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of Granada, Santiago de Compostela and Reading (UK) have studied human skeletal remains from the Cova do Santo collective burial cave in northwestern Spain 

Remains found in the Sil river valley–in the province of Ourense–reveal a vegetable-based diet with little meat or fish content
Research undertaken by the universities of Granada, Santiago de Compostela and Reading (UK) has shed new light on Bronze Age man’s diet and the arrival of new crops in the Iberian Peninsula at that time.
The research–published in the Journal of Archaeological Science–studies human remains from the collective burial site at Cova do Santo in the Sil river valley, in the northwestern Spanish province of Ourense.
The cave held the remains of at least 14 individuals of both sexes, including children. Given the unstable condition of the burial cavity, the researchers could stay inside for just a few hours. Consequently, they only collected remains off the surface of the cave floor.
Subsequent analysis of stable isotopes in the bone collagen remains revealed that the Cova do Santo inhabitants ate a vegetable-based diet with little meat or fish content despite the site being close to the river Sil.
“There are no significant differences between individuals in terms of diet, so access to food resources must have been similar, regardless of sex or age,” says Olalla López-Costas, lead author of the study.
The researchers found no signs of millets or of millet consumption which means they cannot confirm millets were a part of Bronze Age man’s diet in northwestern Iberia. “We have compared our findings with publications on other sites and believe there are reasonable grounds for believing that summer crops could have been consumed in central Iberia earlier than previously believed,” says López-Costas.
Summer crops
These crops, called summer or spring crops and most commonly represented by millets, “give a high yield in a short time, which probably helped people become more sedentary and the excess of production could have contributed to the construction of a social hierarchy”.
However, it’s still difficult to say when millets were first introduced into the Iberian diet. Until recently, it was believed to have occurred in the Late Bronze Age but recent discoveries of seeds at archaeological sites seem to indicate that it could have been earlier.
Prehistoric burial caves are relatively common in northern and western Iberia. However, very few physical anthropology studies–like that described here–have been conducted. In terms of the number of burials, this would seem to be the largest prehistoric site in the northwest of thePeninsula. The remains found here have been dated at between 1800 and 1600 BC.

Original article:

Canal.ugr.es

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Topic Ancient milk drinkers:

The mutation for milk-drinking evolved independently in different parts of the world over the last 10,000 years as a result of strong natural selection, but why was it so advantageous?

Among the more momentous developments in human evolution was the ability to digest milk beyond early childhood.

Mutations that enabled lifelong milk drinking appeared independently in several parts of the world over the last 7,500 years, according to growing evidence. And those genes spread rapidly. Today, about a third of adults around the world can drink milk without stomach problems, a trait known as lactase persistence.
But why was milk drinking so advantageous to humankind?

A new study debunks one leading theory: that milk provided a valuable source of vitamin D, which would’ve helped people absorb its calcium.

Newly analyzed human skeletons from an ancient site in Spain show that the milk-drinking gene spread just as rapidly in that sun-drenched climate as it did in other places, suggesting that milk must have been beneficial there for some reason other than its vitamin D content.

“Throughout the years, I have heard so many evolutionary hypotheses about lactase persistence because they are so fun to coin,” said Oddný Sverrisdóttir, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. “For decades now, people have hypothesized that it was because of lack of sunlight in the north of Europe that people would have had to supplement the lack of calcium and vitamin D by drinking milk.”

“Now, looking at this picture from Spain,” she said, “the calcium-assimilation hypothesis either didn’t affect the evolution of lactase persistence at all, or other forces were there as well.”

Sverrisdóttir has long been interested in how and why Europe’s early farmers began drinking milk, so she was excited when she got her hands on well-preserved samples of skeletal remains from eight people who lived in northeastern Spain about 5,000 years ago. That was well after the milk-drinking mutation had appeared in northern Europe, and she was eager to find out if those ancient Spaniards were drinking milk, too. So the first thing she did was test their DNA for lactase persistence.

“I thought at least one would have the mutation,” since so many of today’s Spanish adults can drink milk without health consequences, Sverrisdóttir said. “None did.”

To figure out whether the recent and rapid spread of lactase persistence in Spain was a fluke or if natural selection was at play, Sverrisdóttir and colleagues compared the mitochondrial DNA of modern Spaniards with the ancient samples. Mitochondrial DNA changes very slowly, making it ideal for tracing family trees over time.

And, the researchers report today in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, analyses showed that the ancient cave dwellers were indeed ancestors of people who live and frequently drink milk in Spain today.

