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On this day ten years ago…
via Stone basins may be Miwok Indian salt ‘factory’

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By Matthew Sanger

Archaeology.org

BINGHAMTON, NEW YORK—According to a Science News report, hunter-gatherers living in North America some 4,000 years ago may have had direct trade links spanning 900 miles. A ceremonial copper object has been found surrounded by a ring of seashells at an ancient grave site on St. Catherines Island off the coast of Georgia. Known as the McQueen shell ring, the circle of shells measures nearly 230 feet across. At its center, anthropologist Matthew Sanger of Binghamton University and his colleagues unearthed a pit containing the copper band, bits of stone tools, and tens of thousands of ash-encrusted bone and tooth fragments representing at least seven individuals. Such cremation burials are rare in the Southeast for this period, Sanger said. Chemical analysis of the copper band, which has been radiocarbon dated to between 4,300 and 3,800 years old, indicates it originated in copper mines at Lake Superior, in an area where cremation burials from this period are found more frequently. People living in the Southeast and Great Lakes regions may have gathered together at Georgia’s McQueen shell ring, Sanger explained, for seasonal ceremonies, where they feasted on fish, clams, oysters, hickory nuts, and acorns. To read about the possible function of “bannerstones” made by prehistoric Native Americans, go to “Set in Stone.”

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Archeologists have found 3,000-year-old quinoa seeds at a site in Brantford, Ont., raising questions about the extent of trade among Indigenous peoples at the time. (Submitted by Gary Crawford)

CBC.ca

By Jasmine Kabatay · CBC

3,000-year-old seeds seemingly ‘processed for delivery’

A mass of quinoa seeds excavated from an archeological dig at a Brantford, Ont., construction site has been identified as being 3,000 years old, raising questions about the extent of trade among Indigenous peoples at the time.

The 140,000 seeds, which originate from the Kentucky-Tennessee area, seem as if they were “processed for delivery,” said Prof. Gary Crawford of department of anthropology at the University of Toronto.

The findings were published in the December 2018 issue of American Antiquity.

This is just one of these unbelievably fortuitous discoveries,” said Crawford.

“It just shows us that sometimes what seems to be a relatively insignificant site can have something incredibly important on it.”

Crawford says no one has reported this type of quinoa in Ontario before, and the discovery leads to more questions than answers, especially when it comes to trade.

He says the discovery shows that crops were part of trade at the time, and suggests that people in what is now Ontario were connected to others farther south.

He says it’s possible the seeds were grown here, but there’s no evidence.

“Of course the lack of evidence doesn’t mean they weren’t growing it. But for now I think the safe interpretation is this stuff was being imported,” said Crawford.

The seeds were found in 2010, after the site was assessed to see if there were any relevant archeological items in the area. Crawford says there was nothing unusual about the initial findings, as most of the items came from the area.

It wasn’t until the team examined sediment from a pit beside the site that they discovered something much bigger.

“It’s the first time I’ve been close to being shocked in 45 years of research, and I would say more delighted and surprised than shocked, but it was one of those ‘O-M-G’ moments that one gets when they’re doing research,” said Crawford.

Indigenous Canadians and Native Americans are and were sophisticated people, as sophisticated as anyone else in the world, and they were involved in fascinating kinds of things,” said Crawford.

Paula Whitlow, museum director at Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, says it isn’t really understood how Indigenous people traded back then. But it is understood there was an “extensive trade network.”

Whitlow notes that the largely peaceful Indigenous people who occupied the area at the time had an extensive trade network and even a city, Onondaga, that covered some 15 acres.

The next step with the seeds, Crawford says, is to look at “relatives” of this type of quinoa in the Ontario area.

“I think we need to work together with botanists to sort out whether the wild species that grows in Ontario is actually a feral version of this crop and whether weed distributions we see in the province today actually can be traced way back to Indigenous Canadian activity in the province,” said Crawford.

