Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Salt’

Part 2

this is quite a long article but interesting.

Hakaimagazine

by Erik Vance

Of course there were pirates,”  Vera Tiesler says.

She’s quick to add that there is no direct evidence of ancient Maya pirates, but given how much valuable cargo was passing through these ports—and the fact that boats were often depicted carrying armed warriors—it’s a pretty good guess. Chances are, piracy started long before Europeans arrived. The presence of pirates of the ancient Caribbean might also explain the tall pyramid that could serve dual functions: for religious ceremonies and as a lookout. Vista Alegre had another quirk. In pre-Columbian times, the settlement was on a peninsula, with three sides facing the water (the bays on either side have since filled in) and an elaborate stone wall, probably topped by a wooden barrier, guarding the south-facing fourth side. But there appears to be no roads or settlements in that direction. Why build a wall if there’s no one on the other side to keep out?

The wall was likely meant to keep out marauders who, worried about being spotted on the water, would land nearby and try to enter the city by land. Many of the sites along the coast have similar walls to Vista Alegre. The ruins of Isla Cerritos, 100 kilometers to the west, had a 305-meter wall that blocked the harbor like a giant arm shielding the city.

Beyond physical defenses, little else is known about coastal battles of the Maya world. Were there trained ocean fighters? Specially designed warships? Naval strategies? In fact, of the thousands of boats that once littered the coasts, all that has survived is a single canoe preserved in peat soil that dissolved almost as soon as it touched the air and a couple of paddles discovered in Belize. Yet, according to the first Spaniards to visit the coast, the Maya used many types of boats with up to 25 paddlers and capable of hauling over three tonnes of material, which is more than some midsize pickups can handle today.

Some canoes may have even had sails. Several Spanish chroniclers describe seeing sails along the coast—there are no images, however, of sails among the codices and murals of the Maya themselves. Many local people still build traditional boats and even host international paddle races, but it’s tough to know what parts of these traditions are old and which are new.

Modern Maya canoe builders have specific rules about construction. “For example, when to cut down the tree, which tree,” says Mariana Favila, an anthropologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who is writing her PhD thesis on the maritime practices of the Maya, partly by spending time with modern indigenous communities.

She points out that there are many traditions around boatbuilding that seem to predate Europeans, such as a ban on women being near a boat while it’s being built. Local tradition holds that women are associated with cold, whereas men are characterized by heat. Thus, for boats—which are also tied to cold—to stay afloat, they must be kept separate from women.

When most people imagine an ancient Maya city, they probably picture Chichén-Itzá with the commanding El Castillo at its center, surrounded by ball courts of varying sizes and wide plazas. But the sites we see today were the ceremonial centers of the cities, not where people lived. Studying a pyramid is like trying to understand the United States by digging up the Lincoln Memorial. It tells you something about values and traditions, but not daily life.

For that, you need to see where the ancient Maya lived and worked. Modern satellite images and laser-guided surveys from planes have revealed that Maya cities were far more sprawling than anyone would have ever guessed. Earlier this year, a large multinational team announced that several cities in northern Guatemala once presumed separate were, in fact, connected by 60,000 previously unseen structures.

Many of these were wooden houses built on low platforms. But, like giant, ravenous beasts, the tropical landscapes of the Yucatan and Petén Basin gobbled up all the wooden structures they touched, along with tools and boats. Except in one place—an ancient lagoon in Payne’s Creek National Park, a nature preserve encompassing savannah, tropical rainforest, and mangroves in southern Belize.

Heather McKillop, an archaeologist at Louisiana State University, first came to Payne’s Creek in 2004 on an odd sort of archaeological scouting expedition. She knew that there had been settlements in the area and that the ocean had risen since then. So rather than shovels and pickaxes, she brought a swimsuit, a couple of buckets for specimens, and a vague notion that the rich lagoon soils were hiding interesting artifacts probably related to salt making. She and a few students waded into the water and quickly found all sorts of ceramic shards from pots used to boil briny seawater to collect salt and the occasional wooden stump—probably either a dead tree or driftwood washed in from storms.

“Wood doesn’t preserve in the rainforest,” McKillop says. “I thought, oh they’re just old tree roots or they’re pieces of wood that have drifted in.” There’s no way they were left over from the Maya, that would be ridiculous. Termites, shipworms, or thousands of other creatures that scour the jungles and shores for detritus quickly devour wood here. But just out of curiosity, she and her students decided to dig up one.

