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The Sima del Elefante site. Image: University of York

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New research conducted by scientists at the University of York and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona reveals for the first time that Europe’s earliest humans did not use fire for cooking, but had a balanced diet of meat and plants – all eaten raw.

Studying dental plaque from a 1.2 million year old hominin (early human species), recovered by the Atapuerca Research Team in 2007 in Sima del Elefante in northern Spain, archaeologists extracted microfossils to find the earliest direct evidence of food eaten by early humans.

These microfossils included traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules indicating consumption of grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine, insect fragments and a possible fragment of a toothpick.

All detected fibres were uncharred, and there was also no evidence showing inhalation of microcharcoal – normally a clear indicator of proximity to fire.

Fiery debate

The timing of the earliest use of fire for cooking is hotly contested, with some researchers arguing habitual use started around 1.8 million years ago while others suggest it was as late as 300,000-400,000 years ago.

Possible evidence for fire has been found at some very early sites in Africa. However, the lack of evidence for fire at Sima del Elefante suggests that this knowledge was not carried with the earliest humans when they left Africa.

The earliest definitive evidence in Europe for use of fire is 800,000 years ago at the Spanish site of Cueva Negra, and at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel, a short time later.

Taken together, this evidence suggests the development of fire technology occurred at some point between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago, revealing a new timeline for when the earliest humans started to cook food.

Diet implications

Dr Karen Hardy, lead author and Honorary Research Associate at the University of York and ICREA Research Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, said: “Obtaining evidence for any aspect of hominin life at this extremely early date is very challenging. Here, we have been able to demonstrate that these earliest Europeans understood and exploited their forested environment to obtain a balanced diet 1.2 million years ago, by eating a range of different foods and combining starchy plant food with meat.

“This new timeline has significant implications in helping us to understand this period of human evolution – cooked food provides greater energy, and cooking may be linked to the rapid increases in brain size that occurred from 800,000 years ago onwards.

“It also correlates well with previous research hypothesising that the timing of cooking is linked to the development of salivary amylase, needed to process cooked starchy food. Starchy food was an essential element in facilitating brain development, and contrary to popular belief about the ‘Paleodiet’, the role of starchy food in the Palaeolithic diet was significant.”

Dr Anita Radini, PhD student at the University of York said: “These results are very exciting, as they highlight the potential of dental calculus to store dietary and environmental information from deep in the human evolutionary past. It is also interesting to see that pollen remains are preserved often in better conditions than in the soil of the same age. Overall this is a very positive step in the discipline, in terms of preservation of material in the calculus matrix.”

Diet and environment 1.2 million years ago revealed through analysis of dental calculus from Europe’s oldest hominin at Sima del Elefante, Spain is published in Naturwissenschaften. To read, visit: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00114-016-1420-x

 

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Original Article:

popular-archaeology.com

 

PLOS ONE—When fluctuating climates in the Ice Age altered habitats, modern humans may have adapted their diets in a different way than Neandertals, according to a study published April 27, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Sireen El Zaatari of the University of Tübingen, Germany, and colleagues.

The Neandertal lineage survived for hundreds of thousands of years despite the severe temperature fluctuations of the Ice Age. The reasons for their decline around 40 thousand years ago remain unclear. The authors of this study investigated the possible influence of dietary strategies using the fossilized molars of 52 Neandertals and Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens (modern humans). They analysed the type and degree of microwear on the teeth to attempt to draw conclusions about diet type and to establish a relationship with prevalent climactic conditions.

They found that as the climate fluctuated and habitats altered, Neandertals may have adapted their diet to the resources that were most readily available, eating mainly meat when in open, cold steppe environments, and supplementing their diet with more plants, seeds, and nuts when in forested landscapes. Meanwhile, modern humans seemed to stick to their dietary strategy regardless of slight environmental changes and retained a relatively large proportion of plant-based foods in their diet. “To be able to do this, they may have developed tools to extract dietary resources from their environment”” says Sireen El Zaatari. The researchers concluded that Upper Paleolithic modern humans’ differing dietary strategies may have given them an advantage over the Neandertals.

The Neandertals may have maintained their opportunistic approach of eating whatever was available in their changing habitats over hundreds of thousands of years. However, modern humans seem to have invested more effort in accessing food resources and significantly changed their dietary strategies over a much shorter period of time, in conjunction with their development of tools, which may have given them an advantage over Neanderthals.