 

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Corn smut: disfiguring but delicious.
CARMEN HAUSER / GETTY IMAGES

 

Original Article:

cosmosmagazine.com

 

Eating only maize leads to disease, and why the Basketmaker II people didn’t fall ill has long been a mystery. Now it’s been solved. Andrew Masterson reports.

 

A mystery concerning how some of North America’s first farmers survived on a diet that appears manifestly inadequate may have been solved.

The ancestral Pueblo people who lived in what is now known as the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States shifted from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle centred on crop-growing around 400BCE.

The primary crop cultivated was maize (known in the US as corn), which accounted for an estimated 80% of calorific intake.

During the ensuing 800 years – a stretch known as the Basketmaker II period – the settlers’ diet contained very little meat. This was perhaps a cultural choice. Basketmaker II people became efficient turkey farmers, but the birds were raised primarily for their feathers, used in the manufacture of blankets, and for certain ritual purposes. They were not eaten.

The nutritional components of Basketmaker II cuisine has been well established through a number of analyses, including radio-isotope sampling conducted at burial sites. A study published in 2013, for instance, found that while maize comprised the massive bulk of food intake, it was accompanied by small amounts of wild plants, including yucca, and – more so in men than women – occasional bits of wild rabbit.

Over all, the Pueblo menu should have been dangerously low in a number of essential nutrients, particularly niacin, tryptophan and lysine – the lack of which leads to a range of ailments, including pellagra, an often fatal disease that results in diarrhoea, dermatitis and dementia.

However, no Basketmaker II human remains ever tested have shown evidence of such an illness. This fact leads to the obvious conclusion that the people must have been able somehow to access the crucial nutrients. There is evidence that at least one community boiled maize in limestone, which would have made some amino acids locked up in the corn more biologically available – but even then the amounts would still have been too small to meet dietary needs.

Now, however, archaeologist and biological anthropologist Jenna Battillo from the Southern Methodist University in Texas may well have found the answer to puzzle.

It turns out to be an organism that today is considered a menace by commercial maize farmers: a fungus called Ustilago maydis, or, more prosaically, corn smut.

Analysing “human paleofaeces” found at a Basketmaker II site known as Turkey Penn Ruin in Utah, Battillo found plentiful evidence of U. maydis spores. This, she writes in a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, indicates that the fungus was included as an intentional part of the diet.

There is considerable later evidence to back up the suggestion. The fungus, which forms distinctive lumps or “galls” on maize heads, is today a popular food in Mexico, where it is known as huitlacoche. It is also popular among some communities in Central America.

Battillo cites a number of studies that found corn smut was historically considered a delicacy among southern and meso-American societies, including the Aztec, Maya and Hopi.

U. maydis causes loss of vitality and weight as well as cosmetic disfigurement in maize and is therefore hated by commercial growers. About 4% of the US crop is lost to the fungus each year – well down from the estimated 80% that blighted farms in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

For the Basketmaker II people, however, the fungus infection was very positive – indeed, quite literally, a lifesaver.

Battillo reports that corn smut alters the nutrient content of corn. It increases the protein levels from as low as 3% to as high as 19%. It also dramatically boosts the levels of lysine, and introduces 16 other essential amino acids. The only one missing is tryptophan, for which no data is available – Battillo suggests limestone boiling and input from other minor food sources might have been sufficient to provide the average four milligrams a day required to maintain health.

And while the new research seems to answer the question of how Basketmaker II people supplemented their nutrient-poor maize diet, it still leaves another matter unresolved.

The evidence, says Battillo, cannot determine whether the early farmer communities intentionally introduced or encouraged corn smut on their plants, or whether infections happened by accident and were simply tolerated.

In either scenario, she concludes, “the ubiquity of the spores in paleofaeces from Turkey Pen Ruin strongly supports intentional consumption”.

 

 

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I found the following article written in 2017 while I was researching the post on fish traps I published last week. Some how I missed it last year. JLP

 

Rocks alignments representing the remains of an intertidal fish trap, Kodiak Island, Alaska. (Photo courtesy the Alutiiq Museum)

Original article:

Ktoo.org

A local archaeologist says there may be the remains of a historic Alutiiq fish trap on the north end of Kodiak Island.

