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.

May 14, 2013

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

Filed under: Agriculture, Blogging update — acagle @ 8:46 am

Service crapped out yesterday afternoon so I wasn’t able to post anything. Until we get running again, Althouse has a post up about the earliest farmers.

April 10, 2013

Bouillabaisse, Pleistocene style

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 2:25 pm

Archaeology: A potted history of Japan

The invention of pottery is one of the great technological innovations in human history. The recognition that fire could be used to transform soft clay into impermeable ceramics represented a cognitive shift in the way people engaged with the material world around them1. Until recently, archaeologists usually regarded pottery as being associated with agriculture. Pottery usage among hunter-gatherers was considered somewhat anomalous and counter-intuitive; fragile pots did not seem to have a place in the mobile lifestyles thought to characterize most human existence before the advent of farming villages during the Neolithic, from about 10,000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean. But the discovery of lipids on ceramic vessels in East Asia dating from the Late Pleistocene, about 15,000–12,000 years ago, presented by Craig et al.2 in a paper published on Nature’s website today, suggests that some hunter-gatherers used pots for cooking. The report also provides a demonstration of how science should be integral to our piecing together of history.

One thing to keep in mind: Not all hunter-gatherers are extremely mobile. Some spend up to several months a year in one place and can have substantial settlements, all while still relying on collected comestibles. Fishing is one of the better examples, and some have even tried to rename these people “HFGs” or hunter-fisher-gatherers.

December 16, 2012

Warning: Cheesy post

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 3:21 pm

Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Cheese-Making

As any cheese maker will tell you, it’s not that hard to make cheese. You just take some fresh milk, warm it up a bit, and add something acidic to curdle it. Then, once it has cooled, you drain off the whey — the liquid part — and you’re left with cheese.

But when did we figure out how to do this? According to a new paper in the journal Nature, at least 7,000 years ago. Since then, the process hasn’t changed much.

There’s been a lot of speculation that most early domestication of critters — at least cows, goats, sheep and such — were bred for their milk rather than for meat, although surplus animals (mostly males and old ones) would certainly have been used for meat as well. The problemo is in lactose intolerance which would have had to be absent in any population of milk consumers. And, interestingly enough:

Most adults worldwide do not produce the enzyme lactase and so are unable to digest the milk sugar lactose. However, most people in Europe and many from other populations continue to produce lactase throughout their life (lactase persistence). In Europe, a single genetic variant, −13,910*T, is strongly associated with lactase persistence and appears to have been favoured by natural selection in the last 10,000 years. Since adult consumption of fresh milk was only possible after the domestication of animals, it is likely that lactase persistence coevolved with the cultural practice of dairying, although it is not known when lactase persistence first arose in Europe or what factors drove its rapid spread. To address these questions, we have developed a simulation model of the spread of lactase persistence, dairying, and farmers in Europe, and have integrated genetic and archaeological data using newly developed statistical approaches. We infer that lactase persistence/dairying coevolution began around 7,500 years ago between the central Balkans and central Europe, probably among people of the Linearbandkeramik culture. We also find that lactase persistence was not more favoured in northern latitudes through an increased requirement for dietary vitamin D. Our results illustrate the possibility of integrating genetic and archaeological data to address important questions on human evolution.

Which is nicely coincident, date-wise, but is in the wrong part of the world. . .

August 12, 2012

Talkin’ turkey

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 2:47 pm

UF researchers discover earliest use of Mexican turkeys by ancient Maya

A new University of Florida study shows the turkey, one of the most widely consumed birds worldwide, was domesticated more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed. Researchers say discovery of the bones from an ancient Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala provides evidence of domestication, usually a significant mark of civilization, and the earliest evidence of the Mexican turkey in the Maya world. The study appears online in PLoS ONE.

The discovery of the turkey bones is significant because the Maya did not use a lot of domesticated animals. While they cultivated domesticated plants, most of their animal protein came mostly from wild resources, said lead author Erin Thornton, a research associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and Trent University Archaeological Research Centre.

