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On this date ten years ago…

via Food of The Maya-300 BC to 900 AD

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on this day ten years ago…
via Squash Cultivated 10,000 Years Ago

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The authors believe that the Teotonio waterfall is what attracted people to this location for over 9,000 years, as it was an extremely rich fishing location and an obligatory stopping point for people traveling by boat on this stretch of the Madeira river. It was the location of a fishing village (the village of Teotonio) until 2011, when residents were forced to move inland ahead of dam construction. The dam submersed the village and the waterfall. Eduardo Neves, 2011

 

Original Article:

popular-archaeology

 

Ancient people in the region began cultivating plants and altering forests earlier than previously thought.

PLOS—The remains of domesticated crop plants at an archaeological site in southwest Amazonia supports the idea that this was an important region in the early history of crop cultivation, according to a study published July 25, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jennifer Watling from the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and colleagues.

Genetic analysis of plant species has long pointed to the lowlands of southwest Amazonia as a key region in the early history of plant domestication in the Americas, but systematic archaeological evidence to support this has been rare. The new evidence comes from recently-exposed layers of the Teotonio archaeological site, which has been described by researchers as a “microcosm of human occupation of the Upper Madeira [River]” because it preserves a nearly continuous record of human cultures going back approximately 9,000 years.

In this study, Watling and colleagues analyzed the remains of seeds, phytoliths, and other plant materials in the most ancient soils of the site as well as on artifacts used for processing food. They found some of the earliest evidence of cultivated manioc, a crop which geneticists say was domesticated here over 8,000 years ago, as well as squash, beans, and perhaps calathea, and important tree crops such as palms and Brazil nut. They also saw evidence of disturbed forest and a soil type called “Anthropogenic Dark Earths” which both result from human alteration of local environments.

These findings suggest that the people of this region transitioned from early hunter-gatherer lifestyles to cultivating crops before 6,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought. Along with plant domestication also came the familiar human habit of landscape modification, suggesting that human impact on Amazonian forests in this region goes back many thousands of years. Altogether, these results point to the Upper Madeira as a key locality to explore the earliest days of crop domestication in the New World.

Watling notes: “This discovery at the Teotonio waterfall in Southest Amazonia is some of the oldest evidence for plant cultivation in lowland South America, confirming genetic evidence”.

*Watling J, Shock MP, Mongeló GZ, Almeida FO, Kater T, De Oliveira PE, et al. (2018) Direct archaeological evidence for Southwestern Amazonia as an early plant domestication and food production centrePLoS ONE 13(7): e0199868. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199868

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Variety of pumpkins and squash Image: George Perry / Penn State

Variety of pumpkins and squash Image: George Perry / Penn State

Original Article:

news.psu.edu

By A’ndrea Elyse Messer
November 20, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — If Pleistocene megafauna — mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths and others — had not become extinct, humans might not be eating pumpkin pie and squash for the holidays, according to an international team of anthropologists.

“It’s been suggested before and I think it’s a very reasonable hypothesis, that wild species of pumpkin and squash weren’t used for food early in the domestication process,” said Logan Kistler, NERC Independent Research Fellow, University of Warwick, U.K. and recent Penn State postdoctoral fellow. “Rather, they might have been useful for a variety of other purposes like the bottle gourd, as containers, tools, fishnet floats, etc. At some point, as a symbiotic relationship developed, palatability evolved, but the details of that process aren’t known at the present.”

Researchers believe that initially humans did not eat wild pumpkin and squash — members of the cucurbita family — because the wild fruit is not only bitter but also toxic to humans and smaller animals. However, clear evidence exists that very large animals — megafauna — that lived 12,000 years ago did eat these fruit.

“Lee Newsom (associate professor of anthropology, Penn State and study co-author) has recovered many wild gourd/squash seeds from ancient Mastodon dung, suggesting that large herbivores may have been an important feature in the natural history of these wild plants,” said Kistler.

The researchers looked at varieties of modern domestic cucurbits, modern wild cucurbits and archaeological specimens. They believe that changes in distribution of the wild plants are directly related to the disappearance of the large animals.

“We performed an ancient DNA study of cucurbita including modern wild plants, domesticated plants and archaeological samples from multiple locations,” said George Perry, assistant professor of anthropology and biology. “The results suggest, or confirm, that some lineages domesticated by humans are now extinct in the wild.”

Without elephant-sized animals to distribute seeds, wild plants will grow only where the fruit drops — as far as the pumpkin rolls. At the same time, the disappearance of megafauna altered the landscape from one of a patchwork of environments to something more uniform. Cucurbita are weedy plants that liked the disturbed landscape created by the megafauna, but fared less well in the new landscape of the Holocene.

The researchers also looked at bitter taste receptors in animals and found that smaller animals with more diverse dietary patterns posses many more bitter taste receptors than large animals that ate only a few things.

“We compared bitter taste receptor genes in about 40 living mammals and found that body sizes and dietary breadth were important,” said Perry. “The greater the size, the fewer receptors. The greater the dietary depth, the more receptors.”

If humans initially used cucurbita for nonfood applications, they somehow eventually managed to find those plants that mutated and lost their toxicity. According to Kistler, cucurbita may have been domesticated at least six different times in six different places.

“There is a huge amount of diversity in some of the domestic species and between them as well,” said Kistler. “Cucurbita pepo is probably the most variable, with jack-o-lantern pumpkins, acorn squash, zucchinis and others. Cucurbita moschata contains the butternut squashes and the kind of pumpkin that goes into the cans that a lot of folks will be baking into pies in a few weeks.”

Also working on this project were Timothy M. Ryan, associate professor of anthropology and information sciences and technology, Penn State; Andrew C. Clarke, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge; and Bruce D. Smith, curator, North American Archaeology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

The Wenner-Gren Foundation, Natural Environment Research Council and the Smithsonian Institution supported this work.

 

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