Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Topic  Ancient Fish Traps

Comox Valley, Vancouver Island BC


Radio carbonating strengthens case for National Historic Site

Some of the ancient fish traps in the Courtenay Estuary are way older than first imagined.

Radiocarbon dating of the remains of wooden stakes pounded in to the mud has revealed some date back almost 1400 years.

The results, announced on Tuesday, could strengthen the case to designate the estuary as a National Historic Site.

Archaeologist Nancy Greene and her husband, geologist David McGee, have been investigating the mystery of the fish traps for years.

They estimate there are the remains of perhaps 150,000 stakes in the estuary, although many are not immediately obvious as the remnants are below the mud.

But at low tide, the remains of huge numbers are visible, and careful mapping of 14,000 of them using GPS equipment has exposed intricate patterns.

They include large heart and chevron-shaped compounds, with long straight lines of stakes once used to help guide fish, particularly salmon and herring, into the traps as tides receded.

Fragments of basketry and cord have been found buried in the mud, indicating that many stakes were linked like fences to create pens to prevent fish escaping.

While a handful of stakes were scientifically dated six years ago – a process that proved that some had been in place for centuries – Greene and McGee realized a much larger sampling was needed to progress the research to the next level.

A wider sampling would not only provide more precise dates for the structures, but also help unravel the mystery of overlapping patterns. But the cost was prohibitive.

To the rescue came the specially-created ‘Stick in the Mud Club,’ an idea conceived by regional district Area B director Jim Gillis and Project Watershed vice-chair Paul Horgen.

The idea was each member of the new club would put up $500 to cover the costs of scientifically dating a stake, with a target of getting at least 40 analyzed. The end result topped that, with enough money raised to date 46.

A host of individuals, groups and local governments stepped forward to join the club, and on Tuesday each was presented with a certificate of appreciation, including the date of their stake now the results are in.

Greene gave an illustrated presentation on the outcome of the research to coincide with the distribution of certificates at the Black Fin Pub in Comox.

She said the oldest date for a stake was 1360 years, and the youngest around 170 years, all before Europeans settled in the Comox Valley.

Because the stakes had been sampled from various parts of the estuary, what could be gleaned from the results was spectacular, she said. Groups of stakes of a similar age had helped define specific patterns of fish traps from different eras.

“We now have the scientific evidence for something that is extremely rare – maybe unique in North America,” she said.

“The estuary has the merits to be a National Historic Site and these new dates could nail it,” Greene added.

The latest radiocarbon results pushed the earliest trap dates back a further 200 years and had allowed “a whole range of questions to be answered.”

She added: “There’s no doubt now that this is the biggest, most sophisticated and intense fishing site ever recorded in Canada.

“Some of the traps are 140ft across and had the capability of catching immense numbers of fish, capable of feeding a vastly larger population than we imagined.

“The First Nations knew how to fish on a huge scale but they did it sustainably. There’s a lesson to be learned from that.”

Greene said the research to date would now be written up for publication in a professional journal, with full acknowledgement to the community input to the project.

“The community has really supported our research, especially through the Stick in the Mud Club. We could not have reached this point without that support,” she said.

Gillis said he was delighted with the outcome of the fundraising and research and looked forward to the next stage of the project.

When he originally wanted to get people to sponsor a stake and part with $500, he had some difficulty getting traction.

Then he pitched the idea to Comox Mayor Paul Ives who, he recalled, had responded: ‘Why should I be interested in a bunch of sticks in the mud?’

“What he said got me thinking,” said Gillis. “‘Stick in the Mud’ would be a great phrase to draw attention to the project, so the idea of the club was born.”

Ives soon signed up as a member, putting $500 of his own in to the pot and later his council also joined.

At Tuesday’s event, Ives said what had been discovered had really opened his eyes to the estuary’s historic as well as natural significance.

“The magnitude of this is really quite mind boggling,” he commented. “A lot more people were living here at one time than most people realize.”

* Anyone wanting to be involved in the bid to seek National Historic Site status for the estuary is asked to contact Paul Horgen at 250-339-4038 or email p.horgen@utoronto.ca

Original article:


By Philip Round, Comox Valley Echo
December 3, 2010



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Topic: More on the orgin of Maze

My Thoughts:

September 2009, when I started this blog I commented on an article I came across about the progentor of Maze. Below is more information on that subject.

RELATIVES Corn, or maize, descended from a Mexican grass called teosinte.

It is now growing season across the Corn Belt of the United States. Seeds that have just been sown will, with the right mixture of sunshine and rain, be knee-high plants by the Fourth of July and tall stalks with ears ripe for picking by late August.

Corn is much more than great summer picnic food, however. Civilization owes much to this plant, and to the early people who first cultivated it.

For most of human history, our ancestors relied entirely on hunting animals and gathering seeds, fruits, nuts, tubers and other plant parts from the wild for food. It was only about 10,000 years ago that humans in many parts of the world began raising livestock and growing food through deliberate planting. These advances provided more reliable sources of food and allowed for larger, more permanent settlements. Native Americans alone domesticated nine of the most important food crops in the world, including corn, more properly called maize (Zea mays), which now provides about 21 percent of human nutrition across the globe.

