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.

June 27, 2012


Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 7:21 pm

South Korean archaeologists say they’ve unearthed East Asia’s oldest farming site

South Korea’s archaeological agency says it has unearthed evidence of East Asia’s oldest known farming site.

Archaeologist Cho Mi-soon said Wednesday that the agency has found the remains of a farming field from the Neolithic period on South Korea’s east coast. The site may be up to 5,600 years old. That’s more than 2,000 years older than what is now the second-oldest known site, which also is in South Korea.

I was going to say that isn’t terribly old, and in some ways it isn’t, I suppose, but then. . . .hmmmm.

June 22, 2012

Moooo in the desert

Filed under: Agriculture, Egypt — acagle @ 11:11 am

Chemical analysis of pottery reveals first dairying in Saharan Africa in the fifth millennium BC

The first unequivocal evidence that humans in prehistoric Saharan Africa used cattle for their milk nearly 7,000 years ago is described in research by an international team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, UK, published today in Nature.

By analysing fatty acids extracted from unglazed pottery excavated from an archaeological site in Libya, the researchers showed that dairy fats were processed in the vessels. This first identification of dairying practices in the African continent, by prehistoric Saharan herders, can be reliably dated to the fifth millennium BC.

Andie posted this on her Facebook page. I think this is quite profoundly important because it demonstrates pretty conclusively at least part of what people had suspected for a long time. IIRC, Wendorf and colleagues had postulated initial cattle domestication in the Sahara and that a large part of the reason they did so was for milk products rather than just meat — which makes sense: if you just need meat, just kill the wild ones every now and then without having to maintain them. I believe their primary evidence was the finding of cattle remains associated with human habitations outside of their normal range rather than from changes in bodily structure to differentiate from the wild stock. Also the origin and spread of the lactase gene will also be important fallout. Excellent stuff.

April 26, 2012

Migrant farm workers

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 6:53 pm

Mostly: Genetic study shed light on rise of agriculture in Stone Age Europe

One of the most debated developments in human history is the transition from hunter‑gatherer to agricultural societies. This week’s edition of Science presents the genetic findings of a Swedish‑Danish research team, which show that agriculture spread to Northern Europe via migration from Southern Europe.

“We have been able to show that the genetic variation of today’s Europeans was strongly affected by immigrant Stone Age farmers, though a number of hunter-gatherer genes remain,” says Assistant Professor Anders Götherström of the Evolutionary Biology Centre, who, along with Assistant Professor Mattias Jakobsson, co-led the study, a collaboration with Stockholm University and the University of Copenhagen.

“What is interesting and surprising is that Stone Age farmers and hunter-gatherers from the same time had entirely different genetic backgrounds and lived side by side for more than a thousand years, to finally interbreed,” Mattias Jakobsson says.

Not surprised by this, it’s what people have been finding for quite a while now. I was kind of expecting a larger sample though. Read the whole thing.

December 20, 2011

Archaeoastronomy update

Filed under: Agriculture — acagle @ 8:44 pm

Brad Lepper summarizes a new paper on H-G astronomy: Earthworks created for more than farming

Many of Ohio’s ancient earthworks are aligned to astronomical events, such as the apparent rising and setting of the sun or the moon on key dates in their cycles.

The main axis of the Octagon Earthworks at Newark, for example, lines up to where the moon rises at its northernmost point on the eastern horizon.

Clearly, ancient Americans were paying close attention to the sky, but why?

This question is considered in a paper by Canadian archaeologists Brian Hayden and Suzanne Villeneuve published in the current issue of the Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

As one might expect from Hayden, much of it comes down to feasting, one of his major areas of inquiry. They surveyed modern H-G’s and determined that many of them kept astronomical time for various reasons apart from determining planting and harvest times. Haven’t read the actual paper yet, and I may not be able to; I went to the journal site and can’t even get to the abstract. Will try to remember to get it in the near future.

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