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Plant particles found during the excavation of this Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan) turned out to be traces of domestic cereals when analysed in a lab. copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

A research team successfully identified ancient barley and wheat residues in grave goods and on teeth from two Neolithic cemeteries in Central Sudan and Nubia, showing that humans in Africa were already exploited domestic cereals 7,000 years ago and thus five hundred years earlier than previously known.

The results of the analyses were recently published in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

Barley and wheat crops

Dr. Welmoed Out from Kiel University said, “With our results we can verify that people along the Nile did not only exploit gathered wild plants and animals but had crops of barley and wheat.”

These types of crops were first cultivated in the Middle East about 10,500 years ago and spread out from there to Central and South Asia as well as to Europe and North Africa – the latter faster than expected.

The diversity of the diet was much greater than previously assumed,” states Out and adds: “Moreover, the fact that grains were placed in the graves of the deceased implies that they had a special, symbolic meaning.”

The research team, coordinated by Welmoed Out and the environmental archaeologist Marco Madella from Barcelona, implemented, among other things, a special high-quality light microscope as well as radiocarbon analyses for age determination. Hereby, they were supported by the fact that mineral plant particles, so-called phytoliths, survive very long, even when other plant remains are no longer discernible. In addition, the millennia-old teeth, in particular adherent calculus, provide evidence on the diet of these prehistoric humans due to the starch granules and phytoliths contained therein.



One of the graves at the Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan), containing a skeleton and plant material deposited behind the skull (white area at the left picture margin). Copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

Original article:

Past horizons



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Topic:Water

(Phys.org) —Researchers have solved the riddle of how one of Africa’s greatest civilisations survived a catastrophic drought which wiped out other famous dynasties. Geomorphologists and dating specialists from The Universities of Aberystwyth, Manchester, and Adelaide say that it was the River Nile which made life viable for the renowned Kerma kingdom, in what is now northern Sudan.

Kerma was the first Bronze Age kingdom in Africa outside Egypt.

Their analysis of three ancient river channels where the Nile once flowed shows, for the first time, that its floods weren’t too low or too high to sustain life between 2,500 BC and 1,500 BC, when Kerma flourished and was a major rival to its more famous neighbour downstream.

They also show that the thousand year civilisation came to end when the Nile’s flood levels were not high enough and a major channel system dried out – though an invasion by resurgent Egyptians was the final cause of Kerma’s demise.

Downstream in Egypt, a catastrophic 30 year drought 4,200 years ago, which produced low Nile floods, created chaos in the old kingdom for at least a century.

Other civilisations in the near east and Mesopotamia were also severely hit by this drought.

The team’s findings, funded by the Sudan Archaeological Research Society (SARS) and the Australian Research Council, are published in the journal Geology.

Professor Mark Macklin from The University of Aberystwyth said: “This work is the most comprehensive and robustly dated archaeological and palaeoenvironmental dataset yet compiled for the desert Nile.

“The relationship between climate change and the development of Old World riverine civilizations is poorly understood because inadequate dating control has hindered effective integration of archaeological, fluvial, and climate records.”

Professor Jamie Woodward from The University of Manchester said: “In Nubia four thousand years ago the Kerma people farmed what we might call the Goldilocks Nile: its floods were just large enough to support floodwater farming, but not so big as to cause damage to the riverside settlements.

“It’s quite remarkable that the Kerma civilization was able to flourish, produce amazing craftsmanship and wealth, at a time when their Egyptian rivals to the North were struggling with environmental, social, and political strife.

“Until now we didn’t understand why that was – but thanks to our field work in Sudan, this riddle has now been solved.”

The team used cutting edge geological dating methods to analyse the dried up channels, now 20 km from the today’s river course. It is the first time individual flood events on the desert Nile have been dated.

Using hundreds of deep irrigation pits dug by modern Sudanese farmers, Macklin and Woodward were able to observe the geological history of the old channels. In places, these old channel belts are well preserved at the modern land surface. They are between 1 and 3 km wide with Kerma sites on their margins.

According to Derek Welsby from the British Museum who led the archaeological survey, Kerma’s wealth and power may have been underpinned by its agriculturally-rich hinterland utilising the banks of the ancient channels.

