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Vinette 1 vessel from the Peace Bridge site, Ontario (image courtesy of Archaeological Services Inc)

Archaeologists from the University of York and Queens College, City University New York (CUNY) have discovered the first use of pottery in north-eastern North America was largely due to the cooking, storage and social feasting of fish by hunter-gatherers.

Studying how pottery production in north-eastern North America developed 3000 years ago, researchers found that the increasing use of pottery was not simply an adaptive response to increased reliance on specific kinds of wild foodstuffs, as previously thought.

Instead, new analysis on pottery vessels indicates that social factors triggered the innovation of pottery. While a wide range of wild animal and plant foods were exploited by hunter-gatherers of north-eastern North America, their pottery was used principally to process fish, and produce fish oil. This suggests that abundant aquatic resources allowed investment in the production of pottery, as fish became a valued exchange commodity and was prepared, cooked and consumed in hunter-gatherer group feasts.

Conducting organic residue analysis on approximately 133 vessels from 33 early pottery sites in north-eastern North America, tests were carried out to measure bulk carbon and nitrogen isotopes, compound-specific carbon isotopes, and to extract and identify lipids, notably aquatic biomarkers. Findings show high traces of aquatic organisms in most samples, consistent with the cooking of marine and freshwater foods and the preparation and storage of fish oil.

Dr Karine Taché, Professor of Anthropology at CUNY Queens College who undertook the research as an EU Marie Curie research fellow at the University of York, said: “These early pottery sites are now thought to have been important seasonal meeting points for hunter-gatherer groups, drawing communities together and, especially in periods of high abundance, promoting the cooperative harvesting of aquatic resources and new social contexts for the cooking and consumption of fish.”

Dr Oliver Craig, Reader in Archaeological Science at the University of York, said: “Combined with similar results obtained in different parts of the world, like Japan, Northern Europe or Alaska, our study points to a close association between aquatic resources and the innovation of pottery by hunter-gatherer societies. It also highlights once again the incredible potential of organic residue analysis to directly address the often posed question Why humans initially made pots?”

Original article:
york.ac.uk
Feb 3, 2015

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Clay shards discovered in Lower Galilee may mark oldest evidence for use of oil in entire Middle East.

Olive oil was used in the Land of Israel as early as 8,000 years ago, archaeologists working at an antiquities site in the Lower Galilee said Wednesday, heralding the earliest evidence for use of the staple in the country and possibly the entire Middle East.

The findings by an Israeli team were published recently in the Israel Journal of Plant Sciences and announced Wednesday.

Tests of potsherds, some dating back to 5,800 BCE, found in 2011-2013 during a salvage excavation ahead of the widening of Road 79, showed traces of olive oil remarkably similar to modern versions, researchers said.

Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov of the Israel Antiquities Authority methodically sampled pottery vessels found in the excavation at Ein Zippori in the Lower Galilee in order to ascertain what was stored in them and how they were used by the site’s ancient inhabitants.

“Although it is impossible to say for sure, this might be an olive species that was domesticated and joined grain and legumes – the other kinds of field crops that we know were grown then. Those crops are known from at least 2,000 years prior to the settlement at Ein Zippori. With the adoption of olive oil the basic Mediterranean diet was complete. From ancient times to the present, the Mediterranean economy has been based on high quality olive oil, grain and must, the three crops frequently mentioned in the Bible,” they said in a statement.

Their tests, conducted with Dvory Namdar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Earth Sciences, revealed that the pottery dating to the Early Chalcolithic period contained olive oil.

A comparison of the results of the extraction from the archaeological sherds with those of modern, one-year-old oil, showed a strong resemblance between the two, indicating a particularly high level of preservation of the ancient material, which had survived close to its original composition for almost 8,000 years.

Of the 20 pottery vessels sampled, two were found to be particularly ancient, dating to approximately 5,800 BCE.

The researchers said the findings went hand in hand with recent finds at Kfar Samir, a 7,700-year-old site now underwater off the coast of Haifa, where the oldest evidence of olive oil production was discovered.

“Now at Zippori, evidence has been found for the first time of the use of olive oil. Together with the Kfar Samir discovery, this is the earliest evidence of olive oil production in the country, and possibly the entire Levant (the Mediterranean basin),” the researchers said in a statement.

The discovery is apparently timed for the start of the holiday of Hanukkah, which Jewish tradition holds marks the second-century BCE re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of a one-day supply of olive oil used to light a ceremonial menorah lasting for eight days.

Milevski said the find, dating from 5,000 years before the Hanukkah story, did not supply a definite clue as to whether the oil was used for consumption, lighting, or both. “We found two large vessels and another small one; all were probably only used to store the oil. What it was used for we can only guess.”

Small clay candles, flat bowls filled with oil in which a wick was placed and lit, “date from later periods,” he added.

The society using the oil was pre-Jewish and practiced a religion revolving around the worship of fertility. “We have no writing during that period so we know little about them. We do not know what language they spoke but we assume it was an early Semitic language, from which Babylonian and Akkadian evolved and later also Hebrew and Arabic,” Milevski said.

Milevski said that on the same site the archaeologists found stone palettes with engravings of schematic female figures with animals around them. “In the same site we also found bones from the limbs of large animals engraved with images of eyes, trees and triangles symbolizing the female sex,” he said.

