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Posts Tagged ‘Mesoamerica’

 

 

 

Original Article:

heritagedaily.com

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

 

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These are preserved maize cobs from the El Gigante rockshelter, Honduras, directly dated by AMS 14C. The largest cob, pictured at middle, is roughly 10 cm (4 in) in length. The first four cobs from the left date to the Late Formative period (approximately 2,200 years BP), while the cob at the far right dates to the Late Archaic, nearly two millennia older (approximately 4,100 years BP). Research on specimens from El Gigante reveals that ancient farmers selected for numerous traits, developing and cultivating a wide array of maize

This is the El Gigante rockshelter in the western highlands of Honduras.

 

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Mid-summer corn on the cob is everywhere, but where did it all come from and how did it get to be the big, sweet, yellow ears we eat today? Some of the answers come from carbon dating ancient maize and other organic material from the El Gigante rock shelter in Honduras, according to a team of anthropologists who show that 4,300 years ago maize was sufficiently domesticated to serve as a staple crop in the Honduran highlands.

Source: Maize from El Gigante Rock Shelter shows early transition to staple crop

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Source: The Rabbit Farms of Teotihuacán

Archaeology.org

by Jason Urbanus

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At its peak in the 14th century, Casas Grandes was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

At its peak in the 14th century, Casas Grandes was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

The evidence of corn beer found at Casas Grandes dates to the same cultural period as this figurine, from 1200 to 1450 CE. (Photo by Vassil)

The evidence of corn beer found at Casas Grandes dates to the same cultural period as this figurine, from 1200 to 1450 CE. (Photo by Vassil)

 

Original Article:

western digs.org

POSTED BY BLAKE DE PASTINO ON MARCH 10, 2016

 

The last meals of men and women buried centuries ago in the ancient city of Casas Grandes were dominated by corn, new research has found — from ground maize, to corn smut, to what archaeologists say is the first conclusive evidence of corn beer in the Greater Southwest.

And these clues were found in a long-overlooked source: the fossilized plaque on the teeth of the dead.

Archaeologists say these and other findings are providing important insights into the diet and lifeways of one of the most influential prehistoric cities in the region.

“The results of this study offer some of the first hard evidence for the production of corn beer, consumption of corn smut, and food processing methods,” said Daniel King, a graduate student in anthropology at Brigham Young University, who led the research.

“It is a step forward in understanding Casas Grandes human-plant interactions, especially diet.”

Casas Grandes, also known as Paquime, was a large settlement on the fringes of the Mogollon culture to the north and Mesoamerica to the south.

At its peak in the 14th century, the city was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

Situated in Chihuahua some 130 kilometers, or 80 miles, from the New Mexico border, Casas Grandes was excavated in the 1950s and ‘60s, revealing hundreds of human remains — some buried, some dismembered and placed in urns, others apparently left out in the open.

Now, a new project undertaken by Dr. Anne Katzenberg of the University of Calgary is revisiting those remains, in an effort to learn more about the people who lived and worked in the prehistoric city.

And King and his colleagues sought to do their part, by analyzing the teeth of the dead.

Specifically, they studied the tooth calculus of more than a hundred sets of human remains.

“Calculus is fossilized tooth tartar,” King said.

“If teeth aren’t cleaned regularly, then the tartar, which can trap pretty much anything in it, such as algae, plants, fungus, or fibers, will slowly mineralize with everything stuck in it and turn into calculus, while the microremains turn into microfossils.”

To get at this microscopic evidence, the team recovered tartar from the remains of 110 people found within the ancient city and from other sites in the Casas Grandes River valley, all buried between 700 and 1450 CE.

Of those 110 samples, 63 yielded some sort of microscopic remains.

The most common traces the researchers found were starch granules, mostly bits of corn, which accounted for 36 percent of the samples.

Also common were phytoliths — tiny mineral fragments — that came from grasses and squash.

And more than 10 percent of the samples revealed the presence of corn smut — an edible, nutritious fungus that grows on corn and is still considered a delicacy, known today by its Aztec name, huitlacoche.

But while corn appears often in the dental record of Casas Grandes’ dead, that’s not necessarily a reflection of the population’s diet as a whole, King noted.

“Given the nature of calculus, any microremains recovered are going to be from the last days or weeks of the person’s life, maybe a month or two, but not longer,” he explained.

“So reconstructing diet, in the long term sense, doesn’t work with calculus.

“However,” he added, “identifying specific foodstuffs — like corn beer, fish, chile, et cetera — is useful, as many of them can’t be seen in the results of other studies.”

And in this regard, King said, the “most interesting results” of his team’s research was the discovery of corn alcohol.