Archaeological surveys of the floodplain in the Dongola Reach to the south of Kerma have discovered more than 450 sites spanning the Neolithic (pre–3500 B.C.) to the Medieval Christian period (A.D. 500–1500). Many sites are associated with the Nile’s ancient channels.

He said: “Kerma’s success was also down to their reliance on animal husbandry practices that are less susceptible to changes in flood level, more mobile, and better able to cope with environmental stress.

“They were a truly remarkable civilisation, producing some of the most exquisite pottery in the Nile Valley.”

The paper is titled “Reach-scale river dynamics moderate the impact of rapid Holocene climate change on floodwater farming in the desert Nile.”

Original article:
Phys.org

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Topic: Ancient Cotton offers insights into agriculture

The remains of the Egyptian fort of Qasr Ibrim...

The remains of the Egyptian fort of Qasr Ibrim. It was the only structure which was not relocated when the Great Aswan Dam was built. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scientists studying 1,600 year old cotton from the banks of the Nile have found what they believe is the first evidence that punctuated evolution has occurred in a major crop group within the relatively short history of plant domestication.

The findings offer an insight into the dynamics of agriculture in the ancient world and could also help today’s domestic crops face challenges such as climate change and water scarcity.

Approach to the Fortress of Ibrim

Approach to the Fortress of Ibrim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The researchers, led by Dr Robin Allaby from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, examined the remains of ancient cotton at Qasr Ibrim in Egypt’s Upper Nile using high throughput sequencing technologies.

This is the first time such technology has been used on ancient plants and also the first time the technique has been applied to archaeological samples in such hot countries.

The site is located about 40 km from Abu Simbel and 70 km from the modern Sudanese border on the east bank of what is now Lake Nasser.

They also studied South American samples from sites in Peru and Brazil aged between 800 and nearly 4,000 years old.

The results showed that even over the relatively short timescale of a millennia and a half, the Egyptian cotton, identified as G. herbaceum, showed evidence of significant genomic reorganisation when the ancient and the modern variety were compared.

However closely-related G.Barbadense from the sites in South America showed genomic stability between the two samples, even though these were separated by more than 2,000 miles in distance and 3,000 years in time.

This divergent picture points towards punctuated evolution — long periods of evolutionary stability interspersed by bursts of rapid change — having occurred in the cotton family.

Dr Allaby said: “We think of evolution as a very slow process, but as we analyse more genome information we can see that there’s been a huge amount of large-scale proactive change during recent history.

“Our results for the cotton from Egypt indicate that there has been the potential for more adaptive evolution going on in domesticated plant species than was appreciated up until now.

“Plants that are local to their particular area will develop genes which allow them to better tolerate the stresses they find in the environment around them.

“It’s possible that cotton at the Qasr Ibrim site has adapted in response to extreme environmental stress, such as not enough water.

“This insight into how domesticated crops evolved when faced with environmental stress is of value for modern agriculture in the face of current challenges like climate change and water scarcity.”

For archaeologists, the results also shed light on agricultural development in the ancient world.

There has long been uncertainty as to whether ancient Egyptians had imported domesticated cotton from the Indian subcontinent, as had happened with other crops, or whether they were growing a native African variety which had been domesticated locally.

The study’s findings that the Qasr Ibrim seeds were of the G. herbaceum variety, native to Africa, rather than G.arboreum, which is native to the Indian subcontinent, represents the first molecular-based identification of archaeobotanical cotton to a species level.

Dr Allaby said the findings confirm there was an indigenous domestication of cotton in Africa which was separate from the domestication of cotton in India.

“The presence of cotton textiles on Egyptian and Nubian sites has been well documented but there has always been uncertainty among archaeologists as to the origin of these.

“It’s not possible to identify some cotton varieties just by looking at them, so we were asked to delve into the DNA.

“We identified the African variety — G. herbaceum, which suggest that domesticated cotton was not a cultural import — it was a technology that had grown up independently.”