But despite its abundance and importance, the biological origin of maize has been a long-running mystery. The bright yellow, mouth-watering treat we know so well does not grow in the wild anywhere on the planet, so its ancestry was not at all obvious. Recently, however, the combined detective work of botanists, geneticists and archeologists has been able to identify the wild ancestor of maize, to pinpoint where the plant originated, and to determine when early people were cultivating it and using it in their diets.

The greatest surprise, and the source of much past controversy in corn archeology, was the identification of the ancestor of maize. Many botanists did not see any connection between maize and other living plants. Some concluded that the crop plant arose through the domestication by early agriculturalists of a wild maize that was now extinct, or at least undiscovered.

However, a few scientists working during the first part of the 20th century uncovered evidence that they believed linked maize to what, at first glance, would seem to be a very unlikely parent, a Mexican grass called teosinte. Looking at the skinny ears of teosinte, with just a dozen kernels wrapped inside a stone-hard casing, it is hard to see how they could be the forerunners of corn cobs with their many rows of juicy, naked kernels. Indeed, teosinte was at first classified as a closer relative of rice than of maize.

But George W. Beadle, while a graduate student at Cornell University in the early 1930s, found that maize and teosinte had very similar chromosomes. Moreover, he made fertile hybrids between maize and teosinte that looked like intermediates between the two plants. He even reported that he could get teosinte kernels to pop. Dr. Beadle concluded that the two plants were members of the same species, with maize being the domesticated form of teosinte. Dr. Beadle went on to make other, more fundamental discoveries in genetics for which he shared the Nobel Prize in 1958. He later became chancellor and president of the University of Chicago.

Despite Dr. Beadle’s illustrious reputation, his theory still remained in doubt three decades after he proposed it. The differences between the two plants appeared to many scientists to be too great to have evolved in just a few thousand years of domestication. So, after he formally retired, Dr. Beadle returned to the issue and sought ways to gather more evidence. As a great geneticist, he knew that one way to examine the parentage of two individuals was to cross them and then to cross their offspring and see how often the parental forms appeared. He crossed maize and teosinte, then crossed the hybrids, and grew 50,000 plants. He obtained plants that resembled teosinte and maize at a frequency that indicated that just four or five genes controlled the major differences between the two plants.

Dr. Beadle’s results showed that maize and teosinte were without any doubt remarkably and closely related. But to pinpoint the geographic origins of maize, more definitive forensic techniques were needed. This was DNA typing, exactly the same technology used by the courts to determine paternity.

In order to trace maize’s paternity, botanists led by my colleague John Doebley of the University of Wisconsin rounded up more than 60 samples of teosinte from across its entire geographic range in the Western Hemisphere and compared their DNA profile with all varieties of maize. They discovered that all maize was genetically most similar to a teosinte type from the tropical Central Balsas River Valley of southern Mexico, suggesting that this region was the “cradle” of maize evolution. Furthermore, by calculating the genetic distance between modern maize and Balsas teosinte, they estimated that domestication occurred about 9,000 years ago.

These genetic discoveries inspired recent archeological excavations of the Balsas region that sought evidence of maize use and to better understand the lifestyles of the people who were planting and harvesting it. Researchers led by Anthony Ranere of Temple University and Dolores Piperno of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History excavated caves and rock shelters in the region, searching for tools used by their inhabitants, maize starch grains and other microscopic evidence of maize.

In the Xihuatoxtla shelter, they discovered an array of stone milling tools with maize residue on them. The oldest tools were found in a layer of deposits that were 8,700 years old. This is the earliest physical evidence of maize use obtained to date, and it coincides very nicely with the time frame of maize domestication estimated from DNA analysis.

The most impressive aspect of the maize story is what it tells us about the capabilities of agriculturalists 9,000 years ago. These people were living in small groups and shifting their settlements seasonally. Yet they were able to transform a grass with many inconvenient, unwanted features into a high-yielding, easily harvested food crop. The domestication process must have occurred in many stages over a considerable length of time as many different, independent characteristics of the plant were modified.

The most crucial step was freeing the teosinte kernels from their stony cases. Another step was developing plants where the kernels remained intact on the cobs, unlike the teosinte ears, which shatter into individual kernels. Early cultivators had to notice among their stands of plants variants in which the nutritious kernels were at least partially exposed, or whose ears held together better, or that had more rows of kernels, and they had to selectively breed them. It is estimated that the initial domestication process that produced the basic maize form required at least several hundred to perhaps a few thousand years.

Every August, I thank these pioneer geneticists for their skill and patience.

