January 2, 2014

Only by coincidence, I assure you

Filed under: Agriculture, Alcohol — acagle @ 8:23 pm

How Beer Created Civilization

Archaeologists have long hinted that Neolithic, or Stone Age, people first began growing and storing grain, like wheat and barley, to turn it into alcohol instead of flour for making bread. The hypothesis was recently revisited by writer Gloria Dawson in the science magazine Nautilus.

A botanist named Jonathan D. Sauer first posed the theory in the early 1950s. Sauer believed early farmers needed more incentive than just food to go through all the effort of planting and harvesting crops despite “the pitiful small return of grain.” It was the discovery that “a mash of fermented grain yielded a palatable and nutritious beverage,” he suggested, that “acted as a greater stimulant toward the experimental selection and breeding of the cereals than the discovery of flour and bread-making.”

I’ve linked to such things before, this just gives a couple of links and some ideas that have been floating around.

As a coincidence, just today I began the process of brewing my own beer! I got one of those cheap beer-making kits for Xmas, as I’ve been pondering trying my hand at brewing for a while. I can’t really drink much of the end product, but I’d like some hands-on experience actually making an alcoholic beverage. Once I gain some facility with the basics, I’m going to try to branch out and do it from total scratch as well as having a go at some ancient recipes. Will post more in future.

December 18, 2013

Me-ow

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 8:38 pm

Cat Domestication in China 5,300 Years Ago

A study conducted by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has produced the first direct evidence for the processes of cat domestication.

Led by Yaowu Hu, he and his colleagues analyzed eight bones from at least two wild cats excavated from the site of the ancient Chinese village of Quanhucun, using radiocarbon dating and isotopic analyses of carbon and nitrogen traces in the bones of the cats. The analysis showed that the cats were preying on animals that lived on farmed millet — probably rodents. Archaeological evidence indicated that the village farmers had problems with rodents in the grain stores. In essence, the cats and the villagers had developed a kind of symbiotic relationship.

Neat way of looking at it. They mention this, but it doesn’t necessarily show “domestication” other than a budding symbiotic relationship; domestication usually implies notable behavioral changes or physical modifications (or genetic isolation?). That’s in that gray area where it’s hard to pin down the actual ‘moment’ of domestication.

November 17, 2013

Woof woof

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 3:46 pm

Study Reveals More Clues to Origins of Domesticated Dog

Scientists have theorized that the origin of the domestic dog stems from the domestication of the Grey Wolf tens of thousands of years ago. But the approximate date and place have been grist for scientific debate for years, with some genetic and archaeological evidence indicating that humans domesticated wolves on more than one occasion, with today’s lineage arising at the latest 15,000 years ago based on findings at the Bonn-Oberkassel site in Germany, and genetic evidence pointing to 33,000 years ago from investigations of the Razboinichya Cave in the Altai Mountains of Russia.

Now, based on a recently completed study, Olaf Thalmann of the University of Turku, Finland, and colleagues are suggesting that Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers in Europe as much as 32,000 years ago may have played a significant role in the process.

Probably also similar to the cattle story: a long process of co-evolution, this time stretching back into H-G societies — which makes sense if one assumes they were ‘domesticated’ for hunting.

It’s. . . .kharma

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 3:36 pm

Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Origins of Cattle Farming in China

Thousands of years ago, farming emerged in the east. Now, archaeologists have uncovered evidence that reveals when cattle farming first emerged–about 10,000 years ago around the same time that cattle domestication took place in the Near East.

Cattle domestication was a major achievement for humans in their early history. It allowed them to keep a large source of protein close at hand as they travelled across the landscape. Until now, though, researchers believed that humans started domesticating cattle around 10,000 years ago in the Near East, which gave rise to humpless (taurine) cattle. Then, about two thousand years later, humans began managing humped cattle (zebu) in Southern Asia. Now, though, it turns out that this may not have been the case.

According to me, this is expected if domestication involved a long-term process of co-evolution rather than someone’s bright idea at some point.

October 2, 2013

Same old story

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 6:48 pm

Hard Times Followed Booms for Europe’s Ancient Farmers

Feast or famine was the rule for Europe’s first farmers, archaeologists report. A population bust followed boom times in early agriculture from France to Ireland, a catalog of radiocarbon dates reveals.

Farming first moved into Europe from Greece around 8,500 years ago, spreading to Ireland and northern Europe over the next several thousand years. The switch from hunting and gathering to farming was a giant step forward for humanity, but the results from early Europe point to tough times for early farmers.

“Likely it played out in stark terms of soil degradation, probably ending in disease and warfare,” says anthropologist Sean Downey of the University of Maryland in College Park, a co-author of the new Nature Communications journal study. “It’s fairly depressing and Malthusian, what happened.”

Not a terribly informative article, mostly the conclusions they are stating (“soil degradation, disease, and warfare” etc.) don’t get much support from the article itself. Interesting though.

August 30, 2013

Mesolithic oinkers?

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 12:25 pm

Hunter-Gatherers in Europe Owned Domesticated Pigs as Early as 4600 BC

“Mesolithic hunter-gatherers definitely had dogs, but they did not practice agriculture and did not have pigs, sheep, goats or cows, all of which were introduced to Europe with incoming farmers about 6000 BC,” said Ben Krause-Kyora, the lead author of the new study, in a news release. “Having people who practiced a very different survival strategy nearby must have been odd, and we know now that the hunter-gatherers possessed some of the farmers’ domesticated pigs.”

In this latest study, the researchers examined the possibility of hunter-gatherers gaining domestic pigs. They analyzed the DNA from the bones and teeth of 63 pigs from Northern Germany. This showed them that hunter-gatherers acquired domesticated pigs of varying size and coat color.

