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Posts Tagged ‘prehistoric’

Original Article:

phys.org

December 27, 2017 by Natalie Munro

Hilazon Tachtit cave. Credit: Naftali Hilger, CC BY-NC-ND

 

This holiday season millions of families will come together to celebrate their respective festivals and engage in myriad rituals. These may include exchanging gifts, singing songs, giving thanks, and most importantly, preparing and consuming the holiday feast.

Archaeological evidence shows that such communally shared meals have long been vital components of human rituals. My colleague Leore Grosman and I discovered the earliest evidence of a ritual feast at a 12,000-year-old archaeological site in northern Israel and learned how feasts came to be integral components of modern-day practice.

First, what are rituals?

Rituals involve meaningful, often repeated actions. In modern-day practices they are expressed through rites such as the hooding of a doctoral student, birthdays, weddings or even sipping wine at Holy Communion or lighting Hanukkah candles.

Ritual practice may have emerged along with other early modern human behaviors more than 100,000 years ago. However, proving this with material evidence is a challenge. For example, researchers have found that both Neanderthals and early modern humans buried their dead, but scholars weren’t certain whether this was for spiritual or symbolic reasons and not for something more mundane like maintaining site hygiene. Likewise, the discovery of 100,000-year-old symbolic artifacts like pierced shell ornaments and decorated chunks of red ochre in caves in South Africa, was not sufficient to prove that they were part of any ritual activities.

It was only when archaeologists found these artifacts, placed in graves going back 40,000-20,000 years, that it was confirmed they were part of ritual practice.

The first feasts

We had a similar experience during our research. When Leore Grosman and I first embarked on the excavations at Hilazon Tachtit in the late 1990s, we were only hoping to document the activities of the last hunter-gatherers in Israel, at what appeared to be a small campsite. It was only over several seasons of excavation that it slowly became clear to us that this was not a site where people had lived. Rather it was a site for rituals.

No houses, fireplaces or cooking areas were recovered. Instead the cave yielded the skeletal remains of at least 28 individuals interred in three pits and two small structures.

One of these structures contained the complete skeleton of an older woman, who we interpreted as a shaman based on her special treatment at death. Her grave stood apart due to its fine construction – the walls were plastered with clay and inset with flat stone slabs. Even more remarkable was the eclectic array of animal body parts buried alongside of her. The pelvis of a leopard, the wing tip of an eagle, the skulls of two martens and many other unusual body parts surrounded her skeleton.

The butchered remnants of more than 90 tortoises buried in the grave and the leftovers of at least three wild cattle deposited in a second adjacent depression excavated in the cave floor represent the remains of a funeral feast.

The outstanding preservation of the grave enabled us to detect multiple phases of a ritual performance that included the consumption of the feast, the burial of the woman, and the filling of the grave in several stages, including the intentional deposition of garbage from the feast.

Site of Göbekli Tepe. Credit: Teomancimit (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Feasting at the beginning of agriculture

Archaeologists have found other sites that show evidence of ritual feasting. Many of these date to the time when humans were beginning to farm.

One of the most striking is the site of Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey, dating slightly later than Hilazon Tachtit. It includes multiple large structures adorned with benches and giant stone slab carved with exquisite animal depictions in relief dating to 11-12,000 years ago. Perhaps, these were very early communal buildings. The archaeologists who excavated Göbekli Tepe argue that massive quantities of animal bones associated with the structures represent the remains of feasts.

Twelve thousand years ago humans were still hunter-gatherers, subsisting entirely on wild foods. Nevertheless, these people differed from those who went before – they were sitting on the brink of the transition to agriculture, one of the most significant economic, social and ideological transformations in human history.

Sickle blades and grinding stones used to harvest and process cereal grains are found at Hilazon Tachtit and other contemporary archaeological sites. These findings indicate that these ritual feasts started around the same time that people adopted agriculture. When people began to rely more heavily on wild cereals like wheat and barley, they became increasingly tethered to landscapes that were ever more crowded and began to settle into more permanent communities. In other words, feasting became a part of their life, once they moved away from nomadic life.