Original Article:



By Sean B. Carroll

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Topic: Avocados and Millet

Avocado Tree

Certain foods, such as avocados and millet, have been associated with religion, healing, love, mortality, status and beauty. Look through any ancient literature, and you will see illuminating accounts of various foods and their “magical” powers on the human mind, soul and body. Therefore, it is no surprise that many of these myths and folklores play an important role in our own food choices today.

Many of these claims date back to as far as 2000 B.C. Whether there is any accuracy to these references, no one can really say. While a lot of these accounts cannot be proven, one thing is certain: the two foods featured here are of great nutritional importance.

Avocados – Ancient Aztec, Mayan and Inca cultures believed that avocados nourished the body externally as well as internally.

Mayan folklore tells how the famous Indian, Seriokai, was able to trace his unfaithful wife to the end of the world. The lovers adored avocados and ate them wherever they went. Seriokai followed the young trees, which sprang from the discarded seeds.

In Mexico, the avocado has long been considered an aphrodisiac. An old Aztec legend describes how young and beautiful maidens were kept in their rooms for protection during the height of the avocado season.

Nutritionally speaking, the avocado is good source of Protein, Vitamins A, C and E, and the B Vitamins thiamin, riboflavin and niacin and the mineral magnesium and other trace minerals. It is also high in potassium. (One cup of avocado cubes has about 900 mg.) Avocados are low in calories, contain no cholesterol and are low in sodium, making this plant a good choice for people on low sodium and low cholesterol diets. Moreover, since the avocado possesses natural oils, it helps lower the bad cholesterol. It is easy to understand why these ancient cultures made such claims to this unique fruit.

Millet Grain ready to harvest

Millet – Once known as Panicum Spontaneum, millet has been growing as a cultivated plant since Neolithic times. As early as 2700 B.C., millet was ranked among the five most vital plants in China and was used as part of their religious ceremonies. The Romans used millet to produce a kind of mix porridge.

Due to millet’s inability to grow in the winter, this tiny, round yellowish grain was not able to compete for the rank of a principal crop as were barley and wheat in certain regions of the Mediterranean. Adry hot climate and an arid soil were important if the cultivation of millet was to reach its fullest potential.

Today, the United States grows millet freely, but summer heat is not sufficient to bring the grain to its complete perfection. However, the use of millet in America has been adapted to produce a variety of staple foods namely, flour, syrup and bread and secondary products such as alcoholic beverages, fuel and paper. Millet is also used in feeding livestock, poultry and wild birds.

Millet is important in Africa, the Far East and India since the bulk of their food consumption is from grain. North Africa, the East Indies and Canada are just a few of the regions that grow millet.

This ancient and nourishing grain is rich in carbohydrates, protein, fat, the B Vitamins: thiamin, riboflavin, and minerals. Millet also contains all of the essential amino acids. This grain can be purchased in any health food store and most Asian food markets. Moreover, because of its ability to increase in volume during cooking, millet is a great old grain to have around the kitchen.

Original Article:


July,2008 by hmcs

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Topic: No time to Cook?

Elite priests living in a spectacular spiritual outpost built high on a southwestern Colorado mountain ridge a thousand years ago likely had their meals catered by commoners living in the valley below, according to preliminary new research by a University of Colorado at Boulder archaeology team.

New findings from the Chimney Rock archaeological site near Pagosa Springs, Colo., suggest that resident elites were dining on elk and deer, unlike the workers who constructed the site, who were eating smaller game, according to CU-Boulder Professor Steve Lekson, who directed the excavation. The royalty at Chimney Rock — an “outlier” of the brawny Chaco Canyon culture centered 90 miles away in northern New Mexico that ruled the Southwest with a heavy hand from about A.D. 850 to 1150 — were likely tended to through a complex social, economic and political network, Lekson said.

“While our analysis has only begun, there might have been two different groups at Chimney Rock — those that built it and the elites that inhabited it,” said Lekson, curator of anthropology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. “It looks like the elites were calling the shots.”

Chimney Rock is one of scores of Chaco outliers in the Southwest and perhaps its most dramatic, seated at 7,600 feet in altitude above the San Juan Basin. Located 1,000 feet above the nearest water source, the site — marked by a pair of twin rock spires — harbors a Chacoan-like “Great House” and great kiva that some archaeologists believe were built as part of a lunar observatory, said Lekson.

The 2009 Chimney Rock excavations were the first at the site since the early 1970s, when CU-Boulder archaeologists led by Professor Frank Eddy excavated one room of the Great House. In the late 1980s, calculations by CU-Boulder Professor Kim Malville indicated that construction periods of wooden ventilator shafts at Chimney Rock coincided with events called “lunar standstills.” Such events occur about every 18 years when the full moon rises at its northernmost point on the horizon for several days at a time over a two-year period — in this case, the point between the two spires as viewed from the great kiva.

The 2009 project — which included the partial excavation of two rooms in the Chimney Rock Great House — turned up pottery, stone tools, animal bones, the remains of ancient timbers and scores of burned corn ears, said Brenda Todd, a CU-Boulder doctoral student supervising the excavations. Although the site’s rough occupation dates — about 1075 to 1130 — were previously calculated using tree-ring dates from 15 timbers, additional wood beam segments recovered this summer should help to pinpoint the distinct building episodes at Chimney Rock, Todd said.

