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  Dairy-related activity differed across regions in Neolithic culture and may have impacted culture spread and animal domestication. Martin Abegglen, Wikimedia Commons


Dairy-related activity differed across regions in Neolithic culture and may have impacted culture spread and animal domestication. Martin Abegglen, Wikimedia Commons

Original article:

popular-archaeology.com

An archeological study* finds regional differences in the level of dairy-related activity in early Neolithic farming communities across the Mediterranean region. Previous research suggests that the production of dairy products such as milk in Neolithic Mediterranean communities could have been an impetus for animal domestication. To study the rise of dairy production in the Mediterranean region, Mélanie Roffet-Salque and colleagues analyzed lipid residues on more than 550 ceramic sherds and osteo-archeological data on age-at-death for domesticated animals from 82 sites in the northern Mediterranean and Near East that dated between the seventh and fifth millennia BC. In combination with previously published data, the ceramic and osteo-archaeological analyses revealed regional differences in the level of dairy-related activity in Early Neolithic farming communities across the Mediterranean region. Moreover, milk residues in ceramic artifacts from both the east and west of the region contrasted with data from sites in northern Greece, where high frequencies of pig bones indicated a reliance on meat production. According to the authors, except for parts of mainland Greece, dairy production was likely practiced across the Mediterranean region from the onset of agriculture and might have contributed to the spread of culture and animal domestication in the region.

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wheat-produce

 

Cereals were domesticated in Syria long before they appeared in Iraq or Iran.

Ancient plant remains suggest that the domestication of cereals, which led to the beginning of agriculture, appeared at different times in the Levant and in the eastern Fertile Crescent. Some countries, such as ancient-days Turkey, Iran and Iraq, saw Neolithic populations exploiting legumes, fruits and nuts long before they cultivated cereals.

Past studies have highlighted two main hypotheses to describe and explain the beginnings of plant domestication. In the 1990s, the belief was that domesticated plants had first appeared in Turkey, and that this was a rapid process that spread to the neighbouring regions in a short space of time.

In contrast, the recent dominant theory is that cereal domestication was a protracted process that developed all over the Middle East from 11,600 to 10,700 years ago. However, it remained unclear whether domestication happened at the same time in the different countries or if there was regional diversity.

In the new research, published in PNAS, researchers have tried to answer this question. They have shown that the cultivation of cereals during the Neolithic was only common in the southern-central Levant – such as in southern Syria. It took more time to arrive in other regions of the eastern Fertile Crescent – such as Iraq, Iran and southern Turkey.

Legumes rather cereals

The researchers started working at the archaeological Neolithic site of Tell Qarassa North in southern Syria. There, plant remains suggest that by 10,700 years ago cereals such as barley were being cultivated in important proportions. The study presents it as one of the earliest sites in the Middle East with evidence of morphologically domesticated wheat and barley.

But when the scientists from the University of the Basque Country and the University of Copenhagen looked at the evidence from sites located in the eastern Fertile Crescent, they found no evidence of similar practices at this time.

Their analysis suggests that domesticated-type cereals only appeared around 400 to 1,000 years later in Iraq, Iran and southern Turkey. Legumes, fruits and nuts likely dominated people’s diets until then.

“It was surprising to discover that despite being considered very important, and despite their dominant role in our agriculture, domesticated cereals might not have been so important in Neolithic times, in many regions” study author and archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui told IBTimes UK.

“On most of the archaeological sites, researchers usually focus on cereal remains despite the archaeological often being quite poor. I would like to shift this focus and have us look at the record for other plants, because that may help us better understand ancient cultures and better characterise their agriculture”.

The study thus emphasises the need to re-assess the importance that scientists attribute to cereals such as wheat and barley and to investigate past exploitation of other plants such as lentils, beans and peas because they were potentially crucial to the diets of people living in the eastern Fertile Crescent more than 10,000 years ago.

The site of Tell Qarassa North where researchers found evidence of cereal domestication.Juan José Ibañez

The site of Tell Qarassa North where researchers found evidence of cereal domestication.Juan José Ibañez

 

Original Article:

ibtimes.co.uk

By Léa Surugue December 5

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A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls – a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the builders of nearby Stonehenge during the 25th century BC.

A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls – a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the builders of nearby Stonehenge during the 25th century BC.

Original Article:

heritagedaily.com

 

A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls – a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the builders of nearby Stonehenge during the 25th century BC.