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One of the clay pots reconstructed from sherds found at the site near En Zippori at the Lower Galilee. (Courtesy Israel Antiquities ).

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A clay pot from the Early Chalcolithic period as found on site at Ein Zippori (Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)

Original article:
timesofisrael

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A ritual deposit, found intact beneath a first century Roman house in Sardis. The deposit, found inside two bowls, includes a number of small implements, a unique coin and an egg. The hole in the egg was made in antiquity.

Photos: Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/Harvard University
Topic: Ritual find and an egg

Sardis dig yields enigmatic trove: ritual egg in a pot

A ritual deposit, found intact beneath a first century Roman house in Sardis. The deposit, found inside two bowls, includes a number of small implements, a unique coin and an egg. The hole in the egg was made in antiquity.

By any measure, the ancient city of Sardis — home of the fabled King Croesus, a name synonymous with gold and vast wealth, and the city where coinage was invented — is an archaeological wonder.

The ruins of Sardis, in what is now Turkey, have been a rich source of knowledge about classical antiquity from the 7th century B.C., when the city was the capital of Lydia, through later Greek and Roman occupations.

Scholars digging at Sardis, the capital of ancient Lydia later occupied by Greeks and Romans. Sardis, in modern Turkey, was the fabled home of King Croesus, the richest man of his day, according to lore.

Now, however, Sardis has given up another treasure in the form of two enigmatic ritual deposits, which are proving more difficult to fathom than the coins for which the city was famous.

“The two deposits each consist of a small pot with a lid, a coin, a group of sharp metal implements and an egg, one of which is intact except for a hole carefully punched in it in antiquity,” explains Will Bruce, a classics graduate student a the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has been digging at Sardis for the past six years. Bruce made the finds last summer.

The dig at Sardis is overseen by Nicholas Cahill, a UW-Madison professor of art history. Cahill has directed field research at Sardis for decades. Both ritual deposits, says Cahill, date from the Roman era of Sardis, about A.D. 70 or 80.

Bruce and his team were excavating below the floor of a first century room, built over the ruins of an earlier building, which had probably been destroyed in a massive earthquake in A.D. 17.

Digging beneath the floor, Bruce and his colleagues first uncovered a thin-walled, nearly intact jug and, nearby, an assemblage of mostly unbroken pottery. “It looked like we were reaching a more intact deposit instead of fill,” says Bruce.

Within that assemblage, Bruce began to carefully uncover an inverted bowl, which turned out to be sitting on top of another bowl. The bowls, still filled with dirt, were carefully removed and immediately turned over to conservators who cleaned and dissembled them to find a set of small pointed instruments, a coin with a lion and portrait of Nero, and the intact egg.

“The ritual offerings were dug into pits in the floor, after the room was constructed,” says Cahill. “We know they were renovating the room periodically, because in another part of the space there was a dump of painted wall plaster buried under the floor, presumably in a renovation.”

“The meaning of these deposits is still quite open to interpretation,” notes Cahill, “but burying votive deposits below ground or in a wall was a fairly common practice,” perhaps as a ritual offering to protect the house. Roman literary sources suggest eggs were used in particular rituals.

For the archaeologists, part of the intrigue is that similar groups of bowls, needles, coins and eggs were discovered at Sardis more than 100 years ago when the temple of Artemis was excavated by Princeton University archaeologists. “It is an exact parallel to what they found in the early 20th century,” according to Cahill.

The coin was also unique. Sardis is famous as the place where coinage was invented in the Western world, first using electrum, an alloy of silver and gold, and later of pure gold and silver. Nearby sources of gold made ancient Lydia, and King Croesus, fabulously wealthy. While these Lydian coins are very rare, coins and coin hoards from later Greek and Roman occupiers of Sardis are routinely found.

But the coin found with the egg, says Cahill, seems to be special.

“The coin has a portrait of Nero on the front. The original reverse was hammered flat, and the image of a lion engraved in its place, which is very odd.” Expert numismatists have never seen anything like it. “The image of the lion is important because it is emblematic of the Lydian kings and of their native mother goddess Cybele,” Cahill says.

The discovery is unusual, Cahill notes, because finding ritualistic objects intact and in place after thousands of years is no everyday discovery, even in a rich archaeological context such as Sardis. “Ancient ritual was important to people. It is most unusual to find such fragile things so perfectly preserved.”

Original article:
wisc.edu
March 3, 2014 by Terry Devitt

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An inverted bowl, covering another bowl with a ritual deposit, emerges from the earth. The bowls contained a ritual deposit of a coin, small metal implements and an egg.

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Topic Ancient village

The remnants of a rural town that was lived in for some two centuries during the Second Temple period were uncovered near the main route to Jerusalem. In June 2013, Israel Natural Gas Lines began construction of the 22 mile-long project, which runs from the coast to the outskirts of Jerusalem, and in the process the village was uncovered. For the past six months the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has been conducting an archaeological salvage excavation of the site.

The excavations, which cover about 750 square meters, revealed a small rural town with a few stone houses and a network of narrow alleys. Each building, which probably housed a single nuclear family, consisted of several rooms and an open courtyard. According to Irina Zilberbod, excavation director on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, “The rooms generally served as residential and storage rooms, while domestic tasks were carried out in the courtyards.”