I was going to say that I didn’t recall anything much about turkey domestication at all, let alone later, but the article mentions turkey bones having been found in other sites and contexts.

July 2, 2012


Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 7:28 pm

Pottery fragments found in south China cave confirmed to be 20,000 years old: archaeologists

Pottery fragments found in a south China cave have been confirmed to be 20,000 years old, making them the oldest known pottery in the world, archaeologists say.

The findings, which will appear in the journal Science on Friday, add to recent efforts that have dated pottery piles in east Asia to more than 15,000 years ago, refuting conventional theories that the invention of pottery correlates to the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter-gathers to farmers.

The sherds shown in the photograph look like true vessel fragments as well, not some little ceramic lumps. Trying to get to the actual paper in Science. . . .

Here’s the abstract:

The invention of pottery introduced fundamental shifts in human subsistence practices and sociosymbolic behaviors. Here, we describe the dating of the early pottery from Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province, China, and the micromorphology of the stratigraphic contexts of the pottery sherds and radiocarbon samples. The radiocarbon ages of the archaeological contexts of the earliest sherds are 20,000 to 19,000 calendar years before the present, 2000 to 3000 years older than other pottery found in East Asia and elsewhere. The occupations in the cave demonstrate that pottery was produced by mobile foragers who hunted and gathered during the Late Glacial Maximum. These vessels may have served as cooking devices. The early date shows that pottery was first made and used 10 millennia or more before the emergence of agriculture.

Some descriptions of the overall assemblage:

All pottery is typically tempered with crushed quartzite or feldspar. Firing of the thick, more crudely made earliest pottery was probably carried out at relatively low temperatures in open fires. The earlier pottery is plain-surfaced or cord-marked, but some, from layer 3C1B, have parallel striations on the interior and exterior surfaces, probably from smoothing with grass fibers (fig. S1). Although no vessels could be reconstructed, they had rounded bottoms with walls 0.7 to 1.2 cm thick. Two vessel-forming techniques can be identified through visual observation: sheet laminating and coiling with paddling. Many sherds bear signs of burning on their exterior surface, possibly indicating their use in cooking.

So not rank amateurs, though the earlier ones seem to be a bit cruder and fired in the open rather than in any sort of kiln.

And here’s the conclusion:

Pottery making introduces a fundamental shift in human dietary history, and Xianrendong demonstrates that hunter-gatherers in East Asia used pottery for some 10,000 years before they became sedentary or began cultivating plants (17–19). The age for pottery production at Xianrendong of ~20,000 years ago coincides with the peak period of the last ice age, when there was a decrease in the productivity of regional food resources (20–22). When used for cooking, pottery allows energy gains from starch-rich food as well as meat (23), and scorch and soot marks on sherd exterior surfaces indicate that Xianrendong pottery likely was used for cooking. Residue, starch, or other physiochemical analyses of recovered early pottery sherds from Xianrendong and other Late Pleistocene sites in China have not been reported, so the exact function of this early pottery remains unknown. The Xianrendong assemblage contained a large number of fragmented bones, so the pottery could have been used in the extraction of marrow and grease (24, 25). Other known uses of pottery in hunter-gatherer societies include food preparation and storage, as well as brewing alcoholic beverages, and could play a vital social role in feasting (26). Thus, the early invention of pottery may have played a key role in human demographic and social adaptations to climate change in East Asia, leading to sedentism, and eventually to the emergence of wild rice cultivation during the early Holocene (17, 27).

That’s well into the Pleistocene which is really quite significant, even though it’s only a couple thousand years older than some previous ones (I’ve not kept up on the whole Earliest Pottery issue). The dating seems pretty secure, too, as they took pains to bracket the ceramics stratigraphically and ensure that the association was there. It does make some sense, not having pottery and domestication/sedentism(?) coeval, one might expect that the idea of turning clay into a storage/cooking vessel didn’t need agriculture to be invented.

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