Together with researchers at the University of Sheffield, detailed analysis of pottery and animal bones has uncovered evidence of organised feasts featuring barbeque-style roasting, and an unexpected pattern in how foods were distributed and shared across the site.

Chemically analysing food residues remaining on several hundred fragments of pottery, the York team found differences in the way pots were used. Pots deposited in residential areas were found to be used for cooking animal products including pork, beef and dairy, whereas pottery from the ceremonial spaces was used predominantly for dairy.

Such spatial patterning could mean that milk, yoghurts and cheeses were perceived as fairly exclusive foods only consumed by a select few, or that milk products – today often regarded as a symbol of purity – were used in public ceremonies.

Unusually, there was very little evidence of plant food preparation at any part of the site. The main evidence points to mass animal consumption, particularly of pigs. Further analysis of animal bones, conducted at the University of Sheffield, found that many pigs were killed before reaching their maximum weight. This is strong evidence of planned autumn and winter slaughtering and feasting-like consumption.

The main methods of cooking meat are thought to be boiling and roasting in pots probably around indoor hearths, and larger barbeque-style roasting outdoors – the latter evidenced by distinctive burn patterns on animal bones.

Bones from all parts of the animal skeleton were found, indicating that livestock was walked to the site rather than introduced as joints of meat. Isotopic analysis indicates that cattle originated from many different locations, some far away from the site. This is significant as it would require orchestration of a large number of volunteers likely drawn from far and wide. The observed patterns of feasting do not fit with a slave-based society where labour was forced and coerced, as some have suggested.

Dr Oliver Craig, Reader in Archaeological Science at the University of York and lead author on the paper, said: “Evidence of food-sharing and activity-zoning at Durrington Walls shows a greater degree of culinary organisation than was expected for this period of British prehistory. The inhabitants and many visitors to this site possessed a shared understanding of how foods should be prepared, consumed and disposed. This, together with evidence of feasting, suggests Durrington Walls was a well-organised working community.”

Professor Mike Parker Pearson, Professor at University College London and Director of the Feeding Stonehenge project who also led the excavations at Durrington Walls, said: “This new research has given us a fantastic insight into the organisation of large-scale feasting among the people who built Stonehenge. Animals were brought from all over Britain to be barbecued and cooked in open-air mass gatherings and also to be eaten in more privately organized meals within the many houses at Durrington Walls.

“The special placing of milk pots at the larger ceremonial buildings reveals that certain products had a ritual significance beyond that of nutrition alone. The sharing of food had religious as well as social connotations for promoting unity among Britain’s scattered farming communities in prehistory. ”

Dr Lisa-Marie Shillito, who analysed the pottery samples and recently joined Newcastle University, added: “The combination of pottery analysis with the study of animal bones is really effective, and shows how these different types of evidence can be brought together to provide a detailed picture of food and cuisine in the past”.

UNIVERSITY OF YORK

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Archaeologists discovered the remains of a large-scale storage for fermented fish dating back to 7,200 BC: a view of the gutter after 50 percent of it had been removed; notice the stark contrast with the surrounding clay under the gutter as well as between the stakeholes and the surrounding clay. Image credit: SHMM / Adam Boethius / Lund University.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of a large-scale storage for fermented fish dating back to 7,200 BC: a view of the gutter after 50 percent of it had been removed; notice the stark contrast with the surrounding clay under the gutter as well as between the stakeholes and the surrounding clay. Image credit: SHMM / Adam Boethius / Lund University.

Original Article:

sci-news.com

Feb 9, 2016 by Enrico de Lazaro

Archaeologists in Sweden say they have uncovered the remains of a 9,200-year-old storage for fermented fish.

Dr. Boethius of Lund University and his colleagues found roughly 200,000 fish bones at Norje Sunnansund, an Early Mesolithic settlement site in the Blekinge province of Sweden.

“The archaeological site of Norje Sunnansund is dated to around 9,600 – 8,600 years before present and is located in south-eastern Sweden, on the shores of the ancient Lake Vesan, next to a 2-km long outlet leading to the Baltic basin,” Dr. Boethius explained.

“We’d never seen a site like this with so many well preserved fish bones, so it was amazing to find,” he added.

The archaeologists also uncovered a long pit surrounded by small stake holes and completely filled with fish bones.

“It was really strange, and because of all the fish bones in the area we knew something was going on even before we found the feature,” Dr. Boethius said.

“At first we had no idea what it was so we rescued it from the area to investigate.”

He analyzed the feature and the contents and discovered the fish bones were from freshwater fish such as cyprinids (the carps, the true minnows, and their relatives), the European perch (Perca fluviatilis), the northern pike (Esox lucius), the ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua), the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), the burbot (Lota lota) and other species.