Those types of man-made formations are rare to discover in the region, he said.

The Alutiiq Museum is in its second year of documenting ancestral sites on Afognak Native Corporation lands. Museum archaeology curator 

Patrick Saltonstall noticed something while surveying one area on the shoreline at low tide.

He identified it as a fish trap, which he calls a corral.

“They’re like stone walls on the inter-tidal zone so when the tide came in, all the fish went to go up stream, would float in over the corrals or the trap, and then when the tide went out, they’d be stranded in the pens, so then you catch a whole lot of fish.”

He says it can be challenging to determine whether a corral is natural or man-made, but he sees evidence of it being a fish trap.

“I could tell that there were some boulders that they used that there were there already, but almost all of it was bringing boulders in,” he said. “It’s like a wall, like 5 feet across and maybe 2 feet high now, but it was probably much higher (back) in the day.”

corral like this one on the island, but they’re common in southeast, which he said could because the people there used them more frequently.

“A lot of the places down there are more protected, they aren’t as open to the ocean as Kodiak is, so maybe the lower energy they tend to be preserved better,” he said. “Whereas in Kodiak after a big storm a lot of these things might get demolished.”

Archaeologists found what looks like petroglyphs nearby, he said, speckled dots and incised lines carved into slate.

“What the cool pattern is is they all seem to be associated with fishing localities,” Saltonstall said. “You look at the typical petroglyphs, you know with faces, whales, drummer, they’re associated more with whaling or with villages.”

It’s hard to determine the age of either the corral or the petroglyphs, but based on nearby archaeological sites, the carvings could be dated back to about 500 years ago.

 

 

 

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Original article:

News.psu.edu

A’ndrea Elyse Messer
April 10, 2017

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Reconstructed food webs from the Ancestral Puebloan southwestern United States show the complexity and interconnectedness of humans, other animals, crops and the environment, in an area of uncertain climate and resources, according to researchers, who think climate change and human decisions then, may shed light on future human choices.

“As southwestern archaeologists, we know that Ancestral Puebloan people were intrinsically connected to the environment,” said Stefani Crabtree, postdoctoral fellow in human behavioral ecology in the Department of Anthropology, Penn State. “But, most food webs have omitted humans.”

Traditionally, food webs, while they map the interaction of all the animals and plants in an area, usually do not emphasize the human component. Crabtree and colleagues created a digital food web that captures all categories of consumers and consumed, can be defined for specific time periods and can also represent food webs after major food sources or predators disappear from the area. If an area suddenly becomes devoid of deer or humans or corn, for example, a food web of that situation can show where predators went to find prey, or which prey thrived for lack of a predator.

These knockout food webs — webs missing a specific predator or prey — show the changes and pressures on the food sources substituted for the missing ones, or the changes that occur when pressure is removed by removing a major consumer. The researchers report the results of their study today (Apr. 10) in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“When people show up in the area around A.D. 600 they bring corn,” said Crabtree. “It takes a while for critters to get used to it, but eventually, everything that eats vegetation, eats corn and prefers it.”

Humans bringing corn into an area is a major disruption of the existing food web. Planting corn means clearing fields to displace whatever plants and animals were there, creating a high-energy plant source of food and switching plant eaters to the preferred higher-calorie food source.

In the American Southwest, the Ancestral Puebloan people eventually preyed on their deer population enough so that they deer were no longer a reliable source of food. To compensate for this, they began to domesticate turkeys for food. Turkeys need to be fed corn if they are captive and that competes with corn for human consumption. At this time, corn made up 70 to 80 percent of Ancestral Puebloans’ food and so feeding turkeys altered the food web.

To create the food web, the team identified all the common, noninvasive species in the area. They then added species that were found in archaeological sites, but were absent from the modern lists. In some food webs, components are identified by their function, so all humming birds are considered flying pollinators, but in this case each type of humming bird received its own place in the web, linked to what it ate and what, if anything, ate it. This produced a very complicated web, but supplied exceptional redundancy.

