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Pig jaw 

Cardiff University

Eurekalert.org

People transported animals over huge distances for mass gatherings at one of Ireland’s most iconic archaeological sites, research concludes.

Dr Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University led the study, which analysed the bones of 35 animals excavated from Navan Fort, the legendary capital of Ulster. Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, Memorial University Newfoundland and the British Geological Survey were also involved in the research.

The site had long been considered a centre for ritual gatherings, as excavations found a huge 40m diameter building and a barbary ape cranium, likely from at least as far as Iberia. Results suggest the pigs, cattle and sheep were brought from across Ireland, perhaps being reared as far afield as Galway, Donegal, Down, Tyrone and Antrim. Evidence suggests some were brought over more than 100 miles.

Dr Madgwick, based in Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion, said: “Our results provide clear evidence that communities in Iron Age Ireland were very mobile and that livestock were also moved over greater distances than was previously thought.

“The high proportion of pig remains found there is very rare for this period. This suggests that Navan Fort was a feasting centre, as pigs are well-suited as feasting animals and in early Irish literature pork is the preferred food of the feast.

“It is clear that Navan Fort had a vast catchment and that the influence of the site was far-reaching.”

Researchers used multi-isotope analysis on samples of tooth enamel to unlock the origins of each animal. Food and water have chemical compositions linked to the geographical areas where they are sourced. When animals eat and drink, these chemical signals are archived in their teeth, allowing scientists to investigate the location where they were raised.

Co-author of the research, Dr Finbar McCormick, of Queen’s University, Belfast, said: “In the absence of human remains, multi-isotope analysis of animals found at Navan Fort provides us with the best indication of human movement at that time.

“Feasting, almost invariably associated with sacrifice, was a social necessity of early societies where the slaughter of a large domesticate necessitated the consumption of a large amount of meat in a short period of time.”

Earlier this year, Dr Madgwick’s research of 131 pigs found at sites near Stonehenge revealed animals came from as far away as Scotland and numerous other locations across the British Isles. Before this, the origins of people who visited this area and the extent of the population’s movements at the time had been long-standing enigmas in British prehistory.

Dr Madgwick added: “Transporting animals across the country would have involved a great deal of time and effort so our findings demonstrate the important role they played in society. Food was clearly a central part of people’s exchanges and traditions.”

 

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On this day ten years ago…
via Why Humans Outlive Apes

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On this day ten years ago…
via Cavemen Roasted Birds, Too

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The ends of deer leg bones, stored in conditions that simulated how they were kept in a cave in Israel during the Stone Age by ancient humans. Scientists believe the legs were kept for delayed consumption of their marrow.Credit…Ruth Blasco

Sealed for millenniums, Qesem Cave in central Israel is a limestone time capsule of the lives and diets of Paleolithic people from 420,000 to 200,000 years ago. Inside, ancient humans once butchered fresh kills with stone blades and barbecued meat on campfires.

“It was believed that early hominins were consuming everything they could put their hands on immediately, without storing or preserving or keeping things for later,” said Ran Barkai, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

But not every meal was scarfed down right after a hunt. Dr. Barkai and his colleagues have found that the cave’s earliest inhabitants may have also stored animal bones filled with tasty marrow that they feasted on for up to nine weeks after the kill, sort of like a Stone Age canned soup.

The finding may be the earliest example of prehistoric humans saving food for later consumption, and may also offer insight into the abilities of ancient humans to plan for their future needs. The study was published Wednesday in Science Advances.

Dr. Barkai’s team examined cut marks on nearly 82,000 animal fragments from Qesem Cave, most belonging to fallow deer. The researchers noticed unusual, heavy chop marks on the ends of some leg bones known as the metapodials.

The chop marks “make no sense in terms of stripping off the bone, because at this part of the bone there is no meat and very little fat,” Dr. Barkai said.

Usually, stripping the hide from a fresh bone requires minimal force, he said. But the heavy chops indicated that the processing used more force than should have been necessary.

“We had a hypothesis that these unusual chop marks at the end of the meatless bones had to do with the removal of dry skin,” he said. But why were they doing that?

The team concluded that the ancient hominins, who shared features with Homo sapiens and Neanderthals but were probably neither, were removing dry skin on the bones to get to the marrow.

