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Sahara desert

Bones of fish eaten by humans thousands of years ago offer clue to region’s ancient climate

The Sahara’s shift from savannah with abundant lakes to a largely arid expanse has been traced in the remains of fish eaten thousands of years ago.

Researchers analysing material found in a rock shelter in the Acacus mountains in south-west Libya say they have found more than 17,500 animal remains dating from between 10,200 and 4,650 years ago, 80% of which are fish. About two-thirds of the fish were catfish and the rest were tilapia. The team say telltale marks on the bones reveal the fish were eaten by humans who used the shelter.

It is not the first time fish remains have been found in what are now dry regions of the desert, but the team say it is the first time the ancient climate of the region has been traced through animal remains.

“All the other finds are surface finds, [from] just one layer, one period, one event. Whereas what we have here is a 5,000-year sequence with a lot of bones – so that makes it special,” said Dr Wim van Neer from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, a co-author of the study.

The discovery is the latest in a string of finds from the large Takarkori rock shelter, a site, about 50-60 metres long and 30 metres high, that is thought to have been first used by hunter gatherers more than 10,000 years ago.

Prof Savino di Lernia, a co-author of the study from Sapienza University of Rome, said previous finds at the shelter included evidence of rock art, the earliest signs in Africa of wild cereals being cultivated and their seeds stored, and evidence from pottery shards of dairy practices in Africa dating back nearly 7,000 years ago.

Naturally mummified human remains of Neolithic pastoralists have also been discovered at the shelter, while the uppermost layers of the site are composed of dung left by the animals of nomadic herders that later camped at the site between 5,900 and 4,650 years ago.

Writing in the journal Plos One, Van Neer and colleagues report that fish account for about 80% of the animal remains discovered at the site during the 5,000-year period it was used by humans, with mammals making up just over 19%. Birds molluscs and other animals such as turtles account for the rest.

The team found the predominance of fish was not steady but fell from about 90% in the earliest layers to about 48% in those from the most recent period of its occupation.

“The amount of fish is decreasing through time and the contribution of mammals increases, showing that people at Takarkori focussed gradually more on hunting and livestock keeping,” the authors write. But, they add: “It is unclear if this was an intentional process or if this shift could be related to increasing aridity, which made the environment less favourable for fishes.”

The findings chime with previous evidence from the Sahara, including from sediments and geological features, that have highlighted a shift in the climate from a wetter environment with vegetation and abundant lakes more than 10,000 years ago, to a period of fluctuating dry and wet conditions, until about 5,500 years ago the region became increasingly arid, resulting in the landscape seen today.

“[As it became drier] it is possible [there] was more distance that had to be covered to exploit these fish, and that is why we have a decrease,” said Van Neer. “People are opportunistic – if it is easy to get they take it.”

Dr Clayton Magill of Heriot-Watt University, who was not part of the research team but previously explored climate change in the African savannah, said the shift to desert conditions in the Sahara region was one of the most remarkable ecological transitions in the Earth’s recent past.

The new study, he said, showed that such large-scale climate change could affect species differently and increased our understanding of our human ancestors and their relationship with the climate. “[The study] links climate change with changes in culture, whether related to subsistence strategies or social behaviour, thus marking a shift towards coupled human and natural landscapes in which humans are affected by and, in turn, affect their environments,” he said.

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On this dat ten years ago…
via Meat, Bones and Marsh Plants: Could You Live Off Prehistoric Food?

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on this day ten years ago… should have been Oct26 not the 23rd,

via Irish farming in 3000 BC

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BBC.com
By Paul Rincon Science editor, BBC News website

Neolithic times

Scientists have discovered the earliest direct evidence of milk consumption by humans.

The team identified milk protein entombed in calcified dental plaque (calculus) on the teeth of prehistoric farmers from Britain.

It shows that humans were consuming dairy products as early as 6,000 years ago – despite being lactose intolerant.

This could suggest they processed the raw milk into cheese, yoghurt or some other fermented product.

This would have reduced its lactose content, making it more palatable.

The team members scraped samples of plaque off the teeth, separated the different components within it and analysed them using mass spectrometry.

They detected a milk protein called beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) in the tartar of seven individuals spanning early to middle Neolithic times.

“Proteomic analysis of calculus is a fairly recent technique. There have been a few studies before, but they have generally been on historical archaeological material rather than prehistoric material,” co-author Dr Sophy Charlton, from the department of archaeology at the University of York, told BBC News.

Lactose intolerance arises from the inability to digest the lactose sugar contained in milk beyond infancy. This means that consuming milk-based foods can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea and nausea. However, many modern Europeans possess a genetic mutation which allows for the continued consumption of milk into adulthood.

This mutation affects a section of DNA controlling the activity of the gene for lactase – an enzyme that breaks down lactose sugar. However, previous studies of the genetics of Neolithic Europeans show that they lacked this mutation.