“I said, if it’s a post, it’s going to go straight down and the end is going to be sharpened. If it’s a tree, it’s going to branch out,” she says, assuming at the time they were all dead trees. “I just want to settle this once and for all.”

They took turns holding their breath, ducking a meter underwater, and scraping around the sides of the logs. The soil was a heavy sort of peat, covered in moss that was perfect for clutching while digging with the other hand. Finally, they got to the bottom and freed the wood, pulling it up to the surface.

“The four of us are looking at it, and the end comes out of the water. And it’s sharpened,” she says. It was like reaching into a wastebasket in Rome and pulling out a poem by Julius Caesar. No one had ever found something like this. “Then they all looked at me and say, ‘So what is it?’”

That same trip, they found more than a dozen sites along the creek and the first-ever intact Maya canoe paddle. Since then, McKillop and her team have found more than 4,000 such posts—perfectly preserved in the oxygen-deprived peat—in a five-square-kilometer area, using masks and snorkels while floating facedown on cleverly modified pool loungers.

The sheer number of posts in such a small area suggests that the coastline once bustled with salt works. Salt is crucial to all civilizations, not just as food but also as a preservative. Experts always assumed the Maya collected it along the shoreline and passed it inland, but now they had evidence of whole communities dedicated to producing salt.

“If you sat on the beach, you would watch two boats go by every single day full of salt. It’s not an occasional thing, this would be a very regular transport schedule,” says Thomas Guderjan, an archaeologist at the University of Texas at Tyler who specializes in Maya agriculture and city planning. “You could not service that population just with an occasional guy who takes a paddle up to get salt. This would be a very structured market.”

No one knows for sure how the ancient Maya economy worked, but trade was likely crucial. Quetzal feathers (found in tropical cloud forests) came downhill, jade (found in the south) went north, shells went inland to the mountains of central Mexico, and obsidian (found in the volcanic spine of the continent) went to the flatlands of the Yucatan. There were no pack animals or wheels for carts, and boats packing a few tonnes of material would have been highly efficient.

But not everyone is so convinced by this picture. Rafael Cobos Palma is an archaeologist at the Autonomous University of the Yucatan with perhaps more experience investigating the coastal Maya than anyone else alive. He doesn’t see some kind of market-based trade but something more like a pipeline completely controlled by elites from Chichén-Itzá.

“Trade is not the correct word to use,” Cobos Palma says. “Nobody else participated. It was a closed system.”

He compares the gold and turquoise coming along the coast to Fabergé eggs created for Russian royalty during the turn of the last century. It’s not really trade if the materials go only in one direction. He admits that there might have been other, less-formal trade systems that siphoned goods to a few other cities, but insists this isn’t because of a market, it’s from leaks in the pipeline.

It’s a controversial idea, considering how long the ports operated and the variety of goods the coastal Maya moved and how different their culture seems from their inland neighbors. But it gets at a fundamental question about the ancient Maya. Did they have an economy the way we think of it—with currency, merchants, and markets? Or was it controlled by the iron fist of the state? Perhaps the answer lies in one of the many unexcavated sites along the coast, like Xel-Ha or Xcalak.

There’s just one problem: many of these sites are underneath multimillion-dollar resorts.

Ironically, the global fascination with the ancient Maya that puts pyramids on magazine covers and in Indiana Jones movies has helped fuel a tourism industry gobbling up wide swaths of the coastline, including many Maya sites. Xel-Ha, an ancient city north of Tulum, is now an amusement park, with playgrounds, rides, and concession stands. Others are in the middle of golf courses, and one, a rare cave shrine, is poking up through a Home Depot parking lot. When Rissolo wanted to see an important shrine at Xcaret, near Playa del Carmen, he had to buy tickets and walk past the souvenir shops and a dolphin tank to get there.

Thankfully, many sites were visited and cataloged by archeologists before the all-inclusive resorts moved in, though most of these studies were just cursory. Still, someday archaeologists may be able to finish what they started.

“The bulldozer might have destroyed one or two platforms here or there but there’s certainly more information. And fortunately, all that information is underneath,” Cobos Palma says.

More destructive might be time itself. Cobos Palma points out that the coast of Tabasco, just west of Vista Alegre, is suspiciously short on ancient sites. The best explanation is that they have been buried under soil or rising seas. One of his research sites, Uaymil, was once on the coast but is now more than a kilometer inland. McKillop’s research area was originally on solid ground until the oceans rose up around it. Others could have been wiped out by a single well-placed hurricane.

