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Archaeologists discovered the remains of a large-scale storage for fermented fish dating back to 7,200 BC: a view of the gutter after 50 percent of it had been removed; notice the stark contrast with the surrounding clay under the gutter as well as between the stakeholes and the surrounding clay. Image credit: SHMM / Adam Boethius / Lund University.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of a large-scale storage for fermented fish dating back to 7,200 BC: a view of the gutter after 50 percent of it had been removed; notice the stark contrast with the surrounding clay under the gutter as well as between the stakeholes and the surrounding clay. Image credit: SHMM / Adam Boethius / Lund University.

Original Article:

sci-news.com

Feb 9, 2016 by Enrico de Lazaro

Archaeologists in Sweden say they have uncovered the remains of a 9,200-year-old storage for fermented fish.

Dr. Boethius of Lund University and his colleagues found roughly 200,000 fish bones at Norje Sunnansund, an Early Mesolithic settlement site in the Blekinge province of Sweden.

“The archaeological site of Norje Sunnansund is dated to around 9,600 – 8,600 years before present and is located in south-eastern Sweden, on the shores of the ancient Lake Vesan, next to a 2-km long outlet leading to the Baltic basin,” Dr. Boethius explained.

“We’d never seen a site like this with so many well preserved fish bones, so it was amazing to find,” he added.

The archaeologists also uncovered a long pit surrounded by small stake holes and completely filled with fish bones.

“It was really strange, and because of all the fish bones in the area we knew something was going on even before we found the feature,” Dr. Boethius said.

“At first we had no idea what it was so we rescued it from the area to investigate.”

He analyzed the feature and the contents and discovered the fish bones were from freshwater fish such as cyprinids (the carps, the true minnows, and their relatives), the European perch (Perca fluviatilis), the northern pike (Esox lucius), the ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua), the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), the burbot (Lota lota) and other species.

He also showed the fish had been fermented – a skillful way of preserving food without using salt.

“The fermentation process is also quite complex in itself,” said Dr. Boethius, who is an author of a paper published online February 6 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“Because people did not have access to salt or the ability to make ceramic containers, they acidified the fish using, for example, pine bark and seal fat, and then wrapped the entire content in seal and wild boar skins and buried it in a pit covered with muddy soil. This type of fermentation requires a cold climate.”

“The discovery is unique as a find like this has never been made before,” he added. “That is partly because fish bones are so fragile and disappear more easily than, for example, bones of land animals. In this case, the conditions were quite favorable, which helped preserve the remains.”

“The amount of fish we found could have supported a large community of people,” the archaeologist said.

The findings are important as it is usually argued that people in the north lived relatively mobile lives, while people in the Levant became settled and began to farm and raise cattle much earlier.

“These findings suggest that people who survived by foraging for food were actually more advanced than assumed,” Dr. Boethius said.

 

 

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Hunter-gatherers had almost no malocclusion and dental crowding, and the condition first became common among the world’s earliest farmers some 12,000 years ago in Southwest Asia, according to findings published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

By analysing the lower  and teeth crown dimensions of 292 archaeological skeletons from the Levant, Anatolia and Europe, from between 28,000-6,000 years ago, an international team of scientists have discovered a clear separation between European hunter-gatherers, Near Eastern/Anatolian semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and transitional farmers, and European farmers, based on the form and structure of their jawbones.

“Our analysis shows that the lower jaws of the world’s earliest farmers in the Levant, are not simply smaller versions of those of the predecessor hunter-gatherers, but that the lower jaw underwent a complex series of shape changes commensurate with the transition to agriculture,” says Professor Ron Pinhasi from the School of Archaeology and Earth Institute, University College Dublin, the lead author on the study.

“Our findings show that the  populations have an almost “perfect harmony” between their lower jaws and teeth,” he explains. “But this harmony begins to fade when you examine the lower jaws and teeth of the earliest farmers”.