The study was funded by NERC.

archaeologydaily

April 8,2012

The second photo is by  David Roberts

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Topic: TigerNuts History and recipes

History

Tiger nuts are the edible tubers (also sometimes called fruits or grains), found at the end of the root system of Cyperus grass (Cyperus  esculentus L.). A member of the sedge family, along with its better-known cousin, papyrus, Cyperus Grass grows in marshy areas such as the Delta region ( in ancient times) or well irrigated areas. These tiger nuts, called Hab’el aziz in Arabic were a great source of nutrition in Egypt since at least the 5th millennium B.C. According to Tackholm, V. and Drar, M.  in  Flora of Egypt, vol II, first published in 1950 and again in 1973, it was believed by them to be the most ancient of foods found in Egypt after Emmer and Barley. Illustrations of Cyperus Grass are found in many tombs and it was even discovered in the stomachs of pre-dynastic mummies by F. Netolitzki, in The Ancient Egyptians and their influence on the Civilization of Europe by G. Elloit-Smith. 

Specimens from many sites in Egypt can be found at the Agricultural Museum of Dokki, in Cairo.

There is a great deal of debate among Egyptologists as to the ancient name assigned to this plant. Gywis the name it is normally given however the Ebers papyrus speaks of a medicine it calls “ grains of mnwh also called snw-tMnwh is the plural form of mnh, papyrus or sedge, such as Cyperus. Greek scholars, Theophrastus and Pliny associated the name of several different plants with C. esculentus (or tiger nuts).

Malinathalle was one of the plants mentioned by Theophrastus as being boiled in barley beer and then eaten as a sweetmeat. This sounds similar to the above recipe except a bit more intoxicating.

The Ancient Egyptians also used this plant for medical purposes.

They prescribed the plant in mixtures for everything from; mouth chews, enemata, dressings, ointments, to fumigations, designed to sweeten the smells of the house or clothes. In the latter form it was used with myrrh. When you consider that the Ancient Egyptians ate this plant as well as using it in their medicines (as they did with so many of the plants that grew naturally or which were cultivated). They certainly got the full value of all that the Nile had to offer them.

According to Darby in Food The Gift of Osiris, C. esculentus continues to be cultivated to this day in Egypt (most likely in the Delta region). Beyond Egypt the Arabs carried it to North Africa, Sicily and Spain.  Called Chufa in Spain it is made into a popular drink. In Egypt the tuber is ground and used in breads in addition to producing oil used in ointments and cosmetics. Finally the residue is used as fodder for animals.

Wikipedia says this on tiger nuts as a food:

The tubers are edible, with a slightly sweet, nutty flavour, compared to the more bitter-tasting tuber of the related Cyperus rotundus (purple nutsedge). They are quite hard, and are generally soaked in water before they can be eaten, thus making them much softer and giving them a better texture. They have various uses; in particular, they are used in Spain to make horchata. They are sometimes known by their Spanish name, chufa.

Tigernuts have excellent nutritional qualities, with a fat composition similar to olives and a rich mineral content, especially phosphorus and potassium. The oil of the tuber was found to contain 18% saturated (palmitic acid and stearic acid) and 82% unsaturated (oleic acid and linoleic acid) fatty acids.

Today besides human use in drinks and baked goods, Chufa( tiger nuts), are used as fish bate and food for wild turkeys, ducks, deer and hogs-who could imagine.

Such an ancient plant it is known in addition to the name tiger nut, as earth chestnut, earth almond, yellow nut grass, ground almond and rush nut. The plant is cultivated today in China, Spain and West Africa and the U,S.

Recipes:

Chafa seed-tigernuts

First from Ancient Egypt

Tiger nut Sweets

Grind a quantity of tiger nuts in a mortar.

Sift the flour carefully.

To the ground tiger nuts add a bowl of honey and mix to a dough.

Transfer the dough to a shallow metal (?) vessel. Place on top of the fire and add a little fat. Boil over a gentle fire until a firm paste is obtained. It must smell roasted not burnt.

Cool and shape into tall conical loaves.

According to An Ancient Egyptian Herbal by Lise Manniche, the loaves from the above recipe were made as a special offering instituted by the king for every feast anew (or alike). This recipe was on the tomb walls of Rekhmire, vizier of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III (Eighteenth Dynasty) from the fifth century BC. Ms. Manniche’s translation comes from pictures on the tomb walls themselves.

These loaves called Shat were a highly valued temple offering.

Egyptian Food and Drink by Hilary Wilson also cites the bakery scene in Rekhmire’s tomb as showing the stages of preparation of triangle loaves, also made with ground tiger nuts and sweetened with dates and honey.