The town, whose name is unknown, is nestled at the top of a hill some 900 feet above sea level, with commanding views of the surrounding countryside. These large tracts of land were used to cultivate orchards and vineyards, the economic mainstay of the region’s inhabitants.

The excavations have shown that the site reached the peak of its development in the Hellenistic period (3rd century BCE), when Judea was ruled by the Seleucid Empire, established by one of Alexander the Great’s lieutenants. The town was probably abandoned at the end of the Hasmonean dynasty.

It is not known why the site was abandoned, but the event was probably related to economic problems and not to a violent incident. Jerusalem Regional Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch explained: “The phenomenon of villages and farms being abandoned at the end of the Hasmonean dynasty or the beginning of Herod’s rule is one that we are familiar with from many rural sites in Judea, and it may be related to Herod’s massive building projects in Jerusalem, particularly the construction at the Temple Mount, and the mass migration of villagers to the capital to work on these projects.”

The excavations yielded numerous and varied archeological findings, including basalt and limestone grinding and milling tools for domestic use, pottery cooking pots, jars for storing oil and wine, pottery oil lamps for domestic use, and more than sixty coins, including coins from the reigns of the Seleucid King Antiochus III and the Hasmonean King Alexander Yanai.

In light of these finds, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the INGL have agreed that engineering plans for the gas line are to be revised, bypassing the site and preserving it as an accessible archaeological site for the public.

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Aerial photograph of the site. Photo credit: Skyview, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Original article:
Jewish press
Feb 18, 2014

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A remarkable archaeological find in the Judean lowlands southwest of Jerusalem includes a six-millennia-old cultic temple and a 10,000-year-old house.

Topic: Ancient Dwelling

The ancient sites were located in routine archaeological digs conducted ahead of a planned expansion of Route 38, the main access road to Beit Shemesh. The building is the oldest ever found in the area, and constitutes remarkable “evidence of man’s transition to permanent dwellings,” researchers said Monday.

Labeling it “a fascinating glimpse into thousands of years of human development,” the Israel Antiquities Authority, together with the Netivei Israel Company that is carrying out the highway expansion, invited the public to visit the excavation site in Eshtaol on Wednesday, November 27.

“Settlement remains were unearthed at the site, the earliest of which dates to the beginning of the eighth millennium BCE and latest to the end of the fourth millennium BCE,” the authority said in a statement Monday.

“We uncovered a multitude of unique finds during the excavation,” said Amir Golani, one of the excavators for the Antiquities Authority. “The large excavation affords us a broad picture of the progression and development of the society in the settlement throughout the ages. Thus we can clearly see that in the Early Bronze Age, 5,000 years ago, a rural society made the transition to an urban society. We can see distinctly a settlement that gradually became planned, which included [streets] and buildings that were extremely impressive from the standpoint of their size and the manner of their construction. We can clearly trace the urban planning and see the guiding hand of the settlement’s leadership that chose to regulate the construction in the crowded regions in the center of the settlement and allowed less planning along its periphery.”

The finds allow the researchers to “trace the development of a society which became increasingly hierarchical,” Golani said.

The oldest building found dates from the time of the earliest known domestication of plants and animals.

“Whoever built the house did something that was totally innovative because up until this period [local human groups] migrated from place to place in search of food. Here we have evidence of man’s transition to permanent dwellings, and that in fact is the beginning of the domestication of animals and plants; instead of searching out wild sheep, ancient man started raising them near the house,” researchers said in a statement.

The researchers included Golani, Ya‘akov Vardi, Benyamin Storchan and Ron Be’eri, who serve as excavation directors for the Antiquities Authority.

The house is the oldest structure ever found in the Judean lowlands, they said, dating back to the period known to archaeologists as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic.

“The building, almost all of which was found, underwent a number of construction and repair phases that allude to its importance,” they said.

Near the building, excavators found a collection of nine flint and limestone axes placed side by side.

“It is apparent that the axes, some of which were used as tools and some as cultic objects, were highly valued by their owners. Just as today we are unable to get along without a cellular telephone and a computer, they too attributed great importance to their tools. Based on how it was arranged at the time of its discovery it seems that the cluster of axes was abandoned by its owner for some unknown reason,” the researchers concluded.

But the building wasn’t the only find at the site. A handful of buildings from the end of the Chalcolithic period, some 6,000 years ago, was found nearby. At the site, excavators found a six-sided stone column standing some 1.3 meters (51 inches) high and weighing several hundred kilos.

“The standing stone was smoothed and worked on all six of its sides,” the archaeologists said, explaining that its broad face was oriented eastward and concluding that the find ”alludes to the presence of a cultic temple at the site.”

“In the past, numerous manifestations have been found of the cultic practice that existed in the Chalcolithic period. However, from the research, we know of only a few temples” located at Ein Gedi and Teleilat Ghassul in present-day Jordan.

Original article:
times of israel.com
By haviv- retting gur

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A 10,000 year old house, the oldest dwelling to be unearthed to date in the Judean lowlands. (photo credit: Dr. Ya‘akov Vardi/Courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority.