He also showed the fish had been fermented – a skillful way of preserving food without using salt.

“The fermentation process is also quite complex in itself,” said Dr. Boethius, who is an author of a paper published online February 6 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“Because people did not have access to salt or the ability to make ceramic containers, they acidified the fish using, for example, pine bark and seal fat, and then wrapped the entire content in seal and wild boar skins and buried it in a pit covered with muddy soil. This type of fermentation requires a cold climate.”

“The discovery is unique as a find like this has never been made before,” he added. “That is partly because fish bones are so fragile and disappear more easily than, for example, bones of land animals. In this case, the conditions were quite favorable, which helped preserve the remains.”

“The amount of fish we found could have supported a large community of people,” the archaeologist said.

The findings are important as it is usually argued that people in the north lived relatively mobile lives, while people in the Levant became settled and began to farm and raise cattle much earlier.

“These findings suggest that people who survived by foraging for food were actually more advanced than assumed,” Dr. Boethius said.

 

 

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Original Article:

eurekalert.org

PUBLIC RELEASE: 8-FEB-2016

Amsterdam, February 8, 2016 – 200,000 fish bones discovered in and around a pit in Sweden suggest that the people living in the area more than 9000 years ago were more settled and cultured than we previously thought. Research published in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests people were storing large amounts of fermented food much earlier than experts thought.

The new paper reveals the earliest evidence of fermentation in Scandinavia, from the Early Mesolithic time period, about 9,200 years ago. The author of the study, from Lund University in Sweden, say the findings suggest that people who survived by foraging for food were actually more advanced than assumed.

The Mesolithic period, which spanned around 10,000-5,000 BC, marked the time before people started farming in Europe. At this time, researchers previously believed groups of people in Scandinavia caught fish from the sea, lakes and rivers and moved around following the sources of food they could find.

“This is a really exciting and surprising finding that gives us a completely new picture of how the group lived,” said Adam Boethius, author of the study and historical osteology PhD student at Lund University in Sweden. “We’d never seen a site like this with so many well preserved fish bones, so it was amazing to find.”

For the first time, the new research suggests the foraging people actually settled much earlier than previously thought. They stored huge amounts of fish in one place by fermenting them, suggesting the people had more advanced technology and a more sedentary life than we thought.

If the people were more sedentary, they would have been better able to develop culture. This, say the authors, makes the culture more comparable to the Neolithic people in the Middle East, who were traditionally thought to have settled much earlier than their northern European counterparts.

Boethius and his colleagues had been excavating a site at Norje Sunnansund to rescue any artifacts from Mesolithic settlements before a road was built. As they started to dig, they found lots of fish bones, which indicated people had lived there. They then uncovered an elongated pit or gutter surrounded by small stake holes and completely filled with fish bones.

“It was really strange, and because of all the fish bones in the area we knew something was going on even before we found the feature,” said Boethius. “At first we had no idea what it was so we rescued it from the area to investigate.”

The excavation involved 16 archaeologists during five months. Boethius analyzed the feature and the contents and discovered the fish bones were from freshwater fish. He also showed the fish had been fermented – a skillful way of preserving food without using salt.

The amount of fish they found could have supported a large community of people. Given the amount and type of fish found at the site, Boethius believes freshwater sources played a more important role in the development of culture in the area than we thought. He is now working on further research to find out exactly what people were eating, and how this knowledge impacts our understanding of these ancient societies.

Follows in the next post is the first article from Sci-News.com

 

 

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These are Cenchrinae starch granules from the Haua Fteah archaeological tools compared to modern starch granules of Cenchrus biflorus.

Photo Credit:  Anita  Radini
Original Article:

University of Cambridge 

Eurekalert.org
A box of seemingly unremarkable stones sits in the corner of Dr Giulio Lucarini’s office at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research where it competes for space with piles of academic journals, microscopes and cartons of equipment used for excavations.
These palm-sized pebbles were used as grinding tools by people living in North Africa around 7,000 years ago. Tiny specks of plant matter recently found on their surfaces shine light on a fascinating period of human development and confirm theories that the transition between nomadic and settled lifestyles was gradual.

