June 11, 2014

Well, well, well

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 7:17 pm

First Farmers Were Also Sailors
Guts of one of the articles:

The mitochondrial DNA sequences from the Syrian skeletons showed what the team calls “strong affinities” with ancient DNA recently recovered from roughly 7000-year-old farming villages in both Germany and Spain, confirming that populations in the Middle East were indeed the source of later farming populations in Europe. Even more important, Fernández and her colleagues say, is what the team found when it compared the Middle Eastern DNA with a database of 60 modern populations in the Middle East and Europe. That analysis revealed very close genetic affinities with people living today in Cyprus and Crete, suggesting that farmers had first migrated from the Middle East to Greece and its islands by boat, before moving on to the mainland. The alternative, more northern route, overland to Europe via modern-day Turkey, was not supported by the data, because modern populations in Turkey did not show close genetic relationships to the Syrian skeletons.

I vaguely recall something going around a few months (or heck a couple of years ago for all I know) about some controversy regarding very early artifacts on one of the Med islands that suggested very early boats. Maybe way too early to have any bearing on this, but if they were making regular enough trips by sea for enough time before they became farmers, perhaps a water route makes sense.

May 1, 2014

Almost a eureka moment

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 7:37 pm

How Sheep Became Livestock “The team looked at an archaeological layer radiocarbon dated to between 10,400 and 10,100 years ago. The botanical remains from this level show intensive cultivation of cereals, lentils, and nuts, meaning that crop farming was already under way; but the spectrum of animal bones in the earliest parts of this layer reflects the hunting of a wide variety of wild animals including hares, tortoises, and fish, along with larger animals such as goats, wild cattle, deer, and sheep. The most abundant large animal was sheep, although they represented less than half of the total animals. . . Beginning about 10,200 years ago, however, the proportions of wild animals in this layer began to change, as the team reports online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

They also provide a link to the original paper:

Aşıklı Höyük is the earliest known preceramic Neolithic mound site in Central Anatolia. The oldest Levels, 4 and 5, spanning 8,200 to approximately 9,000 cal B.C., associate with round-house architecture and arguably represent the birth of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic in the region. Results from upper Level 4, reported here, indicate a broad meat diet that consisted of diverse wild ungulate and small animal species. The meat diet shifted gradually over just a few centuries to an exceptional emphasis on caprines (mainly sheep). Age-sex distributions of the caprines in upper Level 4 indicate selective manipulation by humans by or before 8,200 cal B.C. Primary dung accumulations between the structures demonstrate that ruminants were held captive inside the settlement at this time. Taken together, the zooarchaeological and geoarchaeological evidence demonstrate an emergent process of caprine management that was highly experimental in nature and oriented to quick returns. Stabling was one of the early mechanisms of caprine population isolation, a precondition to domestication.

January 7, 2014

The more things change. . . .

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 8:02 pm

Hunter-gatherer diet caused tooth decay

Dental disease was thought to have originated with the introduction of farming and changes in food processing around 10,000 years ago. A greater reliance on cultivated plant foods, rich in fermentable carbohydrates, resulted in rotting teeth.

Now, the analysis of 52 adult dentitions from hunter-gatherer skeletons found in a cave in Taforalt, Morocco dating from between 15,000 and 13,700 years ago suggests people suffered tooth decay in much earlier times. Evidence of decay was found in more than half of the teeth that were intact, with only three skeletons showing no sign of cavities.

I actually found this while looking at another article but this one was more interesting. It’s not that no dental problems were present before ‘agriculture’, but that the damage done to teeth was different: HG’s tended — tended — to have more very worn teeth and abscesses rather than cavities and decay. What we’re finding is that both HGs and early agriculturalists had widely varying diets, the former sometimes including the sorts of starchy plant foods elaborated upon by agriculturalists and the latter including a lot of wild foods in addition to domesticates.

This is part of where the sort of ‘bias’ against agriculture/sedentism and romantic notions of happy, healthy hunter-gatherers comes from, in part.

Also a very rare sort of a cemetery for non-agriculturalists.

Paper here:

Dental caries is an infectious disease that causes tooth decay. The high prevalence of dental caries in recent humans is attributed to more frequent consumption of plant foods rich in fermentable carbohydrates in food-producing societies. The transition from hunting and gathering to food production is associated with a change in the composition of the oral microbiota and broadly coincides with the estimated timing of a demographic expansion in Streptococcus mutans, a causative agent of human dental caries. Here we present evidence linking a high prevalence of caries to reliance on highly cariogenic wild plant foods in Pleistocene hunter-gatherers from North Africa, predating other high caries populations and the first signs of food production by several thousand years. Archaeological deposits at Grotte des Pigeons in Morocco document extensive evidence for human occupation during the Middle Stone Age and Later Stone Age (Iberomaurusian), and incorporate numerous human burials representing the earliest known cemetery in the Maghreb. Macrobotanical remains from occupational deposits dated between 15,000 and 13,700 cal B.P. provide evidence for systematic harvesting and processing of edible wild plants, including acorns and pine nuts. Analysis of oral pathology reveals an exceptionally high prevalence of caries (51.2% of teeth in adult dentitions), comparable to modern industrialized populations with a diet high in refined sugars and processed cereals. We infer that increased reliance on wild plants rich in fermentable carbohydrates and changes in food processing caused an early shift toward a disease-associated oral microbiota in this population.

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


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.

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