That presented another question: If they were after marrow, why not just remove it from the bone when it was fresh? The researchers hypothesized that the chop marks were an indication that the early humans stored the bones so they could eat the marrow later.

To test their idea, the team collected freshly killed deer leg bones and then stored them for several weeks in conditions similar to those inside the cave. After every week, they would break open a bone and analyze the marrow to see how nutritious it still was.

Every time, a researcher would remove the dried skin using a flint flake and then hammer open the bone with a quartzite tool, similar to what the ancient people would have had used. The researcher wasn’t given instructions on how to open the bone.

The team found that the researcher’s chop marks on the older leg bones with dried skin were similar to what they saw in Qesem Cave.

“It was a surprise when we realized that the same marks were generated experimentally,” said Ruth Blasco, a zooarchaeologist at the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Spain and lead author on the study. “The Qesem hominids have demonstrated very modern behavior in their livelihood strategies.”

Their chemical test showed that after nine weeks, the fat in the bone marrow degraded only a little and was still nutritious.

Jessica Thompson, an archaeologist at Yale University, said the paper was a creative approach to reconstructing a past behavior that is notoriously difficult to identify in the archaeological record.

“Their experimental work does a lot to convince me that some of the bones were not very fresh when they were processed, although it is still not clear how common this behavior was,” Dr. Thompson said.

Briana Pobiner, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, praised the study and said that if this removal of dry skin did leave a unique butchery mark, “it’s now up to us zooarchaeologists to look for these traces in older fossil assemblages to see if we can document a greater antiquity of this food storage behavior.”

As for the marrow, how did it taste? One of the researchers couldn’t resist trying it.

“It is like a bland sausage, without salt, and a little stale,” said Jordi Rosell, an archaeologist at Rovira i Virgili University in Spain. “I can say that its taste was not bad, perhaps a little more rancid in the last weeks, but not bad.”

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Consuming the meat of large animals is generally thought to have been instrumental in human evolution. It allowed early hominins, such as australopithecines, to begin developing larger brains some 3.4 million years ago. At a time when early hominins were not yet able to manufacture and hunt with sophisticated tools, however, obtaining meat from animals that significantly outweighed them was a dangerous undertaking. Researchers now believe that our human ancestors may have first acquired the taste for meat by scavenging carcasses left behind by other predators. Even if most of the meat was rotten or had already been consumed, early hominins may have used stones and other tools to smash open bones and access fatty marrow deposits, an invaluable source of the nutrients required by their very large brains. “Targeting marrow not only enables a stone-wielding hominin to access a novel resource that can’t be accessed by most other carnivores, but it was a relatively low-risk food,” says Yale University paleoanthropologist Jessica Thompson. This combination of high caloric returns at a low cost may have served as the ideal gateway to a long-standing carnivorous habit.

 

Source: Marrow of Humanity

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Images of bog butter

The journal.ie

LONG BEFORE MODERN refrigeration Irish people discovered that storing butter in the bog keeps it fresher for longer. Much longer. A new study has now revealed that the ingenious practice dates back nearly 4,000 years, 1,500 years longer than previously thought.

The bog’s preservative powers are so strong that butter can still be edible after centuries in the ground. This is thanks to the cool, low oxygen and high-acid environment.

When the food finally deteriorates it takes on a hard, yellowish-white, wax-like texture and a cheesy smell. Chunks of these ancient foodstuffs are still often unearthed by turf cutters.

The new study has found that people were storing butter in Irish bogs in the Early Bronze age and there may have been a booming dairy industry at the time.

The practice lasted a staggering 3,500 years, from 1700 BC to, as recently as, the 17th century.

“The widespread occurrence of these enigmatic butter deposits fits with our increasing knowledge of the central importance of dairying in prehistoric northern Europe,” Professor Richard Evershed from the University of Bristol explained.

Four of the five Bronze Age bog butters studied by the researchers came from Offaly, they were found at Ballindown, Drinagh, Esker More and Knockdrin. The fifth was recovered from Clonava in Westmeath.

The earliest dated sample, from Knockdrin, dates from between 1745–1635 BC. It was found associated with bark, which was possibly a wrapping or container.