In the case of hunter-gatherers, the scientists from University College Dublin, Israel Antiquity Authority, and the State University of New York, Buffalo, found a correlation between inter-individual jawbones and dental distances, suggesting an almost “perfect” state of equilibrium between the two. While in the case of semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and farming groups, they found no such correlation, suggesting that the harmony between the teeth and the jawbone was disrupted with the shift towards agricultural practices and sedentism in the region. This, the international team of scientists say, may be linked to the dietary changes among the different populations.

The diet of the  was based on “hard” foods like wild uncooked vegetables and meat, while the staple diet of the sedentary farmer is based on “soft” cooked or processed foods like cereals and legumes. With soft cooked foods there is less of a requirement for chewing which in turn lessens the size of the jaws but without a corresponding reduction in the dimensions of the , there is no adequate space in the jaws and this often results in malocclusion and dental crowding.

The link between chewing, diet, and related dental wear patterns is well known in the scientific literature. Today, malocclusion and dental crowding affects around one in five people in modern-world populations. The condition has been described as the “malady of civilization”

Original article:

Phys.org

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The Batwa hunter-gatherers collect and roast wild yams in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.

The difference between humans and their closest relatives is partly a matter of taste. Yams, pumpkins, and squash are as bland as potatoes to our tongues today, but to a chimp and our ancestors, wild varieties were bitter and yucky. Now scientists have pinpointed some of the genetic changes that allowed our ancestors to diversify their palates, potentially allowing them to take better advantage of a wide range of foods—and conquer the world.

As humans adapted to new habitats, they had to become open to new culinary experiences. They ate more starchy tuberous roots, learned to cook their meat and bitter root vegetables, and eventually domesticated plants and animals. Those dietary revolutions helped make us human, giving our bodies the extra calories that enlarged our brains, while allowing our guts, jaws, and teeth to shrink as we ate softer, more easily digestible food.

To figure out how these changes evolved, anthropological geneticist George Perry of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and his colleagues compared the genomes of modern humans and chimpanzees to the newly published genomes of a Neandertal and one of its close relatives, a mysterious human ancestor known as a Denisovan, known only from a few bones found in a Russian cave. All three groups of humans had lost two bitter taste genes, TAS2R62 and TAS2R64, that are still present in chimpanzees, the team reports this month in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Two million years ago, our early ancestors such as Australopithecus or early members of Homo likely found wild yams and other tubers bitter. But as humans began to cook, they could roast tuberous root vegetables long enough that they weren’t as bitter. (Today, hunter-gatherers still rely on roasted tubers as a major source of calories.) At the same time, hominins—members of the human family—lost those two particular bitter taste genes, so they were presumably able to eat a wider range of tuberous plants. Modern humans, Neandertals, and Denisovans all lost the ability to detect the bitter flavor in some wild plants and eventually modern humans bred varieties of squashes, gourds, and yams that are less bitter than the wild types.

The team also found some intriguing differences between modern humans, who arose in Africa in the past 200,000 years or so, and our archaic human relatives, such as Neandertals and Denisovans. Our lineage, for example, carries an average of six copies, and as many as 20 copies, of the salivary amylase gene, AMY1. The gene produces the enzyme amylase in our saliva, which has been thought to help digest sugars in starchy foods, although its role in human digestion is still unproven. By contrast, chimps, Neandertals, and Denisovans carry only one to two copies of the salivary amylase gene, which suggests they got fewer calories from starchy veggies than modern humans. This confirms an earlier finding that Neandertals didn’t have extra copies of the amylase gene and is “definitely a surprise,” says biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, who was not a co-author on this paper.

Wrangham has proposed that a key human ancestor, H. erectus, relied on cooking starchy tuberous roots to get enough calories to expand its brain. But if so, that distant ancestor wasn’t using extra copies of the amylase gene to extract more calories from these plant foods. He and Harvard postdoctoral researcher Rachel Carmody suggest the amylase copies may have had other functions, such as helping prevent cavities.

And although researchers have proposed earlier that this adaptation took place with the invention of agriculture, Perry and his colleagues have found that hunter-gatherers also carry the extra copies of the salivary amylase gene. This suggests that this adaptation took place in modern humans, after the split with the ancestor they shared with Neandertals about 600,000 years ago but before plants were domesticated 10,000 years ago. “This doesn’t mean that earlier hominins weren’t eating more starch, but perhaps they weren’t getting all of the same benefits as modern humans,” Perry says.

