Posts Tagged ‘hunter-gathers’

A Takarkori rock shelter. University of Huddersfield


Original article:



UNIVERSITY OF HUDDERSFIELD—By analyzing a prehistoric site in the Libyan desert, a team of researchers from the universities of Huddersfield, Rome and Modena & Reggio Emilia has been able to establish that people in Saharan Africa were cultivating and storing wild cereals 10,000 years ago. In addition to revelations about early agricultural practices, there could be a lesson for the future, if global warming leads to a necessity for alternative crops.

The importance of the find came together through a well-established official collaboration between the University of Huddersfield and the University of Modena & Reggio Emilia.

The team has been investigating findings from an ancient rock shelter at a site named Takarkori in south-western Libya. It is desert now, but earlier in the Holocene age[our present age], some 10,000 years ago, it was part of the “green Sahara” and wild cereals grew there. More than 200,000 seeds – in small circular concentrations – were discovered at Takarkori, which showed that hunter-gatherers developed an early form of agriculture by harvesting and storing crops.

But an alternative possibility was that ants, which are capable of moving seeds, had been responsible for the concentrations. Dr Stefano Vanin, the University of Huddersfield’s Reader in Forensic Biology and a leading entomologist in the forensic and archaeological fields, analyzed a large number of samples, now stored at the University of Modena & Reggio Emilia. His observations enabled him to demonstrate that insects were not responsible and this supports the hypothesis of human activity in collection and storage of the seeds.

The investigation at Takarkori provides the first-known evidence of storage and cultivation of cereal seeds in Africa. The site has yielded other key discoveries, including the vestiges of a basket, woven from roots, that could have been used to gather the seeds. Also, chemical analysis of pottery from the site demonstrates that cereal soup and cheese were being produced.

A new article that describes the latest findings and the lessons to be learned appears in the journal Nature Plants. Titled Plant behaviour from human imprints and the cultivation of wild cereals in Holocene Sahara, it is co-authored by Anna Maria Mercuri, Rita Fornaciari, Marina Gallinaro, Savino di Lernia and Dr Vanin.

One of the article’s conclusions is that although the wild cereals, harvested by the people of the Holocene Sahara, are defined as “weeds” in modern agricultural terms, they could be an important food of the future.

“The same behavior that allowed these plants to survive in a changing environment in a remote past makes them some of the most likely possible candidates as staple resources in a coming future of global warming. They continue to be successfully exploited and cultivated in Africa today and are attracting the interest of scientists searching for new food resources,” state the authors.

Research based on the findings at Takarkori continues. Dr Vanin is supervising PhD student Jennifer Pradelli – one of a cohort of doctoral candidates at the University of Huddersfield funded by a £1 million award from the Leverhulme Trust – and she is analyzing insect evidence in order to learn more about the evolution of animal breeding at the site.



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Original Article:

Ruth Schuster Mar 21, 2018


Compelling archaeological evidence shows that the Neolithic people of Boncuklu developed farming by themselves, not from migrants, but their neighbors in Pinarbasi would have none of it

Remains of a Neolithic home in Boncuklu, Turkey, some 10,000 years ago. Prof. Douglas Baird

When humans figured out how to farm food rather than spear or collect it is fiercely debated. So is how agricultural knowledge spread. Now a paper published this week suggests that hunter-gatherers on the Anatolian plateau in Turkey started farming 10,000 years ago by learning from the neighbors rather than from, say, migrants swarming in with hoes in hand.

Until now farming had been assumed to have spread through migration, explains the paper published this week in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But evidently there were villages that rejected the newfangled sow-and-grow techniques.

Let’s start with the village of hunter-gatherers called Boncuklu. It and similar communities initiated (started) farming in central Anatolia some 10,000 years ago by adopting crops from areas to their south and east, Prof. Douglas Baird of the University of Liverpool tells Haaretz.