“There seems to have been a ritual connection at Chimney Rock that was part of the mystique of the Chaco culture, and it included a desire for power over the cosmos,” said Todd. “Harnessing that power by taking over this spiritually significant piece of landscape seems to have been an important thing for the Chaco elite.”

The CU-Boulder team is making full use of new archaeological technologies developed in the past few years that should reveal more about life on the ridge, said Todd. The team hopes an analysis of mineral signatures within individual corn samples recovered at Chimney Rock, for example, will reveal not only where the corn was grown, but the specific sources of water it was drawing on from around the Southwest, she said.

Although few Pueblo people were living in the area prior to A.D. 850, they began moving into the nearby valleys once Chimney Rock was established, said Todd. “I think the people drawn to the area came in to serve the elites at Chimney Rock. And I think the elites who were living here probably came from Chaco Canyon.”

The link between Chimney Rock and Chaco was strong, said Todd. Timbers used in the massive Chaco Canyon Great Houses and great kivas may have originated from the Chimney Rock region, since there are few pine trees around Chaco Canyon. Todd also speculated that deer and elk harvested from the forests around Chimney Rock may have been delivered to Chaco Canyon, as evidenced by bones found in ancient Chaco trash pits.

Large fireboxes at Chimney Rock likely were used to signal Chacoans at the summit of Huerfano Mesa, a plateau hosting ancient fireboxes some 30 miles to the southeast of Chimney Rock and in sight of Chaco Canyon, said Lekson. “There was almost certainly line-of-sight communication between Chimney Rock, Huerfano Mesa and Chaco Canyon,” said Lekson. While there is no Chaco Great House on Huerfano Mesa, “elaborate fireboxes and shrines suggest that somebody was there to ‘pick up the phone’ and relay messages.”

Unlike Chaco Canyon — which was the hub of the Southwest Pueblo culture for about 300 years — Chimney Rock’s occupation was “short and sweet,” lasting only about 50 years, said Lekson. For reasons still unknown, the Chimney Rock occupants abandoned the site about 1130, never to return.

CU-Boulder anthropology graduate student Kellem Throgmorton, who worked on the excavation of the two Great House rooms this year, said Chimney Rock inhabitants apparently burned the rooms at the end of the occupation. “It was standard practice for these people to close a site by burning the roof and letting the whole thing collapse down,” he said. “The big surprise was that the rooms had not been cleared out completely before abandonment — there were still items inside.”

Todd said one of the rooms contained an intact pot that had been fixed into the floor and wall as a permanent fixture and also contained the jawbone of a large bear, an animal that had spiritual significance to the Chaco culture. “By all indications, this was a place for a few special people,” Todd said.

Lekson said the Chaco culture — which held political sway over a region twice the size of Ohio for centuries — likely began disintegrating into warfare by the middle of the 12th century. He believes a spiritual tug-of-war involving Chacoans triggered some to migrate north toward Aztec, N.M., then later south to a site known as Paquime in northern Mexico on a vertical line he calls “The Chaco Meridian.” Thousands of other Chaco people likely split off and moved to other pueblos south of Chaco Canyon, Lekson believes.

The CU-Boulder archaeological project at Chimney Rock began May 24 and was completed July 5, part of a larger effort by federal, state and private groups to investigate, restore and stabilize the site. The partnership includes the U.S. Forest Service and the volunteer Chimney Rock Interpretive Association, which conducts guided walking tours at the site during the summer.

In addition to Todd and Throgmorton, the CU-Boulder team included graduate students Alison Bredthauer, Erin Baxter and Jakob Sedig, as well as CU-Boulder graduate Jason Chuipka, now an archaeologist with Woods Canyon Archaeological Consultants Inc. of Yellow Jacket, Colo. “This is a tremendous opportunity for our students,” said Lekson. “This is a famous site, and probably no other archaeologists will get the opportunity to work here again in our lifetimes.”

CU-Boulder has been involved in Southwest archaeological excavations for nearly a century. Building on three decades of intensive research in the region, Lekson published a book this June titled “A History of the Ancient Southwest.” His wife, Professor Catherine Cameron of CU-Boulder’s anthropology department, published a book in fall 2008 titled “Chaco and After in the Northern San Juan.”

Original Article:


By Jim Scott

CU Office of News Services

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Topic: Fire pits

Oblivious to the mud-covered construction machinery rumbling in the background, dirt-smeared archeologists and Songhees Nation members have been chipping away at a 2,850-year-old aboriginal site, one of the oldest to be found on Vancouver Island, experts say.

“This find is quite rare,” said Shane Bond, a senior archeologist with Victoria-based I. R. Wilson Consultants, the company leading the archeological work. “I was terribly excited; my adrenalin was jumping.”

