Showing posts with label Archaeology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Archaeology. Show all posts

Monday, May 16, 2022

Ancient grains

Laura Motta, University of Michigan paleoethnobotanist, shows peas excavated from the Karanis site in Egypt.
Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

For a long time, researchers believed the diets of ancient people were nutritionally poor.

Everyday ancient Mediterranean civilizations relied on a diet of grains and pulses (chickpeas, lentils and other members of the bean family). Researchers thought this food lacked micronutrients such as zinc and iron, while also containing components that inhibit the uptake of what nutrients the food did have.

But a University of Michigan pilot study on crops grown in Egypt during Roman times suggests that ancient grains were more nutrient dense than grains grown in the same region today. Now, building on that study, U-M is part of a five-university consortium to receive a €3.7 million grant (about $3.85 million), called the AGROS project, awarded by the Belgian program Excellence of Science.

The researchers will use cutting-edge technologies to examine the nutritional profile of the food and how its nutrients changed based on the historical methods of food preparation.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The genetic origins of the world's first farmers clarified

Ancient DNA extraction in Mainz’s lab. Work done in sterile conditions to avoid contamination from modern DNA.
Credit: Joachim Burger / JGU

The genetic origins of the first agriculturalists in the Neolithic period long seemed to lie in the Near East. A new study published in the journal Cell shows that the first farmers actually represented a mixture of Ice Age hunter-gatherer groups, spread from the Near East all the way to south-eastern Europe. Researchers from the University of Bern and the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics as well as from the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the University of Fribourg were involved in the study. The method they developed could help reveal other human evolution patterns with unmatched resolution. 

The first signs of agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle are found in the so-called 'Fertile Crescent', a region in the Near East where people began to settle down and domesticate animals and plants about 11,000 years ago. The question of the origin of agriculture and sedentism has occupied researchers for over 100 years: did farming spread from the Near East through cultural diffusion or through migration? Genetic analyses of prehistoric skeletons so far supported the idea that Europe's first farmers were descended from hunter-gatherer populations in Anatolia. While that may well be the case, this new study shows that the Neolithic genetic origins cannot clearly be attributed to a single region. Unexpected and complex population dynamics occurred at the end of the Ice Age, and led to the ancestral genetic makeup of the populations who invented agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle i.e. the first Neolithic farmers. 

The first farmers emerged from a mixing process starting 14,000 years ago 

Previous analyses had suggested that the first Neolithic people were genetically different from other human groups from that time. Little was known about their origins. Nina Marchi, one of the study's first authors from the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Bern and SIB says: "We now find that the first farmers of Anatolia and Europe emerged from a population admixed between hunter-gatherers from Europe and the Near East." According to the authors, the mixing process started around 14,000 years ago, which was followed by a period of extreme genetic differentiation lasting several thousand years. 

A novel approach to model population history from prehistoric skeletons 

The Klein7 individual from the Kleinhadersdorf site in the Lower Austrian Weinviertel, whose genome was analyzed in the paper.
Credit: BDA / Christine Neugebauer-Maresch


This research was made possible by combining two techniques: the production of high-quality ancient genomes from prehistoric skeletons, coupled with demographic modeling on the resulting data. The research team coined the term "demo genomic modeling" for this purpose. "It is necessary to have genome data of the best possible quality so that the latest statistical genomic methods can reconstruct the subtle demographic processes of the last 30 thousand years at high resolution", says Laurent Excoffier, one of the senior authors of the study. Laurent Excoffier is a professor at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Bern and group leader at SIB. He initiated the project together with Joachim Burger of the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz and Daniel Wegmann of the University of Fribourg. Nina Marchi adds: "Simply comparing the similarity of different ancient genomes is not enough to understand how they evolved. We had to reconstruct the actual histories of the populations studied as accurately as possible. This is only possible with complex population genetic statistics." 