At Boncuklu, the researchers found stone tools different from the Levantine style. They also found burned seeds and remains of wheat chaff – and they found weeds known to have plagued early farming sites.

The abundance of the opportunistic pests suggests they flourished as the ancients cultivated their crops. Similar evidence of proto-weeds was used in Israel to demonstrate early cultivation as much as 23,000 years ago near the Kinneret – the Sea of Galilee.

The Anatolian plateau folk seem also to have begun adopting the sheep and more commonly, the goat, the archaeologists deduced from analysis of bones. This seems to be closer to when livestock were domesticated – though each species was evidently domesticated at somewhat different times in different places.

Baird agrees with the consensus that cultivation of plants began in the Fertile Crescent, including the Levant and northern Mesopotamia, and the Zagros Mountains of today’s Iran. Only later would it reach  

central Turkey, he says, though adds: “Animal herding may well be a rather different situation.”

The clue of the nonexistent villages

The evidence that farming wasn’t brought to central Anatolia by migrants but developed among the indigenous population relies on analysis of stone tools and DNA, Baird explains.

Boncuklu is just one of several central Anatolian sites that have undergone archaeological exploration and analysis. All had the same indigenous material culture, especially stone tools, and were clearly part of a local tradition extending back 5,000 years earlier, Baird says.

This central Anatolian material culture is not at all like that of the early farming communities in northern Syria or southeast Turkey.

Also, if farmers had migrated to the plateau and colonized it, their remains likely would have turned up in the future. “Since we are largely talking settled village communities, you would expect to see their sites in the archaeological record, exactly as we do see with the colonization of Cyprus in the early Neolithic,” Baird says.

Which brings us to genetics. “In addition, the ancient DNA evidence now clearly shows that there is a distinctive local gene pool in the early Neolithic at places like Boncuklu, different from the genetics of Levantine Neolithic populations,” he says.

Moreover, this hunter-gatherer-turned-farming population would live on. The team discovered that the Neolithic Anatolian gene pool contributed substantially to later Neolithic populations in central and western Anatolia and indeed to the first farmers of southeast Europe, Baird says. “So I think we can say that there weren’t lots of Levantine migrants running around in central Anatolia at the beginnings of the Neolithic there,” he adds.

Signs of prehistoric ‘trade’

So in short, weeds and wheat suggest the good burghers of Bocuklu, who lived in mud-brick homes, may have still subsisted mainly from hunting and gathering, but were starting to farm 10,000 years ago. And analysis of stone tools and genetics suggests these people picked up the knack rather than had the knowledge imported from even earlier farmers in the Fertile Crescent.

Farming know-how may have come with prehistoric “trading” – the exchange of materials, artifacts and even possibly people. Trading brides seems to have been not rare, from antiquity to this day.

“We have evidence, for example, of obsidian moving from central Anatolia to the Levant being exchanged between communities, and Mediterranean seashells used as beads coming from the south coast of Turkey onto the Anatolian plateau,” Baird says. “We are potentially talking about something akin to trade but without the mercantile/commercial associations of the term. Exchange may have been as much about building social relationships as it was about acquiring materials.”

Still, we can’t even guess how close the communities from which agriculture spread to central Anatolia may have been; our knowledge of early prehistoric sites in these areas is scanty, Baird says.

One unexpected deduction is that the people of central Anatolia seem to have found this lifestyle convenient.

“Unexpectedly, this low-level food production persisted for at least five centuries. Archaeologists usually consider these kinds of food-production systems to be short-lived and transitional, but our research suggests a stable and persistent use of crops and herd animals as a minor part of the economy for a long time. This does not fit existing theory,” says Andrew Fairbairn, the project’s co-director and an associate professor at the University of Queensland.

Farming is for little people?

Fun fact: Just 30 kilometers from Boncuklu lay the contemporary prehistoric hamlet of Pinarbasi, which Baird excavated in 2003 and 2004. The Pinarbasis would have none of this farming frippery, it seems.