Original article:

discovery.com

JAN 21, 2014 08:00 PM ET // BY EMILY SOHN

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University of Basque Country (UPV/EHU)
Aerial view of the deserted Zaballa village in Alava province, Spain

Topic Ancient vineyard in Spain
Zaballa (Iruña de Oca) was a medieval settlement abandoned in the 15th century. The building of a manor monastery at the heart of it undermined the organisation of the village in the 10th century with the creation of a highly significant rent-seeking system; it was later turned into a veritable factory, a specialised estate in the hands of local lords who, under the auspices of the economic boom in towns like Vitoria-Gasteiz, tried to obtain the maximum profits possible. In the end, the “flight” of its settlers towards the towns caused it to be abandoned. Today, it is archaeologists from the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country who are endeavouring to reconstruct and salvage our rural heritage by studying deserted settlements like Zaballa.
Zaballa is one of the more than 300 deserted settlements known in Alava-Araba; they are rural spaces abandoned in historical times but now being studied by the UPV/EHU’s Cultural Heritage and Landscapes Research Group. Its director, Juan Antonio Quirós-Castillo, highlights the importance of Zaballa and Alavese sites in general, as they are part of one of the most importance archaeological records of the mediaeval era throughout northern Iberia, and on a par with few sites in Europe. “The important thing is not just their number, but that in the decade that we have been working on this project, extensive work has been done on nearly half a dozen of them, and work at other levels has been done on nearly a hundred.”
A major site
Zaballa is also the first deserted settlement in Spain that has its own publication and is a major site. The most recent discoveries made there have been published in a special issue of the prestigious journal Quaternary International; among the discoveries, the authors stress that the terraced fields built in the 10th century —still perfectly visible in the landscape— were devoted to the intensive cultivation of vines. “Archaeo-botanical studies of seed remains found in the excavations and pollen studies have provided material evidence of the existence of vine cultivation in a relatively early period like the 10th century,” explained Quirós. This evidence is also supported by the metal tools discovered and which had been destined for this very use, and the study of the agrarian spaces, “which owing to the nature of the crop spaces built and the agrarian practices developed, they are not compatible with cereal crops but they are with vines,” he added.
This publication covers the geo-archaeological work conducted at Zaballa and Zornotegi (Salvatierra), another abandoned settlement in Alava, which became deserted in the 15th century and where the terraced fields were devoted to the cultivation of cereals.
These discoveries have been made possible by the use of archaeological excavation protocols, and geo-archaeological sampling and analysis, which are new in Spain and which have allowed the cultivated fields to be dated and the agrarian cycle to be studied. “It is not so much about excavating a site, but about excavating landscapes,” explained Quirós. In other words, it is about abandoning the traditional concept of the site, understood as a monumental or monumentalised place, in order to get to know the context in which these places are located.”
In comparison with Zaballa, “Zornoztegi has a completely different history,” he pointed out. “Even though it was founded at more or less the same time, it is a much more egalitarian social community in which such significant social differences are not observed, and nor is the action of manorial powers which, in some way, undermined the balance of the community.”
In Quirós’ view, these microhistories constitute small windows into the past that allow one to analyse relatively complex historical processes directly, bottom upwards, “in other words, to see how the peasant community itself gradually adapts to the political and economic changes that take place in the medieval era and later.”
What is more, the analytical study of these places of production allows one to abandon those more traditional points of view of history which “conceptualize the high medieval periods as a time of technical simplification, as a meagre period in economic terms, since they point to considerable social and economic complexity. Specifically, it has been possible in these studies to see that there are various important moments in the Basque Country, 5th to 6th centuries and 10th to 11th centuries, which were decisive in the construction of our landscapes.”
Consideration of archaeological heritage
The study of abandoned settlements allow one to understand not only the village forming phenomena and the reasons why they were later abandoned, but more than anything, the transformation and degradation processes of the abandoned villages. That is why Quirós is calling for these places to be regarded as part of archaeological heritage: “The space for traditional crops, still easily recognisable in the landscapes closest to us, are historical spaces brimming with explanatory significance to help us understand the societies of the past; indeed, they require attention which they have not had until now,” he concluded. In fact, the farm land analysed is gradually being destroyed year after year as a result of recent mechanised agricultural practices which have had and continue to have a very considerable destructive effect on this “invisible” heritage.

Original article:
basqueresearch.com
Dec 23, 2013
More information is at:
ibtimes.co.uk

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University of Basque Country (UPV/EHU)
Aerial view of the deserted Alavese village at Zornostegi in northern Spain.