 

“In the insect world it is harder to get at the data,” said Crabtree. “We have not been able to get at good databases so we aggregate at the functional level— pollinators or bloodsuckers for example.”

The exception to individual web entries then are invertebrates — insects, spiders, snails, etc. — that were classified by their function. Invertebrates are organized to the level of order and then grouped by function. With insects, for example, the researchers would group butterflies and moths that pollinated and sipped nectar, together in one group.

The overall food web had 334 nodes representing species or order-level functional groups with 11,344 links between predator and prey.

The researchers realize that there are differences in the environment between now and the Ancestral Puebloan period, but many things, such as pinon-juniper woodlands and sage flats are the same. Enough similarity exists for this approach to work.

The team did not produce just one overall food web, but also food webs corresponding to three archaeological locations and three time periods of Ancestral Pueblo occupation in the area — Grass Mesa Pueblo for Pueblo I, Albert Porter Pueblo for Pueblo II and Sand Canyon Pueblo for Pueblo III. They began with using archaeological assemblages from these sites incorporating all human prey and all human predators into the food web. Then they included the prey of the primary prey of humans and then predators of these human-prey species. Prey, in this case, includes animals, insects and plants.

When creating knockout food webs, the researchers included only those species that were found in reasonable quantities in the archaeological assemblages at those times.

“Knockout food webs are one of the best ways to understand how people interact with the environment,” said Crabtree. “Because we can remove something, predator or prey, and see what would happen.”

When major changes in climate variables such as drought, heat and lack of snowpack are factored in, the balance in the food web may become unstable. When food becomes scarce, most mobile creatures, animals and insects move to another location. During the time of the Ancestral Puebloans, this was possible and eventually, these people moved to the area of the Rio Grande in New Mexico and other places in New Mexico and Arizona.

“We didn’t have a long-term plan during the 600 years of Ancestral Pueblo habitation in the Mesa Verde region,” said Crabtree. “We don’t have a long-term plan today either. We don’t even have a four-year plan. Some people are pushing us to look closely at climate change.”

In the past, people migrated, said Crabtree. Unless we figure out better strategies, where are we going to migrate out to? We do not have a place to go, she said.

What people plant and eat has a great effect on the environment and on ecosystems. In the end, those choices will impact human survival, according to the researchers.

This work is part of a collaboration of researchers creating resolved food webs from a variety of places. Crabtree believes that she can compare this project to others that include humans in other geographical areas to help understand ecosystems with humans in them.

Also working on this project were Lydia J.S. Vaughn, graduate student, energy and resources group, University of California, Berkeley; and Nathan T. Crabtree, U.S. Forest Services.

The National Science Foundation and the Chateaubriand Fellowship funded this research.

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bluefish cave bone

bluefish cave bone

 

Original Article:

westerndigs.org

by Blake de Pastino

A close look at bones found in a Yukon cave seems to confirm a controversial finding made decades ago, archaeologists say: that humans arrived in North America 10,000 years earlier than many experts believe.

The bones are the remains of horse, bison, mammoths, and other Ice Age fauna, originally excavated from the Bluefish Caves near the border of Alaska and the Yukon Territory in the 1970s and 1980s.

Back then, radiocarbon dating placed the bones at about 25, 000 years old — not in itself surprising, except that many of the bones appeared to have been butchered by humans.

And the earliest evidence of human activity on the continent — at least at the time — dated back a mere 14,000 years.

Anthropologist Lauriane Bourgeon at the University of Montreal has devoted her doctoral thesis to revisiting the controversy surrounding the Bluefish Caves bones.

And she has concluded that more than a dozen of the animal bones do indeed bear “indisputable evidence of butchery activity,” showing that humans were on the continent well before the end of the last Ice Age.

The implications of these findings are weighty, not only for the timing of the peopling of the Americas, but for the way in which people actually moved from Asia into what’s known as Eastern Beringia — the swath of North America immediately east of the Bering Strait.