“Evidence suggests these communities resisted the adoption of farming and maintained a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, showing the spread of agriculture beyond the Fertile Crescent was neither uniform nor inevitable,” the team wrote.

What? No evidence of farming was found at Pinarbasi. “They must have known about it but decided not to adopt it,” Baird says.

That may not have been a good choice. Boncuklu seems to have survived at least 500 years after Pinarbasi, Baird adds – and its people may be with us to this very day.

“We think that at least elements of the Boncuklu community continued to exist in the region, contributing population to the large site at Catalhoyuk, which is only 10 kilometers away, that follows on immediately after Boncuklu is abandoned,” he says. “People at Catalhoyuk have a lot of domestic and ritual practices very similar to those we see at Boncuklu.”

How many people are we talking about, anyway? Boncuklu and Pinarbasi each probably had between 50 to 150 people at any one time, though obviously it would have varied, Baird notes. And one group seems to have survived, while one may not have.

In other words, while the desultory farming taking place in early Boncuklu was not a major economic activity, it was a local development and may have had enormous consequences for posterity.

The research was conducted by an international team led by Baird and Fairburn with Assistant Professor Gokhan Mustafaoglu and included researchers from Bournemouth University, University College London, the University of Reading, Cornell University, Middle Eastern Technical University Ankara, Trakya University, Bulent Ecevit University Zonguldak, Peking University and Harvard University, as well as the universities of Liverpool and Queensland.


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Original Article:


December 27, 2017 by Natalie Munro

Hilazon Tachtit cave. Credit: Naftali Hilger, CC BY-NC-ND


This holiday season millions of families will come together to celebrate their respective festivals and engage in myriad rituals. These may include exchanging gifts, singing songs, giving thanks, and most importantly, preparing and consuming the holiday feast.

Archaeological evidence shows that such communally shared meals have long been vital components of human rituals. My colleague Leore Grosman and I discovered the earliest evidence of a ritual feast at a 12,000-year-old archaeological site in northern Israel and learned how feasts came to be integral components of modern-day practice.

First, what are rituals?

Rituals involve meaningful, often repeated actions. In modern-day practices they are expressed through rites such as the hooding of a doctoral student, birthdays, weddings or even sipping wine at Holy Communion or lighting Hanukkah candles.

Ritual practice may have emerged along with other early modern human behaviors more than 100,000 years ago. However, proving this with material evidence is a challenge. For example, researchers have found that both Neanderthals and early modern humans buried their dead, but scholars weren’t certain whether this was for spiritual or symbolic reasons and not for something more mundane like maintaining site hygiene. Likewise, the discovery of 100,000-year-old symbolic artifacts like pierced shell ornaments and decorated chunks of red ochre in caves in South Africa, was not sufficient to prove that they were part of any ritual activities.

It was only when archaeologists found these artifacts, placed in graves going back 40,000-20,000 years, that it was confirmed they were part of ritual practice.

The first feasts

We had a similar experience during our research. When Leore Grosman and I first embarked on the excavations at Hilazon Tachtit in the late 1990s, we were only hoping to document the activities of the last hunter-gatherers in Israel, at what appeared to be a small campsite. It was only over several seasons of excavation that it slowly became clear to us that this was not a site where people had lived. Rather it was a site for rituals.

No houses, fireplaces or cooking areas were recovered. Instead the cave yielded the skeletal remains of at least 28 individuals interred in three pits and two small structures.

One of these structures contained the complete skeleton of an older woman, who we interpreted as a shaman based on her special treatment at death. Her grave stood apart due to its fine construction – the walls were plastered with clay and inset with flat stone slabs. Even more remarkable was the eclectic array of animal body parts buried alongside of her. The pelvis of a leopard, the wing tip of an eagle, the skulls of two martens and many other unusual body parts surrounded her skeleton.