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Archaeologist sifting for artifacts

Topic: More on ancient Native American Villages in Wyoming

13 Ancient Villages Discovered in Wyoming Mountains May Redraw Map of Tribal Migrations

High in the alpine forests of northwestern Wyoming, archaeologists have discovered more than a dozen villages dating back over 2,000 years, a find that could alter our understanding of the scope of human habitation in the ancient West, as well as the histories and migrations of the people who lived there.

And although the discovery of these sites was in many ways unexpected, the scientists who found them actually predicted they would be there.

An archaeologist screens for artifacts at the site of a prehistoric village in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. [Image (C) Matthew Stirn]
The villages were found across more than 300 square kilometers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, at elevations over 3,200 meters, making some of them the highest prehistoric sites ever found in Wyoming — and possibly the oldest high-altitude settlements found anywhere in North America.
The sites are replete with artifacts like groundstones, projectile points, and pottery, plus pipes and other wares carved out of soapstone. They also feature several — sometimes as many as 70 — stone-lined circular platforms hewn out of the mountain slopes: the foundations of wooden “superstructures” thought to have been lodges.

Judging by the settlements’ lofty location, along with their architectural features and artifacts, archaeologists believe they were built by early Numic-speaking peoples, the mountain-dwelling ancestors of the diverse but related tribes that today include the Comanche, Ute, Shoshone and Northern Paiute.

“In archaeological research, mountains have generally been overlooked as fringes, boundaries, and marginal landscapes,” said Matthew Stirn of the University of Sheffield in an interview. He announced the discovery in a recent study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“When we came across [these] villages in the Winds, it proved that not only did family groups live for long periods of time in the mountains, it also showed that this practice occurred rather consistently for several thousand years throughout prehistory.”

As important as the newly found villages are, they were not the first to be discovered in the Wind River Range, Stirn noted.

In 2006, Dr. Richard Adams of Colorado State University and his team found a prehistoric village at 3,500 meters above sea level, with evidence of more than 65 residential structures.

Dubbed High Rise Village, the site featured artifacts and traces of lodges dating over at least 2,500 continuous years, opening up a new frontier of high-altitude archaeology in the intermountain West.

Stirn was part of the team that found High Rise Village, and in the following two years he and Adams, along with Bryon Schroeder of Montana State University, discovered five more villages in the mountain range that dated to around the same era.

“Much to our surprise, the high elevations of the Winds were more dense archaeologically than their surrounding lowlands,” Stirn said.

But perhaps more importantly, he added, “it was immediately apparent that the sites were situated in a distinct pattern.”

Specifically, he said, all of the villages were located in or near stands of whitebark pine trees, which are prolific producers of nutritious nuts. The lodge sites also contained an unusual abundance of tools, like groundstones, that have typically been associated with processing foods like pine nuts.

So Stirn set out to develop a model to predict the location of more, similar villages. He first determined all of the main traits that the newfound villages had in common — namely, that they were positioned on south-facing, sunny slopes near whitebark pine stands above 3,200 meters in elevation.

Then, using Landsat satellite imagery, Stirn and his colleagues identified whitebark pine stands in the northern Winds that best fit their model’s description. And in 2010, with the backing of the Explorer’s Club and the Abernethey Research Foundation, they lit out to investigate the sites predicted to be mostly likely to host prehistoric settlements.

In the end, each of the 13 areas they surveyed revealed traces of ancient villages — the remains of lodges, soapstone relics, and nut-milling tools associated with the lifeways of ancient Numic-speaking peoples.

But these sites posed a new quandary: Judging by the artifacts, the newly found villages appear to date to around the heyday of High Rise Village — about 2,000 to 2,500 years ago. But this is centuries older than — and the sites are thousands of kilometers away from — the only other Numic mountain villages known to exist, in Nevada and California.

Those sites farther West, first discovered in the 1980s, betrayed the same influences of Numic culture — including what Stirn describes as “the exact same tool kits” found in Wind River for processing pine nuts and other foods.

Considering that the Numic family of languages extends from Southern California up to Wyoming and Montana, it was conjectured at the time that the culture may have originated in these Southwestern mountains and migrated East.

But the California and Nevada villages were only around 1,400 years old, some 600 to 1,100 years younger than the sites in the Wind River Range.

“If the Numic spread originated in California and moved to Wyoming, how come the Wyoming sites are older than those in California?” Stirn asked.

“It has since been proposed … that the discovery of earlier villages in Wyoming provide evidence that the Numic spread might have occurred in the opposite direction.”

It could be, in other words, that mountain villages throughout the West could offer what Stirn calls “an archaeological roadmap” that plots the spread of Numic language.

“More corroborating evidence would be necessary to prove this, but for the time being, it is a very thought provoking possibility,” he said.

Excavation of the Wind River villages will help fill in the great missing gaps in the map of Numic history. For now, Stirn said, their discovery reveals the tremendous, and largely overlooked, potential of high-altitude archaeology to rewrite entire chapters of Western American history.

“Since 2006, we have surveyed roughly 800 miles and recorded well over a thousand sites and artifacts above 10,500 feet in Wyoming,” he said.

“This is very exciting, as it suggests that the mountains played an integral role in prehistory and have been frequented by humans consistently for thousands of years.”