Three of the samples revealed granules of maize that bore the unmistakable signs of fermentation, he said — including swelling and fragmentation caused by being heated at three distinct temperatures, and striations created by the fermenting process.

These bloated, broken grains seem to be the result of making chicha — a corn beer whose use has been recorded in Central and South America for as much as 5,000 years, King said.

In those cultures, brewing and consuming chicha is thought to have held ceremonial value, but it may have held other functions as well, he noted.

“We don’t have enough information to determine [chicha’s] use,” King said.

“Based on ethnographic accounts, we default to ‘ritual’, although I always think that’s a cop-out answer.

“We know modern groups used corn beer or similar drinks in religious ceremonies, so that’s all we can go off of.”

In addition, King noted, the burial contexts of the samples haven’t yet been analyzed, so archaeologists can’t yet draw conclusions about whether beer consumption was limited, for example, to a certain social class.

Moreover, he added, this is the first “substantial evidence” of corn beer in the Greater Southwest, so it’s possible that chicha may have served a different function in Casas Grandes than it did in Mesoamerica.

When it comes to beer in the southwestern archaeological record, he said, “almost nothing exists for northern Mexico or the American Southwest. The results we posted may be the first of their kind for this region.”

Some ceramic fragments found near Casas Grandes, for example, have displayed microscopic “pitting” that could have been caused by fermentation, he noted.

Granules of corn found in the tooth calculus of people buried at Casas Grandes show signs of swelling and fragmentation that are typical of fermentation, researchers say. (Photo courtesy King et al.)

Granules of corn found in the tooth calculus of people buried at Casas Grandes show signs of swelling and fragmentation that are typical of fermentation, researchers say. (Photo courtesy King et al.)

 

And a study in 2007 found traces consistent with fermentation in potsherds from Ancestral Puebloan settlements in New Mexico; but researchers cautioned that the fermentation may have been accidental, and the findings were described as “provocative but inconclusive.”

King’s new findings, then, raise the question of how the custom of brewing corn beer arrived at Casas Grandes, as well as when, and by whom.

“The best archaeological evidence we have for corn beer and other alcoholic drinks comes from Peru or Mesoamerica,” King said.

“So, if anything, the idea for corn fermentation came up from the south, but that is still conjecture at this point.”

As for when beer came to town, his findings do provide some insights.

His team studied teeth dating back as far as the year 700, but the fermented granules were only detected on remains dated to the so-called Medio Period of Casas Grandes — a cultural heyday that spanned from about 1200 CE to 1450 CE — suggesting that chicha might have been a relatively recent phenomenon.

“Our results show that maize was used throughout various time periods, but evidence for maize fermentation only comes from the Medio period,” he said.

“This is not to say such use did not exist in the [earlier] period, only that our results don’t currently support that idea.”

But whether it was brewed, chewed, or cooked, the corn of Casas Grandes may, in time, teach us volumes, not just about diet, but also about the social interactions that shaped one of the most important cultural crossroads in ancient North America.

“The continuity of maize use throughout the two time periods is important,” King said.

“It may suggest a continuity of people, thereby supporting an in situ development.

“Turning maize into beer during the Medio period, however, could suggest an influx of new ideas — or perhaps even people — during that time, which might indicate outside influence — either foreigners coming to Casas Grandes, or locals traveling and coming back with new ideas.”

 

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jade corn cobe

A mysterious corn cob shaped artifact, dating to somewhere between 900 B.C. and 400 B.C., has been discovered underwater at the site of Arroyo Pesquero in Veracruz, Mexico. 

Made of jadeite, a material that is harder than steel, the artifact has designs on it that are difficult to put into words. It contains rectangular shapes, engraved lines and a cone that looks like it is emerging from the top. It looks like a corncob in an abstract way archaeologists say.

It’s an “extraordinary and unusual archaeological specimen made of mottled brown-and-white jadeite,” the team wrote in an article published recently in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica. 

Pesquero archaeological project, discovered the artifact in 2012 while diving with Jeffery Delsescaux about 2 to 3 meters (6.6 to 9.8 feet) below the surface of a deep stream.

“Underwater conditions were particularly challenging and included near-zero visibility and many obstructions, including large logs, smaller debris, partially decomposed leaves and other vegetation,” the team wrote.

The artifact dates to a time when a civilization now called the Olmec flourished in the area. The Olmec people built stone statues of giant human heads and constructed a city now called “La Venta” about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northeast of Arroyo Pesquero. The city, which may have supported some 10,000 people, contained a 112-foot-high (34 m) 

“The iconography is pretty difficult to interpret; it’s definitely not clear,” said Carl Wendt, a professor at California State University, Fullerton who is directing the project. “It seems to be an abstract representation, I believe, of a cob of corn,” he said. Corn, along with beans and squash, was an important part of the diet for people in ancient Mesoamerica.

The artifact may have had several uses. “While it certainly could have once been the handle of a bloodletter, in its current form, we argue that it probably would have been attached, as a finial, to a staff and functioned as a symbol of power and authority,” the team wrote in the article.

In the end, the artifact may have been placed in the stream as an offering, Wendt said. The offering could have been connected to deities, ancestor veneration or magic, he added. Over the past 50 years thousands of artifacts have been found at the site and they may have been left as offerings, archaeologists say.

A sacred place

The site where the artifacts were found is a place where freshwater intersects with saltwater, Wendt said, noting that jellyfish from the ocean can get into the stream during heavy rain. To the Olmec, this intersection of freshwater and saltwater may have had great importance.

“While having practical importance today as a spot to collect freshwater, in Olmec times, the confluence would also have been important for symbolic and cosmological reasons, and an ideal place for a ritual hoard or votive offerings,” the team wrote in the journal article.

So far, the archaeologists have found no buildings at Arroyo Pesquero that date to between 900 B.C. and 400 B.C. (when the offerings were made). Rather it is the water that is important the researchers said.

“Freshwater, so critical to daily life, was relatively scarce in a region of stagnant swamps,” the team wrote. “It is no wonder that springs and other freshwater sources were sacred places, and sacrificing [objects] at them was an important part of Olmec ritual.”

Wendt co-founded the Arroyo Pesquero archaeological project in 2005 so that the site could be studied scientifically. While thousands of artifacts have been found at the site over the past 50 years many lack details about their origins. Some of them were found by looters and are in private collections.

By Owen Jarus

Original Article:

Livescience

 

Olmec stone head

 


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Topic: Ancient drinking cup

Excavating a remote Maya palace in the ruined city of Uxul, archaeologists in Mexico have uncovered the ancient tomb of a young prince—and a rare artifact.

cup of Mayan Prince

The floor of an entrance building within Uxul’s 11-building royal complex concealed the entrance to the small chamber, which held the remains of the 20- to 25-year-old man and nine ceramic objects.

On one cup, “there was a simple message … in elegantly modeled hieroglyphics that read: ‘[This is] the cup of the young man/prince,'” team member Nikolai Grube, an anthropologist at Germany’s University of Bonn, said in a late-July statement.

Another cup bears a date, which Grube and colleague Kai Delvendahl interpret to mean the year A.D. 711, giving some indication as to when the prince lived and died.

It’s common for Maya artifacts to refer to their owners, Grube said. But all previous princely drinking vessels have been excavated “illegally, without controlled excavation, by looters. This is the first time we have found such a vessel in an archaeological context.”

The Maya civilization sprawled across much of modern-day Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Around A.D. 900 the so-called Classic era of the Maya Empire came to a close after a series of droughts and perhaps political strife.

The Man Who Wouldn’t Be King

Despite its obvious archaeological attractions, the small tomb at Uxul (ooh-SHOOL) is noticeably lacking in jade jewelry—suggesting the prince was not in line for the throne, experts say.

If he had been, archaeologist Jennifer Mathews said, “you would see very lavish objects like jade masks made in the individual’s likeness, jade earspools, or other elaborate jade objects.

“We don’t see that in this particular case, so they think that this was a guy who was part of the royal family but who was not in line for the throne,” added Mathews, of Texas’s Trinity University, who wasn’t part of the project.
Dig member Grube ruled out the possibility that any jade might have been looted from the tomb. It was “clearly sealed” before the excavation, with a stone bench perched atop the entrance for good measure, he told National Geographic News.

Prestige and Power

Though the young Maya prince may have had no hope of inheriting the kingdom, his fortunes look to have been on the rise.

Until 705, Calakmul, a Maya metropolis about 16 miles (26 kilometers) away, had ruled Uxul in today’s Campeche state. After that time Calakmul’s influence receded, and the prince’s family became the local rulers of Uxul. (See a map of the Maya civilization.)

In Maya culture, rulers were seen as godlike, and “they would have been lavished with all kinds of goods,” Trinity University’s Mathews added.

“Overall, his family would have had more prestige and power. I guess inadvertently he would have received benefits from that.”

Original article:
national geographic

By Rachel Kaufman, August 30, 2012

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Topic: Mayan Collapse

 

 

Multiple factors, including climate change, led to collapse and depopulation of ancient Maya.

 

Original Article:

eurekalert.org

August 21, 2012

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