Rituals that bind

These feasts had an important role to play. Adapting to village life after hundreds of millennia on the move was no simple act. Research on modern hunter-gatherer societies shows that closer contact between neighbors dramatically increased social tensions. New solutions to avoid and repair conflict were critical.

The simultaneous appearance of feasting, communal structures and specialized ritual sites suggest that humans were seeking to solve this problem by engaging the community in ritual practice.

One of the central functions of ritual in these communities was to provide a kind of social glue that bound community members by promoting social cohesion and solidarity. Feasts generate loyalty and commitment to the community’s success. Sharing food is intimate and it builds trust.

Communal rituals would have provided a shared sense of identity at a time when social circles were increasing in scale and permanence. They reinforced new ideologies that emerged out of a dramatic reorganization of economic and social life.

Role of feasts today

Feasting plays the same essential role today. Like the earliest feasts, our holiday celebrations are replete with actions that are repeated year after year.

The holiday feast today builds family traditions. By cooking and sharing food together, telling stories of past holidays and exchanging intergenerational wisdom, holiday rituals bond extended families and give them a shared identity.

Explore further: Reconstruction of 12,000 year old funeral feast brings ancient burial rituals to life

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Bicolor Sorghum

 

Original article:

Sci-news.com

 

Sorghum was domesticated from its wild ancestor more than 5,000 years ago, according to archaeological evidence uncovered by University College London archaeologist Dorian Fuller and colleagues in Sudan.

Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) is a native African grass that was utilized for thousands of years by prehistoric peoples, and emerged as one of the world’s five most important cereal crops, along with rice, wheat, barley, and maize.

For a half century scientists have hypothesized that native African groups were domesticating sorghum outside the winter rainfall zone of the ancient Egyptian Nile Valley — where wheat and barley cereals were predominant — in the semi-arid tropics of Africa, but no archaeological evidence existed.

The newest evidence comes from an archaeological site near Kassala in eastern Sudan, dating from 3500 to 3000 BC, and is associated with the Butana Group culture.

“This new discovery in eastern Sudan reveals that during the 4th millennium BC, peoples of the Butana Group were intensively cultivating wild stands of sorghum until they began to change the plant genetically into domesticated morphotypes,” Dr. Fuller and co-authors said.

 

The researchers examined plant impressions within broken pottery from the largest Butana Group site, KG23.

“Ceramic sherds recovered from excavations undertaken by the Southern Methodist University Butana Project during the 1980s from the KG23 site were analyzed,” they explained.

“Examination of the plant impressions in the pottery revealed diagnostic chaff in which both domesticated and wild sorghum types were identified, thus providing archaeobotanical evidence for the beginnings of cultivation and emergence of domesticated characteristics within sorghum during the 4th millennium BC in eastern Sudan.”

“Along with the recent discovery of domesticated pearl millet in eastern Mali around 2500 BC, this discovery pushes back the process for domesticating summer rainfall cereals another thousand years in the Sahel, with sorghum, providing new evidence for the earliest known native African cultigen,” they said.

The research is published in the journal Current Anthropology.

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The food chains recovered more rapidly than previously assumed after Earth’s most devastating mass extinction event about 252 million years ago as demonstrated by the fossilized skull of a large predatory fish called Birgeria americana discovered by paleontologists from the University of Zurich in the desert of Nevada.