Original article:
western digs.org

By Blake de Pastino Nov 05,2013

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Projectile points found at the sites of prehistoric lodges are indicative of Numic-speaking groups, the ancestors of modern Ute, Comanche and Paiute bands, archaeologists say. (Courtesy Matthew Stirn)

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Fragments of a bowl made from soapstone, or steatite, are another sign of Numic culture. (Courtesy Matthew Stirn)

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Topic: pottery and salt

In July, I joined the Ur Digitization Project. As a part of this project, I have been working on a condition assessment of the ceramics from Ur. In doing the condition assessment I am looking at, measuring, and evaluating the stability of every ceramic vessel in the Museum’s collection from Ur. So far I have examined over half of the ceramics, and found that the main issue is soluble salts. I know when we all hear salt we think table salt. This is not too far off as table salt, or sodium chloride, is a soluble salt. This just means that the salt is soluble in water and in many cases is also hygroscopic (a big word for “absorbs moisture from the air”). We have all seen how salt clumps in salt shakers and won’t shake out nicely when it’s humid. This happens because the salt is hygroscopic.

You are probably wondering “Why this is a problem for ceramics?” Archaeological ceramics can absorb salts through moisture in the burial environment, and once they are excavated and dry out, the salts crystallize. If they crystallize inside the pores of the ceramic they can cause damage. If the ceramic is then exposed to changing relative humidity, these salts can go through cycles of dissolution as they pull moisture from the air and re-crystallization when they dry out, causing even more damage over time.

The pot on the left shows spalling. This happens when the salts pop off circular patches of the surface. You can see a spalled area in the front with the white salt crystals in the middle. The pot on the right is delaminating. This is also caused by the crystallization of salts. In this case they crystallize in a single plane, pushing off thin layers of the ceramic.

To stabilize the salty pots from Ur, I have been working on setting up a desalination station. This involves setting up an area where the pots can be safely soaked. Because these salts are soluble, they can be removed by soaking the object in water. The images below walk through the process I have been using to stabilize objects like the ones shown above.

Because the surfaces of the ceramics are so unstable, these objects have to be consolidated first with a dilute adhesive that is not soluble in water (otherwise the consolidant would be removed during desalination along with the salts). I have been using Paraloid B-72™ in acetone that I apply drop-wise so that I can control where it goes and how much is applied.

After the pots are consolidated and the adhesive has fully dried (I usually wait a few days after consolidation to be sure), each object is weighed and placed in a known volume of deionized water. The pots are weighed and the water measured so that I can calculate when they are ready to come out of the water and compare the data from pot to pot.

I use a conductivity meter to record how much salt is being extracted from each object. Every time I take a reading, I note the date and time as well so that I can plot the data on a graph. The length of time each pot soaks depends on various factors (weight, volume of water, how salty it is), but to give you an idea, they can stay in the water for a week or more. Once each pot has been desalinated I pull it out of the water, rinse it off, and let it dry.

If the surface is unstable after the pot has dried, I do some final consolidation. Once the treatment is complete, I take the final treatment pictures and the pot goes back to its home in storage.

Original article:
penn museum
By TESSA DE ALARCON | Published: OCTOBER 31, 2013

Follow the above link for additional information and photos.

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The salt in this shaker has clumped because the salt is hygroscopic –

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High Rise Village, a prehistoric Native American hamlet more than 10,000 feet up into the Wind River Range in northwestern Wyoming. The Winds, as the mountains are known, are not an easy place to collect data. Researchers have trekked across glaciers and scaled cliffs in their search for new villages, contending with “everything from flash flooding to forest fires to bear encounters,” says Matthew Stirn, a University of Sheffield-Britain graduate student who has helped locate many villages.
(Photo: None None)

Topic Early Native American villages

Archaeologists uncover secrets of high-altitude Wyoming villages where Native Americans would go in summer to hunt and collect pine nuts for winter.

To an outsider, the Wind River Range of Wyoming does not seem a hospitable place. Glaciers dot the peaks, and snow can fall even in August. But in the thin air above 10,000 feet, archaeologists have discovered a host of sky-high prehistoric villages, including one that may be the oldest mountain settlement in North America.

Researchers will report 13 new Wind River villages in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Archaeological Science, bringing the total number to 19. Such high-altitude settlements are extremely rare in North America, and scientists plan to study plant remains from the villages that may help them understand the prehistoric peoples who moved to the roof of the world.

“To find honest-to-God villages up there … was astounding,” says Colorado State University archaeologist Richard Adams, whose team identified the first one. “They’re on the crest of the continent. Who’d have thunk it? Nobody expected this.”

The sheer number of sites is “shocking,” says archaeologist David Hurst Thomas of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who is not involved in the Wind River work. “And this (research) is … expensive, it’s hard, and it’s a killer on the knees.”

The Winds, as the mountains are known, are not an easy place to collect data. Researchers have trekked across glaciers and scaled cliffs in their search for new villages, contending with “everything from flash flooding to forest fires to bear encounters,” says Matthew Stirn, a University of Sheffield-Britain graduate student who has helped locate many villages. “It’s as close to extreme archaeology as you can get.”

The job has gotten easier, thanks to a formula Stirn developed to predict where villages are likely to be, based on factors such as altitude and the presence of whitebark pine, a tree that produces large quantities of fatty nuts. Stirn’s formula guided the team to the newly reported villages, which contained the vestiges of ancient lodges and everyday objects such as grinding stones.