Interdisciplinary key to solve such ancient puzzles 

Joachim Burger of the University of Mainz and second senior author emphasizes the necessity of interdisciplinarity: "It took close to ten years to gather and analyze the skeletons suitable for such a study. This was only possible by collaborating with numerous archaeologists and anthropologists, who helped us to anchor our models historically". The historical contextualization was coordinated by Maxime Brami, who works with Burger at Johannes Gutenberg University. The young prehistorian was surprised by some of the study's findings: "Europe's first farmers seem to be descended from hunter-gatherer populations that lived all the way from the Near East to the Balkans. This was not foreseeable archaeologically". 

Towards a general model of human population evolution 

Genetic data from fossils (skeletons) are badly damaged and must be processed accordingly using bioinformatics, as Daniel Wegmann from the University of Fribourg and group leader at SIB explains: "The high-resolution reconstruction of the prehistory of the Europeans was only possible thanks to methods that we specifically developed to analyze
ancient fossil genomes." Joachim Burger adds: "With these approaches, we have not only elucidated the origins of the world's first Neolithic populations, but we have established a general model of the evolution of human populations in Southwest Asia and Europe." 

"Of course, spatial and temporal gaps remain, and this does not imply the end of studies on the evolution of humans in this area", concludes Laurent Excoffier. Thus, the team's research plan is already set; they want to supplement their demographic model with genomes from the later phases of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages to provide an increasingly detailed picture of human evolution. 

Source/Credit: University of Bern

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Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Ancient hand grenades: explosive weapons in medieval Jerusalem during Crusades

A fragment of the sphero-conical vessel that was identified as containing a possibly explosive material from Jerusalem.
Credit: Robert Mason, Royal Ontario Museum.

New analysis into the residue inside ancient ceramic vessels from 11th-12th century Jerusalem has found that they were potentially used as hand grenades.

Previous research into the diverse sphero-conical containers, which are within museums around the world, had identified that they were used for a variety of purposes, including beer drinking vessels, mercury containers, containers for oil and containers for medicines.

This latest research, led by Griffith University’s Associate Professor Carney Matheson, confirmed that some vessels did indeed contain oils and medicines, and some contained scented oils, consistent with other recent research into the use of the vessels.

However, his findings also revealed that some of the vessels contained a flammable and probably explosive material that indicated they may have been used as ancient hand grenades.

Associate Professor Matheson, from Griffith’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, said the explosive material he analyzed within the vessels suggested that there may have been a locally developed ancient explosive.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Preserving the past

Christina Chavez is Sandia National Laboratories’ first full-time archaeologist. She established the Labs’ cultural resources program within the Environment, Safety and Health group.
Photo by Bret Latter

When archaeologist Christina Chavez surveys Sandia National Laboratories land and finds rusted tobacco tins, ceramic fragments, glass shards or rocks resting in deliberate formations, she documents and determines who at the Labs needs to know.

“Archaeological resources are all around us, and even if most people don’t see them, there’s still a potential that they’re there,” Chavez said.

Chavez, the Labs’ first full-time archaeologist, works with teams throughout Sandia to ensure the U.S. Department of Energy remains in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. Established in 1966, the act requires federal agencies to consider the effects on historic properties when carrying out or funding projects. For Sandia, projects can mean anything from construction to an experiment or explosion taking place in remote areas.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Study ties present-day Native American tribe to ancestors in San Francisco Bay Area

U. of I. anthropology professor Ripan Malhi and his colleagues found genomic evidence linking present-day members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe in the San Francisco Bay Area with individuals who lived in the region several hundred to 2,000 years ago. 
Credit/Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

A genomic study of Native peoples in the San Francisco Bay Area finds that eight present-day members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe share ancestry with 12 individuals who lived in the region several hundred to 2,000 years ago.

Reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study challenges the notion that the Ohlone migrated to the area between A.D. 500-1,000, said Ripan Malhi, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, who led the research with Stanford University population genetics and society professor Noah Rosenberg in collaboration with a team of other scientists and members of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe. The Muwekma Ohlone Tribal Council requested, contributed to and oversaw the study.