The researchers have been meticulously sifting through remains of a large below-ground house, clay oven and fire pit unearthed at a housing development, about 200 metres from the Esquimalt Lagoon in Colwood, a Victoria suburb.

Only a handful of similar “house pits” have been uncovered on the West Coast: two at Crescent Beach near White Rock, one in Sequim, Wash., and another near Port Alberni, Mr. Bond said.

University of Victoria professor Nancy Jean Turner said this find is priceless because there are so few intact sites of this age in the area.

“It’s an amazing encyclopedia, waiting for someone who knows the code to crack it,” said Ms. Turner, a specialist in indigenous peoples.

The site was exposed in November when a trench for a water line was mistakenly dug in a space considered out of bounds for development. Earlier sample excavations indicated the area was archeologically sensitive.

The 850 BC dwelling was detected where evidence of house posts was easily seen via black dirt patterns against lighter-coloured soil.

The circular fire pit, another remarkable find, was marked by an extremely well-entrenched ring of upright stones where red, oxidized earth provided proof that flame was used for cooking and perhaps for heat.

“Most habitat sites are right on the waterfront, so this is unusual,” archeologist Kira Kristensen said of the site under what once was a farm and orchard.

In 850 BC, coastal aboriginals relied on fishing so they lived in cedar houses close to the water, not in below-ground structures typically found in B.C.’s Interior.

Archeologists are speculating that this inland site was used to prepare camas lily bulbs, which would have been roasted and eaten, Mr. Bond said.

Over the next eight years, close to 600 condominiums and townhouses will circle the historical area in a 20-hectare development known as Aquattro.

Working at what will become high-end housing has been uplifting and encouraging for Songhees Nation member Ron Sam, whose job is to document and preserve what is found.

“This is history I can show my young guy,” he said, referring to his four-year-old son. “It gives me the strength to carry on every day.”

Mr. Sam’s co-worker, Songhees member David Dick, has photographed artifacts with his cellphone camera.

More than 600 items – including arrowheads, spear points, small blades and wedges, some made of obsidian (volcanic glass) – have been unearthed.

Some were shipped to a Florida lab for carbon-14 dating, which revealed the 2,850-year age.

When Mr. Dick gets home after a day’s work, covered in dirt, he shows his three young daughters the day’s discoveries.

“I get to know who we were. Books can only say so much. When you see it, it has a deeper meaning,” he said.

Archeological evidence suggests that aboriginal cultures settled on the West Coast about 10,000 years ago.

The Aquattro site existed in what is known as the Locarno Beach period, defined by large, semi-permanent villages, food storage, basket-making, stone knives, elaborate rituals and by middens – massive piles of clam shells, fish bones, cooking stones and broken tools.

Aquattro’s developers, despite the archeological holdup, have not interfered with the crew’s work, due to be finished in a few days. B.C.’s Heritage Conservation Act sets out mandatory regulations for those who find archeological remains on their property.

Aquattro is wholly responsible for research costs and measures to protect the site, Mr. Bond said. His company’s bill could total about $170,000.

After research is complete, the site, roughly seven metres by six metres, will be “capped” to protect it.

Cloth, similar to landscape fabric, will cover the area and dirt will be placed on top. Human remains have not been found, Ms. Kristensen said.

In the future, archeologists will be able to access the buried house and fire pit.

“I’m happy they’re not building on top of the site,” Mr. Dick said. “Most places, they want us to remove everything and build on top.”

The Royal B.C. Museum is holding artifacts for the Songhees, who plan to display them.

And anyone thinking of stealing relics is warned that 24-hour surveillance is operating. Mr. Bond said.

“It’s happened in the past; artifacts get sold on eBay.”

Original article:

By Shannon Moneo


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Topic: Aztec turkey-

More than 1,500 years before Christopher Columbus and his crew sailed to the New World, Native Americans had already domesticated turkeys twice: first in south-central Mexico at around 800 B.C. and again in what is now the southwestern U.S. at about 200 B.C., according to a new study.

The two instances of domestication appear to have been separate, based on DNA analysis of ancient turkey remains. However, the different Native American groups could have been in contact with each other, sharing turkey-raising tips.

While turkeys today conjure up thoughts of bountiful roast meat meals and deli sandwiches, Native Americans were not driven by their dinner needs, according to the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Interestingly, the domestic turkeys were initially raised for their feathers, which were used in rituals and ceremonies, as well as to make feather robes or blankets,” lead author Camilla Speller told Discovery News. “Only later, around 1100 A.D., did the domestic turkeys become an important food source for the Ancestral Puebloans.”

Speller’s colleague, Dongya Yang, said the new study came together when two groups joined forces. Their group was busy studying ancient turkey bones, while another research team from Washington State University was analyzing early turkey coprolites, i.e. fossilized dung from the birds.

The scientists combined their efforts for the study, which involved DNA analysis of 149 turkey bones and 29 coprolites from 38 different archaeological sites.

