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First published inn PHYS.org

by  University of South Florida

Geoscientists discover Ancestral Puebloans survived from ice melt in New Mexico lava tubes
USF geosciences professor Bogdan Onac is pictured with ice deposit in New Mexico. Credit: University of South Florida

For more than 10,000 years, the people who lived on the arid landscape of modern-day western New Mexico were renowned for their complex societies, unique architecture and early economic and political systems. But surviving in what Spanish explorers would later name El Malpais, or the “bad lands,” required ingenuity now being explained for the first time by an international geosciences team led by the University of South Florida.

Exploring an ice-laden lava tube of the El Malpais National Monument and using precisely radiocarbon- dated charcoal found preserved deep in an ice deposit in a lava tube, USF geosciences Professor Bogdan Onac and his team discovered that Ancestral Puebloans survived devastating droughts by traveling deep into the caves to melt ancient ice as a water resource.

Dating back as far as AD 150 to 950, the water gatherers left behind charred material in the cave indicating they started small fires to melt the ice to collect as drinking water or perhaps for religious rituals. Working in collaboration with colleagues from the National Park Service, the University of Minnesota and a research institute from Romania, the team published its discovery in Scientific Reports.

The droughts are believed to have influenced settlement and subsistence strategies, agricultural intensification, demographic trends and migration of the complex Ancestral Puebloan societies that once inhabited the American Southwest. Researchers claim the discovery from ice deposits presents “unambiguous evidence” of five drought events that impacted Ancestral Puebloan society during those centuries.

“This discovery sheds light on one of the many human-environment interactions in the Southwest at a time when climate change forced people to find water resources in unexpected places,” Onac said, noting that the geological conditions that supported the discovery are now threatened by modern climate change.

“The melting cave ice under current climate conditions is both uncovering and threatening a fragile source of paleoenvironmental and archaeological evidence,” he added.

Geoscientists discover Ancestral Puebloans survived from ice melt in New Mexico lava tubes
Cibola Gray Ware discovered at El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico. Credit: University of South Florida

Onac specializes in exploring the depths of caves around the world where ice and other geological formations and features provide a window to past sea level and climate conditions and help add important context to today’s climate challenges.

Their study focused on a single lava tube amid a 40-mile swatch of treacherous ancient lava flows that host numerous lava tubes, many with significant ice deposits. While archaeologists have suspected that some of the surface trails crisscrossing the lava flows were left by ancient inhabitants searching for water, the research team said their work is the earliest, directly dated proof of water harvesting within the lava tubes of the Southwest.

The study characterizes five drought periods over an 800-year period during which Ancestral Puebloans accessed the cave, whose entrance sits more than 2,200 meters above sea level and has been surveyed at a length of 171 meters long and about 14 meters in depth. The cave contains an ice block that appears to be a remnant of a much larger ice deposit that once filled most of the cave’s deepest section. For safety and conservation reasons, the National Park Service is identifying the site only as Cave 29.

In years with normal temperatures, the melting of seasonal ice near cave entrances would leave temporary shallow pools of water that would have been accessible to the Ancestral Puebloans. But when the ice was absent or retreated in warmer and dryer periods, the researchers documented evidence showing that the Ancestral Puebloans repeatedly worked their way to the back of the cave to light small fires to melt the ice block and capture the water.

They left behind charcoal and ash deposits, as well as a Cibola Gray Ware pottery shard that researchers found as they harvested a core of ancient ice from the block. The team believes the Ancestral Puebloans were able to manage smoke within the cave with its natural air circulation system by keeping the fires small.

The discovery was an unexpected one, Onac said. The team’s original goal in its journey into the lava tube was to gather samples to reconstruct the paleoclimate using ice deposits, which are slowly but steadily melting.

“I have entered many lava tubes, but this one was special because of the amount of charcoal present on the floor in the deeper part of the cave,” he said. “I thought it was an interesting topic, but only once we found charcoal and soot in the ice core that the idea to connect the use of ice as a waterresource came to my mind.”

Unfortunately, researchers are now racing against the clock as modern climate conditions are causing the cave ice to melt, resulting in the loss of ancient climate data. Onac said he recently received support from the National Science Foundation to continue the research in the lava tubes before the geological evidence disappears.

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Pottery fragments found at the Havnø kitchen midden, Northern Denmark. Credit: Harry Robson, University of York.