Previous studies of artifacts and language patterns suggested that the Ohlone were relative newcomers to the region. But the genomic research found a deep signal of continuity between the ancient population and the new one, the team reported.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

First Modern Humans Arrived in Europe Earlier Than Previously Known

Close-up of the Grotte Mandrin in southern France where scientists have uncovered layers of history that include both modern human and Neanderthal activity.
Credit: Ludovic Slimak

Some 30 years of archeological and other types of scientific research around the ancient artifacts and human remains in the Grotte Mandrin, located in the Rhone River Valley in southern France, has revealed that humans may have arrived in Europe about 10,000 years earlier than originally thought. This conclusion, drawn by an international team of researchers including Jason Lewis, PhD, of Stony Brook University, will help scientists rethink the arrival of humans into Europe and their replacement of and interactions with Neanderthals who also lived in the cave. The research is detailed in a paper published in Science Advances.

Previous studies have suggested that the first modern humans reached the European continent – originally from Africa and via the Levant, the eastern Mediterranean crossroads – between 43,000 and 48,000 years ago. But this discovery of modern human presence in the heart of the Rhone River Valley at Grotte Mandrin points to about 54,000 years ago.

The area of the cave excavated and analyzed that proved the evidence of modern human presence is Mandrin’s Layer E. It is sandwiched between 10 other layers of artifacts and fossils that contain evidence of Neanderthal life.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Climate drove 7,000 years of dietary changes

A mid-elevation landscape in the Central Andes.
Credit: Kurt Wilson

What a person eats influences a person’s health, longevity and experience in the world. Identifying the factors that determine people’s diets is important to answer bigger questions, such as how changing climates will influence unequal access to preferred foods.

A new study led by University of Utah anthropologists provides a blueprint to systematically untangle and evaluate the power of both climate and population size on the varied diets across a region in the past.

The authors documented that climate had the most influence over diet in the Central Andes between 400 and 7,000 years ago. This makes sense—the climate determines what resources are available for people in the area. The researchers were surprised that population size had little impact on diet variation, despite many complex societies emerging at various points over time that would have brought disparate communities together, fostered trade and increased competition.

The exception was during the Late Horizon (~480-418 yBP), when diets across the region became more similar to one another. This coincides with the Inca Empire that appears to have centralized enough political power to reduce local dietary decisions, and therby dampen influence of climate. The study presents a framework for exploring the relative role of climate and other socio-demographic factors on dietary change through time—including in the future.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Climate change in the Early Holocene - archaeology report

New insight into how our early ancestors dealt with major shifts in climate is revealed in research by an international team, led by Professor Rick Schulting from Oxford University’s School of Archaeology.

  • Radiocarbon dating from a prehistoric cemetery in Northern Russia reveals human stress caused by a global cooling event 8,200 years ago.
  • Early hunter gatherers developed more complex social systems and, unusually, a large cemetery when faced by climate change

Published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the report reveals, new radiocarbon dates show the large Early Holocene cemetery of Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov, at Lake Onega, some 500 miles north of Moscow, previously thought to have been in use for many centuries, was, in fact, used for only one to two centuries. Moreover, this seems to be in response to a period of climate stress.

"The team believes the creation of the cemetery reveals a social response to the stresses caused by regional resource depression...[it] would have helped define group membership for what would have been previously dispersed bands of hunter-gatherers - mitigating potential conflict over access to the lake’s resources"

The team believes the creation of the cemetery reveals a social response to the stresses caused by regional resource depression. At a time of climate change, Lake Onega, as the second largest lake in Europe, had its own ecologically resilient microclimate. This would have attracted game, including elk, to its shores while the lake itself would have provided a productive fishery. Because of the fall in temperature, many of the region’s shallower lakes could have been susceptible to the well-known phenomenon of winter fish kills, caused by depleted oxygen levels under the ice.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Making the invisible visible: tracing the origins of plants in West African cuisine

Excavated Nok vessels are cleaned and photographed at the Janjala research station, shown in the picture: Dr Gabriele Franke, Goethe University
Credit: Peter Breunig

A team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, in co-operation with colleagues from Goethe University, Frankfurt, has uncovered the first insights into the origins of West African plant-based cuisine, locked inside pottery fragments dating back some 3,500 years ago.