One sign that cooking shaped our ancestors’ genomes as well as our guts is that humans, Neandertals, and Denisovans all have lost a masticatory myosin gene, MYH16, that helps build strong chewing muscles in the jaws of chimps. This may be one result of learning to cook, which softens food, Perry says. This fits with evidence that some early hominins were chefs—Neandertals in the Middle East cooked barley porridge, for example.

Now, Perry and his colleagues are trying to figure out when this gene was lost in the human lineage. The loss of the gene for muscular jaws in Neandertals, Denisovans, and moderns suggests that cooking arose in their common ancestor, H. erectus, he says.

Original article:

By Ann Gibbons 

News.sciencemag.org

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Vinette 1 vessel from the Peace Bridge site, Ontario (image courtesy of Archaeological Services Inc)

Archaeologists from the University of York and Queens College, City University New York (CUNY) have discovered the first use of pottery in north-eastern North America was largely due to the cooking, storage and social feasting of fish by hunter-gatherers.

Studying how pottery production in north-eastern North America developed 3000 years ago, researchers found that the increasing use of pottery was not simply an adaptive response to increased reliance on specific kinds of wild foodstuffs, as previously thought.

Instead, new analysis on pottery vessels indicates that social factors triggered the innovation of pottery. While a wide range of wild animal and plant foods were exploited by hunter-gatherers of north-eastern North America, their pottery was used principally to process fish, and produce fish oil. This suggests that abundant aquatic resources allowed investment in the production of pottery, as fish became a valued exchange commodity and was prepared, cooked and consumed in hunter-gatherer group feasts.

Conducting organic residue analysis on approximately 133 vessels from 33 early pottery sites in north-eastern North America, tests were carried out to measure bulk carbon and nitrogen isotopes, compound-specific carbon isotopes, and to extract and identify lipids, notably aquatic biomarkers. Findings show high traces of aquatic organisms in most samples, consistent with the cooking of marine and freshwater foods and the preparation and storage of fish oil.

Dr Karine Taché, Professor of Anthropology at CUNY Queens College who undertook the research as an EU Marie Curie research fellow at the University of York, said: “These early pottery sites are now thought to have been important seasonal meeting points for hunter-gatherer groups, drawing communities together and, especially in periods of high abundance, promoting the cooperative harvesting of aquatic resources and new social contexts for the cooking and consumption of fish.”

Dr Oliver Craig, Reader in Archaeological Science at the University of York, said: “Combined with similar results obtained in different parts of the world, like Japan, Northern Europe or Alaska, our study points to a close association between aquatic resources and the innovation of pottery by hunter-gatherer societies. It also highlights once again the incredible potential of organic residue analysis to directly address the often posed question Why humans initially made pots?”

Original article:
york.ac.uk
Feb 3, 2015

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Suddenly there was a word for chili peppers. Information about archaeological remains of ancient chili peppers in Mexico along with a study of the appearance of words for chili peppers in ancient dialects helped researchers to understand where jalapeños were domesticated and highlight the value of multi-proxy data analysis. Their results are from one (Kraig Kraft et al.) of nine papers presented in a special feature issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on plant and animal domestication edited by Dolores Piperno, staff scientist emerita at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Curator of South American Archaeology at the National Museum of Natural History and Greger Larson of Durham University in England.

Humans evolved about 200,000 years ago. We spent 95 percent of human history as hunter-gatherers. Why did agriculture begin to emerge in human cultures about 12,000 years ago? Was it the result of a prime mover: divine inspiration, environmental change or population growth? What cultural and natural processes led to the domesticated species that supply most of the world’s foods today? The complexity of these questions requires multidisciplinary research. Bringing together scientists from a wide range of disciplines involved in domestication studies, Larson and Piperno organized a meeting funded and hosted by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre in 2011. The PNAS special feature is a result of the meeting.

“Having archaeologists and geneticists talking to and collaborating with each other and a suite of new techniques to play with is radically changing the way we think about domestication,” said Piperno.