York.ac.uk

Hunter-gatherer groups living in the Baltic between seven and six thousand years ago had culturally distinct cuisines, analysis of ancient pottery fragments has revealed.

An international team of researchers analysed over 500 hunter-gatherer vessels from 61 archaeological sites throughout the Baltic region.

They found striking contrasts in food preferences and culinary practices between different groups – even in areas where there was a similar availability of resources. Pots were used for storing and preparing foods ranging from marine fish, seal and beaver to wild boar, bear, deer, freshwater fish, hazelnuts and plants.

The findings suggest that the culinary tastes of ancient people were not solely dictated by the foods available in a particular area, but also influenced by the traditions and habits of cultural groups, the authors of the study say.

Rich variety

A lead author of the study, Dr Harry Robson from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “People are often surprised to learn that hunter-gatherers used pottery to store, process and cook food, as carrying cumbersome ceramic vessels seems inconsistent with a nomadic life-style.

“Our study looked at how this pottery was used and found evidence of a rich variety of foods and culinary traditions in different hunter-gatherer groups.”

The researchers also identified unexpected evidence of dairy products in some of the pottery vessels, suggesting that some hunter-gatherer groups were interacting with early farmers to obtain this resource.

Dr Robson added: “The presence of dairy fats in several hunter-gatherer vessels was an unexpected example of culinary ‘cultural fusion’. The discovery has implications for our understanding of the transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to early farming and demonstrates that this commodity was either exchanged or perhaps even looted from nearby farmers.”

Cultural habits

Lead author of the study, Dr Blandine Courel from the British Museum, added: “Despite a common biota that provided lots of marine and terrestrial resources for their livelihoods, hunter-gatherer communities around the Baltic Sea basin did not use pottery for the same purpose. Our study suggests that culinary practices were not influenced by environmental constraints but rather were likely embedded in some long-standing culinary traditions and cultural habits.”

The study, led by the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum, the University of York and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen, Germany), used molecular and isotopic techniques to analyse the fragments of pottery.

Revolutionised understanding

Senior author, Professor Oliver Craig from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “Chemical analysis of the remains of foods and natural products prepared in pottery has already revolutionised our understanding of early agricultural societies, we are now seeing these methods being rolled out to study prehistoric hunter-gatherer pottery. The results suggest that they too had complex and culturally distinct cuisines.”

 

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Eurekalert.org

Scientific Reports

Analysing three components of ceramic cooking pots — charred remains, inner surface residues and lipids absorbed within the ceramic walls — may help archaeologists uncover detailed timelines of culinary cooking practices used by ancient civilizations. The findings, from a year-long cooking experiment, are published this week in Scientific Reports.

Led by scientists Melanie Miller, Helen Whelton and Jillian Swift, a team of seven archaeologists repetitively cooked the same ingredients in unglazed ceramic pots once per week over the course of one year, then changed recipes for the final cooking event to study whether remaining residues may represent the last meal cooked or an accumulation of cooking events over the total amount of time a vessel has been used. Recipes included ingredients such as wheat, maize and venison.

Chemical analysis of the carbon and nitrogen isotopic values of residues present in the ceramic pots, contributed by carbohydrates, lipids and proteins from the meals cooked, suggest that the remains of burnt food left within each vessel represent the final ingredients and change with each meal. The chemical composition of the thin residue layer formed on the inside surface of the cooking pot and in most direct contact with the food when cooking represents a mixture of previous meals, but most closely resembles that of the final meal. Further analysis also suggests that lipids are absorbed into the walls of the ceramic vessel over a number of cooking events and are not immediately replaced by the new recipes but are instead slowly replaced over time, representing a mixture of the ingredients cooked over the total amount of time the vessel was in use.

Analysis of all three residues reveal cooking events across different time scales for ceramic vessels and may enable archaeologists to better understand the various resources used by ancient cultures and to estimate the lifespan of pottery used in meal preparation.

 

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Upi.com

Analysis of hundreds of pottery fragments from the Baltic suggests different groups of hunter-gatherers in the region developed unique culinary traditions. Photo by Harry Robson/University of York

Analysis of hundreds of pottery fragments from the Baltic suggests different groups of hunter-gatherers in the region developed unique culinary traditions. Photo by Harry Robson/University of York

April 22 (UPI) — Analysis of ancient pottery fragments suggest groups of hunter gatherers living in the Baltic had developed culturally distinct cuisines between 6,000 and 7,500 years ago.