Source: Large-mouthed fish was top predator after mass extinction

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Original Article:

Independent
By Ian Johnston, July3,2017

potato’ dating back about 10,900 years have been discovered in Utah.
The “well-preserved starch granules” – discovered in cracks in rocks used to grind up the potatoes – are the oldest evidence of cultivation of the plant in North America, researchers said.
This technique has been used to find the earliest known use of several species, including oats found in southern Italy dating to 32,600 years ago, 23,000-year-old barley and wheat discovered in Israel, and beans and yams from China dated to between 19,500 and 23,000 years ago.
The potato starch was embedded into stone tools found in Escalante, Utah, an area once known to early European settlers as “Potato Valley”.
The ‘Four Corners’ potatoes, Solanum jamesii, were eaten by several Native American tribes, including the Apache, Navajo and Hopi.
However most potatoes eaten around the world today are all descended from one species, Solanum tuberosum, which was domesticated in the South American Andes more than 7,000 years ago. It has been bred into thousands of different types since then.
The Four Corners potato, which may be the first example of a domesticated plant in the American West, could be used to make the current potato crop more resilient to drought and disease, it is believed.
Professor Lisbeth Louderback, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum of Utah and a senior author of a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said: “This potato could be just as important as those we eat today, not only in terms of a food plant from the past, but as a potential food source for the future.
“The potato has become a forgotten part of Escalante’s history. Our work is to help rediscover this heritage.”
S. jamesii is also highly nutritious with twice the amount of protein, zinc and manganese and three times the calcium and iron content as S. tuberosum.
Grown in ideal conditions in a greenhouse, a single “mother” tuber can produce 125 progeny tubers in six months.
Early European visitors to the Escalante area remarked on the potatoes.
Captain James Andrus wrote in August 1866: “We have found wild potatoes growing from which the valley takes its name.”
And a soldier, John Adams, wrote in the same year: “We gathered some wild potatoes which we cooked and ate … they were somewhat like the cultivated potato, but smaller.”

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Original article:

Sciencedaily
Studying dental plaque from a 1.2 million year old hominin (early human species), recovered by the Atapuerca Research Team in 2007 in Sima del Elefante in northern Spain, archaeologists extracted microfossils to find the earliest direct evidence of food eaten by early humans.
These microfossils included traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules indicating consumption of grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine, insect fragments and a possible fragment of a toothpick.
All detected fibres were uncharred, and there was also no evidence showing inhalation of microcharcoal – normally a clear indicator of proximity to fire.
The timing of the earliest use of fire for cooking is hotly contested, with some researchers arguing habitual use started around 1.8 million years ago while others suggest it was as late as 300,000-400,000 years ago.
Possible evidence for fire has been found at some very early sites in Africa. However, the lack of evidence for fire at Sima del Elefante suggests that this knowledge was not carried with the earliest humans when they left Africa.
The earliest definitive evidence in Europe for use of fire is 800,000 years ago at the Spanish site of Cueva Negra, and at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel, a short time later.
Taken together, this evidence suggests the development of fire technology occurred at some point between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago, revealing a new timeline for when the earliest humans started to cook food.
Dr Karen Hardy, lead author and Honorary Research Associate at the University of York and ICREA Research Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, said: “Obtaining evidence for any aspect of hominin life at this extremely early date is very challenging. Here, we have been able to demonstrate that these earliest Europeans understood and exploited their forested environment to obtain a balanced diet 1.2 million years ago, by eating a range of different foods and combining starchy plant food with meat.
“This new timeline has significant implications in helping us to understand this period of human evolution — cooked food provides greater energy, and cooking may be linked to the rapid increases in brain size that occurred from 800,000 years ago onwards.
“It also correlates well with previous research hypothesising that the timing of cooking is linked to the development of salivary amylase, needed to process cooked starchy food. Starchy food was an essential element in facilitating brain development, and contrary to popular belief about the ‘Paleodiet’, the role of starchy food in the Palaeolithic diet was significant.”
Dr Anita Radini, PhD student at the University of York said: “These results are very exciting, as they highlight the potential of dental calculus to store dietary and environmental information from deep in the human evolutionary past. It is also interesting to see that pollen remains are preserved often in better conditions than in the soil of the same age. Overall this is a very positive step in the discipline, in terms of preservation of material in the calculus matrix.”