But there’s still too much to find to despair about what’s been lost. Some of the most important coastal ports may remain undiscovered.


Back at Vista Alegre, far from the lively coastline of Cancún, Rissolo and Glover finish their survey, and we pile back into our skiff. Unlike the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, the northern end is nearly deserted. It’s a beautiful day, with enough wind to kick up some sea spray but it’s still pleasant. The previous week, the area had been buffeted by powerful winds as Subtropical Storm Alberto formed offshore and charged toward Florida. Roads in the area have been flooded for days and Cancún ground to a standstill. And that was just a small storm. Imagine a powerful monster like Hurricane Wilma—which devastated the region in 2005—and it’s easy to see why not everyone has embraced the coast.

“This entire coastline is unpopulated,” says Rissolo, looking west toward the Gulf of Mexico. “From an archaeologist’s perspective, there’s really a great opportunity to study how the ancient Maya organized themselves on the landscape. Imagine trying to do what we’re doing when you’ve got golf courses, all-inclusive resorts, and shopping malls that run all the way from Cancún to Tulum.”

On the way back to the harbor, they decide to take a little detour. Locals say there is perhaps evidence of a settlement on the nearby island of Holbox, an emerging vacation spot for off-the-beaten-path tourists. One archaeologist documented the site in the 1950s, but no other scientist has visited the place. Rumor has it there are a few stone structures and maybe a shrine. Somewhere. Glover pulls out a drone and attempts to launch it.

“That’s a stiff wind, dude,” he says to no one in particular, testing the drone’s rotors. “Not ideal.”

“We don’t even know if it’s in the interior. Is it at the edge of the mangroves? The coastline is just so complex,” Rissolo mutters.

Glover eventually gets the drone airborne and battles the wind for a while, taking video he hopes will later reveal the site. It’s bizarre that there could be an undocumented ancient settlement 100 meters from our boat and we can’t see it. But then again, that’s the story of modern Maya archaeology. In recent years, the biggest discoveries haven’t been pyramids or kings but pedestrian things: ancient farm fields, roads, and salt factories. Seeing how the Maya constructed their civilization, in addition to their sacred buildings, has broadened our view of how their world looked. It was a world of mysterious ceremonies and unusual head shapes, but also one of people who were adept at getting what they wanted quickly and efficiently.

Eventually the researchers give up—Glover is wary of running out of battery power and crashing the drone into the water. They agree to come back, perhaps with kayaks, and inspect the mangroves more carefully.

They fire up the engine and motor toward the mainland. The clouds are almost gone, and tomorrow promises to be another perfect day in paradise. Boatmen will cart tourists to the island, just as they have for decades, while the fishermen load up their nets to leave at first light—just as they have for thousands of years.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Part 1

For thousands of years, ancient Maya kings ruled a vast inland empire in Mexico and Belize. But just how inland was it, really?

Vista Alegre, a ruin of a town near the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, was once a bustling outpost. Dozens of canoes crowded the harbor, loaded down with dyes from the west, jade from the south, and obsidian from mountains hundreds of kilometers away. The sound of trumpeting conch shells periodically sliced the air—an alert from sentries scanning the horizon from platforms attached to stone structures. The call signaled an incoming boat—to trade or, perhaps, to plunder.

Within the town, the smell of fish hung heavy in the air as fishermen hurried about with their catches slung across their backs. They passed a man outside his hut hacking a pile of decorative shells into portable sizes for the next outgoing canoe. In another hut, a woman was using salt from a town to the south to dry freshly caught fish that would then be shipped to cities far away. And all the while, smoke from a signal fire atop a pyramid guided exhausted ocean travelers to safe harbor.

Today, a thousand years later, the town isn’t much to look at. Centuries of accumulated dirt and vegetation cover the pyramids. Trees growing on various structures have succumbed to gravity, tumbling and taking with them massive stone blocks once perfectly fitted together.