Researchers collected hundreds of fragments from pottery vessels found at 61 different archaeological sites in the Baltic region. Scientists analyzed the fragments for evidence of the purpose and contents of the ancient vessels.

Their findings — published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science — suggests different groups of prehistoric humans evolved unique culinary traditions, cooking and combining foods in distinctive ways.

“People are often surprised to learn that hunter-gatherers used pottery to store, process and cook food, as carrying cumbersome ceramic vessels seems inconsistent with a nomadic lifestyle,” lead study author Harry Robson, archaeologist at the University of York in Britain, said in a news release. “Our study looked at how this pottery was used and found evidence of a rich variety of foods and culinary traditions in different hunter-gatherer groups.”

Scientists found little evidence of ceramic vessel use for non-food purposes, like making resin. Instead they found a diversity of culinary practices, even among groups with access to similar resources. The evidence suggests cultural practices, not variations in food availability, dictated the differences in how and what different groups cooked and ate.

“Our study suggests that culinary practices were not influenced by environmental constraints but rather were likely embedded in some long-standing culinary traditions and cultural habits,” said co-author Blandine Courel, scientist at the British Museum.

Researchers found evidence that hunter-gatherers in the Baltic were taking advantage of a wide variety of foods, including marine fish, seals, beavers, wild boar, bear, deer, freshwater fish, hazelnuts and plants. Some groups were also consuming dairy.

“The presence of dairy fats in several hunter-gatherer vessels was an unexpected example of culinary ‘cultural fusion,'” Robson said. “The discovery has implications for our understanding of the transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to early farming and demonstrates that this commodity was either exchanged or perhaps even looted from nearby farmers.”

Pottery usage and the development of culinary traditions has previously been linked to the spread of agriculture across Europe, but the latest research — made possible by improved molecular and isotopic analysis techniques — suggests groups of hunter-gatherers had developed similar levels of culinary sophistication and diversity.

“Chemical analysis of the remains of foods and natural products prepared in pottery has already revolutionized our understanding of early agricultural societies, we are now seeing these methods being rolled out to study prehistoric hunter-gatherer pottery,” said Oliver Craig, study co-author and University of York archaeologist. “The results suggest that they too had complex and culturally distinct cuisines.”

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Professor Oliver Craig sampling pottery Credit: Carl Heron

York.ac.uk

A new study shows that ancient Siberian hunters created heat resistant pots so that they could cook hot meals – surviving the harshest seasons of the ice age by extracting nutritious bone grease and marrow from meat.

The research – which was undertaken at the University of York – also suggests there was no single point of origin for the world’s oldest pottery.

Academics extracted and analysed ancient fats and lipids that had been preserved in pieces of ancient pottery – found at a number of sites on the Amur River in Russia – whose dates ranged between 16,000 and 12,000 years ago.

Potential

Professor Oliver Craig, Director of the BioArch Lab at the University of York, where the analysis was conducted, said: “This study illustrates the exciting potential of new methods in archaeological science: we can extract and interpret the remains of meals that were cooked in pots over 16,000 years ago.

“It is interesting that pottery emerges during these very cold periods, and not during the comparatively warmer interstadials when forest resources, such as game and nuts, were more available.”

Why these pots were first invented in the final stages of the last Ice Age has long been a mystery, as well as the kinds of food that were being prepared in them.

Climatic fluctuation

Researchers also examined pottery found from the Osipovka culture also on the Amur River. Analysis proved that pottery from there had been used to process fish, most likely migratory salmon, which offered local hunters an alternative food source during periods of major climatic fluctuation. An identical scenario was identified by the same research group in neighbouring islands of Japan.

The new study demonstrates that the world’s oldest clay cooking pots were being made in very different ways in different parts of Northeast Asia, indicating a “parallel” process of innovation, where separate groups that had no contact with each other started to move towards similar kinds of technological solutions in order to survive.

Lead author, Dr Shinya Shoda, of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Nara, Japan said:”We are very pleased with these latest results because they close a major gap in our understanding of why the world’s oldest pottery was invented in different parts of Northeast Asia in the Late Glacial Period, and also the contrasting ways in which it was being used by these ancient hunter-gatherers.

“There are some striking parallels with the way in which early pottery was used in Japan, but also some important differences that we had not expected. This leaves many new questions that we will follow up with future research.”