come from a collection held in the store of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) just a couple of minutes’ walk away. In the 1950s the well-known Cambridge archaeologist Sir Charles McBurney undertook an excavation of a cave called Haua Fteah located in northern Libya. He showed that its stratigraphy (layers of sediment) is evidence of continuous human habitation from at least 80,000 years ago right up to the present day. Finds from McBurney’s excavation were deposited at MAA.
In 2007, Professor Graeme Barker, also from Cambridge, started to re-excavate Haua Fteah with support from the ERC-funded TRANS-NAP Project. Until 2014, Barker and his team had the chance to spend more than one month each year excavating the site and surveying the surrounding Jebel Akhdar region, in order to investigate the relationships between cultural and environmental change in North Africa over the past 200,000 years.
Now an analysis of stone grinders from the Neolithic layers of Haua Fteah (dating from 8,000-5,500 years ago), carried out by Lucarini as his Marie Sklodowska-Curie Project ‘AGRINA’, in collaboration with Anita Radini (University of York) and Huw Barton (University of Leicester), yields new evidence about people living at a time seen as a turning point in human exploitation of the environment, paving the way for rapid expansion in population.
Around 11,000 years ago, during the early phase of the geological period known as Holocene, nomadic communities of Near Eastern regions made the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled farming existence as they began to exploit domesticated crops and animals developed locally. The research Lucarini is carrying out in Northern Libya and Western Egypt is increasingly revealing a contrasting scenario for the North African regions.
In a paper published today, Lucarini and colleagues explain that the surfaces of the grinders show plant use-wear and contain tiny residues of wild plants that date from a time when, in all likelihood, domesticated grains would have been available to them. These data are consistent with other evidence from the site, notably those from the analysis of the plant macro-remains carried out by Jacob Morales (University of the Basque Country), which confirmed the presence of wild plants alone in the site during the Neolithic. Together, this evidence suggests that domesticated varieties of grain were adopted late, spasmodically, and not before classical times, by people who lived in tune with their surroundings as they moved seasonally between naturally-available resources.
Lucarini is an expert in the study of stone tools and has a particular interest in the beginning of food production economies in North Africa. Using an integrated approach of low and high-power microscopy in the George Pitt-Rivers Lab at the McDonald Institute, and in the BioArCh Lab at the University of York, he and his colleagues were able to spot plant residues, too small to be visible to the naked eye, caught in the pitted surface of several of the stones from Haua Fteah. Some of the grinders themselves exhibit clear ‘use-wear’ with their surfaces carrying the characteristic polish of having been used for grinding over long periods.
“It was thrilling to discover that microscopic traces of the plants ground by these stones have survived for so long, especially now that we’re able to use powerful high-power microscopes to look at the distinctive shape of the starch granules that offer us valuable clues to the identities of the plant varieties they come from,” says Lucarini.
By comparing the characteristic shape and size of the starch found in the grinders’ crevices to those in a reference collection of wild and domestic plant varieties collected in different North African and Southern European countries, Lucarini and Radini were able to determine that the residues most probably came from one of the species belonging to the Cenchrinae grasses.
Various species of the genus Cenchrus are still gathered today by several African groups when other resources are scarce. Cenchrus is prickly and its seed is laborious to extract. But it is highly nutritious and, especially in times of severe food shortage, a highly valuable resource.
“Haua Fteah is only a kilometre from the Mediterranean and close to well-established coastal routes, giving communities there access to commodities such as domesticated grain, or at least the possibility to cultivate them. Yet it seems that people living in the Jebel Akhdar region may well have made a strategic and deliberate choice not to adopt the new farming practices available to them, despite the promise of higher yields but, instead, to integrate them into their existing practices,” says Lucarini.
“It’s interesting that today, even in relatively affluent European countries, the use of wild plants is becoming more commonplace, complementing the trend to use organically farmed food. Not only do wild plants contribute to a healthier diet, but they also more sustainable for the environment.”
Lucarini suggests that North African communities delayed their move to domesticated grains because it suited their highly mobile style of life. “Opting to exploit wild crops was a successful and low-risk strategy not to rely too heavily on a single resource, which might fail. It’s an example of the English idiom of not putting all your eggs in one basket. Rather than being ‘backward’ in their thinking, these nomadic people were highly sophisticated in their pragmatism and deep understanding of plants, animals and climatic conditions,” he says.
Evidence of the processing of wild plants at Haua Fteah challenges the notion that there was a sharp and final divide between nomadic lifestyles and more settled farming practices – and confirms recent theories that the adoption of domesticated species in North Africa was an addition to, rather than a replacement of, the exploitation of wild resources such as the native grasses that still grow wild at the site.
“Archaeologists talk about a ‘Neolithic package’ – made up of domestic plants and animals, tools and techniques – that transformed lifestyles. Our research suggests that what happened at Haua Fteah was that people opted for a mixed bag of old and new. The gathering of wild plants as well as the keeping of domestic sheep and goats chime with continued exploitation of other wild resources – such as land and sea snails – which were available on a seasonal basis with levels depending on shifts in climatic conditions,” says Lucarini.
“People had an intimate relationship with the environment they were so closely tuned to and, of course, entirely dependent on. This knowledge may have made them wary of abandoning strategies that enabled them to balance their use of resources – in a multi-spectrum exploitation of the environment.”
Haua Fteah continues to pose puzzles for archaeologists. The process of grinding requires two surfaces – a hand-held upper grinding tool and a base grinding surface. Excavation has yielded no lower grinders which made have been as simple as shallow dish-shaped declivities in local rock surfaces. “Only a fraction of the extensive site has been excavated so it may be that lower grinders do exist but they simply haven’t been found yet,” says Lucarini.
The uncertain political situation in Libya has resulted in the suspension of fieldwork in Haua Fteah, in particular the excavation of the Neolithic and classical layers of the cave. Lucarini hopes that a resolution to the current crisis will allow work to resume within the next few years. He says: “Haua Fteah, with its 100,000 years of history and continuous occupation by different peoples, is a symbol of how Libya can be hospitable and welcoming. We trust in this future for the country.”