Today, the ruins of Vista Alegre, on the northern Yucatan coast, are barely visible but still reveal much about the ancient maritime Maya. Video courtesy of Jeffrey Glover and Dominique Rissolo

Though part of the ancient Maya world, which stretched from here all the way into modern-day El Salvador, Vista Alegre lacks the grandeur of many sites. It doesn’t have the dozens of glistening pyramids that lure millions of tourists to Chichén-Itzá, the enticing carvings of Palenque, or the vibrant murals of Bonampak. In fact, were it not for a single pyramid in the middle of a handful of crumbling structures, you might miss its human past altogether. But this small port town at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico was once part of a complex network of coastal commerce that dominated the ancient world but has been understudied by academics and ignored by the public. Because, unlike Chichén-Itzá or Palenque or Bonampak in the interior of the country, time has nearly erased coastal ports like Vista Alegre from history.

It’s part of a growing collection of archaeological sites revealing a complex and cosmopolitan network of sea traders with their own culture and traditions, who are at once separated from and deeply tied to their more famous compatriots deep in the Yucatan jungles.

“Our knowledge of markets and the role of markets is changing in the Maya area,” says Jeffrey Glover, an archaeologist at Georgia State University. Glover stands on a cluster of exposed blocks at the top of Vista Alegre’s steep central pyramid with its commanding view of the coastline. Looking out, he seems to see the town as it once was, even describing it in the present tense. “There are a lot of people there that need stuff and that want stuff. And they’re probably getting gold from as far south as Panama and Costa Rica, with turquoise that’s coming from the American Southwest.”

Glover and his colleague Dominique Rissolo have been exploring this small site for more than a decade. When they first came to this undeveloped coastline over two hours northwest from Cancún by car and then boat, they expected a small town dependent on the fortunes of the much larger Chichén-Itzá—a nameless cog in the machinery of a great city only 125 kilometers away. But that’s not what they found. Vista Alegre predates the larger city by hundreds of years. The people here ate differently, had different fashions, and traded an astounding diversity of precious things from around Meso-America.

And there was something else here that the archeologists did not expect. The town’s central 10.6-meter-high pyramid is oddly steeper than others in the region—made possible by an unusual concrete recipe that connects its stones and is usually found hundreds of kilometers to the west. This innovation, presumably gleaned from passing travelers, allowed them to build a pyramid tall enough to let them see for a great distance in all directions but with fewer blocks than typical pyramids.

“It blew me away when I saw it. I hadn’t seen anything like that anywhere in this region,” says Rissolo, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “There’s a certain kind of cosmopolitan nature to the site, where people are exposed to different styles and different traditions.”

As we walk the grounds, Rissolo regularly leans down to pick up bits of pottery, some 1,500 years old. It turns out that Vista Alegre was just one of dozens of small settlements that rim the Yucatan Peninsula at about 40-kilometer intervals, the distance a team of paddlers can move a goods-laden boat in a day. None of the coastal communities had the grandeur of the bigger Maya cities, but when put together, they paint a vivid picture of commerce in the region. And, in another surprise, of combat.


The Maya are often called “people of corn” because their identity is forever tied to that crop. Academic and popular stories paint pre-Colombian Maya as a peaceful, inland people who tended crops, feared the sea, and looked to the stars. As with all historical generalizations, however, this picture has faded with new discoveries. Modern scientists have found that the real ancient Maya were just as war-prone as Aztecs or Europeans and perfectly comfortable on the sea.

Looking at the bones from sites like Vista Alegre, scientists now know the ancient coastal Maya ate healthier than their inland compatriots, getting more protein from sea life. Evidence suggests they were more egalitarian too, though less sophisticated in their cultural traditions. Take the common ancient practice of head shaping (whereby boards are tied to an infant’s head to cause it to grow a certain way). Whereas people in Calakmul, near the border of modern-day Guatemala, had a myriad of head shapes fashioned from birth, those on the coast kept it simple—just a slightly elongated head. And rather than elaborate jade- or obsidian-inlaid teeth, coastal people tended to simply sharpen them down a little. But that’s not to say they were boring.

The people came from all over, says Vera Tiesler at the Autonomous University of Yucatan. “There was a big melting pot of people there, traveling down the coast.”

Tiesler is a bioarchaeologist. Rather than digging up pyramids or looking for jade jewelry, she studies human remains. From diseases to wounds to DNA, a set of bones can tell you more about people than a stone structure. And while the Maya coastline may not have a lot of fancy pyramids or ornate paintings, it has a lot of bones littered around—the soil composition and high salt levels lead to wonderful bone preservation.

When a Mayanist finds a set of bones, it often finds its way to Tiesler. And after looking at hundreds of ancient skeletons, she’s come to see the coastal Maya as a sort of subculture. Their seafood diet—revealed through bone analysis—suggests that over generations, families spread long distances along the coast but rarely went inland. It was as if once they found the coast, they didn’t want to leave it.