The overview paper (Larson and Piperno et al.) that introduces the special issue emphasizes the need to use both archaeological and genetic evidence to sort out the unique processes of domestication that occurred at about the same time around the world from “predomestication cultivation”—plants cultivated over many generations that still have features of wild plants—and the presence of animals in association with humans to truly domesticated organisms that exhibit very specific traits like large seeds, bigger flowers, reduction in physical and chemical defenses in plants and altered coat color, floppy ears and baby faces (facial neotony) in animals.

Papers in the special feature cover both older and more recent issues in the study of domestication. New genetic screening techniques and the ability to sequence DNA from ancient specimens led Greger Larson and his group at Durham University (Linus Flink et al.) to caution that using modern genetic data alone to guess which genes may have been involved in domestication origins may be misleading. They compared DNA from 80 chickens excavated from 12 different archaeological sites in Europe dated from 280 BC to the 18th Century to modern chicken DNA. Sequencing revealed that yellow-skinned chickens were probably not common early in the domestication process. Their work suggests that yellow skin became the norm only about 500 years ago, probably as a result of global commerce.

Addressing a long-debated question—why hunters and gatherers became farmers—Gremillion, Barton, and Piperno review theories and explanations for agricultural origins, making the case that evolutionary approaches are essential because they offer coherent, empirically testable reconstructions of human behavior.
The authors of the overview paper (Larson and Piperno et al.) expect more exciting results as researchers from around the world and from many disciplines work together to nail down the environmental and ecological contexts of domestication and the shift from hunting and gathering to cultivation and herding. As they say in the paper abstract: “It is difficult to overstate the cultural and biological impacts that the domestication of plants and animals has had on our species. … the next decade will yield even more substantial insights not only into how domestication took place, but also when and where it did, and where and why it did not.”

Original article:

Phys.org

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Smithsonian archaeologist, Dolores Piperno, measures a teosinte plant growing under past climate conditions. Credit: Sean Mattson, STRI

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Topic: Original Palaeo diet
Research led by the University of Southampton has found that early humans were driven by a need for nutrient-rich food to select ‘special places’ in northern Europe as their main habitat. Evidence of their activity at these sites comes in the form of hundreds of stone tools, including handaxes.

A study led by physical geographer at Southampton Professor Tony Brown, in collaboration with archaeologist Dr Laura Basell at Queen’s University Belfast, has found that sites popular with our early human ancestors, were abundant in foods containing nutrients vital for a balanced diet. The most important sites, dating between 500,000 to 100,000 years ago were based at the lower end of river valleys, providing ideal bases for early hominins – early humans who lived before Homo sapiens (us).

Professor Brown says: “Our research suggests that floodplain zones closer to the mouth of a river provided the ideal place for hominin activity, rather than forested slopes, plateaus or estuaries. The landscape in these locations tended to be richer in the nutrients critical for maintaining population health and maximising reproductive success.”

The project was funded by English Heritage and the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Social and Human Sciences. It involved academics from Geography and Environment and Medicine at Southampton, together with Archaeology at Queen’s.

The researchers began by identifying Palaeolithic sites in southern England and northern France where high concentrations of handaxes had been excavated –for example at Dunbridge in Hampshire, Swanscombe near Dartford and the Somme Valley in France. They found there were fewer than 25 sites where 500 handaxes or more were discovered. The high concentration of these artefacts suggests significant activity at the sites and that they were regularly used by early hominins.

Professor Brown and his colleagues then compiled a database of plants and animals known to exist in the Pleistocene epoch (a period between 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) to establish a potential list of nutrient resources in the landscape and an estimation of the possible diet. This showed that an abundance of nutritious foods were available and suggests this was likely to have been the dominant factor driving early humans to focus on these sites in the lower reaches of river valleys, close to the upper tidal limit of rivers.

Over 50 nutrients are needed to sustain human life. In particular, it would have been essential for early humans to find sources of protein, fats, carbohydrates, folic acid and vitamin C. The researchers suggest vitamins and protein may have come from sources such as raw liver, eggs, fish and plants, including watercress (which grows year round). Fats in particular, may have come from bone marrow, beaver tails and highly nutritious eels.