The artifacts in the new villages are much like those at the largest Winds village, discovered several years before the most recent batch. Christened “High Rise,” it sprawls down a mountainside so steep that Adams compares it to an intermediate ski run. At 26 acres, it’s the biggest alpine village in North America and was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Amid the ruins of the 60-odd lodges at the site lie sewing tools,stone arrowheads and body paint. A piece of pottery made from local clay and a fragment of bowl made from local stone mean that women were probably crafting objects up at High Rise, Adams says.

All those remnants — many also found at other villages — suggest these weren’t just short-term hunting camps. Instead they were high-altitude resorts where entire families lived for months at a time, hunting and collecting pine nuts for the winter. The villages are awash in stone food-grinding tools, which could have been used to extract nuts from the pine cones. People probably wouldn’t have left those valuable tools at the high villages unless they planned to return.

“There seems to be a predictable draw that brings people back to the same place year after year,” says archaeologist Laura Scheiber of Indiana University, who excavates other high-altitude sites. “Children are learning from their parents and grandparents, ‘This is the place we go at this time of year.'”

The age of the oldest villages is unknown, but it’s clear that some were built at least 2,700 years ago, and High Rise may be 4,000 years old, Adams says. That would make it the oldest alpine village in North America. There’s evidence that people lived at High Rise on and off for at least 2,000 years running. The Sheepeater Shoshone, the Native American people who built the Winds villages, used them until they were confined to reservations.

Researchers puzzle over why prehistoric people headed for the hills in the first place. Perhaps changes in climate made food scarcer in the lowlands, or perhaps immigrants drove people off their traditional territory. Nor do scientists know whether the Wind River people came up with the idea of high-mountain settlements on their own or heard about it from others. But Wind River has helped put to rest the old stereotype that prehistoric peoples stuck to the lowlands.

The range “was the place to be in the summer. … It is just exhilarating to be there, and the living was easier than in the basin,” Adams says. “I think they were up there having fun.”

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A modern-day replica of a “wickiup,” the branch-and-bark structures that High Rise residents built as homes.(Photo: Handout)

Original article:
USA today

By Traci Watson, Special for USA TODAY 9:27 a.m. EDT October 20, 2013

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Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), also known as Jack-by-the-hedge, flowering in spring by a roadside

Topic: Spice food

Europeans had a taste for spicy food at least 6,000 years ago, it seems.

Researchers found evidence for garlic mustard in the residues left on ancient pottery shards discovered in what is now Denmark and Germany.

The spice was found alongside fat residues from meat and fish.

Writing in the journal Plos One, the scientists make the case that garlic mustard contains little nutritional value and therefore must have been used to flavour the foods.

“This is the earliest evidence, as far as I know, of spice use in this region in the Western Baltic; something that has basically no nutritional value, but has this value in a taste sense,” said Dr Hayley Saul, who led the study from the University of York, UK.

The researchers looked at charred deposits found on the inside of pottery shards that had been dated to between 5,800 and 6,150 years ago.

These deposits contained microscopic traces of plant-based silica, known as phytoliths, which can be used to identify the plants from which they came.

It was these phytoliths that provided the evidence of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in the carbonised scrapings.

The team found more phytoliths from residues taken from the inside of pots than from the outside, which they say shows that these were the direct result of culinary practice.

The implications from these findings challenge the previously held belief that hunter-gatherers were simply concerned with searching for calorific food. Dr Saul believes these latest results point to something much more like cuisine.

“That’s quite a new idea for hunter-gatherer archaeology in Europe,” she told BBC News.

The York scientist said it was likely that prehistoric chefs would have crushed the seeds: “Actually to get the flavour out you have to crush it really. I suspect that if they hadn’t been crushing the seeds, we would probably find more intact seeds in residues.”

Although this is the first evidence of spice use in Europe, flavouring food may have been a common practice in the Middle East much earlier. “There’s a cave in Israel where coriander has been found, and that’s dated to around 23,000 years ago. But it’s very difficult to build up a picture of exactly how it’s used. It’s linking it to cooking that’s quite important,” explained Dr Saul.

It seems that while prehistoric cuisine was flavoursome, it was far from varied. The researchers found no evidence for other spices, with the phytoliths being quite consistent across the sites they investigated.

“I think it was just really creative, and we often don’t give hunter-gatherer cultures in the past credit for exactly how inventive and creative they were with things.

“It’s often seen as being a period of culinary hardship where people were really struggling, but actually, its people really knew their environments, and knew how to make the best with what they’ve got. I think they were very clever, really,” said Dr Saul.

Original article:
bbc.co.uk
August 21, 2013
By Suzi Gage
BBC News

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Topic: Milk for the ages

When a single genetic mutation first let ancient Europeans drink milk, it set the stage for a continental upheaval.

In the 1970s, archaeologist Peter Bogucki was excavating a Stone Age site in the fertile plains of central Poland when he came across an assortment of odd artefacts. The people who had lived there around 7,000 years ago were among central Europe’s first farmers, and they had left behind fragments of pottery dotted with tiny holes. It looked as though the coarse red clay had been baked while pierced with pieces of straw.

Looking back through the archaeological literature, Bogucki found other examples of ancient perforated pottery. “They were so unusual — people would almost always include them in publications,” says Bogucki, now at Princeton University in New Jersey. He had seen something similar at a friend’s house that was used for straining cheese, so he speculated that the pottery might be connected with cheese-making. But he had no way to test his idea.