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Topic: Neolithic Beer find

Spanish excavations in Can Sadurní cave (Begues, Barcelona) have discovered four human skeletons dated to about 6,400 years ago. The skeletal remains of the individuals are particularly important as they are in a very good state of preservation.

An archaeological campaign carried out previously identified other individuals which were not so well preserved but belong to the same stratigraphic layer.

Archaeologists excavating in 1999, also discovered within the cave, evidence for the earliest European beer, which may have been included as part of the death ritual.

Excavations at Can Sadurní are carried out by Col·lectiu per la Investigació de la Prehistòria i l’Arqueologia del Garraf-Ordal (CIPAG), together with the Seminar of Studies and Prehistoric Research (SERP) of the University of Barcelona.

Well preserved

A small landslip from the outer part of the cave must have taken place when the bodies had been newly interred, or at least when they had just began the decomposition process, as it has protected them in the position in which they had originally been placed. The group of four consists of a 50-year-old adult male, a sub-adult, and two children aged 3-4 and 5-6 years old. The adult male was accompanied by various burial goods including a two handled drinking vessel and joints of meat from two goats and a calf. Under the left arm, near the elbow, a polished bone pendant was found.

The bodies lay in a line and were curled up in tight foetal positions resting on their right side with their backs to the north wall of the cave. The rather extreme foetal position indicates that they may have been tied and wrapped in some kind of shroud.

Most ancient beer fermentation remains in Europe

The four individuals were not buried, but were placed around the north wall of the cave with a one metre gap between each of them. Nearby, evidence of a fire, possibly lit as part of the burial ritual was also found. It is estimated that similar burial rituals were performed over the space of more than two-hundred years at this site. Sediment had accumulated over the corpses and later, more bodies were placed over the top. After this a stronger landslip took place spreading the remains of the last bodies placed there.

In 1999, researchers found a shard of a cup like container in which oxalate and barley-corn phytoliths were identified. This was determined to be the earliest scientific evidence of fermented beer ever found in Europe.

Source: University of Barcelona

Original article:
past horizons
November 23, 2013

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Topic: Whale meat

The remains of two barnacle species that once lived exclusively on the exterior of whales have been found in a camp fire at the Cueva de Nerja (the Caves of Nerja) in Málaga, Spain. Researchers from the University of Valencia have dated the charcoal from the fire to between 14,500 and 13,500 years ago.

Earliest consumption of whale meat

Scientists at the University, coordinated by Professor Joan Emili Aura Tortosa, analysed stone artefacts, horn and bone found in the fire along with the charcoal to arrive at the date. The scientific results show evidence of human consumption of whale meat during Prehistory in Europe.

The remains of the whale barnacles were found in occupation layers dating to the end of the last glacial maximum and associated with the Upper Palaeolithic Magdalenian period.

The association of the remains of barnacles with hunting and fishing equipment made of bone and stone is the oldest indirect evidence of whale consumption though not of whale hunting.

The whale may have become stranded on a beach at low tide and hunters would have taken the opportunity to take meat, fat and skin back to the cave for processing and consumption.

No whale bones have been identified in Nerja, unlike dolphins and seals, which are represented by various skeletal parts (jaws, teeth, vertebrae , ribs, etc), which suggests the hunters are only using (or able to transport) the flesh and skin of the whale.

Palaeoecological data

Whale barnacles are crustaceans living on the skin of whales and so their presence within the cave’s archaeological deposits could only be the result of human action, with the coastline during this period lying around 4 km away. Currently, the cave is situated less than 1 km away from the sea.

The two species identified have been associated with a type of Southern Hemisphere whale (Eubalaena australis), although there are also suggestions of the barnacles being found on the north Atántico (Eubalaena glacialis).

This study also has relevance to palaeoecological studies, as it confirms a significant drop in the temperature of sea water in the region, previously suggested by research surveys conducted in the Alboran Sea, and also alters the distribution of these species of whales in the past.

Source: University of Valencia

Original article:

past horizons

Feb 27, 2013

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Topic Neanderthals ate veggies.

An international team of researchers, led by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the University of York, has provided the first molecular evidence that Neanderthals not only ate a range of cooked plant foods, but also understood its nutritional and medicinal qualities.
Until recently Neanderthals, who disappeared between 30,000 and 24,000 years ago, were thought to be predominantly meat-eaters. However, evidence of dietary breadth is growing as more sophisticated analyses are undertaken.

Researchers from Spain, the UK and Australia combined pyrolysis gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry with morphological analysis of plant microfossils to identify material trapped in dental calculus (calcified dental plaque) from five Neanderthals from the north Spanish site of El Sidrón.