The European Neandertal and modern human individuals analysed in this study do not temporally overlap and thus would not inform us about direct dietary competition between these two groups. Nevertheless, if the behavioral differences detected in this study were already established at the time of contact between them, these differences might have contributed to the demise of the Neandertals and the survival of modern humans.

Source: PLOS ONE press release.

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*El Zaatari S, Grine FE, Ungar PS, Hublin J-J (2016) Neandertal versus Modern Human Dietary Responses to Climatic Fluctuations. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0153277. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153277

his is an image of a fossilized human molar used in the study of dietary habits of Neandertals and Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens. Credit: Sireen El Zaatari

his is an image of a fossilized human molar used in the study of dietary habits of Neandertals and Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens. Credit: Sireen El Zaatari

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Interior of Grotta Paglicci, Italy, with wall paintings. Image courtesy of Stefano Ricci.

Original article: 

Posted September7, 2015

Popular archaeology
Grinding tool dated to more than 32,000 years ago used to grind grains into flour, say researchers.

Researchers report early evidence of flour production by ancient humans. Recent interest in ancient diets has led to the collection of extensive data about the variety of plants eaten by early humans and ancient food processing capabilities. Marta Mariotti Lippi of the University of Florence and colleagues analyzed the residues from an ancient grinding tool to gain further insight into food processing practices of the Early Gravettian culture of ancient Europe. The tool was found in Grotta Paglicci in Southern Italy in 1989 and dates to more than 32,000 years ago. Residue samples from the tool contained a variety of starch grains, and the distribution of the starch grains on the tool surface supported the use of the tool for grinding grain into flour. The presence of swollen, gelatinized starch grains in the residues suggests that the plants were thermally treated before grinding. Such a treatment might have been necessary to accelerate plant drying during the Middle-Upper Paleolithic, when the climate was colder than at present. The most common starch grains in the residues appeared to come from oats, representing the oldest evidence to date of the processing of oats for human consumption. The findings suggest that the inhabitants of Grotta Paglicci may have been the earliest people to use a multi-step process in preparing plants for consumption.

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Topic :Ancient Fishing

ancient-fish-hook

Scientists have unearthed six fishhooks, the oldest of which was made from a 19,000-year-old mammoth tusk.

Hunters of ice age reindeer around 12,300 years ago likely left the fishhooks, along with mammal and fish bones, in an open field in what is now Wustermark, Germany. The fishhooks, which are the oldest found in Europe, suggests humans developed fishing tools earlier than previously thought, probably to catch fast-moving fish that appeared in lakes as the climate warmed.

“These people had strong ideas to use the new resources of this changing environment,” said Robert Sommer, a paleoecologist at the University of Kiel in Germany. The eel, perch and pike that entered lakes are too fast to snag with a harpoon or a spear, Sommer added.

The findings are detailed in the May 2013 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Ancient seafood

Most archaeological evidence for ancient seafood consumption has washed away with rising sea levels. In 2011, scientists discovered the world’s oldest fishhooks in coastal caves in East Timor (formerly part of Indonesia).  But because the hooks were not complete, they relied heavily on nearby fish bones to draw their conclusions.

And until now, archaeologists in Europe thought hunter-gatherers around 12,000 years ago speared slow-moving fish like salmon in shallow streams, but didn’t use hooks until much later, Sommer told LiveScience.

Fish eaters

Sommer and his colleagues unearthed several Paleolithic finds during a routine environmental assessment prior to building a shopping mall 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) west of Berlin.

The site, which was once an open field near an ancient lake, revealed six fishhooks, along with animal and fish remains. One of the fishhooks was carved from ivory from a mammoth tusk, while the rest were made of reindeer or elk bones closer to 12,300 years of age.

Because mammoths went extinct before the fishermen lived, the people probably found a whole tusk and used it millennia later, Sommer told LiveScience.

Confirms fishing

The fishhooks are impressive because they show the sophistication of ancient hunters, said Sue O’Connor, an archaeologist at the Australian National University, who found the East Timor fishhooks, but was not involved in this study

“There’s a lot of planning that’s gone into the development of these particular hook shapes,” O’Connor told LiveScience. “You’ve got to have it at the right angle so it actually hooks the fish, otherwise the fish just gets off.”

Original article:

livescience

By Tia Ghose

March 8, 2013

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