West African cuisine has long been known for its distinct ingredients and flavors, often enhanced by the addition of a large and diverse range of plant foods.

A traditional meal comprises a starchy staple cooked in a pot, served with a sauce prepared from vegetables, fish and/or meat, often accompanied by pulses.

These starchy staples include root crops such as yams, cassava, sorghum, pearl millet and maize. In the northern Sahel and savanna zones, pearl millet is mainly prepared as porridge, while in the southern forest zone, a pounded mash from tuber crops such as yam, called fufu, is the major starch-rich element.

Excavating Nok terracotta pottery vessel at Ifana 3 site
Credit: Peter Breunig
Indigenous vegetables, eaten at almost every West African meal, include eggplant, pumpkin and watermelon, okra (used as a thickener for soups and stews), as well as a staggering variety of both farmed and foraged green leafy vegetables, little known or used outside of the African continent.

These include leaves from the amaranth, roselle and baobab tree. However, investigating the origin of vegetables and leafy greens is difficult as they do not generally survive over archaeological timescales.

The Bristol team carried out chemical analysis of more than 450 prehistoric potsherds from the Central Nigerian Nok culture to investigate what foods they were cooking in their pots. The Nok people are known for their remarkable large-scale terracotta figurines and early iron production in West Africa, around the first millennium BC.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Researchers find low oxygen and sulfide in the oceans played greater role in ancient mass extinction

Seth Young’s research group collecting and describing limestone samples from a field site in the Roberts Mountains, Nevada.
Credit: Anders Lindskog/Florida State University

Florida State University researchers have new insight into the complicated puzzle of environmental conditions that characterized the Late Ordovician Mass Extinction (LOME), which killed about 85% of the species in the ocean.

Their work on the 445-million-year-old mass extinction event was published online in the journal AGU Advances.

“We found that reducing conditions — with low to no oxygen and little to no hydrogen sulfide levels — are probably playing a much more important role than we previously thought,” said lead author Nevin Kozik, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science and researcher at the FSU-headquartered National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. “If you imagine a pie chart of the causes of this extinction, we’re increasing that wedge that signifies oxygen deficiency, which is happening in concert with a cooling climate and widespread habitat loss due to sea-level change.”

The research is the first study to use measurements of multiple elements from several sites to examine the conditions that led to the LOME, the second-largest extinction event in the Earth’s history and the only mass extinction to occur during what are called icehouse conditions, when Earth’s climate is cold enough at the poles to support ice sheets year-round.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Europe’s Earliest Female Infant Burial Reveals a Mesolithic Society that Honored Its Youngest Members

Photo Credit: TK

Working in a cave in Liguria, Italy, an international team of researchers uncovered the oldest documented burial of an infant girl in the European archaeological record. The richly decorated 10,000-year-old burial included over 60 pierced shell beads, four pendants, and an eagle-owl talon alongside the remains. The discovery offers insight into the early Mesolithic period, from which few recorded burials are known, and the seemingly egalitarian funerary treatment of an infant female.

“The evolution and development of how early humans buried their dead as revealed in the archaeological record has enormous cultural significance,” says Jamie Hodgkins, PhD, paleoanthropologist and associate professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver.

The new study is published in Scientific Reports.

The crew first discovered the burial in 2017 and fully excavated the delicate remains in July 2018. Hodgkins worked alongside her husband Caley Orr, PhD, paleoanthropologist and anatomist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Their team of project co-directors included Italian collaborators Fabio Negrino, University of Genoa, and Stefano Benazzi, University of Bologna, as well as researchers from the University of Montreal, Washington University, University of Ferrara, University of Tubingen, and the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.

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