Coastal Maya also fought differently than their inland compatriots. Contrary to their reputation, the ancient Maya engaged in plenty of warfare. Armies would face off with clubs, hatchet-like weapons, and throwing spears called atlatls. In hand-to-hand combat, injuries were mostly sustained on warriors’ left sides from right-handed assailants. But Tiesler says battle scars of the ancient coastal Maya favor no side. Also, ancient armies were usually all male, but a higher-than-expected number of the violent casualties Tiesler sees were women. Plus, many combatants survived, which would be odd on a battlefield. The likely reason for these discrepancies between Maya armed conflict wounds and these coastal casualties? Piracy.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Salt is essential for life. As ancient civilizations evolved from hunters and gatherers to agrarian societies, it has not been clear how people acquired this mineral that is a biological necessity. However, an anthropologist at LSU discovered remnants of an ancient salt works in Belize that provide clues on how the ancient Maya at the peak of their civilization more than 1,000 years ago produced, stored and traded this valuable mineral.

Source: Salt: Mover and shaker in ancient Maya society

Read Full Post »

 

Towering over a natural lake—today frequented by masses of tourists, particularly from Asia, who come to admire the picture-perfect Alpine scenery—the Hallstatt mine lies more than 800 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level

Original article:

August 24, 2018 by Philippe Schwab

Phys.org

All mines need regular reinforcement against collapse, and Hallstatt, the world’s oldest salt mine perched in the Austrian Alps, is no exception.

But Hallstatt isn’t like other mines.

Exploited for 7,000 years, the mine has yielded not only a steady supply of salt but also archaeological discoveries attesting to the existence of a rich civilisation dating back to the early part of the first millennium BC.

So far less than two percent of the prehistoric tunnel network is thought to have been explored, with the new round of reinforcement work, which began this month, protecting the dig’s achievements, according to chief archaeologist Hans Reschreiter.

“Like in all the mines, the mountain puts pressure on the tunnels and they could cave in if nothing is done,” Reschreiter told AFP.

Hallstatt was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and the work aims to protect it for “future generations”, said Thomas Stelzer, governor of Upper Austria state where the mine is located.

Towering over a natural lake—today frequented by masses of tourists, particularly from Asia, who come to admire the picture-perfect Alpine scenery—the Hallstatt mine lies more than 800 metres (2,600 feet) above sea level.

Among the most striking archaeological discoveries was that of an eight-metre-long wooden staircase dating back to 1100 BC, the oldest such staircase found in Europe

 

3,000-year-old stairs

Among the most striking archaeological discoveries was that of an eight-metre-long wooden staircase dating back to 1100 BC, the oldest such staircase found in Europe.

“It was so well preserved that we could take it apart and reassemble it,” Reschreiter said.

Other items date back much further. Excavated in 1838, an axe made from staghorn dating from 5,000 BC showed that as early as then, miners “tried hard to extract salt from here,” Reschreiter said.

In the mid-19th century, excavations revealed a necropolis that showed the site’s prominence during the early Iron Age.

The civilisation became known as “Hallstatt culture”, ensuring the site’s fame.

“Thousands of bodies have been excavated, almost all flaunting rich bronze ornaments, typically worn by only the wealthiest,” Reschreiter said. “The remains bore the marks of hard physical labour from childhood, while also showing signs of unequalled prosperity.”

Priceless ‘white gold’

Salt—long known as “white gold”—was priceless at the time. And Hallstatt produced up to a tonne every day, supplying “half of Europe”, he said, adding that the difficult-to-access location “became the continent’s richest, and a major platform for trading in 800 BC”.

Testifying to this are sword handles made of African ivory and Mediterranean wine bowls found at the site.

A second series of excavations—started by Vienna’s Museum of Natural History some 60 years ago—produced more surprises.

In tunnels more than 100 metres below the surface, archaeologists discovered “unique evidence” of mining activity at an “industrial” scale during the Bronze Age, Reschreiter said.

As well as revealing wooden retaining structures more than 3,000 years old which were perfectly preserved by the salt, the excavation unearthed numerous tools, leather gloves and a rope—thick as a fist—as well as the remains of millions of wooden torches.

Continuously active

Also used by Celts and during the Roman era when salt was used to pay legions stationed along the Danube River—it is the origin of the word “salary”—the mine has never stopped working since prehistoric times.