Dr Charlton said it was possible these Stone Age people were limiting themselves to small amounts of milk. “If you are lactose intolerant and you consume very, very small amounts of milk, then it doesn’t make you too ill. You can just about cope with that,” she explained.

But Dr Charlton added: “The alternative option, which I think is perhaps slightly more plausible, is that they were processing the milk in such a way that it’s removing a degree of the lactose. So if you process it into a cheese, or a fermented milk product, or a yoghurt, then it does decrease the lactose content so you could more easily digest it.

“That idea fits quite well with other archaeological evidence for the period in which we find dairy fats inside lots of Neolithic pottery, both in the UK and the rest of Europe.”

In addition, some of the milk residues found in these pots appear to have been heated, which would be required for processing raw milk into cheese or some other product.

The human remains tested in the study come from three Neolithic sites: Hambledon Hill in Dorset, Hazleton North in Gloucestershire, and Banbury Lane in Northamptonshire.

More than one quarter of the pottery fragments at Hambledon Hill had milk lipids on them, suggesting that dairy foods were very important to the people living at that site. Other Neolithic sites show evidence of animal herds that are consistent with those used for dairying.

Genetic studies of ancient populations from across Eurasia show that lactase persistence only became common very recently, despite the consumption of milk products in the Neolithic. The mutation had started to appear by the Bronze Age, but even at this time, it was only present in 5-10% of Europeans.

The Neolithic age in Britain lasted from about 6,000 to 4,400 years ago and saw the introduction of farming, including the use of domesticated animals such as cows, sheep, pigs and goats.

The study has been published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

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On this day ten years ago…

via Archaeologist: Rice Existed 4,000 Years Ago in Yangtze Basin

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Early Neolithic sote

 

Heraldscotland.com

 

 

By Jody Harrison

THE first farmers to till the soil in Scotland may have initially put down roots in Aberdeenshire, archaeologists have said.

A team digging near Stonehaven have uncovered the earliest pottery remains ever found north of the border, dating back to 6,000 years ago.

The Neolithic artefacts indicate that the first settled communities may have sprung up in the region, which was previously occupied by ancient tribes of nomadic hunter gatherers.

Archaeologists believe they may have come across from mainland Europe by boat and settled nearby, instead of following major rivers inland.

The sherds of carinated bowls – the earliest type of pottery found in Britain – were discovered during work at Kirkton of Fetteresso by Cameron Archeaology.

New radiocarbon dating indicates they were probably deposited sometime between 3952 BC to 3766 BC, pre-dating previous finds by more than a century.

The beginning of the Neolithic period was one of the most significant periods in Scotland, marking an enormous change in the population and the landscape.

The act of farming the land was begun by new communities of settlers from Europe who brought new species of plants and animals, established permanent homes and cleared huge tracts of woodland, transforming the landscape.

Robert Lenfert, who co-authored a report on the discoveries, said: “This new evidence doesn’t support the previous notion that early Neolithic colonisation followed major rivers. “Rather, it is more convincing to postulate that this technology – and those capable of producing it – arrived directly via sea-routes into Stonehaven Bay, further supporting the evidence that this pottery is very early in the Neolithic period in Scotland.

There are only one or two sites in Britain which have similar early dates: Coupland in Northumberland and Eweford Pit in East Lothian, which corroborates the notion that the carinated bowl tradition first reached north-eastern Britain, primarily Scotland but also Northumbria, before becoming visible elsewhere in Britain.”

The team say Kirkton of Fetteresso was occupied by various groups down through the ages, with the dig revealing evidence of human occupation and activity spread over at least four and a half millennia from the early Neolithic to the early medieval period.

 

What is also particularly striking about Kirkton of Fetteresso is the apparent repetitive yet episodic activity within this relatively small area over at least four millennia,” said co-author Alison Cameron.

“The landscape surrounding the site contains numerous prehistoric features which span a similar timeframe, including Mesolithic remains and early Neolithic pits also containing carinated bowls.

 

“The new radiocarbon dating evidence we have gathered has revealed Kirkton of Fetteresso as a palimpsest of periodic activity covering the early Neolithic, the late Bronze Age, the early and middle to later Iron Ages (pre-Roman) and the early medieval or Pictish period.”

Analysis of the findings has been published on the archaeology reports online website.

 

 

 

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Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the earliest large-scale celebrations in Britain – with people and animals traveling hundreds of miles for prehistoric feasting rituals. The study, led by Dr. Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University, is the most comprehensive to date and examined the bones of 131 pigs, the prime feasting animals, from four Late Neolithic complexes. Serving the world-famous monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the four sites hosted the very first pan-British events.

Source: Prehistoric Britons rack up food miles for feasts near Stonehenge

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