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Lama

Forbes.com

 

An archaeologist working at a site along the north coast of Peru recently discovered a cooking pot carefully buried under a house floor. The simple, well-used pot contained portions of a llama’s face as well as a mishmash of other ingredients that may have been chosen for what they represented rather than how they tasted.

The pot was discovered at Wasi Huachuma, a site dating to between 600-850 AD. This period of history involved increased urbanization, irrigation, and other changes to the Moche culture in Peru. By the end of the era, environmental and political instability had led to interpersonal conflict. Wasi Huachuma was positioned just a few kilometers from three different centers of power in this unstable environment, and itself had seven distinct sectors. The most complex part of the site included residential structures, terraces, and a cemetery.

Underneath one house floor in this complex sector was a standard cooking pot, “on its side, with the mouth opening to the east and splash zone of botanical and faunal materials surrounding it,” found by archaeologist Guy Duke of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, who published his analysis in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Its shape, he noticed, was similar to those found elsewhere in this time period in Peru, often used for boiling and brewing chicha (corn beer) and stews.

The pot was not a new one; Duke saw evidence of burning on the outside and inside that suggested it had been used before. And the contents of the pot were surprising. Duke reports that he found bones from domestic animals in the pot, including guinea pig and llama that had been raised locally. Additionally, maize, common beans, squash, potato, and chili pepper were found, along with crabs, flathead mullet, and the plant coca.

“While the method of cooking was simple – add ingredients plus water to the pot, heat to boil,” Duke says,  “understanding how and whether to apply particular knowledge was dependent on the material.” For example, butchering the llama to extract the jaw piece requires different skills than cleaning a deep sea fish or preparing potatoes and squash. Even more importantly, most of the stew’s ingredients had ritual significance based on what archaeologists know about the Moche culture. Camelids like llamas produced wool, were eaten, and were also ritually important; maize or corn figures into Moche iconography; fish were sometimes burial offerings.

All of these ingredients, while commonly eaten, did not add up to any known Moche stew recipe. Because the stew pot was buried underneath a house, purposefully marked by a stone, Duke surmises that “the vessel and its contents were a dedicatory offering of some sort.” He explains that “this deposit, in this location, was purposeful, intentional, and laden with meaning. Each element of it was chosen from an array of materials available, some from the local fields and seas, some from much further afield, though not necessarily any less familiar. The materials assembled in this dedicatory deposit neatly bundle together the various geographic and environmental regions accessed by the Moche.”

Zooarchaeologist Tanya Peres of Florida State University is impressed by Duke’s work, telling me that his research “is critical in teaching us about the nuanced ways in which food items, cookware, and culinary tools, when analyzed contextually, lend us information about foodways, social and ceremonial meanings.” Peres is particularly intrigued by what the pot may have meant to the person or people who put it there. “Were the animal and plant remains placed in the vessel at different points in the Moche calendars? Might this be evidence of an older generation maintaining the old customs? Or a younger generation adopting new ways of practicing Moche culture?”

Duke essentially sees the pot and its stew as an “amalgam of products with a variety of social significances, from the practical to the supernatural, all of which were part of the everyday lived experience of a Moche person.” Peres agrees and notes that “the way Duke tells the story of the pot, the entirety of Moche culinary knowledge is wrapped up in this one vessel. It is a compelling, evidence-based foodways story.”

While the discovery of the stew pot and its contents is unique in ancient Peru, Duke believes that “the convergences of these foods, these practices, at this obscure site highlight the intricate interconnectedness of the surrounding area and the regions beyond. This singular deposit encapsulates the role of the everyday in the special and, perhaps even more importantly, the special in the everyday.”

 

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Topic: Bronze Age bowl of nettle stew

The smallest of six oak boats is excavated at the bronze age site near Peterborough. Photograph: Dave Webb/Cambridge Archaeological Unit for the Observer

Archaeological dig reveals hundreds of objects, from six oak-tree boats to a bowl of food.

Six boats hollowed out of oak tree trunks are among hundreds of intact artefacts from 3,000 years ago that have been discovered in the Cambridgeshire fens, the Observer can reveal.

The scale, quality and condition of the objects, the largest bronze age collection ever found in one place in Britain, have astonished archaeologists – and barely a fraction of the site has been excavated.

Unique textile fragments, wicker baskets and wooden sword handles have survived. There are even containers of food, including a bowl with a wooden spoon still wedged into the contents, now analysed as nettle stew, which may have been a favourite dish in 1000BC. The boats – two of which bear unusual decoration – are in such good condition that the wood grain and colour can be seen clearly, as can signs of repairs by their owners.

David Gibson, head of Cambridge University’s archaeological unit, said the discoveries were internationally important. “One canoe would be great. Two, exceptional. Six almost feels greedy,” he said. Mark Knight, the unit’s senior project officer, added: “We talk about bronze age landscapes and it always feels as if we’re looking through a very narrow window, with the curtains partly drawn or slightly misted over. Now it’s as though someone’s opened the windows and we’re seeing so much more.”

The artefacts survived because they were immersed in deep layers of peat and silt. When those layers are lifted off, “the objects are so pristine”, Knight said, “it’s as if 3,000 years never happened. The softest, wettest deposits ensured that past activity has been cosseted.”

The artefacts were submerged under an ancient watercourse along the southern edge of the Flag Fen Basin, land altered over millennia by rising sea levels. In the 17th century the Dutch showed how to drain waterlogged land, and today the site east of Peterborough is accessible. Knight said: “In our [bronze age] landscape… you could have walked along the bottom of the fenland basin and to the bottom of the North Sea hunting for deer. By the Roman period, you were perched up at Peterborough, looking out over a huge wet expanse of peat and reed swamp.” At ground level, there had been no clue to the artefacts’ existence because they were so deep – four metres below ground – and would not have been picked up by aerial, radar, or other exploratory surveys.

The excavation, which is likely to continue for years, has been made possible thanks to Hanson, a bricks and cement supplier. Under planning regulations, the company is obliged to fund archaeological digs, but it has been especially helpful, say the archaeologists. Crucially, and unusually, they were able to excavate down to unprecedented depths since Hanson’s need for clay for bricks requires extraction at Jurassic age levels. Knight said: “So we get to see entire buried landscapes. Some of our colleagues try to find ways of getting to the bottom of the North Sea… [while] we get an early view of the same submerged space, but via the humble brick.”

Along the 150-metre stretch of a bronze age river channel, they have found the best preserved example of prehistoric river life. There are weirs and fish traps in the form of big woven willow baskets, plus fragments of garments with ornamental hems made from fibrous bark and jewellery, including green and blue beads. Extensive finds of metalwork include bronze swords and spears, some apparently tossed into the river in perfect condition, possibly as votive offerings. One of the boats is 8.3 metres long. “It feels as if you could get the whole family – granny, grandad, a couple of goats and everything – in there,” said Knight. The smallest boat is just over four metres long.

The finds reveal how, with the rise in water levels in the bronze age, people adapted to a wetland environment, using rivers for transport, living off pike, perch, carp and eel. How far they could travel in the log boats is unclear. Although the boats were unlikely to have been used at sea, one of the bronze age swords is of a type normally found in northern Spain.

Once removed from the fenland, the artefacts must be conserved before eventual public display. Knight said: “Often at an excavation, it takes much imagination for it to become apparent. This site doesn’t need that. It’s intact. It feels as if we’ve actually caught up the [bronze age] people. It feels like we’re there.”

Original Article:

guardian.co.uk

Dalya Alberge

Saturday 3 December 2011

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