Origin point

Professor Peter Jordan, senior author of the study at the Arctic Centre and Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, the Netherlands said:”The insights are particularly interesting because they suggest that there was no single “origin point” for the world’s oldest pottery. We are starting to understand that very different pottery traditions were emerging around the same time but in different places, and that the pots were being used to process very different sets of resources.

“This appears to be a process of “parallel innovation” during a period of major climatic uncertainty, with separate communities facing common threats and reaching similar technological solutions.”

The last Ice Age reached its deepest point between 26,000 to 20,000 years ago, forcing humans to abandon northern regions, including large parts of Siberia. From around 19,000 years ago, temperatures slowly started to warm again, encouraging small bands of hunters to move back into these vast empty landscapes.

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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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Pottery with traces of food and drink

Newscientist.com

By Colin Barras

Was it the lure of beer that encouraged prehistoric humans to begin farming? Archaeological evidence from China suggests it might have been as the region’s first farmers had worked out how to turn millet and other cereals into alcoholic drinks in two distinct ways, hinting at how important alcohol was at the time.

Li Liu at Stanford University and her colleagues analysed the residues left on 8000- to 7000-year-old pottery sherds unearthed at two early farming sites in north China. At both sites, some of the residues contained cereal starch granules with signs of physical damage similar to that caused by fermentation.

A key stumbling block when brewing beer from cereals is to break down the starches into fermentable sugars. Significantly, say Liu and her colleagues, the ancient brewers at the two sites appear to have used different techniques to do this.

At the site of Lingkou, tiny mineral particles from plants – phytoliths – in the residues suggest the brewers simply let the grains sprout, which frees up the sugars. But at the site of Guantaoyuan, 300 kilometres to the west, the mix of phytoliths and fungi suggests an alternative approach. Here, the archaeologists say the brewers triggered the breakdown of starches by using a ‘fermentation starter’ known as , which is made from grains that have been allowed to mould. is still used today to produce cereal wines and spirits.

Collectively, says Liu, the evidence suggests the history of these two distinct fermentation techniques stretches back to the early days of farming in East Asia.

“That would be very exciting,” says Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The origins of are hotly disputed, he says. Traditionally, its roots are traced back to the Shang Dynasty in China, which began about 3700 years ago. But even in that period its questionable when use started, he says.

Honey beer

However, McGovern would like to see stronger evidence that the brewers at Guantaoyuan really were using . In 2004, he and his colleagues described even earlier evidence of fermented drinks in the region, at a 9000-year-old site in central China. The brewers there used honey and fruit as well as rice. It’s an important distinction, says McGovern. Not only are honey and fruit rich in fermentable sugars, they also naturally carry the yeasts that perform fermentation – which cereals do not. If they used honey and fruit as well as cereals, early brewers at Guantaoyuan would not have needed to use to get fermentation started.

But there is agreement that the new study emphasises the important of alcoholic drinks in early farming cultures. Liu suspects the spread of domesticated rice might have been encouraged in part because of its use in such drinks. “Alcohol would be used in feasting which helps some individuals to gain high social status and to form alliances,” she says.

McGovern thinks alcoholic drinks might even have helped encourage humans to adopt farming. The large quantities of grain produced by farming could be stored and turned into beer or bread all year round. Beer might have been seen as the more desirable product. “Bread doesn’t have the mind-altering effect of alcohol, which I think is so important for social and religious reasons,” he says.

Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1902668116

 

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Ancient peach pits

Original article:

This article was written by Yoshito Watari and Yuya Tanaka.

Asahi.com

SAKURAI, Nara Prefecture–Thousands of peach pits found near building ruins in the Makimuku archeological site in western Japan were likely harvested between 135 and 230 A.D., adding to the possibility that the ancient kingdom called Yamataikoku was located here.

The results of carbon-14 dating of the ancient seeds were published in the latest issue of the bulletin of the Research Center of the Makimukugaku, Sakurai City.

According to the research center of the Makimukugaku, about 2,800 peach seeds were found from a pit about 5 meters south of the site of the building in 2010 along with other items, including parts of baskets and potteries, and many plants and animal bones. The objects found in the pit were believed to have been buried after being used in some kind of rituals.

The archeological site, stretching over a large area around JR’s Makimuku Station, is a government-designated historic site dating from the early third to early fourth century. It is one of the few sites around Japan that is believed to be the location of the elusive kingdom of Yamataikoku.