From modern day Spain here is a recipe for Horchata made from Chura (tiger nuts).

Horchata is a drink that is made from extracting the flavor from different nuts depending on the desired taste.  Horchata from Chufas is a very popular and refreshing summer drink in the region of Valencia, Spain where many acres are grown for that purpose.  Chufas and Horchata were brought to Spain by the Moors when they came in the eighth century.  The Spanish brought them to the New World.

Horchata from Chufa

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. Chufas
1 lb. Sugar
2.5 Quarts of Water
1 Cinnamon Stick

Clean the chufas well by rubbing them between your hands while rinsing them in clean water.  Repeat until chufas are clean (rinse water remains clean when chufas are rubbed between your hands).

Cover with 4 inches of water and soak for 12 to 14 hours.

After soaking, rinse the chufas again in clean water, changing the water until it is completely clear, then drain off all the water.

Mash the chufas or put them in a blender – to make them into a soft paste. Add a little water if needed.

Add the 2.5 quarts of water to the paste that you have made and put in the cinnamon stick. Let it sit in a cool place (like a fridge) for 2 hours.

Add the sugar and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Strain the mix through a mesh filter to remove the larger particles, and then through a damp fine-cloth filter.  If the cloth filter did not strain the liquid enough, there are two options here:

a.) Repeat until the strained liquid does not have any large particles left.

b.) Fold or double fold your damp cloth filter and pass the liquid through the filter slowly.

The smooth milky liquid can be served as is, placed in the fridge to be served chilled later or placed in the freezer, stirring occasionally to prevent it from freezing solid, and served in slushy form.

References:

Darby, W: Food gift of Osiris

Manniche, L: An Ancient Egyptian Herbal

Wilson, H: Egyptian Food and Drink

Wikipedia

Chafa.com-Glendale Enterprises

Original Article:

Bu Joanna Linsley-Poe

copyright 2012

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Topic: The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Museum Nederlands

This exibit information goes nicely with my previous two posts on AncientEgypt.

The exhibition Gardens of the Pharaohs will showcase the flora of ancient Egypt. Visitors will find out what plants, trees, flowers, and crops grew in the age of the pharaohs. The museum’s collection includes not only dried plant remains from thousands of years ago, but also pictures of plants and trees on a huge variety of objects: wall reliefs, mummy cases, jewellery, amulets, and drinking bowls.

Cultural landscape

The flora of ancient Egypt was highly diverse. Over the centuries, the natural environment was replaced by a cultural landscape in which all kinds of exotic species were cultivated. Some were grown for food, of course, and many were used to treat diseases and other medical conditions: trees, bushes, produce, fibre crops, herbs (medicinal or otherwise), and ornamental flowers could all serve medical purposes. Agriculture was central to Egyptian life. Farmers made up a large part of the population, and canals, basins, and dikes provided permanent irrigation.

Gardens of the elite

The wealthy Egyptian elite related to nature in a very different way from the impoverished farmers. In their circles, it was important to flaunt your status. Their ideal was to own an estate surrounded by a shady walled garden full of palms, sycamores, figs, perseas, Christ-thorns, willows, and other trees. There was almost always a pergola covered with grape vines, and a pond full of water plants formed the centre of these orderly, geometric gardens. Gardens of this kind could also be found surrounding the temples of the gods, and sometimes in front of the monumental tombs cut into the rocks. One site that vividly illustrates the Egyptians’ fascination with plants and flowers is the ‘botanical garden’ in the Temple of Karnak. In a series of chambers, artists carved wall reliefs depicting exotic plants and animals that the pharaohs had brought back to Egypt from their foreign campaigns.

Original article:

The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden Museum

Nederlands

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EMS-89615 Egyptian wooden model of beer making...

