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photo: Prof Gary Lee Todd

photo: Prof Gary Lee Todd

 

Original Article:

arstechnica.co.uk

ByCATHLEEN O’GRADY (US) –

 

Bones and burial grounds point male children getting better-quality food.

Around 7,000 years ago in China’s Central Plains, the Yangshao culture began to flourish along the Yellow River. It was another example of the same widespread Neolithic culture that was also emerging in Europe around the time, with new developments in pottery and agriculture. In China, it dominated the region for approximately 2,000 years.

Yangshao remains have offered a team of international researchers insight into an interesting question: did gender differences change alongside agricultural practices? They argue that gender inequality emerged along with the new crops among the Yangshao. The archaeological data has some interesting signs, but it’s possible that the researchers are overstating their case: the only evidence they have is of inequality in people’s diets, which doesn’t tell us much about the structure of inequality of societies.

Millet cereals were domesticated in the region as early as 10,000 years ago and were the primary crop of Yangshao cultures. Wheat, barley, and soybeans were introduced to the region after the end of Yangshao, around 4,000 years ago, although archaeological traces of them remain low for centuries. According to historical records, they were thought to be inferior foods, suitable only for protecting the poor against famine. That only changed around 2,000 years ago, when improved technological methods made it easier to refine them.

Agricultural changes aren’t only reflected in artifacts; they show up in excavated bones, too. Millet uses a type of photosynthesis that differs from the vast majority of plants, and it’s the only domesticated plant in Early China to use this type of photosynthesis. The result of this is that the carbon signature in the bones of people who ate primarily millet looks different from that of people who ate other plants. Nitrogen traces in bones can point to the quantity of animal products in an individual’s diet.

The researchers compared Yangshao bones with remains from the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty, which lasted from 771 to 221 BC. In the Eastern Zhou bones, they found evidence that men and women were eating different diets: men’s bones had evidence of higher consumption of animal products and millet, while women’s bones showed evidence of higher consumption of the more recent (and scorned) crops of wheat, barley, and soy. The Yangshao bones, on the other hand, generally didn’t show a significant difference, with the exception of one of the five sites studied. This suggests that “meals were no longer shared at the household level during Eastern Zhou,” the authors write.

On its own, this is not evidence of a bias favoring males. There could be cultural reasons for a gender-based split in diet that weren’t actively bad for women—although the fact that women were eating more of the food that was considered low quality is a bit telling.

But other strands of evidence corroborate the inequality story: women’s bones from Eastern Zhou, but not Yangshao, showed more signs of childhood malnutrition, and size differences between the sexes increased from Yangshao to Eastern Zhou. Both of these signs indicate that male children had better quality food, pointing to greater parental investment in male children. And female graves in Eastern Zhou had fewer burial items and were less likely to have a coffin than male graves, while again, Yangshao graves were more egalitarian.

It’s an interesting result, but it’s always a mistake to draw too many parallels with modern society from archaeological research. It’s also not clear that this is really evidence of the first emergence of gender inequality in this region of China.

It is evidence of a massive cultural change in how the genders related to each other, certainly. But food-based inequality isn’t the only kind of gender inequality that a society might practice—there are plenty of inarguably patriarchal modern societies where families eat meals together. It’s entirely possible that Yangshao did have inequality, but that it took a different shape and would have left a different kind of archaeological presence.

An open question is how the change in gender practices and agriculture are interwoven. Did the change in agriculture itself lead to the change in gender norms? The causal story is likely to be complicated, and the authors of the paper steer clear of suggesting that one led to the other, but the relationship between them is something that future research can hopefully illuminate.

PNAS, 2016. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1611742114 (About DOIs).

This post originated on Ars Technica

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Emperor Jing Di

Emperor Jing Di

figurines curried with the Emperor

figurines curried with the Emperor

 

Original Article:

independant.co.uk

By David Keys, Jan 10, 2016

 

Archaeologists have discovered the oldest tea in the world among the treasures buried with a Chinese emperor.

New scientific evidence suggests that ancient Chinese royals were partial to a cuppa – at least 2150 years ago.

Indeed, they seem to have liked it so much that they insisted on being buried with it – so they could enjoy a cup of char in the next world.