The butchered remnants of more than 90 tortoises buried in the grave and the leftovers of at least three wild cattle deposited in a second adjacent depression excavated in the cave floor represent the remains of a funeral feast.

The outstanding preservation of the grave enabled us to detect multiple phases of a ritual performance that included the consumption of the feast, the burial of the woman, and the filling of the grave in several stages, including the intentional deposition of garbage from the feast.

Site of Göbekli Tepe. Credit: Teomancimit (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Feasting at the beginning of agriculture

Archaeologists have found other sites that show evidence of ritual feasting. Many of these date to the time when humans were beginning to farm.

One of the most striking is the site of Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey, dating slightly later than Hilazon Tachtit. It includes multiple large structures adorned with benches and giant stone slab carved with exquisite animal depictions in relief dating to 11-12,000 years ago. Perhaps, these were very early communal buildings. The archaeologists who excavated Göbekli Tepe argue that massive quantities of animal bones associated with the structures represent the remains of feasts.

Twelve thousand years ago humans were still hunter-gatherers, subsisting entirely on wild foods. Nevertheless, these people differed from those who went before – they were sitting on the brink of the transition to agriculture, one of the most significant economic, social and ideological transformations in human history.

Sickle blades and grinding stones used to harvest and process cereal grains are found at Hilazon Tachtit and other contemporary archaeological sites. These findings indicate that these ritual feasts started around the same time that people adopted agriculture. When people began to rely more heavily on wild cereals like wheat and barley, they became increasingly tethered to landscapes that were ever more crowded and began to settle into more permanent communities. In other words, feasting became a part of their life, once they moved away from nomadic life.

Rituals that bind

These feasts had an important role to play. Adapting to village life after hundreds of millennia on the move was no simple act. Research on modern hunter-gatherer societies shows that closer contact between neighbors dramatically increased social tensions. New solutions to avoid and repair conflict were critical.

The simultaneous appearance of feasting, communal structures and specialized ritual sites suggest that humans were seeking to solve this problem by engaging the community in ritual practice.

One of the central functions of ritual in these communities was to provide a kind of social glue that bound community members by promoting social cohesion and solidarity. Feasts generate loyalty and commitment to the community’s success. Sharing food is intimate and it builds trust.

Communal rituals would have provided a shared sense of identity at a time when social circles were increasing in scale and permanence. They reinforced new ideologies that emerged out of a dramatic reorganization of economic and social life.

Role of feasts today

Feasting plays the same essential role today. Like the earliest feasts, our holiday celebrations are replete with actions that are repeated year after year.

The holiday feast today builds family traditions. By cooking and sharing food together, telling stories of past holidays and exchanging intergenerational wisdom, holiday rituals bond extended families and give them a shared identity.

Explore further: Reconstruction of 12,000 year old funeral feast brings ancient burial rituals to life

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New research shows that early farmers who migrated to Europe from the Near East spread quickly across the continent, where they lived side-by-side with existing local hunter-gatherers while slowly mixing with those groups over time
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Early Neolithic grave from Bátaszék (Hungary).
Anett Osztás