Image via Wikipedia

Topic: Making beer like they did in Ancient Egypt

I forgot I even had this article. It was originally published in 2009

The picture to the left is of a model showing beer making in Ancient Egypt

If  you’re trying to be thrifty in the midst of this recession, try brewing your own beer in the style of the ancient Egyptians. Their yeast cells have been preserved for thousands of years.
While looking for recession-proof recipes to save money at the supermarket, I found a great resource for brewing your own recession-proof beer at home to save some money, it’s the article in Natural History magazine, the May 1996 issue, page 24, that describes how archaeologists brewed beer in the style of the ancient Egyptians, and in the 1990s even had it on sale at Harrod’s in London.
When archaeologists dug up King Tut’s and other ancients’ tombs in the 1920s and more recently, in the 1990s, they found starch granules in the ancient bread crumbs and beer dregs that revealed all the processes to which the bread was exposed during baking and brewing into beer.
All you have to do is back-engineer and reconstruct everything from scratch. So how do you brew your own beer the ancient Egyptian and Levantine way?
Instead of using your modern, cultured yeast, brew like an Egyptian and keep some yeasty residue from one brew to the next. The yeast sticks to the fabric of the brewing pots. Fermentation happens naturally from micro-flora.
All the former research showed barley and emmer wheat were grown in ancient Egypt. It was emmer wheat that the ancient Egyptians used to make beer at Tell el Amarna. Archaeologists saved the preserved emmer wheat on the temple kitchen floors. Here’ are the steps you can imitate the process at home to make ancient-style beer.
1. To make beer you buy some organic unhulled barley in a health food store. Moisten barley. Keep it moist until it germinates, then heat the barley to stop the germination (the result is called malt).
2. Add water and yeast so the malt sugars ferment.
3. Blend cooked and uncooked malt with water and produce a refined liquid free of husk by straining and mashing. For more information, go to my resource which is Natural History magazine, the May 1996 issue, page 24.
Here’s another ancient Egyptian way to brew beer. It’s going to taste like raspberries.