Speller said their investigations revealed that pre-Aztec people around south-central Mexico first domesticated turkeys. The birds appear to either have either been penned or “allowed to roam around the village,” according to Speller.

The southwestern turkeys, on the other hand, “were raised by the Ancestral Puebloans who lived on the Colorado Plateau, around the Four Corners region of the southwest United States,” Speller said.

These Puebloans, also known as the Anasazi, appear to have not only raised domestic turkeys, but also incorporated local wild turkeys into their domestic stocks, according to Yang.

DNA tests determined that the southwestern domestic turkey breed probably is most closely related to the eastern and Rio Grande wild turkeys that are still found in the U.S. today. It is possible, however, that the original southwestern domestic breed has since become extinct.

“It seems that only the Aztec turkey breed survived into the present day,” Speller said. “It’s fascinating to think that the turkeys that we eat today were ultimately descended form the turkey breeds raised by the Aztecs.”

The researchers weren’t able to precisely identify these Aztec turkey breeds, but they ruled out at least one early progenitor: the South Mexican domestic turkey, which previously was thought to be a mother of all modern domestic turkeys.

The connection to today’s domestic turkeys is a complicated one, because when the Spanish arrived in the New World, they transported the Aztec turkey breeds from Mexico to Europe, where they were a huge hit.

“Over the following two centuries, several varieties of turkey were developed in Europe. And then in the 18th century, these European turkey breeds were imported back to the United States, where they eventually became the forerunners to the turkeys we eat today,” Speller explained.

Anthropologist R.G. Matson of the University of British Columbia is an expert in the archaeology of the southwestern United States.

He told Discovery News that Speller and her team “have provided convincing evidence that two turkey domestication events took place.” Matson, however, indicated that questions remain.

“Clearly more wild, museum and archaeological samples need to be analyzed to fill out the history of turkey domestication in the Southwest and elsewhere,” he said.

Original article:

Discovery news

Jennifer Viegas


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Topic Prehistoric Food:

TAKE a trip, if you will, down memory lane. As you go, try to recall the foods, the meals, the various animal remains that were cheerfully pushed down your throat by parents and loved ones in the name of good nutrition. Now consider these dishes: fish soup made from an entire fish, including the head and tail; grilled ox tails; slott (made from cod roe and flour); boiled samphire (a marsh plant); laverbread (bread made from seaweed); and boiled marrow bones. Feel any differently about your earliest food experiences?

As frightening and unappealing as these dishes may sound, for our early ancestors they constituted everyday meals. According to Prehistoric Cookery, a new book published by English Heritage, such meals were eaten with gusto by early man. In her book, author Jane Renfrew argues that these recipes are not only more palatable than we might assume, but that they provide historians with a valuable insight into what nutrition was like hundreds of years ago. Through explaining the origins of our diet, its sources and how and what went into everyday meals, Renfrew seeks to disprove the widely held belief that our forebears’ diet was unremittingly dull, tedious and tasteless.

It is worth noting that not all recipes and foodstuffs in the book date from pre-history. In fact, most would have been devised by those living in Bronze Age Britain, after the introduction of agriculture. Renfrew acknowledges this and points to the difficulty in obtaining ingredients used in the palaeolithic period (800,000 to 10,000BC), such as rhino joints or mammoth steaks. There is also a dearth of archaeological evidence.

Moreover, prehistoric humans are understood to have been huntergatherers; in otherwords they ate what they found or hunted, with little deviation or culinary fuss.

So what, if anything, can we extract from examining early man’s diet? Is it anything more than just interesting reading for the historically minded? The hunter-gatherers’ diet is sometimes held up as a lost idea; one theory even has it that people of certain blood types suffer by not following such a diet. Is there anything our ancestors’ diet can teach us?

Renfrew believes so. For a start, the diet clearly demonstrates the development of humans’ relationships with food, tastes and cooking. It also teaches us that early humans in the remotest parts of Scotland and England wasted nothing. Regardless of the animal on the chopping block, everything was used – udders, tripe, brains, head, feet, tails, blood and even gristle were made into dishes in the absence of any alternatives.

Replicating such an approach to cooking may be unnecessary today because of the wealth of alternatives, but it stands as a reminder that however repulsive eating a dog, rat or hamster appears to us in western Europe, since the earliest recordings of our dietary habits, people have eaten all manner of things to survive and satisfy their appetite.

The simplicity of meals is another characteristic Renfrew draws to the reader’s attention. Rather than cooking with elaborate sauces, spices or liquids, meat and fish was roasted with little interference on an open fire or spit. As dissatisfaction with fussy, highly processed and often unhealthy western meals grows, many, including Renfrew, hark back wistfully to this natural, rustic style of cooking.

However, Brian Ratcliffe, professor of nutrition at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, believes we ought to be wary of over- romanticising our ancestors’ diet. He maintains that hunter- gatherers – for instance palaeolithic man – had a nutrient- deficient diet compared to 21st-century man. The clearest evidence of this, he says, is that humans did not live for very long.