Their results, published in Naturwissenschaften – The Science of Nature* this week, provide another twist to the story – the first molecular evidence for medicinal plants being used by a Neanderthal individual.

The researchers say the starch granules and carbohydrate markers in the samples, plus evidence for plant compounds such as azulenes and coumarins, as well as possible evidence for nuts, grasses and even green vegetables, argue for a broader use of ingested plants than is often suggested by stable isotope analysis.

Lead author Karen Hardy, a Catalan Institute of Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) Research Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and an Honorary Research Associate at the University of York, UK, said: “The varied use of plants we identified suggests that the Neanderthal occupants of El Sidrón had a sophisticated knowledge of their natural surroundings which included the ability to select and use certain plants for their nutritional value and for self-medication. While meat was clearly important, our research points to an even more complex diet than has previously been supposed.”
Earlier research by members of this team had shown that the Neanderthals in El Sidrón had the bitter taste perception gene. Now trapped within dental calculus researchers found molecular evidence that one individual had eaten bitter tasting plants.

Dr Stephen Buckley, a Research Fellow at the University of York’s BioArCh research facility, said: “The evidence indicating this individual was eating bitter-tasting plants such as yarrow and camomile with little nutritional value is surprising. We know that Neanderthals would find these plants bitter, so it is likely these plants must have been selected for reasons other than taste.”

Ten samples of dental calculus from five Neanderthals were selected for this study. The researchers used thermal desorption and pyrolysis gas-chromatography-mass spectrometry to identify both free/unbound and bound/polymeric organic components in the dental calculus. By using this method in conjunction with the extraction and analysis of plant microfossils, they found chemical evidence consistent with wood-fire smoke, a range of cooked starchy foods, two plants known today for their medicinal qualities, and bitumen or oil shale trapped in the dental calculus.

Professor Matthew Collins, who heads the BioArCh research facility at York, said: “Using mass spectrometry, we were able to identify the building blocks of carbohydrates in the calculus of two adults, one individual in particular having apparently eaten several different carbohydrate-rich foods. Combined with the microscopic analysis it also demonstrates how dental calculus can provide a rich source of information.”

The researchers say evidence for cooked carbohydrates is confirmed by both the cracked/roasted starch granules observed microscopically and the molecular evidence for cooking and exposure to wood smoke or smoked food in the form of a range of chemical markers including methyl esters, phenols, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons found in dental calculus.

Professor Les Copeland from the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, University of Sydney, Australia, said: “Our research confirms the varied and selective use of plants by Neanderthals.”

The study also provides evidence that the starch granules reported from El Sidrón represent the oldest granules ever to be confirmed using a biochemical test, while ancient bacteria found embedded in the calculus offers the potential for future studies in oral health.

The archaeological cave site of El Sidrón, located in the Asturias region of northern Spain, contains the best collection of Neanderthal remains found in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the most important active sites in the world. Discovered in 1994, it contains around 2,000 skeletal remains of at least 13 individuals dating back around 47,300 to 50,600 years.

Archaeological and biological studies carried out since the year 2000 have contributed greatly to the knowledge of Neanderthals and how they lived.

Among the most important contributions is the identification of three Neanderthal genes: FOXP2, related to speech capacity; MCR1, related to pigmentation; and TAS2R38, related to the perception of bitter taste. The results of these studies have been incorporated into the macro project of the Neanderthal Genome and are being used in various genetic studies conducted in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute of Germany.

Antonio Rosas, of the Museum of Natural History in Madrid – CSIC (Spanish National Research Council), said: “El Sidrón has allowed us to banish many of the preconceptions we had of Neanderthals. Thanks to previous studies, we know that they looked after the sick, buried their dead and decorated their bodies. Now another dimension has been added relating to their diet and self-medication.”
Fieldwork at El Sidrón, conducted by researchers from the University of Oviedo, is funded by the Department of Culture, Principality of Asturias. The dental calculus samples used in this study were provided by the laboratory leading the study of the human remains discovered in El Sidrón, which is located at the Museum of Natural History in Madrid – CSIC.

______________________

Article Source: University of York Press Release.

* Hardy K et al. (2012). ‘Neanderthal medics? Evidence for food, cooking and medicinal plants entrapped in dental calculus’ appears in Naturwissenschaften – The Science of Nature on Wednesday, 18 July at 18:00hrs UK time. DOI 10.1007/s00114-012-0942-0

Original article:
popular archaeology

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Topic:Ancient Bow made of Yew Wood

neolithic bow

Oldest Neolithic bow discovered in Europe.

 

 

 

 

Original article

sciencedaily

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