New research answers a long-debated question among anthropologists, archaeologists and geneticists: when farmers first arrived in Europe, how did they interact with existing hunter-gatherer groups? Prior studies have suggested these early Near Eastern farmers largely replaced the pre-existing European hunter-gatherers. Did the farmers wipe out the hunter-gatherers, through warfare or disease, shortly after arriving? Or did they slowly out-compete them over time? The current study, published today in Nature, suggests that these groups likely coexisted side-by-side for some time after the early farmers spread across Europe. The farming populations then slowly integrated local hunter-gatherers, showing more assimilation of the hunter-gatherers into the farming populations as time went on.
The Neolithic transition – the shift from a hunter-gatherer to a farming lifestyle that started nearly 10,000 years ago – has been a slowly unraveling mystery. Recent studies of ancient DNA have revealed that the spread of farming across Europe was not merely the result of a transfer of ideas, but that expanding farmers from the Near East brought this knowledge with them as they spread across the continent.
Numerous studies have shown that early farmers from all over Europe, such as the Iberian Peninsula, southern Scandinavia and central Europe, all shared a common origin in the Near East. This was initially an unexpected finding given the diversity of prehistoric cultures and the diverse environments in Europe. Interestingly, early farmers also show various amounts of hunter-gatherer ancestry, which had previously not been analyzed in detail.
The current study, from an international team including scientists from Harvard Medical School, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, focused on the regional interactions between early farmers and late hunter-gatherer groups across a broad timespan in three locations in Europe: the Iberian Peninsula in the West, the Middle-Elbe-Saale region in north-central Europe, and the fertile lands of the Carpathian Basin (centered in what is now Hungary). The researchers used high-resolution genotyping methods to analyze the genomes of 180 early farmers, 130 of whom are newly reported in this study, from the period of 6000-2200 BC to explore the population dynamics during this period.
“We find that the hunter-gatherer admixture varied locally but more importantly differed widely between the three main regions,” says Mark Lipson, a researcher in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and co-first author of the paper. “This means that local hunter-gatherers were slowly but steadily integrated into early farming communities.”
While the percentage of hunter-gatherer heritage never reached very high levels, it did increase over time. This finding suggests the hunter-gatherers were not pushed out or exterminated by the farmers when the farmers first arrived. Rather, the two groups seem to have co-existed with increasing interactions over time. Further, the farmers from each location mixed only with hunter-gatherers from their own region, and not with hunter-gatherers, or farmers, from other areas, suggesting that once settled, they stayed put.
“One novelty of our study is that we can differentiate early European farmers by their specific local hunter-gatherer signature,” adds co-first author Anna Szécsényi-Nagy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. “Farmers from Spain share hunter-gatherer ancestry with a pre-agricultural individual from La Braña, Spain, whereas farmers from central Europe share more with hunter-gatherers near them, such as an individual from the Loschbour cave in Luxembourg. Similarly, farmers from the Carpathian Basin share more ancestry with local hunter-gatherers from their same region.”
The team also investigated the relative length of time elapsed since the integration events between the populations, using cutting-edge statistical techniques that focus on the breakdown of DNA blocks inherited from a single individual. The method allows scientists to estimate when the populations mixed. Specifically, the team looked at 90 individuals from the Carpathian Basin who lived close in time. The results – which indicate ongoing population transformation and mixture – allowed the team to build the first quantitative model of interactions between hunter-gatherer and farmer groups.
“We found that the most probable scenario is an initial, small-scale, admixture pulse between the two populations that was followed by continuous gene flow over many centuries,” says senior lead author David Reich, professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School.
These results reflect the importance of building thorough, detailed databases of genetic information over time and space, and suggest that a similar approach should be equally revealing elsewhere in the world.

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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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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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The Neolithic peoples of the Baltics acquired agriculture and other elements of permanent settlement culture through diffusion, not through large migratory movements from Anatolia and the Middle East, according to genetic study. Gromko, Wikimedia Commons

Original Article:



TRINITY COLLEGE DUBLIN—New research indicates that Baltic hunter-gatherers were not swamped by migrations of early agriculturalists from the Middle East, as was the case for the rest of central and western Europe. Instead, these people probably acquired knowledge of farming and ceramics by sharing cultures and ideas—rather than genes—with outside communities.

Scientists extracted ancient DNA from a number of archaeological remains discovered in Latvia and the Ukraine, which were between 5,000 and 8,000 years old. These samples spanned the Neolithic period, which was the dawn of agriculture in Europe, when people moved from a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a settled way of life based on food production.

We know through previous research that large numbers of early farmers from the Levant (the Near East) – driven by the success of their technological innovations such as crops and pottery – had expanded to the peripheral parts of Europe by the end of the Neolithic and largely replaced hunter-gatherer populations.