“It is important to realise that whatever you are discussing about prehistoric nutrition and diet is speculative because of a shortage of written evidence, ” he says. “The most of what we can speculate about early man is that his diet would have been very restrictive. We are not talking about settled people; these early peoples would have lived nomadic lives. They would have had to follow the animals that they hunted for food. They were also restricted to the seasons; [people living in Britain] would have moved north in the summer to find food, fruits and berries, while in the winter they would have moved south.

“Most of what we know was that they had to live hand to mouth. At that time they did not grow old – people were only living for a few decades, long enough to reproduce the next generation. I think there’s a lot of nonsense about modern man’s diet being so bad and looking to early man for lessons. Early man’s diet, particularly later when pastoralisation began, was full of nutritional deprivation, full of nutritional inadequacies. In order to eat, they had to follow the food supply and that was very changeable.”

With the introduction of agriculture from 800BC onwards, people moved from being hunter-gatherers to farmers, taking on husbandry of animals so they could control the supply of food. Professor Ratcliffe, who also works for the Nutrition Society, says that while the food supply was more controlled than before, it was far from ideal. “As humans move into the agricultural period, they moved to using a staple food, ” he explains. “This staple was a cropbased food which provided most of the energy and protein needs. But what we see here is that there was a trade-off taking place. Growing crops provided some constancy in food supply, but the problem was that people had to stay in one area and so they were derived of the benefits of gleaning foods, like fruits and so on, from other areas as their hunter-gatherer ancestors would have done. The upshot of this was that they became very reliant on these staple foods.

“The other problem with this reliance on one staple is it tended to be focused on one or two grains. They did not have the multiplicity of crops that we have now, and their yields would have been much lower. People would have had to expend a lot of energy for relatively low-yielding crops.”

Professor Ratcliffe maintains the most important lesson to be learned from our ancestors is that a restricted diet is not desirable. “The main lesson is that as humans we need a huge variety of food from a range of different sources and food groups, ” he says. “We can see from early man’s experience that it is not good enough to rely upon single sources and single groups of foods because they did not give them the nutrients they needed. [In the Iron Age] the diet was largely meat and cereal-based and would have been nutritionally deficient in vitamin C, and they would certainly have had problems with calcium and vitamin D. There would still have been deprivations, crops failures and famines resulting from those failures, and disease within animals. In other words, [farming man] had an existence that was full of supply problems, like his predecessors.”

Dr Kerri McPherson, lecturer in evolutionary psychology at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, argues that from an evolutionary perspective eating behaviours in mankind have not changed that significantly. “Humans have developed different foods to eat, ” she says. “We have moved away from natural food to a more processed diet, a process which started with the introduction of agriculture about 100,000 years ago. But we have not physiologically evolved to cope with the change. Basically our environmental evolution has moved too quickly for the human species. The psychological mechanisms involved with food and eating behaviours have not caught up with the change in foods that we eat. We have been designed to cope with feast or famine, but the problem is that we don’t live in those times any more. The psychology that drives us to eat is still preparing us for the famine, encouraging us to overeat.”

Professor Ratcliffe adds: “For our generation the threats to life and quality of life depend on eating too much salt or fat. Early [Iron Age] man was not concerned about such matters because he did not live long enough to be so. When man started using salt to preserve food, he was not worrying about the effects of eating too much of it. Today our concerns are very different; we are focused on eradicating diseases like cancer and how different food could help that as well as reducing a person’s risk of getting it.”

Prehistoric Cookery, Recipes and History, by Jane Renfrew, English Heritage, GBP7.99.

Original article:

Source: Herald, The; Glasgow (UK)

Eleanor Cowie



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Topic: Old method-New farming

Fifteen hundred years ago, tribes people from the central Amazon basin mixed their soil with charcoal derived from animal bone and tree bark. Today, at the site of this charcoal deposit, scientists have found some of the richest, most fertile soil in the world. Now this ancient, remarkably simple farming technique seems far ahead of the curve, holding promise as a carbon-negative strategy to rein in world hunger as well as greenhouse  gasses.

At the 235th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, scientists report that charcoal derived from heated biomass has an unprecedented ability to improve the fertility of soil — one that surpasses compost, animal manure, and other well-known soil conditioners.

They also suggest that this so-called “biochar” profoundly enhances the natural carbon seizing ability of soil. Dubbed “black gold agriculture,” scientists say this “revolutionary” farming technique can provide a cheap, straight-forward strategy to reduce greenhouse gases by trapping them in charcoal-laced soil.

“Charcoal fertilization can permanently increase soil organic matter content and improve soil quality, persisting in soil for hundreds to thousands of years,” Mingxin Guo, Ph.D., and colleagues report. In what they describe as a “new and pioneering” ACS report — the first systematic investigation of soil improvement by charcoal fertilization — Guo found that soils receiving charcoal produced from organic wastes were much looser, absorbed significantly more water and nutrients and produced higher crop biomass. The authors, with Delaware State University, say “the results demonstrate that charcoal amendment is a revolutionary approach for long-term soil quality improvement.”