The nutritional diversity of these sites allowed hominins to colonise the Atlantic fringe of north west Europe during warm periods of the Pleistocene. These sites permitted the repeated occupation of this marginal area from warmer climate zones further south

Professor Brown comments: “We can speculate that these types of locations were seen as ‘healthy’ or ‘good’ places to live which hominins revisited on a regular basis. If this is the case, the sites may have provided ‘nodal points’ or base camps along nutrient-rich route-ways through the Palaeolithic landscape, allowing early humans to explore northwards to more challenging environments.”

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The paper ‘Site Distribution at the Edge of the Palaeolithic World: A Nutritional Niche Approach’ will be published online by the journal PLOS ONE after the above embargo time: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081476

Original article:
eurekalert.org
Dec 10, 2013

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  Topic: Early agriculture evidence in Mexico

Ancient corn husks

Ancient corn husks

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The first evidence of proto-agricultural activity in what is now the state of Nuevo Leon in northeastern Mexico, is estimated to date from 3500-3000 BC, based on new research by archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). This proto-agriculture was practised by hunter-gatherers who collected wild variants of what later became the staple domesticated crops of the region. The evidence for this activity comes from seeds, corn cobs and husks found at the small rock shelter site of El Morro. “In Nuevo Leon archaeologists have never before identified any site with this type of evidence. After two seasons in El Morro , Municipality of Aramberri, we recovered approximately a thousand cobs and fragments, ” said Dr. Araceli Rivera Estrada, an INAH researcher for the region. Exploring various rock shelters Araceli Rivera, who in recent years has been devoted to exploring the various rock shelters in the area, highlighted the relevance of this finding saying, “evidence that hunter-gatherers of the region had already begun the initial process of farming from the Archaic period will lead us to reassess the categories to denote indigenous groups in the south of the state. ” The researcher explained that the oldest records of the three major crops domesticated in Mexico (corn, squash and beans) come from only five caves which were excavated in the 1950s and 60s – Romero and Valenzuela near Ocampo (Tamaulipas); Coxcatlán and San Marcos, in the Tehuacan Valley (Puebla) and Guilá Naquitz (Oaxaca), with dates ranging from 7000 to 3000 years BC. A small rock shelter The INAH specialist reported that the recent investigation was conducted in the rock shelter which also contained a large amount of rock art representing human and animal figures. “Inside, systematic excavations have recovered a large quantity of seeds, leaves, stems, fruits and even flowers as well as various species of corn ” said Rivera. The archaeologists also found fragments of basketry and cordage. Middle Archaic period Rivera said “charcoal samples obtained at different stratigraphic levels of the El Morro deposit are in the process of being dated at the Laboratory of the Division of Studies and Academic Support INAH “. He added that by association with two lithics that were recovered in the earlier layers, the agricultural material could be dated to the Middle Archaic period (3000-1500 BC). Original article: Past Horizons November 28, 2013

 

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Blätterhöhle’ cave near Hagen in Germany,
Topic: Early communities

Hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived side-by-side for more than 2,000 years in Central Europe, before the hunter-gatherer communities died out or were absorbed into the farming population.

In a paper published today in Science, researchers describe their analysis of DNA and isotopes from human bones found in the ‘Blätterhöhle’ cave near Hagen in Germany, where both hunter-gatherers and farmers were buried.

The team, led by anthropologist Professor Joachim Burger of the Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany, used stable isotopes to determine their diet, DNA to investigate how they were related, and radiocarbon to establish how old the bones were.

“It is commonly assumed that the European hunter-gatherers disappeared soon after the arrival of farmers”, said Dr Ruth Bollongino, lead author of the study. “But our study shows that the descendants of the first European humans maintained their hunter-gatherer way of life, and lived in parallel with the immigrant farmers, for at least 2,000 years. The hunter-gathering way of life only died out in Central Europe around 5,000 years ago, much later than previously thought.”