Today, about 40 people still work there, using high-pressure water to extract the equivalent of 250,000 tonnes of salt per year.

“Salt doesn’t have the same value as in antiquity anymore. But some of its new uses, such as in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, are still highly profitable,” said Kurt Thomanek, technical director of salt supplier Salinen Austria.

Tourism linked to the archaeological discoveries is also “a pillar of our activities”, Thomanek added.

Last year, some 200,000 people visited the Hallstatt mine

Read Full Post »

 

Researchers stored 17th-century foodstuffs aboard the 19th-century tall ship Elissa as part of an investigation into how well food preservation worked during the age of discovery. Photo by age fotostock/Alamy Stock Photo

 

An unprecedented archaeology experiment is putting historical shipboard food and drink to the test.

Original article:

Hakaimagazine.com

by Jeremy Hsu

In 1619, a hurricane sank the English merchant ship Warwick in Bermuda’s Castle Harbor. The struggling settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, were desperately awaiting the shipload of fresh supplies, and keenly felt the loss. Almost 400 years later, artifacts from the wreck are helping archaeologist Grace Tsai uncover if unrefrigerated food and drink remained edible and nutritious during long sea voyages.

Since 2012, Tsai, a doctoral candidate in nautical archaeology at Texas A&M University, has been studying archaeological records of provisions from three different shipwrecks from the 16th and 17th centuries and analyzing shipboard diets based on modern nutritional guidelines.

Now, Tsai and her colleagues are going one step further: for two months, they stored period-accurate provisions aboard the closest thing to the Warwick they could find—the 19th-century tall ship Elissa, docked in Galveston, Texas.

“The whole premise is to see how things age aboard ships,” Tsai says. Researchers, including her, have typically studied how to prepare food based on historical recipes, “but nobody has been testing how well they lasted on a transatlantic voyage.”

The two-month shipboard study took place from August to October 2017, and included its own hurricane scare, when Harvey swept through just a week into the experiment.

Now, Tsai and her colleagues are back in the lab, analyzing the provisions’ surviving nutritional value and investigating the microbes that grew on them. Chemical analyses could even reveal any remaining—or acquired—flavors.

Yet before they could get to this point, Tsai and her team had to make all the foodstuffs that would have sustained a 17th-century English sailor, such as salted meats, peas, oatmeal, tough ship biscuits, beer, wine, and a barrel of natural spring water. The project also included a variety of heirloom rice, which was more common in the diets of Spanish or Portuguese sailors.

To better understand the salted meats, Tsai traveled to Bermuda to study animal bones recovered from the Warwick’s wreck. Her examination of butcher marks on cattle bones helped her identify the best size to cut beef to enable preservation. The team also imported sea salt from Guérande, France, a region that has been producing salt for more than 1,000 years, which remains a chefs’ favorite.

Previously, scientists have tried to re-create food and drink from various historical periods. But independent experts agree that this project is an unprecedented experiment in maritime archaeology.

“[The experiment] would certainly be the closest we could come to replicating the stowage conditions of a sailing ship in that environment,” says Chuck Meide, director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program in Florida.

James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist and senior vice president at SEARCH, an independent archaeological consultancy in Florida, agrees. “While we’ve studied food waste and food based on archaeological remains, this is the first time, as far as I know, that someone has done experimental archaeology with shipboard provisions from that period.”

After their stint in the Elissa’s hold, many of the provisions still seem edible. For safety reasons, nobody will actually be tasting the experimental results, but the baked ship biscuits are in the best shape by far, a testament to their legendary hardiness. The salted beef, however, has taken on a pinkish center resembling prosciutto. It has a pungent smell, says Tsai, though it isn’t rotten.

A big exception is the natural spring water, which has turned cloudy with greenish bits and “smelled pretty disgusting,” Tsai says. Sailors may have preferred quenching their thirst with beer and wine, which remained more palatable. Still, a surprising amount of lingering yeast fermentation and carbonation caused the beer barrel to leak and grow mold.

Yet the biggest surprise came from the diversity of microbes found in some of the food. Early genomic sequencing analyses, mostly from the salted beef, suggest that many of the bacteria are neither illness-causing pathogens nor beneficial probiotics—most seem to be relatively neutral. The unexpected microbial bounty, however, has forced the researchers to expand their genomic sequencing efforts.