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A statue representing "iceman" mummy Oetzi, discovered on 1991 in the Italian Schnal Valley glacier, displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Bolzano, Italy on February 28, 2011

A statue representing “iceman” mummy Oetzi, discovered on 1991 in the Italian Schnal Valley glacier, displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Bolzano, Italy on February 28, 2011

Original Article:

phys.org

 

Oetzi the famous “iceman” mummy of the Alps appears to have enjoyed a fine slice or two of Stone Age bacon before he was killed by an arrow some 5,300 years ago.

His last meal was most likely dried goat meat, according to scientists who recently managed to dissect the contents of Oetzi’s stomach.

“We’ve analysed the meat’s nanostructure and it looks like he ate very fatty, dried meat, most likely bacon,” German mummy expert Albert Zink said at a talk in Vienna late Wednesday.

More specifically, the tasty snack is thought to have come from a wild goat in South Tyrol, the northern Italian region where Oetzi roamed around and where his remains were found in September 1991.

Mummified in ice, he was discovered by two German hikers in the Oetztal Alps, 3,210 metres (10,500 feet) above sea level.

Scientists have used hi-tech, non-invasive diagnostics and genomic sequencing to penetrate his mysterious past.

These efforts have determined Oetzi died around the age of 45, was about 1.60 metres (five foot, three inches) tall and weighed 50 kilos (110 pounds).

He suffered a violent death, with an arrow severing a major blood vessel between the rib cage and the left shoulder blade, as well as a laceration on the hand.

As part of their latest discoveries, Zink’s team also found that Oetzi had an ulcer-inducing bacteria and may have suffered from stomach aches.

But for all his parasites, worn ligaments and bad teeth, he was in “pretty good shape”, Zink wrote in the renowned US magazine Science earlier this month.

 

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 Humans living in Argentina 14,000 years ago were hunting giant armadillos. This one looks especially grumpy.

Humans living in Argentina 14,000 years ago were hunting giant armadillos. This one looks especially grumpy.

 

Original Article:

By ANNALEE NEWITZ

arstechnica.com

 

A glimpse of the last people on Earth to colonize a continent without humans.

 

For more than a decade, evidence has been piling up that humans colonized the Americas thousands of years before the Clovis people. The Clovis, who are the early ancestors of today’s Native Americans, left abundant evidence of their lives behind in the form of tools and graves. But the mysterious pre-Clovis humans, who likely arrived 17,000 to 15,000 years ago, have left only a few dozen sources of evidence for their existence across the Americas, mostly at campsites where they processed animals during hunting trips. Now a fresh examination of one such campsite, a 14,000-year-old hunter’s rest stop outside the city of Tres Arroyos in Argentina, has given us a new understanding of how the pre-Clovis people might have lived.

Archaeologists are still uncertain how the pre-Clovis people arrived in the Americas. They came after the end of the ice age but at a time when glaciers and an icy, barren environment would still have blocked easy entrance into the Americas via Northern Canada. So it’s extremely unlikely that they marched over a land bridge from Siberia and into the Americas through the middle of the continent—instead, they would have come from Asia via a coastal route, frequently using boats for transport. That would explain why many pre-Clovis sites are on the coast, on islands, or on rivers that meet the ocean.
These early settlers were hunter-gatherers who used stone tools for a wide range of activities, including hunting, butchery, scraping hides, preparing food, and making other tools out of bone and wood. Many of the pre-Clovis stone tools look fairly simple and were made by using one stone to flake pieces off the other, thus creating sharp edges. At the campsite in Argentina, known as the Arroyo Seco 2 site, archaeologists have found more than 50 such tools made from materials like chert and quartzite. They’re scattered across an area that was once a grassy knoll above a deep lake, which is rich with thousands of animal bone fragments that have been carbon dated to as early as 14,000 years ago. There are even a couple-dozen human burials at the site, dated to a later period starting roughly 9,000 years ago. The spot has the characteristic look of a hunter’s camp, used for processing animals, that was revisited seasonally for thousands of years.