Previously, no tea of that antiquity had ever been found – although a single ancient Chinese text from a hundred years later claimed that China was by then exporting tea leaves to Tibet.

The new discovery was made by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

By examining tiny crystals trapped between hairs on the surface of the leaves and by using mass spectrometry, they were able to work out that the leaves, buried with a mid second century BC Chinese emperor, were actually tea.

The scientific analysis of the food and other offerings in the Emperor’s tomb complex have also revealed that, as well as tea, he was determined to take millet, rice and chenopod with him to the next life.
The tea aficionado ruler – the Han Dynasty Emperor Jing Di – died in 141 BC, so the tea dates from around that year. Buried in a wooden box, it was among a huge number of items interred in a series of pits around the Emperor’s tomb complex for his use in the next world.

Other items included weapons, pottery figurines, an ‘army’ of ceramic animals and several real full size chariots complete with their horses.

The tomb, located near the Emperor Jing Di’s capital Chang’an (modern Xian), can now be visited. Although the site was excavated back in the 1990s, it is only now that scientific examination of the organic finds has identified the tea leaves.

The tea-drinking emperor himself was an important figure in early Chinese history. Often buffeted by intrigue and treachery, he was nevertheless an unusually enlightened and liberal ruler. He was determined to give his people a better standard of living and therefore massively reduced their tax burden. He also ordered that criminals should be treated more humanely – and that sentences should be reduced. What’s more, he successfully reduced the power of the aristocracy.

“The discovery shows how modern science can reveal important previously unknown details about ancient Chinese culture. The identification of the tea found in the emperor’s tomb complex gives us a rare glimpse into very ancient traditions which shed light on the origins of one of the world’s favourite beverages,” said Professor Dorian Fuller, Director of the International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology, based in UCL, London.

The research has just been published in Nature’s online open access journal Scientific Reports.

The tea discovered in the Emperor’s tomb seems to have been of the finest quality, consisting solely of tea buds – the small unopened leaves of the tea plant, usually considered to be of superior quality to ordinary tea leaves.

 

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 Researchers at the Neolithic site of Mogou, West China, where eastern and western cereals met. Courtesy Martin Jones

Researchers at the Neolithic site of Mogou, West China, where eastern and western cereals met. Courtesy Martin Jones

millet

millet

Original Article:

popular archaeology

December 2015

UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE—New research shows a cereal familiar today as birdseed was carried across Eurasia by ancient shepherds and herders laying the foundation, in combination with the new crops they encountered, of ‘multi-crop’ agriculture and the rise of settled societies. Archaeologists say ‘forgotten’ millet has a role to play in modern crop diversity and today’s food security debate.

The domestication of the small-seeded cereal millet in North China around 10,000 years ago created the perfect crop to bridge the gap between nomadic hunter-gathering and organised agriculture in Neolithic Eurasia, and may offer solutions to modern food security, according to new research.

Now a forgotten crop in the West, this hardy grain – familiar in the west today as birdseed – was ideal for ancient shepherds and herders, who carried it right across Eurasia, where it was mixed with crops such as wheat and barley. This gave rise to ‘multi-cropping’, which in turn sowed the seeds of complex urban societies, say archaeologists.

A team from the UK, USA and China has traced the spread of the domesticated grain from North China and Inner Mongolia into Europe through a “hilly corridor” along the foothills of Eurasia. Millet favours uphill locations, doesn’t require much water, and has a short growing season: it can be harvested 45 days after planting, compared with 100 days for rice, allowing a very mobile form of cultivation.

Nomadic tribes were able to combine growing crops of millet with hunting and foraging as they travelled across the continent between 2500 and 1600 BC. Millet was eventually mixed with other crops in emerging populations to create ‘multi-crop’ diversity, which extended growing seasons and provided our ancient ancestors with food security.

The need to manage different crops in different locations, and the water resources required, depended upon elaborate social contracts and the rise of more settled, stratified communities and eventually complex ‘urban’ human societies.

Researchers say we need to learn from the earliest farmers when thinking about feeding today’s populations, and millet may have a role to play in protecting against modern crop failure and famine.

“Today millet is in decline and attracts relatively little scientific attention, but it was once among the most expansive cereals in geographical terms. We have been able to follow millet moving in deep history, from where it originated in China and spread across Europe and India,” said Professor Martin Jones from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, who is presenting the research findings today at the Shanghai Archaeological Forum.

“These findings have transformed our understanding of early agriculture and society. It has previously been assumed that early agriculture was focused in river valleys where there is plentiful access to water. However, millet remains show that the first agriculture was instead centred higher up on the foothills – allowing this first pathway for ‘exotic’ eastern grains to be carried west.”

The researchers carried out radiocarbon dating and isotope analysis on charred millet grains recovered from archaeological sites across China and Inner Mongolia, as well as genetic analysis of modern millet varieties, to reveal the process of domestication that occurred over thousands of years in northern China and produced the ancestor of all broomcorn millet worldwide.

“We can see that millet in northern China was one of the earliest centres of crop domestication, occurring over the same timescale as rice domestication in south China and barley and wheat in west China,” explained Jones.

“Domestication is hugely significant in the development of early agriculture – humans select plants with seeds that don’t fall off naturally and can be harvested, so over several thousand years this creates plants that are dependent on farmers to reproduce,” he said.

“This also means that the genetic make-up of these crops changes in response to changes in their environment – in the case of millet, we can see that certain genes were ‘switched off’ as they were taken by farmers far from their place of origin.”

As the network of farmers, shepherds and herders crystallised across the Eurasian corridor, they shared crops and cultivation techniques with other farmers, and this, Jones explains, is where the crucial idea of ‘multi-cropping’ emerged.

“The first pioneer farmers wanted to farm upstream in order to have more control over their water source and be less dependent on seasonal weather variations or potential neighbours upstream,” he said. “But when ‘exotic’ crops appear in addition to the staple crop of the region, then you start to get different crops growing in different areas and at different times of year. This is a huge advantage in terms of shoring up communities against possible crop failures and extending the growing season to produce more food or even surplus.

“However, it also introduces a more pressing need for cooperation, and the beginnings of a stratified society. With some people growing crops upstream and some farming downstream, you need a system of water management, and you can’t have water management and seasonal crop rotation without an elaborate social contract.”

Towards the end of the second and first millennia BC larger human settlements, underpinned by multi-crop agriculture, began to develop. The earliest examples of text, such as the Sumerian clay tablets from Mesopotamia, and oracle bones from China, allude to multi-crop agriculture and seasonal rotation.

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Nearly 5,000 years ago, nomadic shepherds opened some of the first links between eastern and western Asia. Archaeologists recently discovered domesticated crops from opposite sides of the continent mingled together in ancient herders’ campsites found in the rugged grasslands and mountains of central Asia.

“Ancient wheat and broomcorn millet, recovered in nomadic campsites in Kazakhstan, show that prehistoric herders in Central Eurasia had incorporated both regional crops into their economy and rituals nearly 5,000 years ago,” said Micheal Frachetti, archaeologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. and co-author of the study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
One of the grains found in Kazahkstan, bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), was cultivated in the Middle East by 6,000 years ago, but didn’t show up in East Asian archaeological sites until 4,500 years ago.

Likewise, another grain found in the shepherd’s camps, domesticated broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum), may have originated in what is now China 8,000 years ago, but didn’t appear in southwestern Asia until 4,000 years ago.

The nomadic shepherds may have been a crucial link across the vast expanse of steppe, desert and mountains that separated the agricultural and economic systems of eastern and western Asia.

Central Asian shepherds did more than transport grains. The archaeologists also found evidence that herders began farming millet, wheat, barley and legumes by 4,000 years ago. The discovery of this prehistoric agricultural activity in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan pushed back the earliest know farming in the region by 2,000 years.

The intrepid ancient shepherds of central Asia blazed trails that would expand into the economic highway of the ancient and medieval world. Eventually, the route would carry silks from Han Dynasty China to the Roman Empire and earn the name “Silk Road.”

The route remains in use today, though now railroads have replaced camels as the preferred means of travel.

Photo: Modern-day Kazakh shepherd with dogs and horse (Airunp, Wikimedia Commons)

Original article:

discovery.com
April 2, 2014

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Topic Agriculture in Ancient China,

The first evidence of agriculture appears in the archaeological record some 10,000 years ago. But the skills needed to cultivate and harvest crops weren’t learned overnight. Scientists have traced these roots back to 23,000-year-old tools used to grind seeds, found mostly in the Middle East.

Now, research lead by Li Liu, a professor of Chinese archaeology at Stanford, reveals that the same types of tools were used to process seeds and tubers in northern China, setting China’s agricultural clock back about 12,000 years and putting it on par with activity in the Middle East. Liu believes that the practices evolved independently, possibly as a global response to a changing climate.

Stones for processing

Professor Li Liu and graduate student Hao Zhao take residue and use-wear samples from a grinding slab in China. Image: Stanford University

The earliest grinding stones have been found in Upper Palaeolithic archaeological sites around the world. These consisted of a pair of stones, typically a handheld stone that would be rubbed against a larger, flat stone set on the ground, to process wild seeds and tubers into flour-like powder.

Once the stones are unearthed, use-wear traces and residue of starch grains on the used surfaces can be analysed to reveal the types of plants processed.

Liu focused on stones discovered at a roughly 23,000-year-old site in the middle of the Yellow River region in northern China. Most of the agricultural research in this area has focused on the Holocene period, roughly 10,000 years ago, when people were domesticating animals and farming.

“The roots of agriculture must be much deeper than 10,000 years ago,” Liu said. “People have to first be familiar with the wild plants before cultivating them. The use of these grinding stones to process food indicates that people exploited these plants intensively and became familiar with their characteristics, a process that eventually led to agriculture.”

Indeed, the starch analysis has shown traces of grasses, beans, wild millet seeds, a type of yam and snakegourd root – the same types of food that people in the region would domesticate thousands of years later. Domesticated millet, in particular, became the main staple crop that supported the agricultural basis of ancient Chinese civilization.

Using a microscope, Professor Li Liu finds and records starch grains extracted from ancient tools. Image: Stanford University

Human adaptation to climate change

Similar patterns of activity existed around the world at the same time, but this is the first evidence that people in northern China were practising comparable methods. In particular, the extensive use of seeds by people in China and elsewhere could help paint a picture of humans adapting to a worldwide changing climate during an ice age.

“Wild millet seeds are very, very small, and people would need to spend a lot of time to gather enough seeds to be useful,” Liu said. “This suggests either that they were under some pressure and better foods were not readily available, or that seeds had suddenly become more abundant and easier to collect.

“We know that during the Ice Age, populations were under pressure. I think that our finding suggests that there was some general evolutionary trend, and that people around the world reacted to climate change in a similar way, although independently.”

Incidentally, the presence of tubers could point to the dawn of another discipline.

“Yam and snakegourd root that we found can be used both as food and as traditional herb medicine in China,” Liu said. “Whether or not they were used as medicine, we don’t know yet, but this discovery could suggest that people understood, or were developing an understanding of, the medicinal properties of some of those roots.”

The study was published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Stanford University

For Archaeology News – Archaeology Research – Archaeology Press Releases
Original article:
past horizons
May 3, 2013

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Topic: ancient farming, China

Some ideas need time to take root. A new analysis suggests it took up to 12,000 years for people in what is now China to go from eating wild plants to farming them. Agriculture elsewhere also took time to flower.

Li Liu of Stanford University and colleagues studied three grinding stones from China’s Yellow River region. They bear residues showing that they were used to process millet and other grains, as well as yams, beans and roots.

The stones date from 23,000 to 19,500 years ago, late in the last ice age. But the earliest archaeological evidence for crop cultivation in China is 11,000 years old, suggesting that farming was slow to emerge from ancient traditions of plant use.

That fits with a wider pattern, says Robin Allaby of the University of Warwick, UK. In the Middle East “we also have evidence of cereals at that 23,000-year point”, he says – which is long before people were farming them. “Although this period is around the late glacial maximum, there is a blip at 23,000 years during which time it was milder.” Millet and the other food plants could have flourished in the warmth, tempting people to start exploiting them.

Some of the plants, like the snakegourd root, are still used in traditional medicines. Karen Hardy at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona, Spain, says she would not be surprised if ancient peoples “knew how to select plant food that benefited their health”. Last year she reported evidence that Neanderthals used medicinal plants.

“We can never know for certain why a plant was ingested, but I think these early people probably had a detailed knowledge of the plants they selected and used,” Hardy says. “This is likely to have included their medicinal as well as their nutritional qualities.”

Original article:

newscientist

By Colin Barras, March 18, 2013

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Topic: Food of the common Roman

Millet Grain ready to harvest

Millet Grain ready to harvest

Ancient Romans are known for eating well, with mosaics from the empire portraying sumptuous displays of fruits, vegetables, cakes — and, of course, wine. But the 98 percent of Romans who were non-elite and whose feasts weren’t preserved in art may have been stuck eating birdseed.

Common people in ancient Rome ate millet, a grain looked down upon by the wealthy as fit only for livestock, according to a new study published in the March issue of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. And consumption of millet may have been linked to overall social status, with relatively poorer suburbanites eating more of the grain than did wealthier city dwellers.

The results come from an analysis of anonymous skeletons in the ancient city’s cemeteries.

“We don’t know anything about their lives, which is why we’re trying to use biochemical analysis to study them,” said study leader Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist at the University of West Florida.

The ancient Mediterranean diet

Health studies out last week heralded the modern Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, fish and nuts, as a good way to avoid heart disease. In ancient Rome, however, diet varied based on social class and where a person lived.

Ancient texts have plenty to say about lavish Roman feasts. The wealthy could afford exotic fruits and vegetables, as well as shellfish and snails. A formal feast involved multiple dishes, eaten from a reclined position, and could last for hours.

But ancient Roman writers have less to say about the poor, other than directions for landowners on the appropriate amount to feed slaves, who made up about 30 percent of the city’s population. Killgrove wanted to know more about lower-class individuals and what they ate. [Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]

To find out, she and her colleagues analyzed portions of bones from the femurs of 36 individuals from two Roman cemeteries. One cemetery, Casal Bertone, was located right outside the city walls. The other, Castellaccio Europarco, was farther out, in a more suburban area.

The skeletons date to the Imperial Period, which ran from the first to the third century A.D., during the height of the Roman Empire. At the time, Killgrove told LiveScience, between 1 million and 2 million people lived in Rome and its suburbs.

Roman locavores ( eating local)

To determine diets from the Roman skeletons, the researchers analyzed the bones for isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. Isotopes are atoms of an element with different numbers of neutrons, and are incorporated into the body from food. Such isotopes of carbon can tell researchers which types of plants people consumed. Grasses such as wheat and barley are called C3 plants; they photosynthesize differently than mostly fibrous C4 plants, such as millet and sorghum. The differences in photosynthesis create different ratios of carbon isotopes preserved in the bones of the people who ate the plants.

Nitrogen isotopes, on the other hand, give insight into the kinds of protein sources people ate.

“We found that people were eating very different things,” Killgrove said. Notably, ancient Italians were locavores. Compared with people living on the coasts, for example, the Romans ate less fish.

There were also differences among people living within Rome. Individuals buried in the mausoleum at Casa Bertone (a relatively high-class spot, at least for commoners), ate less millet than those buried in the simple cemetery surrounding Casa Bertone’s mausoleum. Meanwhile, those buried in the farther-flung Castellaccio Europarco cemetery ate more millet than anyone at Casa Bertone, suggesting they were less well-off than those living closer to or within the city walls.

Historical texts dismiss millet as animal feed or a famine food, Killgrove said, but the researcher’s findings suggest that plenty of ordinary Romans depended on the easy-to-grow grain. One man, whose isotope ratios showed him to be a major millet consumer, was likely an immigrant, later research revealed. He may have been a recent arrival to Rome when he died, carrying the signs of his country diet with him. Or perhaps he kept eating the food he was used to, even after arriving in the city.

“There’s still a lot to learn about the Roman Empire,” Killgrove said. “We kind of think that it’s been studied and studied to death over the last 2,000 years, but there are thousands of skeletons in Rome that nobody has studied … This can give us information about average people in Rome we don’t know about from historical records.”

Original Article:

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

LiveScience

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