Even though no one is eating the food and drink stored aboard the Elissa, the team is organizing a fundraising event aboard the ship later this month to sample beer based on the historical recipe.

The event illustrates the project’s benefits beyond the research findings by getting more people interested in history and archaeology, says Meide. “There is something compelling about literally re-creating the past in order to learn about it.”

Read Full Post »

Archaeologists discovered the remains of a large-scale storage for fermented fish dating back to 7,200 BC: a view of the gutter after 50 percent of it had been removed; notice the stark contrast with the surrounding clay under the gutter as well as between the stakeholes and the surrounding clay. Image credit: SHMM / Adam Boethius / Lund University.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of a large-scale storage for fermented fish dating back to 7,200 BC: a view of the gutter after 50 percent of it had been removed; notice the stark contrast with the surrounding clay under the gutter as well as between the stakeholes and the surrounding clay. Image credit: SHMM / Adam Boethius / Lund University.

Original Article:

sci-news.com

Feb 9, 2016 by Enrico de Lazaro

Archaeologists in Sweden say they have uncovered the remains of a 9,200-year-old storage for fermented fish.

Dr. Boethius of Lund University and his colleagues found roughly 200,000 fish bones at Norje Sunnansund, an Early Mesolithic settlement site in the Blekinge province of Sweden.

“The archaeological site of Norje Sunnansund is dated to around 9,600 – 8,600 years before present and is located in south-eastern Sweden, on the shores of the ancient Lake Vesan, next to a 2-km long outlet leading to the Baltic basin,” Dr. Boethius explained.

“We’d never seen a site like this with so many well preserved fish bones, so it was amazing to find,” he added.

The archaeologists also uncovered a long pit surrounded by small stake holes and completely filled with fish bones.

“It was really strange, and because of all the fish bones in the area we knew something was going on even before we found the feature,” Dr. Boethius said.

“At first we had no idea what it was so we rescued it from the area to investigate.”

He analyzed the feature and the contents and discovered the fish bones were from freshwater fish such as cyprinids (the carps, the true minnows, and their relatives), the European perch (Perca fluviatilis), the northern pike (Esox lucius), the ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua), the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), the burbot (Lota lota) and other species.

He also showed the fish had been fermented – a skillful way of preserving food without using salt.

“The fermentation process is also quite complex in itself,” said Dr. Boethius, who is an author of a paper published online February 6 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“Because people did not have access to salt or the ability to make ceramic containers, they acidified the fish using, for example, pine bark and seal fat, and then wrapped the entire content in seal and wild boar skins and buried it in a pit covered with muddy soil. This type of fermentation requires a cold climate.”

“The discovery is unique as a find like this has never been made before,” he added. “That is partly because fish bones are so fragile and disappear more easily than, for example, bones of land animals. In this case, the conditions were quite favorable, which helped preserve the remains.”

“The amount of fish we found could have supported a large community of people,” the archaeologist said.

The findings are important as it is usually argued that people in the north lived relatively mobile lives, while people in the Levant became settled and began to farm and raise cattle much earlier.

“These findings suggest that people who survived by foraging for food were actually more advanced than assumed,” Dr. Boethius said.

 

 

Read Full Post »

US Army sun cream and tins of bacon are among the finds on Salisbury Plain revealed by archaeologists, to mark US Independence Day.

Wessex Archaeology, based on the plain, said various US-issued provisions had been found in recent years.

Among the finds were tins of cooking oil, bottles of sauce and “even what appeared to be a block of lard”.

A group spokeswoman said: “The state of preservation of the provisions shows how well made they were.”

The Wiltshire plain has been used as a training ground by the British military since the early 20th Century.

It also provided a training area for US troops preparing for the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War Two.

“The military has been on Salisbury Plain for decades so it’s not been ploughed up or disturbed by developers,” said Matt Leivers, from Wessex Archaeology.

Among the other finds unearthed on the plain were spoons and plates and bottles of Camp coffee.

Speaking about the “cream sunburn preventive”, which is labelled for use in “hot or cold climates”, a Wessex Archaeology spokesman said: “It was a rare hoard of 16 tins of US Army sun cream – still with the contents intact.

“It’s evidence of US military presence on Salisbury Plain and the surrounding area.

“Sadly, there were no contents left in the tins of sliced bacon.”

The finds have been transferred to the Salisbury Museum.

Original article:

BBCNewsBacon from WW2

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: