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Original article: eurekalert.org

13-Oct-2021Peer-Reviewed Publication

Cell Press

Human feces don’t usually stick around for long—and certainly not for thousands of years. But exceptions to this general rule are found in a few places in the world, including prehistoric salt mines of the Austrian UNESCO World Heritage area Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut. Now, researchers who’ve studied ancient fecal samples (or paleofeces) from these mines have uncovered some surprising evidence: the presence of two fungal species used in the production of blue cheese and beer. The findings appear in the journal Current Biology on October 13.

“Genome-wide analysis indicates that both fungi were involved in food fermentation and provide the first molecular evidence for blue cheese and beer consumption during Iron Age Europe,” says Frank Maixner (@FrankMaixner) of the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies in Bolzano, Italy.

“These results shed substantial new light on the life of the prehistoric salt miners in Hallstatt and allow an understanding of ancient culinary practices in general on a whole new level,” adds Kerstin Kowarik (@KowarikKerstin) of the Museum of Natural History Vienna. “It is becoming increasingly clear that not only were prehistoric culinary practices sophisticated, but also that complex processed foodstuffs as well as the technique of fermentation have held a prominent role in our early food history.”

Earlier studies already had shown the potential for studies of prehistoric paleofeces from salt mines to offer important insights into early human diet and health. In the new study, Maixner, Kowarik, and their colleagues added in-depth microscopic, metagenomic, and proteomic analyses—to explore the microbes, DNA, and proteins that were present in those poop samples.

These comprehensive studies allowed them to reconstruct the diet of the people who once lived there. They also could get information about the ancient microbes that inhabited their guts. Gut microbes are collectively known as the gut microbiome and are now recognized to have an important role in human health.

Their dietary survey identified bran and glumes of different cereals as one of the most prevalent plant fragments. They report that this highly fibrous, carbohydrate-rich diet was supplemented with proteins from broad beans and occasionally with fruits, nuts, or animal food products.

In keeping with their plant-heavy diet, the ancient miners up to the Baroque period also had gut microbiome structures more like those of modern non-Westernized individuals, whose diets are also mainly composed of unprocessed food, fresh fruits and vegetables. The findings suggest a more recent shift in the Western gut microbiome as eating habits and lifestyles changed.

When the researchers extended their microbial survey to include fungi, that’s when they got their biggest surprise: an abundance in one of their Iron Age samples of Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA.

“The Hallstatt miners seem to have intentionally applied food fermentation technologies with microorganisms which are still nowadays used in the food industry,” Maixner says.

The findings offer the first evidence that people were already producing blue cheese in Iron Age Europe nearly 2,700 years ago, he adds. In ongoing and future studies of the paleofeces from Hallstatt, they hope to learn more about the early production of fermented foods and the interplay between nutrition and the gut microbiome composition in different time periods.

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This work was supported by Programma Ricerca Budget prestazioni Eurac 2017 of the Province of Bolzano, Italy, and the South Tyrolean grant legge 14, the European Regional Development Fund, the European Research Council grant, the US National Institutes of Health, and the US National Science Foundation.

Current Biology, Maixner et al.: “Paleofeces analyses indicate blue cheese and beer consumption by Iron Age Hallstatt salt miners and a non-Westernized gut microbiome structure in Europe until the Baroque period”

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First posted Aug 16, 2010
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Archaeology.org

Monday, June 29, 2020

HAIFA, ISRAEL—According to a Live Science report, an examination of the bones of lizards and snakes recovered from el-Wad Terrace, a cave near Mount Carmel in northern Israel, indicates that reptiles such as the legless European glass lizard and the large whip snake were eaten by members of the Natufian culture at the site between 15,000 and 11,500 years ago. The lizard and snake bones made up about one-third of the animal bones in the cave. Ma’ayan Lev of the University of Haifa said that finding butchery marks on such small bones can be difficult, especially when they have been weathered over a long period of time. Lev and her colleagues therefore experimented with the bones of modern lizards and snakes to identify signs of erosion, burning, trampling, and digestion by birds of prey, and then compared those marks with marks on the ancient remains. “The most surprising find was the butchery marks on several large whip snake vertebrae,” Lev said, adding that the marks were found in identical locations of different bones. These animals were likely eaten by humans, Lev said. The study also suggests the eastern Montpellier snake, the common viper, and other smaller lizards and snakes whose remains were found in the cave were likely eaten by raptors or died of other causes. To read about human consumption of a snake in southwest Texas 1,500 years ago, go to “Snake Snack.”

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York.ac.uk

Living specimen of the marine mollusc Conomurex fasciatus. Millions of these shells were found on the Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia a as the food refuse of prehistoric fishers. Photo credit: Dr Niklas Hausmann

Prehistoric pioneers could have relied on shellfish to sustain them as they followed migratory routes out of Africa during times of drought, a new study suggests.

Living specimen of the marine mollusc Conomurex fasciatus. Millions of these shells were found on the Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia as the food refuse of prehistoric fishers. Photo credit: Dr Niklas Hausmann

The study examined fossil reefs near to the now-submerged Red Sea shorelines that marked prehistoric migratory routes from Africa to Arabia. The findings suggest this coast offered the resources necessary to act as a gateway out of Africa during periods of little rainfall when other food sources were scarce.

The research team, led by the University of York, focused on the remains of 15,000 shells dating back 5,000 years to an arid period in the region. With the coastline of original migratory routes submerged by sea-level rise after the last Ice Age, the shells came from the nearby Farasan Islands in Saudi Arabia.

Plentiful

The researchers found that populations of marine mollusks were plentiful enough to allow continuous harvests without any major ecological impacts and their availability would have enabled people to live through times of drought.

Lead author, Dr Niklas Hausmann, Associate Researcher at the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “The availability of food resources plays an important role in understanding the feasibility of past human migrations – hunter-gatherer migrations would have required local food sources and periods of aridity could therefore have restricted these movements.

“Our study suggests that Red Sea shorelines had the resources necessary to provide a passage for prehistoric people.”

Healthy population

The study also confirms that communities settled on the shorelines of the Red Sea could have relied on shellfish as a sustainable food resource all year round.

Dr Hausmann added: “Our data shows that at a time when many other resources on land were scarce, people could rely on their locally available shellfish. Previous studies have shown that people of the southern Red Sea ate shellfish year-round and over periods of thousands of years. We now also know that this resource was not depleted by them, but shellfish continued to maintain a healthy population.”

Fossil reefs

The shellfish species found in the archaeological sites on the Farasan Islands were also found in abundance in fossil reefs dating to over 100 thousand years ago, indicating that these shellfish have been an available resource over longer periods than archaeological sites previously suggested.

Co-author of the study, Matthew Meredith-Williams, from La Trobe University, said: “We know that modelling past climates to learn about food resources is extremely helpful, but we need to differentiate between what is happening on land and what is happening in the water. In our study we show that marine foods were abundant and resilient and being gathered by people when they couldn’t rely on terrestrial food.”

 

 

 

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the link no longer works but it’s still a n interesting read.
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