Boil barley and emmer wheat in a pot of water until it’s cooked and water is absorbed. Add cold water to make a brew. Fill the pot just before the rim.
Heat the mixture, adding more water and cooked malt. Add natural wild yeast and uncooked malt to the cooked malt. Health food stores have different types of natural yeast.
After adding the second batch of malt, cover, and allow the mixture to ferment.  Without adding any flavoring, the beer should be fruity and sweet and taste like raspberries. Try brewing your beer using the methods of a brewery so you don’t get a batch of bacteria in the brew to make you sick.
In fact, you can take your method to a brewery and ask whether you can brew your first batch at a brewery so you don’t make the mistake of letting it ferment at the wrong temperature and get yourself sick with a bunch of bacteria in the brew. Ancient Egyptian beer didn’t have the bitter hops flavor.
Here are the steps the archaeologists used to make ancient Egyptian beer. This information is in the article on making beer the ancient Egyptian way, published in Natural History magazine in the May 1996 issue, page 24. The article focused on the year 2050 BCE, the time of the XI Dynasty. So here are the steps the archaeologists used to make the ancient beer in the way the ancients would have brewed it.
First you have to grow the emmer wheat. But today emmer wheat is cultivated in Turkey. So if you live in England where the archaeologists were located, first you go to a health food store that imports Turkish emmer wheat. What the archaeologists actually did was to bring emmer wheat to England, about 850 pounds of it. And they grew that wheat at the at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge.
That’s all you need as far as raw material to brew beer the way the ancients made it, unless, of course, you must have water from ancient Egyptian wells. So that’s what the scientists did.
They analyzed old Egyptian desert wells to get the correct type of liquor. They had to do it because the old Egyptian well water is free from phospates and modern agricultural chemicals. So they had to add some gypsum to harden the water.
You at home can simply used distilled water.  Gypsum is calcium carbonate. Add a calcium carbonate tablet found in any health food store. Then flavor your ancient Egyptian beer brew with tiny amounts of juniper and coriander spices, obtainable in many herbal or health food stores. Or grow your own herbs from seeds in little pots or in your garden.
A modern yeast strain was used. It would have taken years of DNA research to reveal the exact nature of the yeast used in Ancient Egypt.  The experts chose a fast-fermenting strain from the National Yeast Collection in Norwich, also in eastern England, that works at a high temperature, as temperatures would have been hot in ancient Egypt, but not as hot as today.
No ancient Egyptian ever made beer with hops. They used malt. They never sweetened their beer with fruit or honey. If you want to make ancient Egyptian beer, you put coriander into the brew because it grew wild in the Nile Valley. Coriander in ancient Egypt was put into bread and other baked products. You can add juniper. That also was used in bread and beer. So put a pinch of juniper and coriander into your beer kettle.
Now comes mashing time.  Emmer wheat, unlike modern cereals, has a thick hull or husk. Emmer wheat can take up to 14 hours to grind into a grist suitable for mashing. The grinding was done with a pestle and mortar using dampened grain. This was the method used in Ancient Egypt and is still in use currently in Turkey. Emmer wheat is close to modern brewing grain.
If you want to find out what ancient Egyptian wheat used in brewing beer was like, look at how emmer wheat is ground into bread flower in Turkey today. This could be a great project for someone studying nutritional anthropology.
When you mash the emmer wheat, it produces a sugary solution. The archaeologists trying to make Egyptian beer did conventional mashing and boiling in modern pans, and the three-day fermentation took place in a gallon jar. Ancient peoples baked bread after they learned to brew beer.
First Neolithic peoples let raw mixed flour stand out in the air where the dough reacted with wild yeast and pollen blowing in the wind. As the dough dropped into water and fermented, it turned to a type of beer.
Then when people added more raw mixed flour to the beer and baked it, they produced a light, leavened bread. Since Nile water was muddy, beer was used instead of water in ceremonies and as the meal-time beverage of choice for ancient Egyptian workers.
In 1996, archaeologists from the University of Cambridge found no flavorings in the beer, only spices. The ancient Egyptians seemed to have used barley to make malt. Egyptians of four thousand years ago used emmer wheat instead of hops. They heated the mixture, and then added yeast and uncooked malt to the cooked malt. After adding the second batch of malt, the brew was allowed to ferment.
Drink the new beer a few days after fermentation. Ancient pharaohs got to wait a few more days for the beer to get stronger. Tutankhamun Ale was brewed at 6 per cent alcohol by volume/4.8 per cent by weight. One thousand bottles were once produced and sold only in London’s top department store, Harrods, which is owned by an Egyptian, Mohamad Al Fayed.
The ancient-style beer was opaque and gold-colored. It tasted like spiced, mulled fruit. Different strains of yeast give off a variety of tastes and aromas. “Brewing blended cooked and uncooked malt with water; the mixture was strained free of husk before inoculation with yeast,” according to Investigation of Ancient Egyptian Baking and Brewing Methods by Correlative Microscopy” Science July 1996, v273, n5274, p488, by Samuel, Delwen.
My references for this recipe were the articles titled, King Tut’s Tipple” Discover Jan.1997, v18, n1, p13, by Shanti Menon, and Investigation of Ancient Egyptian Baking and Brewing Methods by Correlative Microscopy” Science July 1996, v273, n5274, p488, by Samuel, Delwen. For more information, see the publications of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3ER, UK.
article from Examiner.com

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Agricultural scene, tomb of Sennedjem at Luxor.

By Dr. Richard Redding, Archaeozoologist, University of Michigan
and Brian V. Hunt

 

Egyptians of the 4th Dynasty (2575-2465 BC) witnessed the construction of some of the world’s most enduring symbols: the pyramids, the temples, and the Sphinx of Giza. Tens of thousands of workers came together in great public works projects, undertaken to ensure the successful afterlife of kings. The problems this created for planners and administrators were monumental as well.

They could not, for example, solve the problems of provisioning a city of ten or twenty thousand by just scaling up the methods used for a village of a few hundred. The methods the Egyptians employed at Giza may have influenced the royal administration of the country for millennia to come.

How did the royal house manage to feed this massive workforce? What can the remains of animals in the archaeological record at Giza tell us about how the Egyptians solved this problem?
In an area of the world where people have traditionally reserved meat eating mostly for special occasions and feast-days, we have found evidence that the ancient state provisioned the pyramid city with enough cattle, sheep, and goat to feed thousands of people prime cuts of meat for more than a generation—even if they ate it every day.

We have examined and identified over 175,000 bones and bone fragments from the excavations at the Giza pyramid settlement. The bones are from fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. About 10% have been identifiable to at least the level of the genus (a group of closely related species).

Cattle and sheep dominate the fauna. We have found:

3,356 cattle fragments
6,897 sheep and goat fragments
536 pig fragments

 

The ratio of individual sheep and goat to individual cattle is 5 to 1.