“Clearly, it is unlikely there was a single reason for the deposition of bog butter over four millennia,” Dr Jessica Smyth from the UCD School of Archaeology said.

“In certain periods they may have been votive deposits, while at other points in time it may have been more about storage and even protection of valuable resources.”

The National Museum of Ireland works with Bord Na Móna to record and retrieve bog butters that are found by chance.

The archaeology branch of the museum, which is on Dublin’s Kildare Street, has a collection of the butters on display to the public.

The findings of the new study are published in the journal Scientific Reports today.

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Source: Eurekalert.org

Living plant varieties reveal ancient migration routes across Eurasia

The emergence of agriculture is one of the most important transitions in the development of human societies, as it allowed the establishment of settled communities, specialization of labour and technological innovation.

One centre of agricultural origins is the Near East, where barley was domesticated around 10,500 years ago, along with wheat and a number of other crops. Archaeological evidence shows that barley cultivation spread to its ecological limits in Europe, North Africa, and Central, South and East Asia, over a period of approximately 6,000 years.

New results published in PLOS ONE today show that different types of barley, suited to different end uses, ecological conditions and cropping regimes, spread via a variety of routes across Eurasia. In many cases, these routes of spread are backed up by archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence.

According to lead author Dr Diane Lister, researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, “These results are based on the genetic analysis of living crops – traditional farmers’ varieties known as ‘landraces’.”

“These landraces were mostly collected during the early 20th century and are maintained in what are known as ‘germplasm’ collections around the world, with many landraces having precise geographical coordinates recorded. Numerous studies have shown that, remarkably, landraces can preserve an ancient and local genetic signature of the initial spread of farming during prehistory, and this is beautifully illustrated in this current study.”

The results indicate that the different eastward routes of spread of each barley population were distinct from each other in a number of ways, reflecting human choice of particular attributes or the effect of environmental adaptation. These different routes include ones to the north and south of the Iranian Plateau; through the Inner Asian Mountain Corridor in Central Asia, possibly connecting up to the Chinese section of the Silk Road; a high altitude spread on the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau; a high latitude spread through the northern steppe; two distinct spreads into Japan; and a maritime route from South Asia. Previous research has provided increasing numbers of direct radiocarbon dates enabling the different routes to be dated.

Lister describes further, “One barley population is widespread, particularly around the coastlines. This population may have travelled eastwards via a maritime route from South Asia, via Southeast Asia. This particular population is made up of winter-sown varieties of barley, which are thought to be important in rice-growing areas of East Asia, where a crop of rice is commonly grown in the summer months, and barley adapted to winter-sowing regimes can be planted after the rice harvest. The development of multi-cropping practices during prehistory is thought to have greatly increased productivity and stability, enabling more complex societies to develop.”

“Another barley population predominates on the high Tibetan Plateau. This barley has a naked grain, making it a particularly attractive staple, as it doesn’t require the pearling process that hulled barley requires for human consumption. Along with the herding of yak, this naked type of barley is an essential for the Tibetan way of life, and their importance are clearly seen in the offerings of naked barley grains and yak butter in Tibetan Buddhist temples around the region. The staple carbohydrate eaten by the Tibetans is tsampa, made from roasted naked barley flour and mixed with salty Tibetan butter tea.”

Previous research carried out through the Food Globalization in Prehistory project at the University of Cambridge showed that barley cultivation appeared in the Chinese Tibetan Plateau 4,000 years ago, and is thought to have been of essential importance in colonizing the ‘roof of the world’. Some scholars have questioned whether this barley was a product of a local domestication of a wild ancestor separate from those in the Near East. This current study also looked at the genetic relationship between landrace barley, it’s wild progenitor, and weedy varieties. The results show that is unlikely that barley was domesticated in this region, and that ‘wild’ barleys on the plateau are probably weedy derivatives of cultivated barley.

What does this mean for today? Lister concludes, “Barley is an extremely hardy crop, able to grow in regions where other crops are unable to grow, and is an important staple in such environments. Understanding the spread of its cultivation during prehistory, and the various factors that affected its establishment in different regions of Eurasia, will contribute towards our understanding of climate change and its current and future effects on agriculture.”

 

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