chaco’s soil was rich in certain mineral salts, like calcium sulfate, that actually made it especially fertile for growing plants such as corn.
“One thing we can say with a great degree of certainty: The Ancestral Puebloans did not abandon Chaco Canyon because of salt pollution,” said Dr. Kenneth Tankersley, an anthropologist and geologist at the University of Cincinnati, in a press statement at the time.
But in his new paper, currently being published by the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Benson answers Tankersley’s study with new data and arguments of his own.
First, he draws on tree ring data.
Cross-sections of trees are considered natural records of annual rainfall, with thick and thin rings corresponding to wet and dry years.
Using data from tree-core samples spanning 1,100 years, Benson notes that Chaco only experienced sufficient rainfall for growing corn about 2 percent of the time.
Regardless of the soil’s salt content, Benson writes, “this implies that an exceptional wet period did not prevail during Chaco’s heyday.”
As for the benefits of sulfur on maize crops, Benson argues that, while sulfur is an important nutrient in agriculture, it’s mainly useful in treating metallic sulfates in acidic soil, a condition that Chaco Canyon doesn’t have.
“The principal usefulness of sulfur in maize agriculture is its ability to reduce aluminum toxicity that often accompanies soil acidity, a problem that does not occur in the high-pH soils of the Chaco Canyon region,” Benson writes.
Moreover, in his own analysis of soil samples taken from the valley bottom and the side canyons that feed into it, Benson finds that levels of salt were indeed very high — at some points, higher than those found in seawater.
Considering that Chaco’s soil chemistry likely hasn’t changed much over the past 800 years, Benson concludes that Chaco Canyon was simply never suitable for farming on a scale large enough to have fed its population.
“I don’t think anyone understands why it existed,” he said of the cultural complex, in the press statement.
“There was no time in the past when Chaco Canyon was a Garden of Eden.”
In turn, Benson offers an alternative explanation for how the communities of Chaco got their food: It was imported from the Chuska Mountains, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.
The eastern slope of the Chuskas is known to have been home to a robust Ancestral Puebloan presence, he said, their numbers aided in part by the ample water provided by snowmelt.
Previous studies have estimated that as many as 17,000 people made their home on the Chuska Slope before the year 1100, and recent research has even found that those mountains were the source of the Chaco Canyon’s huge building timbers.
Given the other cultural connections between the two communities, Benson said, it’s plausible that the Chuskas served as what he called “Chaco’s breadbasket.”
“There were timbers, pottery and chert coming from the Chuska region to Chaco Canyon, so why not surplus corn?” Benson said in the statement. [Read more about trade of exotic goods in Chaco: “Bones of Exotic Macaws Reveal Early Rise of Trade, Hierarchy in Chaco Canyon”]
The nature of Chaco’s agricultural environment, and how Ancestral Puebloans managed to thrive within it, remain open questions for now.
But Benson suggests that, in addition to Chaco’s natural chemistry, the relationship between these two communities in pre-contact New Mexico also deserves closer study.
“Perhaps it is time to reassess Chaco Canyon as a self-sustaining bread basket and turn to new studies of the prehistory of the Chuska Slope and its connection to Chaco Canyon,” he writes.
Tankersley and his colleagues have not yet been contacted for a response.
Ancient Chaco Canyon population likely relied on imported food
Ancient ruins are seen in part of Chaco Canyon.
The ancient inhabitants of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, the zenith of Pueblo culture in the Southwest a thousand years ago, likely had to import corn to feed the multitudes residing there, says a new CU Boulder study.
CU Boulder scientist Larry Benson said the new study shows that Chaco Canyon—believed by some archeologists to have been populated by several thousand people around A.D. 1100 and to have held political sway over an area twice the size of Ohio–had soils that were too salty for the effective growth of corn and beans.
“The important thing about this study is that it demonstrates you can’t grow great quantities of corn in the Chaco valley floor,” Benson said. “And you couldn’t grow sufficient corn in the side canyon tributaries of Chaco that would have been necessary to feed several thousand people. Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”
“Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”
A paper by Benson was published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
Between the ninth and 12th centuries, Chaco Canyon (officially the Chaco Culture Natural Historic Park) located in the San Juan Basin in north-central New Mexico was the focus of an unprecedented construction effort, Benson said. At the height of its cultural heyday, 12 stone masonry “great houses” and other structures were built there, along with a network of ceremonial roads linking Chaco with other Pueblo sites in the Southwest.
As part of the study, Benson used a tree ring data set created by University of Arizona Professor Emeritus Jeff Dean that showed annual Chaco Canyon precipitation spanning 1,100 years. The tree rings indicate the minimum amount of annual precipitation necessary to grow corn was exceeded only 2.5 percent of the time during that time period.
Benson suggests that much of the corn consumed by the ancient people of Chaco may have come from the Chuska Slope, the eastern flank of the Chuska Mountains some 50 miles west of Chaco Canyon that also was the source of some 200,000 timbers used to shore up Chaco Canyon masonry structures. Between 11,000 and 17,000 Pueblo people are thought to have resided on the Chuska Slope before A.D. 1130, he said.
Winter snows in the Chuska Mountains would have produced a significant amount of spring snowmelt that was combined with surface water features like natural “wash systems,” Benson said. Water concentrated and conveyed by washes would have allowed for the diversion of surface water to irrigate large corn fields on the Chuska Slope, he said.
The Chaco Canyon inhabitants traded regularly with the Chuska Slope residents, Benson said, as evidenced by stone tool material (chert), pottery and wooden beams.
“There were timbers, pottery and chert coming from the Chuska region to Chaco Canyon, so why not surplus corn?” asks Benson, a former U.S. Geological Survey scientist.
Many archaeologists are still puzzled as to why Chaco Canyon was built in an area that has long winters, marginal rainfall and short growing seasons. “I don’t think anyone understands why it existed,” Benson said. “There was no time in the past when Chaco Canyon was a Garden of Eden.”
By Mark Miller
Ancient remnants of oxen stew partially preserved in a cauldron, have been found in the tomb of a Chinese nobleman. The tomb, in Henan Province near the city of Xinyang, dates back about 2,000 years in an area of the Chu Kingdom of the Warring States period. Officials are keeping the exact location of the tomb a secret for reasons of security.
The stew or meat soup contains oxen bones, meat and other ingredients, though stories on the Internet did not mention the other contents. The presence of the bones prompted archaeologists to conclude the cauldron contained beef soup or beef stew.
A brief article on the find in China’s Global Times website says the favorite foods of nobility were often buried with them so they could have feasts in the afterlife.
Global Times mentions other ancient finds of foods dating to antiquity, including:
A pot of lotus root soup from the Han Dynasty of 206 BC to 220 AD was unearthed at Hunan Provinces’ Mawangdui Tombs in 1972.
Dumplings from a Tang Dynasty tomb dating to between 618 and 907 AD in Turpan of Xinjiang region.
About 26 liters (6.87 gallons) of ancient baijiu liquor at Xi’an City of a Shaanxi Province