At least the story here doesn’t differentiate between hunting/stealing domesticated pigs and actually owning them and allowing them to propagate. I imagine this would show up in the age distributions of the pig populations although there’d be a lot of mess to deal with. They could easily have acquired them on as “as needed” basis from the agriculturalists — “Give us a few pigs and we’ll give you a few deer skins” — and you’d probably get a fairly narrow age range (ca. 1 year). Be neat to see how this pans out.

August 1, 2013

Explosive diarrhoea — dysentery essentially. . .I’m not saying it’s lethal, but it’s quite unpleasant.”

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 7:18 pm

Archaeology: The milk revolution

In the 1970s, archaeologist Peter Bogucki was excavating a Stone Age site in the fertile plains of central Poland when he came across an assortment of odd artefacts. The people who had lived there around 7,000 years ago were among central Europe’s first farmers, and they had left behind fragments of pottery dotted with tiny holes. It looked as though the coarse red clay had been baked while pierced with pieces of straw.

Looking back through the archaeological literature, Bogucki found other examples of ancient perforated pottery. “They were so unusual — people would almost always include them in publications,” says Bogucki, now at Princeton University in New Jersey. He had seen something similar at a friend’s house that was used for straining cheese, so he speculated that the pottery might be connected with cheese-making. But he had no way to test his idea.

Really good article. I’d thought about the vitamin D aspect, which is mentioned, but also wondered if milk consumption might have decreased infant mortality due to nutritional deficiencies by allowing older children to continue consuming a rich source of calories, vitamins, and minerals past the time they would ordinarily have lost the ability.

I also kind of latched onto this part as well:

The approach could, for example, help to tease apart the origins of amylase, an enzyme that helps to break down starch. Researchers have suggested that the development of the enzyme may have followed — or made possible — the increasing appetite for grain that accompanied the growth of agriculture. Scientists also want to trace the evolution of alcohol dehydrogenase, which is crucial to the breakdown of alcohol and could reveal the origins of humanity’s thirst for drink.

Because if one posits alcohol production as driving the agricultural revolution, you’re kind of in the same boat as before: why not earlier? If, in fact, there were genetic mutations necessary for the ability to even ferment the starches in grains (or at least its spread), that could be a “prime mover” if you want to use that term.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

May 23, 2013

Paleo Fremont diet update

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 7:00 pm

Archaeologist treats guests to 1,000-year-old recipes

Food sustains and even explains a little bit about the people who consume it.

Yes, people are what they eat and that is why Timothy Riley, archaeologist with Utah State University Eastern Prehistoric Museum, is so interested in determining who the Fremont people were by what they ate. These mysterious people, who were both farmers and nomads, inhabited the region comprising Utah as well as parts of Idaho, Nevada and Colorado between 400-1350 A.D.

Plants and diet have always been a favorite topic for Riley and were the focus of a recent lecture he gave at USU Eastern Prehistoric Museum as part of Utah Archaeology Week. And best of all, he didn’t just talk about what the Fremont people ate; he dished it out in the form of a four-course evening of sampling.

The article does go a bit into the health aspects of agriculture vs. HG, but those interpretations are probably open to various possibilities.

May 20, 2013

Not surprising

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 7:54 pm

New discovery of ancient diet shatters conventional ideas of how agriculture emerged

Archaeologists have made a discovery in southern subtropical China which could revolutionise thinking about how ancient humans lived in the region.

hey have uncovered evidence for the first time that people living in Xincun 5,000 years ago may have practised agriculture –before the arrival of domesticated rice in the region.

Current archaeological thinking is that it was the advent of rice cultivation along the Lower Yangtze River that marked the beginning of agriculture in southern China. Poor organic preservation in the study region, as in many others, means that traditional archaeobotany techniques are not possible.

Now, thanks to a new method of analysis on ancient grinding stones, the archaeologists have uncovered evidence that agriculture could predate the advent of rice in the region.

I say not surprising because I believe that ‘agriculture’ or ‘domestication’ wasn’t just ‘invented’ (can I use even more quotes?!) a few times; it was probably known for a long time at some level but only became selectively advantageous at certain times and certain places, whence it really took off. An earlier post described this as coevolution with something else.

May 16, 2013

Farming and junk

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 7:05 pm

Finally at least downloaded the paper I linked to earlier. Haven’t read it yet, but here’s the cite and abstract:

Coevolution of farming and private property during the early Holocene
Samuel Bowles and Jung-Kyoo Choi
PNAS 2013 ; published ahead of print May 13, 2013, doi:10.1073/pnas.1212149110
The advent of farming around 12 millennia ago was a cultural as well as technological revolution, requiring a new system of property rights. Among mobile hunter–gatherers during the late Pleistocene, food was almost certainly widely shared as it was acquired. If a har- vested crop or the meat of a domesticated animal were to have been distributed to other group members, a late Pleistocene would-be farmer would have had little incentive to engage in the required investments in clearing, cultivation, animal tending, and storage. However, the new property rights that farming required—secure individual claims to the products of one’s labor—were infeasible because most of the mobile and dispersed resources of a forager economy could not cost-effectively be delimited and defended. The resulting chicken-and-egg puzzle might be resolved if farming had been much more productive than foraging, but initially it was not. Our model and simulations explain how, despite being an unlikely event, farming and a new system of farming-friendly property rights nonetheless jointly emerged when they did. This Holocene revolution was not sparked by a superior technology. It occurred because possession of the wealth of farmers—crops, dwellings, and animals—could be unambiguously demarcated and defended. This facilitated the spread of new property rights that were advantageous to the groups adopting them. Our results thus challenge unicausal models of historical dynamics driven by advances in technology, population pressure, or other exogenous changes. Our approach may be applied to other technological and institutional revolutions such as the 18th- and 19th-century industrial revolution and the information revolution today.

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