“Until around 7,500 years ago all central Europeans were hunter-gatherers,” said Professor Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at UCL, and a co-author of the study. “They were the descendants of the first wave of our species to arrive in Europe, around 45,000 years ago. They survived the last Ice Age and the warming that started around 10,000 years ago. And now it seems they also survived the initial wave of farmers spreading across Europe from the southeast of the continent.”

Previous genetic studies by Professors Burger and Thomas showed that agriculture was brought to Central Europe by immigrant farmers around 7,500 years ago. From that time on, little trace of hunter-gathering can be seen in the archaeological record, and it was widely assumed that the hunter-gatherers rapidly died out or were absorbed into the farming populations.

“Although there is some archaeological evidence of interactions between immigrant agriculturalists and local hunter-gatherers, its extent and duration has remained something of a mystery,” said Professor Thomas. “But our study now shows that the hunter-gatherers stayed in close proximity to farmers, had contact with them for thousands of years, and buried their dead in the same cave.

“This contact was not without consequences, because hunter-gatherer women sometimes married into the farming communities, while no genetic lines of farmer women have been found in hunter-gatherers”, explained Burger. “This pattern of marriage is known from many studies of human populations in the modern world. Farmer women regarded marrying into hunter-gatherer groups as social demotion.”

For a long time the team were unable to make sense of the findings. “It was only through the analysis of isotopes in the human remains, performed by our Canadian colleagues, that the pieces of the puzzle began to fit,” states Bollongino.

She added: “The results showed that the hunter-gatherers sustained themselves in Central and Northern Europe on a very specialized diet that included fish, among other things, until 5,000 years ago. And what is more, the hunter-gatherers living at the same time as the farmers were genetically more similar to the pre-farming hunter-gatherers than to the contemporaneous farmers.”

The team also pursued the question of what impact both groups had on the gene pool of modern Europeans.

Adam Powell, mathematician and specialist in demographic modeling at the JGU Institute of Anthropology, who obtained his PhD with Professor Thomas at UCL, explained: “While neither hunter-gatherers nor farmers are to be regarded as the sole ancestors of today’s Europeans, it is the mixing of both populations that potentially represents the ancestry of modern-day Europeans.”

It seems that the hunter-gatherers’ lifestyle lasted at least until around 5000 years ago in Central Europe. However, some of the prehistoric farmers had hunter-gatherers as ancestors, and their genes are still found in Central Europeans today.

Original article:
eurekalert.org
October10, 2013

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About 6,600 years ago the Ertebølle Mesolithic hunter-gatherers acquired domesticated pigs whose black-spotted coat might have looked similar to that of this modern-day Bentheimer pig.

Topic: Hunter-gatherers domesticated pigs

Ancient hunter-gatherers in Europe, whose meat intake was once limited to wild game, may have enjoyed bacon, ham, pork chops and other tasty bites from pigs they owned starting about 7,000 years ago, researchers say.

The new findings suggest these hunter-gatherers had domesticated pigs about 500 years earlier than previously thought, yielding new insights into the movements and interactions of prehistoric humans and the exchange of technologies and knowledge, scientists said.

The first humans in Europe were Neanderthals, an early human lineage that may have gone extinct there some 50,000 years ago. Their successors in Europe, modern humans, were hunter-gatherers that by the Mesolithic, or middle period of the Stone Age,were focused heavily on collecting and hunting wild game. [The 10 Biggest Mysteries of the First Humans]

Later on, incoming Neolithic or New Stone Age farmers who migrated to Europe from the south between 5500 B.C. and 4200 B.C. owned domestic plants and animals, such as sheep, goats, cattle and swine. Past research found that Mesolithic and Neolithic communities long co-existed.

Some communication apparently occurred between the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and the Neolithic farmers, as suggested by pottery and other tool finds. However, the scale of the interaction and the extent to which hunter-gatherers took ideas from their neighbors remains hotly debated.

Until now, there was only circumstantial evidence of Mesolithic hunter-gatherer ownership of domestic animals other than dogs in continental Europe.