However, the new study, published today in the journal Current Biology, shows that the Levantine farmers did not contribute to hunter-gatherers in the Baltic as they did in Central and Western Europe.

The research team, which includes scientists from Trinity College Dublin, the University of Cambridge, and University College Dublin, says their findings instead suggest that the Baltic hunter-gatherers learned these skills through communication and cultural exchange with outsiders.

The findings feed into debates around the ‘Neolithic package,’—the cluster of technologies such as domesticated livestock, cultivated cereals and ceramics, which revolutionised human existence across Europe during the late Stone Age.

Advances in ancient DNA work have revealed that this ‘package’ was spread through Central and Western Europe by migration and interbreeding: the Levant and later Anatolian farmers mixing with and essentially replacing the hunter-gatherers.

But the new work suggests migration was not a ‘universal driver’ across Europe for this way of life. In the Baltic region, archaeology shows that the technologies of the ‘package’ did develop—albeit less rapidly—even though the analyses show that the genetics of these populations remained the same as those of the hunter-gatherers throughout the Neolithic.



The Neolithic peoples of the Baltics acquired agriculture and other elements of permanent settlement culture through diffusion, not through large migratory movements from Anatolia and the Middle East, according to genetic study. Gromko, Wikimedia Commons


Andrea Manica, one of the study’s senior authors from the University of Cambridge, said: “Almost all ancient DNA research up to now has suggested that technologies such as agriculture spread through people migrating and settling in new areas.”

“However, in the Baltic, we find a very different picture, as there are no genetic traces of the farmers from the Levant and Anatolia who transmitted agriculture across the rest of Europe.”

“The findings suggest that indigenous hunter-gatherers adopted Neolithic ways of life through trade and contact, rather than being settled by external communities. Migrations are not the only model for technology acquisition in European prehistory.”

While the sequenced genomes showed no trace of the Levant farmer influence, one of the Latvian samples did reveal genetic influence from a different external source—one that the scientists say could be a migration from the Pontic Steppe in the east. The timing (5-7,000 years ago) fits with previous research estimating the earliest Slavic languages.

Researcher Eppie Jones, from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Cambridge, was the lead author of the study. She said: “There are two major theories on the spread of Indo-European languages, the most widely spoken language family in the world. One is that they came from the Anatolia with the agriculturalists; another that they developed in the Steppes and spread at the start of the Bronze Age.”

“That we see no farmer-related genetic input, yet we do find this Steppe-related component, suggests that at least the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family originated in the Steppe grasslands of the East, which would bring later migrations of Bronze Age horse riders.”

The researchers point out that the time scales seen in Baltic archaeology are also very distinct to the rest of Europe, with a much more drawn-out and piecemeal uptake of Neolithic technologies, rather than the complete ‘package’ that arrives with migrations to take most of Europe by storm.

Andrea Manica added: “Our evidence of genetic continuity in the Baltic, coupled with the archaeological record showing a prolonged adoption of Neolithic technologies, would suggest the existence of trade networks with farming communities largely independent of interbreeding.”

“It seems the hunter-gatherers of the Baltic likely acquired bits of the Neolithic package slowly over time through a ‘cultural diffusion’ of communication and trade, as there is no sign of the migratory wave that brought farming to the rest of Europe during this time.

“The Baltic hunter-gatherer genome remains remarkably untouched until the great migrations of the Bronze Age sweep in from the East.”

About the study

The researchers analysed eight ancient genomes – six from Latvia and two from Ukraine – that spanned a timeframe of three and a half thousand years (between 8,300 and 4,800 years ago). This enabled them to start plotting the genetic history of Baltic inhabitants during the Neolithic.

DNA was extracted from the petrous area of skulls that had been recovered by archaeologists from some of the region’s richest Stone Age cemeteries. The petrous, at the base of the skull, is one of the densest bones in the body, and a prime location for DNA that has suffered the least contamination over millennia.

Article Source: Trinity College Dublin

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