Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ancient barley took high road to China


Tiny grains, thousands of years old, tell story of prehistoric food globalization
Washington University in St. Louis
IMAGE
IMAGE: Map of Eurasia shows the oldest radiocarbon-measured dates (B.C.) for individual grains of barley recovered from each region. Wheat and barley arrived in South Asia about a millennium before they... view more 
Credit: Image: Courtesy of PLOS One
First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year detour along the southern Tibetan Plateau, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

"The eastern dispersals of wheat and barley were distinct in both space and time," said Xinyi Liu, assistant professor of archaeology in Arts & Sciences, and lead author of this study published in the journal PLOS One.

"Wheat was introduced to central China in the second or third millennium B.C., but barley did not arrive there until the first millennium B.C.," Liu said. "While previous research suggests wheat cultivation moved east along the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, our study calls attention to the possibility of a southern route (via India and Tibet) for barley."

Based on the radiocarbon analysis of 70 ancient barley grains recovered from archaeological sites in China, India, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, together with DNA and ancient textual evidence, the study tackles the mystery of why ancient Chinese farmers would change the seasonality of a barley crop that originated in a latitudinal range similar to their own.

The answer, Liu explains, is that barley changed from a winter to summer crop during its passage to China, a period in which it spent hundreds of years evolving traits that allowed it to thrive during short summer growing seasons in the highlands of Tibet and northern India.

"Barley arrives in central China later than wheat, bringing with it a degree of genetic diversity in relation to flowering time responses," Liu said. "We infer such diversity reflects preadaptation of barley varieties along that possible southern route to seasonal challenges, particularly the high altitude effect, and that led to the origins of eastern spring barley."

Liu's research on the dispersal of wheat and barley cultivation adds a new chapter to our understanding of prehistoric food globalization, a process that began about 5000 B.C. and intensified around 1500 B.C. This ongoing research traces the geographic paths and dispersal times of crops and cultivation systems that expanded across Eurasia and eventually worldwide, from points of origination in North Africa and West, East and South Asia. The eastern expansion of wheat and barley is a key story in this process.

In the hot, arid southwest Asian region where wheat and barley were first domesticated, they were grown between autumn and subsequent spring to complete their life cycles before arrival of summer droughts. These early domesticated strains included genes carried over from wild grasses that triggered flowering and grain production as days grew longer with the approach of summer.

Because of this spring-flowering life cycle, early domesticated varieties of wheat and barley were poorly suited for cultivation in northern European climates with severe winters and a different day length pattern. Previous research by the second author in this study, Diane Lister, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge, has shown that barley and wheat adapted to European climates by evolving a mutation that switched off the genes that made flowering sensitive to increases in day length, allowing them to be sown in spring and harvested in fall.

Liu's study shows that barley evolved similar mutations on its way to China as farmers pushed its cultivation high into the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau. By the time barley reached central China, its genetic makeup had been altered so that flowering was no longer triggered by day length, allowing it to be planted in both spring and fall.

The ancient movement of wheat and barley cultivation into China offers two distinct stories about the adaption of newly introduced crops into an existing agrarian/culinary system, Liu said.
Ancient wheat that traveled to China along Silk Road routes also was genetically modified by farmers who selected strains that produced small-sized grains more suited to a Chinese cuisine that prepared them by boiling or steaming the whole grains. Larger wheat grains evolved in Europe where wheat was traditionally ground for flour.

Along the southern migration route for barley, the main story is the flowering time -- changed by farmers to gain control over the seasonal pressures of high-altitude cultivation, Liu said.

Recovery of these ancient grains has become more routine in the last decade as scholars mastered a flotation technique that allows the separation of seeds and other minute biological material from excavated dirt immersed in a bucket of water. This approach, pioneered in China by the third author of this study, Zhijun Zhao, a professor of archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has transformed the understanding of ancient farming in China.

The PLOS One findings reflect the contributions of 26 co-authors, including archaeologists who recovered the grains and those who analyzed them at leading archaeobotanical laboratories in the U.S., U.K., China and India. The team also includes leading experts for barley archaeogenetics, radiocarbon analysis and agricultural history around the globe.