Writing in PLoS One, the researchers describe a number of reasons why a bunch of sharp-edged rocks and broken animal bones point to a 14,000-year-old human occupation of Argentina. First of all, there are far too many animal bones from a diversity of species grouped in one place for it to be accidental. Yes, there are some natural traps where we find massive numbers of prehistoric bones, but those are almost always in holes or depressions in the ground—and this area was on a rather high hill during the Pleistocene. Second, the stones aren’t just sharp-edged in a way that suggests flaking; many also show signs of wear and tear from scraping hide. “A large majority of the flaked edges were used transversely on dry skin,” the researchers write. “Consequently, it is likely that the skins were brought to the site in a state of intermediate processing.” Also, most of the stone used for the tools, including quartzite and chert, can only be found over 110km from Arroyo Seco. So that piece of evidence also points to human hunter-gatherers carrying tools with them over great distances.
The Pleistocene diet

One question remains. How can we be sure the tools at the site really are 14,000 years old? Archaeologists infer some of this from carbon dates on the animal bones, which have been tested by several labs around the world. The problem is that the site’s stratigraphy, or historical layers, are difficult to read due to erosion at the site. So even if a tool appears right next to a bone in a given layer, it may have come from later and been moved around by wind and water. That said, there is evidence that some of the early bones were broken by stone tools. A 14,000-year-old bone from Equus neogeus, an extinct American horse, bears distinct marks from a hammerstone. “This bone was intentionally broken while still fresh,” note the researchers.

With a firm connection between the human tools and the animal bones found at Arroyo Seco, we can begin to piece together what everyday life was like for these people—at least at mealtime. Analysis of more than 600 bone fragments out of thousands found at the site revealed that a large amount of these people’s meat came from animals that no longer exist. Various extinct horse species were a major part of the pre-Clovis diet, as were other extinct mammals like giant ground sloths, camels, mammoths, and giant armadillos. When these people arrived in South America, they found a land that no human had ever colonized. Many of these species would have been easy pickings for well-organized bands of hunters with sophisticated languages, tools, and tactics. Some paleoecologists hypothesize that these animals went extinct partly due to human hunting, and this campsite definitely provides evidence that extinct animals were part of the pre-Clovis diet for millennia. That said, Arroyo Seco contains far more bones from guanaco (a local relative of the camel) and rodents than it does from extinct mammals.

The absence of certain bones can tell us about how these people lived, too. Though there are bones from megafauna like the giant sloth Megatherium, we see no skulls, chest, or pelvic bones from the animal. The researchers speculate that’s because hunters would have done an initial butchery at the site where they killed or scavenged the animal and then transported parts of it to be processed at camp:

Given the body mass of this species (between 4 and 5 tons), it would have been extremely difficult to transport the entire carcass and even challenging to transport complete hindquarters weighing between 600 and 750 kg, and forequarters weighing between 250 and 300 kg. Taking into consideration these values, the best hypothesis is that the Megatherium was hunted or scavenged near the site, the skeleton was butchered into smaller parts, and these units were then transported to their current location at the site. The larger bones were transported with portions of meat already removed, and the bone may have been used for other purposes such as bone quarrying.

Of the extinct mammals that humans processed at Arroyo Seco, the most common seems to be horse. When people arrived in the Americas, it was full of at least two species of extinct horses. But by the time of the Inca and other great civilizations of South America, those animals were long gone. It wasn’t until Europeans arrived with their steeds that the continent was once again populated with horses.

Still, we can look back and imagine what it must have been like for those pre-Clovis people, entering a world where no human had ever gone before, full of animals that are legendary to us today. In many ways, they lived on a different planet than the one we inhabit now. At the edge of a now mostly vanished lake, on a knoll, those people fed their families, made tools, and strategized about how to hunt for game bigger than anything on land in the modern world. They returned year after year for centuries. Eventually, they buried their dead there among the animal bones left by their ancestors.

 

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