“Mesolithic hunter-gatherers definitely had dogs, but they did not practice agriculture and did not have pigs, sheep, goats or cows, all of which were introduced to Europe with incoming farmers [in] about 6000 B.C.,” researcher Ben Krause-Kyora, an archaeologist and biochemist at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany, said in a statement. “Having people who practiced a very different survival strategy nearby must have been odd, and we know now that the hunter-gathers possessed some of the farmers’ domesticated pigs.”

The scientists analyzed the ancient DNA from the bones and teeth of 63 pigs in northern Germany from a Mesolithic site known as Ertebølle and a number of Neolithic sites. They found that as early as 4600 B.C., the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers owned pigs that had both near-Eastern and European ancestry, which means they were domestic swine as opposed to wild boar.

“We address a long-standing debate in archaeology that has implications beyond northern Germany,” researcher Almut Nebel, a molecular geneticist at Christian-Albrechts University, told LiveScience. “Our multidisciplinary approach can also be used to obtain information on cultural contact — for example, between hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists — for other areas of Europe and the world.”

Genetic analysis revealed the domestic pigs had colorful coats and spots that likely would have seemed exotic and strange to the hunter-gatherers and may have attracted them to the swine.

“Humans love novelty, and though hunter-gatherers exploited wild boar, it would have been hard not to be fascinated by the strange-looking, spotted pigs owned by farmers living nearby,” researcher Greger Larson at Durham University in England, said in a statement. “It should come as no surprise that the hunter-gatherers acquired some [of the pigs] eventually, but this study shows that they did very soon after the domestic pigs arrived in northern Europe.”

Scientists are not sure whether the hunter-gatherers procured the pigs via trade or by capturing escaped animals. Still, given the close proximity of these two groups and how they occasionally exchanged artifacts, the researchers suspect trade for pigs was a more likely scenario than hunting of escaped domestic pigs, Krause-Kyora told LiveScience.

The scientists detailed their findings in the Aug. 27 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

Original article:
livescience.com

By Charles Choi, LiveScience Contributor | August 27, 2013

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Topic: it’s been 4 years!!!
For all of you who are keeping track and for you who don’t, this is the four year anniversary for ancient foods! Technicality it was yesterday September 1 st but who’s counting? I don’t seem able to reblog that first post but here is a link for any who are interested. I have been pleased with the overall response to my endeavor and hope to bring everyone more on my favorite topic for many years to come.
new world cereal- maze

Now on to today’s topic:Shell Middens in the Amazon

10,000-yr-old remains of hunter-gatherer settlements identified in ‘forest islands’

Previously unknown archeological sites in forest islands reveal human presence in the western Amazon as early as 10,000 years ago, according to research published August 28 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Umberto Lombardo from the University of Bern, Switzerland and colleagues from other institutions.

The study focuses on a region in the Bolivian Amazon thought to be rarely occupied by pre-agricultural communities due to unfavorable environmental conditions. Hundreds of ‘forest islands’- small forested mounds of earth- are found throughout the region, their origins attributed to termites, erosion or ancient human activity. In this study, the authors report that three of these islands are shell middens, mounds of seashells left by settlers in the early Holocene period, approximately 10,400 years ago.

Samples of soil from these three mounds revealed a dense accumulation of freshwater snail shells, animal bones and charcoal forming the middens. The mounds appear to have formed in two phases: an older layer composed primarily of snail shells, and an overlying layer composed of organic matter containing pottery, bone tools and human bones. The two are separated by a thin layer rich in pieces of burnt clay and earth, and the uppermost layer of deposits was also seen to contain occasional fragments of earthenware pottery. Radiocarbon analysis of two middens indicates that humans settled in this region during the early Holocene, approximately 10,400 years ago, and shells and other artefacts built up into mounds over an approximately 6,000 year period of human use. The sites may have been abandoned as climate shifted towards wetter conditions later. Lombardo adds, “We have discovered the oldest archaeological sites in western and southern Amazonia. These sites allow us to reconstruct 10,000 years of human-environment interactions in the Bolivian Amazon.”

Cited article:
eurekalert.org
August 28, 2013

Original article:
plosone.org

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Figure 4. Details of recovered burnt earth, shells and bone remains from excavations at SM1.
This photo is from the original article

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