Soil deterioration from depletion of organic matter is an increasingly serious global problem that contributes to hunger and malnutrition. Often a result of unsustainable farming, overuse of chemical fertilizers and drought, the main weapons to combat the problem –compost, animal manure and crop debris — decompose rapidly.

“Earth’s soil is the largest terrestrial pool of carbon,” Guo said. “In other words, most of the earth’s carbon is fixed in soil.” But if this soil is intensively cultivated by tillage and chemical fertilization, organic matter in soil will be quickly decomposed into carbon dioxide by soil microbes and released into the atmosphere, leaving the soil compacted and nutrient-poor.

Applying raw organic materials to soil only provides a temporary solution, since the applied organic matter decomposes quickly. Converting this unutilized raw material into biochar, a non-toxic and stable fertilizer, could keep carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere, says Guo.

“Speaking in terms of fertility and productivity, the soil quality will be improved. It is a long-term effect. After you apply it once, it will be there for hundreds of years,” according to Guo. With its porous structure and high nutrient- and water-holding capabilities, biochar could become an extremely attractive option for commercial farmers and home gardeners looking for long-term soil improvement.

The researchers planted winter wheat in pots of soil in a greenhouse. Some pots were amended with two percent biochar, generated from readily available ingredients like tree leaves, corn stalk and wood chips. The other pots contained ordinary soil.

The biochar-infused soil showed vastly improved germination and growing rates compared to regular soil. Guo says that even a one-percent charcoal treatment would lead to improved crop yield.

Guo is “positive” that this ground-breaking farming technique can help feed countries with poor soil quality. “We hope this technology will be extended worldwide,” says Guo.

“The production of current arable land could be significantly improved to provide more food and fiber for the growing populations. We want to call it the second agricultural revolution, or black gold revolution!”

He suggests that charcoal production has been practiced for at least 3000 years. But until now, nobody realized that this charcoal could improve soil fertility until archaeologists stumbled on the aforementioned Amazonian soil several years ago.

Biochar production is straightforward, involving a heating process known as pyrolysis. First, organic residue such as tree leaves and wood chips is packed into a metal container and sealed. Then, through a small hole on top, the container is heated and the material burns. The raw organic matter is transformed into black charcoal. Smokes generated during pyrolysis can also be collected and cooled down to form bio-oil, a renewable energy source, says Guo.

In lieu of patenting biochar, Guo says he is most interested in extending the technology into practice as soon as possible. To that end, his colleagues at Delaware State University are investigating a standardized production procedure for biochar. They also foresee long-term field studies are needed to validate and demonstrate the technology. Guo noted that downsides of biochar include transportation costs resulting from its bulk mass and a need to develop new tools to spread the granular fertilizer over large tracts of farmland.

The researchers are about to embark on a five-year study on the effect of “black gold” on spinach, green peppers, tomatoes and other crops. They seek the long-term effects of biochar fertilization on soil carbon changes, crop productivity and its effect of the soil microorganism community.

“Through this long-term work, we will show to people that biochar fertilization will significantly change our current conventional farming concepts,” says Guo.

Original article:

Science Daily

April 15, 2008

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Topic: Salt -Storehouse

A 2,000-YEAR-OLD Roman salthouse has been discovered during archaeological excavations at the planned £1.5billion port at Coryton.

Archaeologists who made the find on the 34-acre site are set to unveil the full extent of the discovery on Tuesday, September 15.

The site where the mine was found is due to become a wildlife area, protecting a range of birds, animals and plants to offset any disruption caused during the construction of the port.

Xavier Woodward, a spokesman for DP World – which is the global company behind the port development – confirmed a Roman salt roundhouse had been discovered. He said: “The find has not been classed as of national significance, but is of regional value.

“It was discovered there was a Roman salthouse on the mudflats. The mudflats would be left covered in salt as tides went in and out and this would be collected and shipped to London. It was quite a valuable commodity at the time and a key industry for Essex.”

The site will soon be filled in and the seawall broken to create the wildlife wetland.

The port would be the UK’s first deep sea port and is the most significant UK port development for 20 years.

Work to dredge the estuary in order to deepen it for supertankers has not yet begun, although it was planned to begin in March.

The hold-up has been blamed on the economic recession and a drop in the container trade. When it is built by the Dubai-based company it is expected to create more than 12,000 jobs.

Original Article

By Christine Sexton

Echo News, 14th September 2009

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Topic: Fire-Cooking?

My Thoughts:

When discoveries such as these are found, especially where there are  burned bones( animal we can only hope), can we dare to assume that these people cooked their food? I hope the evidence confirms that they did.

I have been reading a fascinating book, “ Catching Fire, How Cooking made us Human“, by Richard Wrangham. It is worth the read. This book will make you rethink how important cooking and fire was to ancient man, the foods he consumed, and his ultimate development.


Evidence for Use of Fire Found at Peking Man Site


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