It might appear that sheep and goats were more common at Giza than cattle, and that sheep and goats were more important. But remember that an 18-month-old bull produces 10 to 12 times as much meat as an 18-month-old ram

The ratio of sheep to goats at Giza is biased towards sheep. For the entire settlement site, the ratio of sheep to goat is 3 to 1.

There is a low frequency of pig bones.

The cattle and sheep consumed at the settlement were young.

30% of the cattle died before 8 months, 50% before 16 months, and only 20% were older than 24 months.
90% of the sheep and goats survived 10 months, only 50% were older than 16 months, and only 10% older than 24 months.
The cattle and sheep are predominately male.

The ratio of male to female cattle is 6 to 1.
The ratio of male to female sheep and goats is 11 to 1.
What does this tell us about life at the pyramid settlement?

Problems in scale
The agrarian society of ancient Egypt was centered on crops and animals. The Egyptians’ colorful tomb paintings depict a rich agricultural life and we find evidence of this life in the archaeological remains of their settlements.

 

The Egyptians could not catch fish, birds, and wild mammals in numbers adequate to support a large settlement like that at Giza.

Feeding the pyramid builders required an increased production of domestic mammals: sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. But there may have been inadequate space near Giza to support large herds of animals to feed the pyramid builders. Where did the supply of meat protein come from?

Expectations at Giza
Our models of animal use in the Middle East and Egypt are based on studies of the ecological, reproductive, productive, physiological and behavioral characteristics of domestic cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. These models help us make predictions.

 

The royal administrators had to develop a system that encouraged the production of animals beyond the needs of the villages of the Nile Delta and the Nile valley. They then collected the surplus and moved it along the Nile to Giza.

If the Giza settlement was organized and provisioned by a central authority (the royal administration), then we expect certain evidence to emerge from the archaeological data. Based on our knowledge of agrarian societies and food production, the evidence at Giza should show:

Pigs are evident at very low frequency.
Cattle and sheep dominate the fauna.
The cattle and sheep are mostly young males.
Animal utility
Pigs would have been unsatisfactory for provisioning a workforce on a large-scale in the ancient world. They cannot be herded and do not travel well over long distances. There are no nomadic pig herders anywhere in the world today.

 

Pigs have a dispersed birthing pattern that is not seasonal; they give birth up to three times a year. Therefore, young pigs are available at almost anytime for consumption.

Pigs provided no secondary products (hair, milk, etc.) and were therefore less valuable than cattle, sheep, and goats.

Because of the pig’s unsuitability for feeding workers on a large scale, the Egyptian workforce administrators were not interested in them as stock, and pigs were not involved in inter-regional exchange the way other animal stocks like cattle, sheep, and goats were.

Our studies indicate, however, that while the central authority did not consider pigs a valued provisioning resource, Egyptian families reared pigs for protein. Even today, in rural and urban areas around the world, farmers and non-farmers use pigs (where they are not proscribed by religion).

Delivered when needed
We know that the Egyptians recorded regular and detailed counts of animal stocks throughout the Nile Valley. These counts are a clear indication of the value of animals as a commodity to the state.

 

Although they cannot provide the quantity of meat that cattle do, sheep and goats are valuable for similar reasons. They can be herded and provide secondary products.

Sheep, goats, and cattle can and do travel long distances. Americans in the 19th century drove cattle to market over vast distances. Nomadic sheep and goat pastoralists today move animals 1,000 miles (1,609 km) by hoof in migration (e.g. Qashghi in Iran).

In the 4th Dynasty, it was not possible to rear sheep, goats, and cattle around Giza in the numbers needed for the pyramid builders. We are working on an estimate of the farm area required to rear these animals in sufficient numbers to provide a surplus that would support 8,000-10,000 workers laboring at ancient Giza. Preliminary estimates suggest a required area substantially larger than the Giza environs would allow.

The administrators would have organized drives of sheep, goats, and cattle between the Nile Valley and the high desert to move the required animals to Giza. In a foreshadowing of modern manufacturing, the animals would arrive in waves—a “just in time” delivery system.