  
The view of the Mediterranean sea from inside the cave.

Photo from:

Temehu.com 

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World's oldest domesticated fava seeds found at Ahihud

World’s oldest domesticated fava seeds found at Ahihud

Original Article:

mfa.gov.il

World’s oldest domesticated fava seeds

A study of seeds exposed in archaeological excavations in recent years at Neolithic sites in the Galilee shows that the inhabitants’ diet at the time consisted mainly of fava beans, as well as lentils, various types of peas and chickpeas.

According to researchers of the Weizmann Institute and Israel Antiquities Authority, ancient man living in the Galilee specialized in cultivating legumes in general and fava beans (ful) in particular. “This is an important discovery, enabling a deeper understanding of the agricultural revolution in the southern Near East.”

A joint study by researchers of the Weizmann Institute and the Israel Antiquities Authority, which examined fava seeds exposed in archaeological excavations in recent years at Neolithic sites in the Galilee, sheds light on the nutritional habits of the people that lived in the area 10,000 years ago. Seeds found at the prehistoric sites show that the inhabitants’ diet at the time consisted mainly of fava beans, as well as lentils, various types of peas and chickpeas.

The excavation site at Ahihud Copyright: Yaron Bibas, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

The excavation site at Ahihud
Copyright: Yaron Bibas, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority

The study was conducted by archaeobotanist Valentina Caracuta, of the Weizmann Institute, together with Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto and Dr. Lior Regev, and in cooperation with archaeologists Dr. Kobi Vardi, Dr. Yitzhak Paz, Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily, Dr. Ianir Milevski and Dr. Omri Barzilai of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The multitude of fava seeds found at the Neolithic sites excavated in the Galilee during the past few years indicates the preference placed on growing fava beans. The dating of the seeds, which was done at the Kimmel Center in the Weizmann Institute, indicated a range of dates between 9,890-10,160 YBP. These well-preserved seeds were found in excavations, inside storage pits (granaries) after they had been husked. The seeds’ dimensions are a uniform size-a datum showing they were methodically cultivated, and were harvested at the same period of time, when the legumes had ripened. According to the researchers, keeping the seeds in storage pits is also reflective of long-term agricultural planning, whereby the stored seeds were intended not only for food, but also to ensure future crops in the coming years.

The researchers added, “The identification of the places where plant species that are today an integral part of our diet were first domesticated is of great significance to research. Despite the importance of cereals in nutrition that continues to this day, it seems that in the region we examined (west of the Jordan River), it was the legumes, full of flavor and protein, which were actually the first species to be domesticated. A phenomenon known as the agricultural revolution took place throughout the region at this time: different species of animals and plants were domesticated across the Levant, and it is now clear that the area that is today the Galilee was the main producer of legumes in prehistoric times. This is a process that lasted thousands of years, during which certain characteristics of wild species changed, and domesticated plant species were created. To this day, most of the chickpeas grown in the country are cultivated in the Galilee region.”

According to the archaeologists, the accurate dating of the fava seeds, utilizing advanced techniques, led to the conclusion that they found the world’s oldest domesticated fava seeds, dating to 10,125-10,200 YBP.

 

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