The kingdom appears in “Gishiwajinden,” a history book of ancient China, and is said to have existed from the end of the second century through the first half of the third century until the death of queen Himiko, who co-reigned over a greater nation called Wa, which covers much of today’s Japan.

Where Yamataikoku was located has divided Japanese historians and scholars into two camps–either in Kyushu island or in the Kinki region, where Nara Prefecture is located.

“The dates derived by scientific analysis fell into the range we expected,” said Kaoru Terasawa, the director of the Research Center of the Makimukugaku. “Along with the archeological analysis based on the age of potteries, the age of the large building was verified to be from the first half of the third century.”

However, Chuhei Takashima, archeologist and former dean of Saga Women’s Junior College, who believes Yamataikoku was located in Kyushu island, disagreed.

“It is still not definitely certain whether the carbon dating data actually indicates the age of the building itself,” he pointed out.

It is the first time that a natural scientific method was used to date the building’s ruins, which measures 19.2 meters north to south and 12.4 meters east to west, in the Makimuku site. The carbon dating makes it more likely than ever that it originated from around the era that Himiko ruled over Wa.

To date the pits, Yoshio Nakamura, professor emeritus of Nagoya University, and Ryo Kondo, director of social education of the education board of the Tokushima prefectural government, both conducted radiocarbon dating tests separately using accelerator mass spectrometry.

Nakano studied 15 pits, and apart from three that could not be analyzed, he concluded that 12 originated from between 135 and 230 A.D.

Kondo studied two others and obtained similar results. He also analyzed charred matter on pottery pieces and melon seeds found in the pit, and concluded they are highly like to be from between 100 and 250 A.D.

 

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Vintage: wine press

Vintage: wine press

Original article:

pays.org

by Sean Barton

Archaeologists from the University of Sheffield have uncovered a unique insight into the life of one of the Roman Empire’s most prominent landowners.

Until now, very little was known about Rome’s Imperial leaders aside from their battle triumphs, territorial conquests and monumental legacies.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology investigating the vast Imperial estate of Vagnari in Italy, have now unearthed evidence of wine production on an industrial scale – shedding light on their home life away from the battlefield.

The excavation team discovered the corner of a cella vinaria, a wine fermentation and storage room, in which wine vessels, known as dolia defossa, were fixed into the ground.

The heavy and cumbersome wine vessels have the capacity of more than 1,000 litres and were buried up to their necks in the ground to keep the temperature of the wine constant and cool – a necessary measure in hot climates.

The scale of the wine production provides clear evidence for industrial activities and provides a glimpse into the range of specialist crafts and industries practised by residents – painting a better and more complete picture of life on the Imperial estate and the wealth it provided for its owner.

Maureen Carroll, Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, said: “Before we began our work only a small part of the vicus, which is at the heart of the estate and its administrative core, had been explored though the general size and outline of the village had been indicated by geophysics and test-trenching.

“The discovery that lead was being processed here at Vagnari is also particularly revealing about the environment in which the inhabitants of the village lived and potential health risks to which they were exposed.

“Scrap lead found during excavation consisted of roughly torn and cut pieces taken from other objects such as pipes, vessels and tools which had been collected to be re-worked. The substantial amounts of molten lumps of lead and smelting debris show that this activity was intensive.

“Finished lead products include weighs, fishing net weights, and sheet lead clipped into small squares – perhaps handy repair patches for mending tools and containers.”

Vagnari is situated in a valley of the Basentello river, just east of the Apennine mountains in Puglia (ancient Apulia) in south-east Italy.

After the Roman conquest of the region in the 3rd century B.C., Vagnari was linked to Rome by one of Italy’s main Roman roads, the Via Appia.

Excavation and survey by British, Canadian and Italian universities since 2000 have furnished evidence for a large territory that was acquired by the Roman emperor and transformed into imperial landholdings at some point in the early 1st century A.D.

Professor Carroll added: “Few Imperial estates in Italy have been investigated archeologically, so it is particularly gratifying that our investigations at Vagnari will make a significant contribution to the understanding of Roman elite involvement in the exploitation of the environment and control over free and slave labour from the early 1st century AD.

“We now aim to determine how diverse the estate’s economy was, and how the cultivation of vines and wine-making fitted in to the emperor’s wider agricultural and industrial landscape.

“Combining the archaeological and anthropological evidence has the potential to considerably advance our knowledge of health and disease in a rural population of Roman Imperial Italy.”

 

 

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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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