"We've recently realized how much prehistoric crops moved around, on a scale much greater than anyone had envisaged," said senior co-author Martin Jones, the George Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science at Cambridge. "An intensive study of chronology, genetics and crop records now reveals how those movements laid the agrarian foundations of Bronze Age civilizations, enabling the control of seasons, and opening the way for rotation and multi-cropping."


Caption

Map of Eurasia shows the oldest radiocarbon-measured dates (B.C.) for individual grains of barley recovered from each region. Wheat and barley arrived in South Asia about a millennium before they arrived in East Asia. Free-threshing wheats spread to China along a route to the north of the Tibetan Plateau. Naked barley is likely to have been introduced to China via southern highland routes that remain to be identified.

Credit

Image: Courtesy of PLOS One

Plague likely a Stone Age arrival to central Europe


Saturday, November 18, 2017

ANCIENT FABRIC DYED IN TZITZIT BLUE FOUND


Israel Antiquities Authority researcher Dr. Na‘ama Sukenik has identified three pieces of fabric found in Judean Desert Caves (Wadi Murabba‘at caves) as being dyed using the Murex Trunculus Snail. All three date back to the Roman period.

Two of these also used a second dye obtained from Cochineal insects; this gave these fabrics purple borders. These were woven in characteristic manner of imported textiles.

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The third piece of fabric was made of wool and woven in the fashion of locally spun textiles. This fabric had been dyed using only the Murex Snail. The importance of this find lies in a doctoral thesis authored by Rabbi Herezog in 1913 naming Murex Trunculus as the most likely candidate for the source of the blue, or "tekhelet", colour to be used in Tzitzit. The material has to be exposed to sunlight or heated after having been dyed, which results in a shade of blue. This is the first time that a fabric dated to the Roman period and dyed blue in this way has been found in Israel.

In the 1980s, Otto Elsner a chemist from the Shenkar College of Fibers in Israel, discovered that exposing a solution of this dye to ultraviolet rays, such as from sunlight, produced a blue colour, instead of purple. In 1988, Rabbi Eliyahu Tavger dyed "tekhelet" from M.trunculus for the mitzvah (commandment) of tzitzit for the first time in recent history. Four years later an organisation, named "Ptil Tekhelet" was founded to educate about this type of dye production and to make the dye more generally available.

"Tekhelet" is spoken of in Scripture as a blue that even ordinary Israelites were commanded to tie as one string to the corner fringes of their garments. This was to act as a constant reminder of their special relationship with God”. Numbers 15:38–39 tells of this:

"Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of each border a cord of blue: and it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of YHVH, and do them; and that ye follow not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye used to play the harlot."

1,500-Year-old Rooster-like Clay Vessel Discovered by Vacationers at Sea of Galilee





  1. While vacationing by the Sea of Galilee during Sukot, Mrs. Tal Pastman dipped in the lake water, when she noticed a strange object among the pebbles. She rubbed the mud off the object only to find, to her great surprise, this unique vessel.

Pastman contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority and gave their representative this rare find.  Tal says: "Since childhood I read stories of finding antiquities treasures, and I was enchanted by it. I always hoped that one day I will find a significant object from the past, and it just happened to me. The incredible point is that I found this rare object on a beach where thousands of people pass through every summer, and nobody noticed it until now. I immediately realized that I have something special in my hands. For me this is a dream come true ".




Yoav Tzur, Lower Galilee and Valleys area archeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, was very impressed with this complete unusual find. He says: "it looks like the receding Sea of Galilee water levels exposed this vessel lying within the pebbles. It is a rare and ancient vessel, which must have fallen from a passing ship's cargo, and drifted to the shore".

Boutros Hana, Lower Galilee and Valleys area archeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority says: " Tal has shown a model citizenship and care by submitting the impressive and surprising find to the state treasures. I hope, that thanks to the Pastman family, the general public will be able to enjoy this rare find when it finds a distinguished place at a museum. It is very important to always contact the Israel Antiquities Authority representatives when you come by a find in the field, so that we can exhaust the archaeological information from the site".