Secondary produce
Sheep, cattle, and goats all have secondary products beyond their meat:

Sheep’s wool can be woven for cloth.
Leather is valuable for clothing and tools.
Cattle bones can be used to make tools.
The ancient inhabitants may also have consumed milk from cows and goats, but not in such large quantities that it would have been signficant for the diet of the pyramid labor force. Secondary produce makes all of these animals more valuable resources.

Birth cycles and surplus males
Sheep and goats have tight birthing seasons (compared to pigs) and produce age classes from which the young male surplus needs to be harvested. As with cattle, female sheep and goats are needed to produce offspring, while only a few males are needed for breeding.

Without a central authority, this surplus creates a labor problem for herders and agriculturists. Do they reduce the herd size or increase meat consumption seasonally? It would therefore have been relatively easy for administrators to encourage villages to increase production. The central authority then becomes a convenient market for the surplus in exchange for goods and services.

Ideal grazing
In Egypt, ranchers would have raised cattle in grassy areas with wells and watering holes like the Nile Delta. They would have raised sheep in the drier areas. Goats could have thrived in both places and would have complimented cattle rearing because these animals do not compete for food.

Imagine a division across the Nile Delta or Valley: cattle and goats in the middle and sheep and goats along the edges. Sheep and goats would go out into the high deserts in the rainy season and returned to the edges of the delta or valley in the dry season.

Kom el-Hisn: contradiction and example

Dr. Redding at Kom el-Hisn, 1988.Photo courtesy of Dr. Anthony J. Cagle

The Old Kingdom (5th and 6th Dynasty, 2465-2150 BC) Egyptian village, Kom el-Hisn, was excavated by archaeologists in 1985, 1986, and 1988. A contradiction appears in the archaeological record there.

There is abundant evidence of cattle dung from the Old Kingdom level at Kom el-Hisn, which means there must have been large herds there. Yet the cattle bones indicate two things: the numbers of cattle slaughtered at Kom el-Hisn are relatively few and the bones that exist are from very old or very young individuals.

Where are the prime, young males, which provide the best cuts of beef?

The residents were not consuming the cattle they reared and were consuming few of the sheep. They only used very old animals or animals that were very young and ill. The residents of Kom el-Hisn were dependent on the pig as a source of protein and, unsurprisingly, we find a dominance of pig bone at the site.

Kom el-Hisn is just 4 kilometers from the ecotone where the Nile Valley meets the desert. The Egyptians could have reared cattle in the grassy areas around their villages and sent herders out with flocks of sheep and goats to exploit the ecotonal area.

The royal cattlemen periodically gathered up herds of young, male cattle and sheep (1 to 2 years) and drove them along the Nile to a central point for redistribution. These young male animals were not consumed locally and so their remains did not enter the archaeological record at Kom el-Hisn.

Cattle were raised at Kom el-Hisn but not consumed there. Where were the consumers?

We hypothesize that Kom el-Hisn was a regional or provincial center for raising cattle, but that the young males were sent to the core area of the Old Kingdom state—the capital zone and the pyramid zone—for feeding cities. Our systematic excavations and retrieval of animal bone from such core-area settlements, like Giza, allow us to test our hypothesis. In fact, we find the inverse ratios of Kom el-Hisn: lots of cattle, sheep, and goat but very little pig.

Conclusions
Our study of the 4,500-year-old animal bones at Giza are another piece of the puzzle of life in ancient Egypt. Based on the data above, we see that the pyramid settlement at Giza was a well-provisioned site, supplied by the central authority; the archaeological pattern is not one of a livestock producing site.

A central authority gathered predominately young, male sheep, goats, and cattle and brought them to the site to feed the occupants; the bones of these animals dominate the faunal remains and pigs are in very little evidence. Once again we find that an interdisciplinary approach to our examination of the evidence at Giza, yields a much fuller picture of life at the settlement and reveals clues to the organization of the ancient Egyptian state.

More to tell
There’s yet another story to tell about animal use at Giza. Further analysis now indicates that species are not equally, or randomly, distributed around the site. Patterns exist in animal use across the site and these patterns need to be explained.

Please visit our site again to read a future article that discusses the unequal distribution of animal remains across the pyramid settlement and what that might mean about the people who lived there.
Original article:
.ancient Egypt research associates

Ancient Egypt Research Associates.

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