The mystery potsherds sat in storage until 2011, when Mélanie Roffet-Salque pulled them out and analysed fatty residues preserved in the clay. Roffet-Salque, a geochemist at the University of Bristol, UK, found signatures of abundant milk fats — evidence that the early farmers had used the pottery as sieves to separate fatty milk solids from liquid whey. That makes the Polish relics the oldest known evidence of cheese-making in the world.

Roffet-Salque’s sleuthing is part of a wave of discoveries about the history of milk in Europe. Many of them have come from a €3.3-million (US$4.4-million) project that started in 2009 and has involved archaeologists, chemists and geneticists. The findings from this group illuminate the profound ways that dairy products have shaped human settlement on the continent.

During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because — unlike children — they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed.

This two-step milk revolution may have been a prime factor in allowing bands of farmers and herders from the south to sweep through Europe and displace the hunter-gatherer cultures that had lived there for millennia. “They spread really rapidly into northern Europe from an archaeological point of view,” says Mark Thomas, a population geneticist at University College London. That wave of emigration left an enduring imprint on Europe, where, unlike in many regions of the world, most people can now tolerate milk. “It could be that a large proportion of Europeans are descended from the first lactase-persistent dairy farmers in Europe,” says Thomas.

Strong stomachs

Young children almost universally produce lactase and can digest the lactose in their mother’s milk. But as they mature, most switch off the lactase gene. Only 35% of the human population can digest lactose beyond the age of about seven or eight (ref. 2). “If you’re lactose intolerant and you drink half a pint of milk, you’re going to be really ill. Explosive diarrhoea — dysentery essentially,” says Oliver Craig, an archaeologist at the University of York, UK. “I’m not saying it’s lethal, but it’s quite unpleasant.”

Most people who retain the ability to digest milk can trace their ancestry to Europe, where the trait seems to be linked to a single nucleotide in which the DNA base cytosine changed to thymine in a genomic region not far from the lactase gene. There are other pockets of lactase persistence in West Africa (see Nature 444, 994–996; 2006), the Middle East and south Asia that seem to be linked to separate mutations (see ‘Lactase hotspots’).

The single-nucleotide switch in Europe happened relatively recently. Thomas and his colleagues estimated the timing by looking at genetic variations in modern populations and running computer simulations of how the related genetic mutation might have spread through ancient populations. They proposed that the trait of lactase persistence, dubbed the LP allele, emerged about 7,500 years ago in the broad, fertile plains of Hungary.

Powerful gene

Once the LP allele appeared, it offered a major selective advantage. In a 2004 study, researchers estimated that people with the mutation would have produced up to 19% more fertile offspring than those who lacked it. The researchers called that degree of selection “among the strongest yet seen for any gene in the genome”.

Compounded over several hundred generations, that advantage could help a population to take over a continent. But only if “the population has a supply of fresh milk and is dairying”, says Thomas. “It’s gene–culture co-evolution. They feed off of each other.”

To investigate the history of that interaction, Thomas teamed up with Joachim Burger, a palaeogeneticist at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in Germany, and Matthew Collins, a bioarchaeologist at the University of York. They organized a multidisciplinary project called LeCHE (Lactase Persistence in the early Cultural History of Europe), which brought together a dozen early-career researchers from around Europe.

By studying human molecular biology and the archaeology and chemistry of ancient pottery, LeCHE participants also hoped to address a key issue about the origins of modern Europeans. “It’s been an enduring question in archaeology — whether we’re descended from Middle Eastern farmers or indigenous hunter-gatherers,” says Thomas. The argument boils down to evolution versus replacement. Did native populations of hunter-gatherers in Europe take up farming and herding? Or was there an influx of agricultural colonists who outcompeted the locals, thanks to a combination of genes and technology?

One strand of evidence came from studies of animal bones found at archaeological sites. If cattle are raised primarily for dairying, calves are generally slaughtered before their first birthday so that their mothers can be milked. But cattle raised mainly for meat are killed later, when they have reached their full size. (The pattern, if not the ages, is similar for sheep and goats, which were part of the dairying revolution.)

On the basis of studies of growth patterns in bones, LeCHE participant Jean-Denis Vigne, an archaeozoologist at the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, suggests that dairying in the Middle East may go all the way back to when humans first started domesticating animals there, about 10,500 years ago. That would place it just after the Middle Eastern Neolithic transition — when an economy based on hunter-gathering gave way to one devoted to agriculture. Dairying, says Roz Gillis, also an archaeozoologist at the Paris museum, “may have been one of the reasons why human populations began trapping and keeping ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats”. (See ‘Dairy diaspora’.)

Dairying then expanded in concert with the Neolithic transition, says Gillis, who has looked at bone growth at 150 sites in Europe and Anatolia (modern Turkey). As agriculture spread from Anatolia to northern Europe over roughly two millennia, dairying followed a similar pattern.