According to Dr. Adi Erlich, a senior lecturer at the Archaeology and History of the Art departments at Haifa University: "it seems that the vessel looks like a rooster or other type of bird. Such vessels (Zoomorphic) were discovered in the past in the northern part of Israel, especially in the context of Christian burial sites from the Byzantine era (5th-6th centuries AD) where they served during the burial ceremonies or as burial offerings. Finding such a vessel by the Sea of Galilee might imply that there is a burial ground nearby, or that there is a sunken ship which still holds its cargo." 
Photos Credit: Yoav Tzur, Israel Antiquities Authority

Greater post-Neolithic wealth disparities in Eurasia than in North America


The origins of social inequality might lie in the remnants of ancient Eurasia's agricultural societies, according to an article recently published in the major science journal Nature.


The article, "Greater post-Neolithic wealth disparities in Eurasia than in North America and Mesopotamia," includes research from Anna Prentiss, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Montana.

Prentiss and UM anthropology Professor Emeritus Tom Foor provided data from the archaeological sites at Bridge River, British Columbia, and Ozette, Washington.

As people became more agricultural and settled, the rich became richer as the ancient farmers who could afford oxen, cattle and other large animals increased their crop production. This provided significant opportunities for amassing and transmitting wealth, and the degree of household wealth-based inequality became much higher in Old World, Eurasian contexts, as measured by house size.

"High degrees of inequality did not contribute to long-term stability in ancient societies," Prentiss said. "That is something that should concern us given the extraordinary high degree of inequality in our own society."

The study is based on data gathered from a research team that studied 63 archeological sites across four continents, dating between 9000 B.C. and 1500 A.D. It is one of the first studies to use archaeological data to measure inter-household inequality between Old and New World sites.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Neanderthals survived at least 3,000 years longer in Spain than thought



Neanderthals survived at least 3,000 years longer than we thought in Southern Iberia - what is now Spain - long after they had died out everywhere else, according to new research published in Heliyon.

The authors of the study, an international team from Portuguese, Spanish, Catalonian, German, Austrian and Italian research institutions, say their findings suggest that the process of modern human populations absorbing Neanderthal populations through interbreeding was not a regular, gradual wave-of-advance but a "stop-and-go, punctuated, geographically uneven history."

Over more than ten years of fieldwork, the researchers excavated three new sites in southern Spain, where they discovered evidence of distinctly Neanderthal materials dating until 37,000 years ago.

"Technology from the Middle Paleolithic in Europe is exclusively associated with the Neanderthals," said Dr. João Zilhão, from the University of Barcelona and lead author of the study. "In three new excavation sites, we found Neanderthal artefacts dated to thousands of years later than anywhere else in Western Europe. Even in the adjacent regions of northern Spain and southern France the latest Neanderthal sites are all significantly older."

The Middle Paleolithic was a part of the Stone Age, and it spanned from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. It is widely acknowledged that during this time, anatomically modern humans started to move out of Africa and assimilate coeval Eurasian populations, including Neanderthals, through interbreeding.

According to the new research, this process was not a straightforward, smooth one - instead, it seems to have been punctuated, with different evolutionary patterns in different geographical regions.
In 2010, the team published evidence from the site of Cueva Antón in Spain that provided unambiguous evidence for symbolism among Neanderthals. Putting that evidence in context and using the latest radiometric techniques to date the site, the researchers show Cueva Antón is the most recent known Neanderthal site.

"We believe that the stop-and-go, punctuated, uneven mechanism we propose must have been the rule in human evolution, which helps explaining why Paleolithic material culture tends to form patterns of geographically extensive similarity while Paleolithic genomes tend to show complex ancestry patchworks," commented Dr. Zilhão.

The key to understanding this pattern, says Dr. Zilhão, lies in discovering and analyzing new sites, not in revisiting old ones. Although finding and excavating new sites with the latest techniques is time-consuming, he believes it is the approach that pays off.

