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New York University—According to a team of researchers, northern Europeans in the Neolithic period initially rejected the practice of farming, which was otherwise spreading throughout the continent. Their findings offer a new wrinkle in the history of a major economic revolution that moved civilizations away from foraging and hunting as a means for survival.

“This discovery goes beyond farming,” explains Solange Rigaud, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHUS) in New York City. “It also reveals two different cultural trajectories that took place in Europe thousands of years ago, with southern and central regions advancing in many ways and northern regions maintaining their traditions.”

CIRHUS is a collaborative arrangement between France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and New York University.

The study, whose other authors include Francesco d’Errico, a professor at CNRS and Norway’s University of Bergen, and Marian Vanhaeren, a professor at CNRS, appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

In order to study these developments, the researchers focused on the adoption or rejection of ornaments—certain types of beads or bracelets worn by different populations. This approach is suitable for understanding the spread of specific practices—previous scholarship has shown a link between the embrace of survival methods and the adoption of particular ornaments. However, the PLOS ONE study marks the first time researchers have used ornaments to trace the adoption of farming in this part of the world during the Early Neolithic period (8,000-5,000 BCE).

It has been long established that the first farmers came to Europe 8,000 years ago, beginning in Greece and marking the start of a major economic revolution on the continent: the move from foraging to farming over the next 3,000 years. However, the pathways of the spread of farming during this period are less clear.

To explore this process, the researchers examined more than 200 bead-types found at more than 400 European sites over a 3,000-year period. Previous research has linked farming and foraging populations with the creation and adornment of discrete types of beads, bracelets, and pendants. In the PLOS ONE study, the researchers traced the adoption of ornaments linked to farming populations in order to elucidate the patterns of transition from foraging and hunting to farming.

Their results show the spread of ornaments linked to farmers—human-shaped beads and bracelets composed of perforated shells—stretching from eastern Greece and the Black Sea shore to France’s Brittany region and from the Mediterranean Sea northward to Spain. By contrast, the researchers did not find these types of ornaments in the Baltic region of northern Europe. Rather, this area held on to decorative wear typically used by hunting and foraging populations—perforated shells rather than beads or bracelets found in farming communities.

“It’s clear hunters and foragers in the Baltic area resisted the adoption of ornaments worn by farmers during this period,” explains Rigaud. “We’ve therefore concluded that this cultural boundary reflected a block in the advancement of farming—at least during the Neolithic period.”

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The research was supported, in part, by the French Ministry of National Education, Research, and Technology, the Fyssen Foundation, and the Maria Sklodowska-Curie COFUND Action.

Source: This is an adaptation of a New York University press release entitled Don’t farm on me: Northern Europeans to Neolithic interlopers.

  
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Popular archaeology
 

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Topic: Preparing hunted game

Big-game hunts about 12,000 years ago involved feasting on a meaty morsel popular with today’s gourmets, followed by chopping, hauling, bone tossing, jewelry making and boasting.

All of these activities are suggested by remains found at a prehistoric Danish butchering site, called Lundy Mose, which is described in a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Bone fragments belonging to wild boar, red deer and aurochs were unearthed. But the hunters clearly had a taste for elk meat, since elk remains were prevalent at the site, located in South Zealand, Denmark.

“Due to very good conditions of bone preservation, Lundby Mose offers exceptional opportunities for detailed reconstruction of exploitation patterns, and allows a very precise picture of the different activities involved in elk exploitation,” archaeologist Charlotte Leduc of the University of Paris wrote.

Her detailed analysis of the remains determined that the hunters first cut around the elk heads and other parts of the body in order to remove the hides. At least one of the hides then likely became a perishable container, comparable to a garbage bag, upon which refuse was placed and later bundled.

The hunters then removed meat from easy-to-access parts, such as the limbs, and likely feasted on it right then and there. No roasting pit or evidence for fire is mentioned, so it might have been consumed raw.

All skeletal parts containing marrow — now a delicacy in many fine restaurants — were fractured to enable its extraction.

Wietske Prummel of the University of Groningen, who analyzed another prehistoric Northern European butchering site, told Discovery News that marrow was usually “consumed by hunters immediately after butchering. It was their reward for the successful kill.”

The hunters skillfully cut around the body, trimming fat and boning meat for later easy consumption. Leduc thinks much of the meat could have been transported to a nearby settlement site.

Before that happened, however, the hunters removed select bones, such as from the long limbs, likely for making bone weapons and tools. They also removed the antlers.

The elk’s shoulder blade bones were taken out and afterwards, back at the settlement, “were sometimes worked and used presumably as knives for fish processing,” Leduc suspects.

As the hunters worked, they appear to have dumped waste material onto the reserved hide. It was later tossed into a nearby lake.

The front teeth of the elks were missing, suggesting “a specific status of front teeth for the hunters,” according to Leduc. Other prehistoric hunt scenes support this theory, as do discoveries of prehistoric tooth bling.

This series of events likely played out countless times, even long before 12,000 years ago.

“Modern humans hunted and butchered large game and cooked the meat from circa 45,000 years ago when they arrived in Europe,” Marcel Niekus of the University of Groningen, told Discovery News.

The practices probably even went back to Neanderthal times, but not necessarily to the benefit of these now-extinct members of the human family tree.

A prior study in the Journal of Anthropological Science, authored by Fernando Rozzi of France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), suggests that around 30,000 years ago, a person in France might have consumed a Neanderthal child and made a necklace out of its teeth.

Original article:
discovery.com

OCT 7, 2013 BY JENNIFER VIEGAS

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Australopithecus afarensis (pictured in an artist’s impression) had different diets from their ancestors

Topic Ancient diet

A new analysis of early human teeth from extinct fossils has found that they expanded their diets about 3.5 million years ago to include grasses and possibly animals.

Human ancestors’ diet changed 3.5 million years ago

A new analysis of early human teeth from extinct fossils has found that they expanded their diets about 3.5 million years ago to include grasses and possibly animals.

Before this, humanlike creatures – or hominins – ate a forest-based diet similar to modern gorillas and chimps.

Researchers analysed fossilised tooth enamel of 11 species of hominins and other primates found in East Africa.

The findings appear in four papers published in PNAS journal.

Like chimpanzees today, many of our early human ancestors lived in forests and ate a diet of leaves and fruits from trees, shrubs and herbs.

But scientists have now found that this changed 3.5 million years ago in the species Australopithecus afarensis and Kenyanthropus platyops.

Their diet included grasses, sedges, and possibly animals that ate such plants. They also tended to live in the open savannahs of Africa.

The new studies show that they not only lived there, but began to consume progressively more foods from the savannahs.

Researchers looked at samples from 175 hominins of 11 species, ranging from 1.4 to 4.1 million years old.

Their diet was analysed from the chemical make up of their teeth, identifying the carbon isotopes within them.

The ratios of different types of carbon atoms, or isotopes, in fossils can give clues to what a fossil creature ate because different foods have different carbon isotope signatures.

“What we have is chemical information on what our ancestors ate, which in simpler terms is like a piece of food item stuck between their teeth and preserved for millions of years,” said Dr Zeresenay Alemseged, from the California Academy of Sciences, co-author on two of the papers.

“Because feeding is the most important factor determining an organism’s physiology, behaviour and its interaction with the environment, these finds will give us new insight into the evolutionary mechanisms that shaped our evolution.”

It is not yet clear whether the change in diet included animals, but “the possible diets of some of our hominin kin” has been considerably narrowed down, Dr Matt Sponheimer, lead author of another of the papers, told BBC News.

A new habitat

“We now have good evidence that some early hominins began using plant foods that are not used in abundance by living African apes today, and this probably led to a major change in the way they used the landscape.

“One consequence could be that the dietary expansion led to a habitat expansion, as they could travel to more open habitats more efficiently.

“We know that many early hominins lived in areas that would not have readily supported chimpanzees with their strong preference for forest fruits. It could also be argued that this dietary expansion was a key element in hominin diversification.”

The study has also answered, at least in part, what researchers have long been speculating – how so many large species of primate managed to co-exist.

“They were not competing for the same foods,” said Prof Thure Cerling from the University of Utah, who led one of the research papers.

‘The modern human’

“All these species who were once in the human lineage, ventured out into this new world of foods 3.5 million years ago, but we don’t yet understand why that is.”

As well as looking at non-human primates, the researchers analysed fossils from other animals from the same era and did not find any evidence of a change in diet.

This combined research highlights a “step towards becoming the modern human”, said Dr Jonathan Wynn from the University of South Florida, who led the analysis of Australopithecus afarensis.

“Exploring new environments and testing new foods, ultimately might be correlated with further changes in human history.”

These four complementary studies give a persuasive account of shifts in dietary niche in East African hominins, Dr Louise Humphrey from the Natural History Museum in London, told BBC news.

Original article:
BBC.co.uk
By Melissa Hogenboom
Science reporter, BBC News
June 4, 2013

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The teeth of fossils 3.5 million years old give scientists clues to their diet

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