Bluefish Caves are located near the Ogilvie Mountains in Yukon Territory. (Photo courtesy Lauriane Bourgeon)

Bluefish Caves are located near the Ogilvie Mountains in Yukon Territory. (Photo courtesy Lauriane Bourgeon)

“In addition to proving that Bluefish Caves is the oldest known archaeological site in North America,” Bourgeon and her colleagues write in the journal PLOS One, “the results offer archaeological support for the ‘Beringian standstill hypothesis,’ which proposes that a genetically isolated human population persisted in Beringia during the Last Glacial Maximum (ed: the Ice Age) and dispersed from there to North and South America.”

The caves were first excavated by Canadian archaeologist Jacques Cinq-Mars starting in 1977, who posited, based on radiocarbon dating at the time, that the scored and damaged animal bones were evidence of human activity in the Americas as much as 25,000 years ago.

Largely dismissed and later overlooked, the theory was recently taken up by Bourgeon.

In 2015, she published some of her preliminary findings, after having studied 5,600 bone fragments from Cave 2 of the Bluefish Caves.

Most of the scoring and hatching marks on the bones were made by scavenging animals and not humans, she said.

But at least two of the bones did betray the tell-tale signs of human butchery, she said, including the pelvis bone of a caribou that bore deep, parallel lines etched in them.

“That is typically the mark of a stone tool used to de-flesh or disarticulate a carcass,” she told Western Digs at the time.

But the oldest of the samples that she tested was no more than 14,000 years old.

(See full coverage of her 2015 study: “Butchered Bones Found in Yukon Cave Bear Marks of Early Americans, Study Finds“)

Today, she and her team have obtained even more impressive results.

Bourgeon’s full study covered 36,000 bones from Caves 1 and 2, studying them under a high-power microscope and comparing them to other bones that had been scarred by animals, broken by freeze-thaw cycles, or damaged by rockfall or other natural sources of abrasion.

She and her team concluded that 15 bone samples bore striations that they say are “confidently attributable to human activities.”

Unlike carnivore teeth, which leave wide, shallow, U-shaped depressions, these samples bore the signature of a hand-held tool, they assert.

“Series of straight, V-shaped lines on the surface of the bones were made by stone tools used to skin animals,” said Montreal’s Dr. Ariane Burke, adviser to Bourgeon and a co-author of the new study, in a press statement.

“These are indisputable cut-marks created by humans.”

The team also conducted its own series of radiocarbon tests on six of the bones with the butchery marks.

The youngest specimen was 12,000 years old and the oldest — the lower jaw of an extinct horse, said to have marks showing where its tongue was cut out — was 24,000 years old.

Taken together, these two data points suggest that Ice Age Alaska and Yukon were not only inhabited, the team asserts, but that it was inhabited by a genetically isolated population, because 24,000 years ago, the rest of the continent was covered in glaciers and impassable.

This idea — known as the Beringia standstill hypothesis — has been proposed by some geneticists, who have found molecular clues in the DNA of indigenous groups both east and west of the Bering Strait which suggest that the Americas’ earliest settlers lingered in Eastern Beringia for thousands of years before being able to migrate south.

“Our discovery confirms the ‘Beringian standstill hypothesis,’” said Burke in the statement.

“Genetic isolation would have corresponded to geographical isolation.

“During the Last Glacial Maximum, Beringia was isolated from the rest of North America by glaciers and steppes too inhospitable for human occupation to the West.

“It was potentially a place of refuge.”

A growing body of evidence has been discovered since the ‘70s that shows a substantial human presence in the Americas before 14,000 years ago.

But there’s limited archaeological evidence to suggest that the continent was populated a full 25,000 years ago.

To that, Bourgeon and her team say, future research must focus on both archaeological and genetic evidence, specifically in the region around the Bering Strait, in order to get to the bottom of how and when the continent was populated.

“More research effort is required in Beringia clearly, to substantiate the existence of a standstill population and fully understand the prehistory of the first people of the Americas,” they write.

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