On their own, the growth patterns do not say whether the Neolithic transition in Europe happened through evolution or replacement, but cattle bones offer important clues. In a precursor study, Burger and several other LeCHE participants found that domesticated cattle at Neolithic sites in Europe were most closely related to cows from the Middle East, rather than indigenous wild aurochs. This is a strong indication that incoming herders brought their cattle with them, rather than domesticating locally, says Burger. A similar story is emerging from studies of ancient human DNA recovered at a few sites in central Europe, which suggest that Neolithic farmers were not descended from the hunter-gatherers who lived there before.

Taken together, the data help to resolve the origins of the first European farmers. “For a long time, the mainstream of continental European archaeology said Mesolithic hunter-gatherers developed into Neolithic farmers,” says Burger. “We basically showed they were completely different.”

Milk or meat

Given that dairying in the Middle East started thousands of years before the LP allele emerged in Europe, ancient herders must have found ways to reduce lactose concentrations in milk. It seems likely that they did so by making cheese or yogurt. (Fermented cheeses such as feta and cheddar have a small fraction of the lactose found in fresh milk; aged hard cheeses similar to Parmesan have hardly any.)

To test that theory, LeCHE researchers ran chemical tests on ancient pottery. The coarse, porous clay contains enough residues for chemists to distinguish what type of fat was absorbed during the cooking process: whether it was from meat or milk, and from ruminants such as cows, sheep and goats or from other animals. “That gave us a way into saying what types of things were being cooked,” says Richard Evershed, a chemist at the University of Bristol.

Evershed and his LeCHE collaborators found milk fat on pottery in the Middle Eastern Fertile Crescent going back at least 8,500 years, and Roffet-Salque’s work on the Polish pottery offers clear evidence that herders in Europe were producing cheese to supplement their diets between 6,800 and 7,400 years ago. By then, dairy had become a component of the Neolithic diet, but it was not yet a dominant part of the economy.

That next step happened slowly, and it seems to have required the spread of lactase persistence. The LP allele did not become common in the population until some time after it first emerged: Burger has looked for the mutation in samples of ancient human DNA and has found it only as far back as 6,500 years ago in northern Germany.

Models created by LeCHE participant Pascale Gerbault, a population geneticist at University College London, explain how the trait might have spread. As Middle Eastern Neolithic cultures moved into Europe, their farming and herding technologies helped them to out-compete the local hunter-gatherers. And as the southerners pushed north, says Gerbault, the LP allele ‘surfed’ the wave of migration.

Lactase persistence had a harder time becoming established in parts of southern Europe, because Neolithic farmers had settled there before the mutation appeared. But as the agricultural society expanded northwards and westwards into new territory, the advantage provided by lactase persistence had a big impact. “As the population grows quickly at the edge of the wave, the allele can increase in frequency,” says Gerbault.

The remnants of that pattern are still visible today. In southern Europe, lactase persistence is relatively rare — less than 40% in Greece and Turkey. In Britain and Scandinavia, by contrast, more than 90% of adults can digest milk.

Cattle conquest

By the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age, around 5,000 years ago, the LP allele was prevalent across most of northern and central Europe, and cattle herding had become a dominant part of the culture. “They discover this way of life, and once they can really get the nutritional benefits they increase or intensify herding as well,” says Burger. Cattle bones represent more than two-thirds of the animal bones in many late Neolithic and early Bronze Age archaeological sites in central and northern Europe.

The LeCHE researchers are still puzzling out exactly why the ability to consume milk offered such an advantage in these regions. Thomas suggests that, as people moved north, milk would have been a hedge against famine. Dairy products — which could be stored for longer in colder climes — provided rich sources of calories that were independent of growing seasons or bad harvests.

Others think that milk may have helped, particularly in the north, because of its relatively high concentration of vitamin D, a nutrient that can help to ward off diseases such as rickets. Humans synthesize vitamin D naturally only when exposed to the sun, which makes it difficult for northerners to make enough during winter months. But lactase persistence also took root in sunny Spain, casting vitamin D’s role into doubt.

The LeCHE project may offer a model for how archaeological questions can be answered using a variety of disciplines and tools. “They have got a lot of different tentacles — archaeology, palaeoanthropology, ancient DNA and modern DNA, chemical analysis — all focused on one single question,” says Ian Barnes, a palaeogeneticist at Royal Holloway, University of London, who is not involved in the project. “There are lots of other dietary changes which could be studied in this way.”

The approach could, for example, help to tease apart the origins of amylase, an enzyme that helps to break down starch. Researchers have suggested that the development of the enzyme may have followed — or made possible — the increasing appetite for grain that accompanied the growth of agriculture. Scientists also want to trace the evolution of alcohol dehydrogenase, which is crucial to the breakdown of alcohol and could reveal the origins of humanity’s thirst for drink.

Some of the LeCHE participants are now probing further back in time, as part of a project named BEAN (Bridging the European and Anatolian Neolithic), which is looking at how the first farmers and herders made their way into Europe. Burger, Thomas and their BEAN collaborators will be in Turkey this summer, tracing the origins of the Neolithic using computer models and ancient-DNA analysis in the hope of better understanding who the early farmers were, and when they arrived in Europe.

Along the way, they will encounter beyaz peynir, a salty sheep’s-milk cheese eaten with nearly every Turkish breakfast. It is probably much like the cheese that Neolithic farmers in the region would have eaten some 8,000 years ago — long before the march of lactase persistence allowed people to drink fresh milk.

Original article:
nature.com
By Andrew Curry July 16, 2013

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