"There is still a lot we do not know about human evolution and, especially, about the Neanderthals," said Dr. Zilhão. "Our textbook ideas about Neanderthals and modern humans have been mostly derived from finds in France, Germany and Central Europe, but during the Ice Ages these were peripheral areas: probably as much as half of the Paleolithic people who ever lived in Europe were Iberians. Ongoing research has begun to bear fruit, and I have no doubt that there is more to come."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Archaeologists find earliest evidence of winemaking




Excavations in the Republic of Georgia by the Gadachrili Gora Regional Archaeological Project Expedition (GRAPE), a joint undertaking between the University of Toronto (U of T) and the Georgian National Museum, have uncovered evidence of the earliest winemaking anywhere in the world. The discovery dates the origin of the practice to the Neolithic period around 6000 BC, pushing it back 600-1,000 years from the previously accepted date.

The earliest previously known chemical evidence of wine dated to 5400-5000 BC and was from an area in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Researchers now say the practice began hundreds of years earlier in the South Caucasus region on the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

Excavations have focused on two Early Ceramic Neolithic sites (6000-4500 BC) called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, approximately 50 kilometres south of the modern capital of Tbilisi. Pottery fragments of ceramic jars recovered from the sites were collected and subsequently analyzed by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania to ascertain the nature of the residue preserved inside for several millennia.

The newest methods of chemical extraction confirmed tartaric acid, the fingerprint compound for grape and wine as well as three associated organic acids - malic, succinic and citric - in the residue recovered from eight large jars. The findings are reported in a research study this week in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine," said Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and the Archaeology Centre at U of T, and co-author of the study published in PNAS.

"The domesticated version of the fruit has more than 10,000 varieties of table and wine grapes worldwide," said Batiuk. "Georgia is home to over 500 varieties for wine alone, suggesting that grapes have been domesticated and cross-breeding in the region for a very long time."

GRAPE represents the Canadian component of a larger international, interdisciplinary project involving researchers from the United States, Denmark, France, Italy and Israel. The sites excavated by the U of T and Georgian National Museum team are remnants of two villages that date back to the Neolithic period, which began around 15,200 BC in parts of the Middle East and ended between 4500 and 2000 BC in other parts of the world.

The Neolithic period is characterized by a package of activities that include the beginning of farming, the domestication of animals, the development of crafts such as pottery and weaving, and the making of polished stone tools.

"Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine," said Batiuk. "This methodology for identifying wine residues in pottery was initially developed and first tested on a vessel from the site of Godin Tepe in central western Iran, excavated more than 40 years ago by a team from the Royal Ontario Museum led by fellow U of T researcher T. Cuyler Young. So in many ways, this discovery brings my co-director Andrew Graham and I full circle back to the work of our professor Cuyler, who also provided some of the fundamental theories of the origins of agriculture in the Near East.

"In essence, what we are examining is how the Neolithic package of agricultural activity, tool-making and crafts that developed further south in modern Iraq, Syria and Turkey adapted as it was introduced into different regions with different climate and plant life," Batiuk said. "The horticultural potential of the south Caucasus was bound to lead to the domestication of many new and different species, and innovative 'secondary' products were bound to emerge."

The researchers say the combined archaeological, chemical, botanical, climatic and radiocarbon data provided by the analysis demonstrate that the Eurasian grapevine Vitis vinifera was abundant around the sites. It grew under ideal environmental conditions in early Neolithic times, similar to premium wine-producing regions in Italy and southern France today.

"Our research suggests that one of the primary adaptations of the Neolithic way of life as it spread to Caucasia was viniculture," says Batiuk. "The domestication of the grape apparently led eventually led to the emergence of a wine culture in the region."

Batiuk describes an ancient society in which the drinking and offering of wine penetrates and permeates nearly every aspect of life from medical practice to special celebrations, from birth to death, to everyday meals at which toasting is common.

"As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance, and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopeias, cuisines, economics, and society throughout the ancient Near East," he said.

Batiuk cites ancient viniculture as a prime example of human ingenuity in developing horticulture, and creative uses for its byproducts.

"The infinite range of flavors and aromas of today's 8,000-10,000 grape varieties are the end result of the domesticated Eurasian grapevine being transplanted and crossed with wild grapevines elsewhere over and over again," he said. "The Eurasian gravepine that now accounts for 99.9 per cent of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia."