Saturday, January 17, 2015
New research from the University of Bristol, UK has revealed the antiquity of dairy farming in a region famous for its dairy exports: Ireland.
Research published today in the Journal of Environmental Archaeology shows that dairying on the island goes back approximately 6,000 years, revealed through traces of ancient dairy fats found in pots dating to around 4,000 to 2,500 BC.
Dr Jessica Smyth of Bristol's School of Chemistry analysed nearly 500 pots from the Neolithic, the period when people switched from hunting and gathering to farming. In Britain and Ireland, this change occurred around 4,000 BC, more than 1,000 years later than on the Continent. The Bristol team use a combination of fat or lipid 'fingerprinting' and compound-specific carbon isotope techniques to identify the origin of fats preserved in the walls of prehistoric cooking pots.
Dr Smyth, who led the study, said: "We know from previous research that dairying was an important part of many early farming economies, but what was a big surprise was the prevalence of dairy residues in Irish pots. It looks to have been a very important food source."
Ninety per cent of the residues tested for fat origin were found to be dairy fats, with ten per cent found to be meat fats (beef or mutton) or a mixture of milk and meat.
Dr Smyth added: "People can obviously cook meat in other ways than boiling it in pots, and there is plenty of evidence for cereal processing at this time, but the Irish dairy signal remains very striking, particularly when you compare it with the continental European data sets. Ireland really does seem to go mad for milk in the Neolithic."
Milk is still a traditional and valuable food in Europe today, produced by over 30 million dairy cows and representing 14 per cent of the value of European agricultural production [2011 figures]. Six thousand years ago, dairying in Ireland looked very different.
Dr Smyth said: "We know that settlements were small in the Irish Neolithic, usually one or two houses, so it's likely that early farming groups had just one or two animals supporting the household with their products, which were perhaps part of a wider community herd."
Such results are even more significant given the fact that domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and goats had to be physically shipped to Ireland as part of the process, as these animals were not native to the island.
"These are a very determined group of pioneer farmers. They are setting up everything from scratch, and taking a significant gamble with their livelihoods and those of their dependants," Dr Smyth said.
It would appear that the Irish love of dairy products is very ancient, and the suitability of the island for dairy farming was recognised early in prehistory.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Friday, December 19, 2014
Archaeologists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology have discovered a monumental entryway to the Herodian Hilltop Palace at the Herodium National Park. The unique complex was uncovered during excavations by The Herodium Expedition in Memory of Ehud Netzer over the past year, as part of a project to develop the site for tourism.
The main feature of the entryway is an impressive corridor with a complex system of arches spanning its width on three separate levels. These arches buttressed the corridor's massive side-walls, allowing the King and his entourage direct passage into the Palace Courtyard. Thanks to the supporting arches, the 20-meter long and 6-meter wide corridor has been preserved to a height of 20 meters.
The Hebrew University archaeologists -- Roi Porat, Yakov Kalman and Rachel Chachy -- suggest that the corridor was built as part of Herod's plan to turn Herodium into a massive artificial volcano-shaped hill, a vast and impressive monument designed to commemorate the architect-King.
Surprisingly, during the course of the excavations, it became evident that the arched corridor was never actually in use, as prior to its completion it became redundant. This appears to have happened when Herod, aware of his impending death, decided to convert the whole hilltop complex into a massive memorial mound, a royal burial monument on an epic scale.
Whatever the case, the corridor was back-filled during the construction of the massive artificial hill at the end of Herod's reign. The upper section of a new monumental stairway stretching from the hill's base to its peak, constructed during the course of this building phase, appears to have been built over it.
The excavators point out that not only was the arched corridor covered over in the course of the construction of the hill-monument, but also all the structures earlier built by Herod on the hill's slopes, including the Royal Theater uncovered by the expedition in 2008, while still led by Prof. Ehud Netzer, since deceased.
The only edifice not covered over was the splendid mausoleum-style structure, identified by Netzer and the expedition as Herod's burial-place. Together with the monumental cone-shaped hill, this constituted the unique Herodian Royal burial-complex.
During the course of the current excavations, the original impressive Palace vestibule, blocked when the corridor became redundant, was also exposed. This entry-room, decorated with splendid painted frescoes, had a magnificent entryway leading into it, and offered evidence of the rebel occupation during the Great Revolt (66-71 CE), including Jewish Revolt coinage and crude temporary structures.
In addition, the excavations in the arched corridor also turned up impressive evidence from the Bar Kokhba Revolt period (132-135/6 CE): hidden tunnels dug on the site by the rebels as part of the guerilla warfare they waged against the Romans. Supported in part by wooden beams, these tunnels exited from the hilltop fortress by way of the corridor's walls, through openings hidden in the corridor. One of the tunnels revealed a well-preserved construction of 20 or so cypress-wood branches, arranged in a cross-weave pattern to support the tunnel's roof.
In the future, according to Mr. Shaul Goldstein, Director of Israel's Nature and Parks Authority, the excavation of the arched corridor will allow visitors direct access to the Herodium hilltop palace-fortress, in the same way that Herod entered it two thousand years ago. There are also plans to provide tourists direct access from the structures on the slope, the Royal Theater and the Mausoleum, via the earlier monumental stairway, to the hilltop Palace.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
The United States is a melting pot of different racial and ethnic groups, but it has not been clear how the genetic ancestry of these populations varies across different geographic regions. In a landmark study published by Cell Press December 18th in the American Journal of Human Genetics, researchers analyzed the genomes of more than 160,000 African Americans, Latinos, and European Americans, providing novel insights into the subtle differences in genetic ancestry across the United States.
"Our study not only reveals the historical underpinnings of regional differences in genetic ancestry but also sheds light on the complex relationships between genetic ancestry and self-identified race and ethnicity," says lead study author Katarzyna Bryc of 23andMe and Harvard Medical School.
Over the past 500 years, North America has been the site of ongoing mixing of Native Americans, European settlers, and Africans. Although much of the world has been genetically characterized, the United States has received less attention from population geneticists because of its complex ancestry patterns. Moreover, the relationship between genetic ancestry and self-described racial and ethnic identities in each region of the United States has not been deeply characterized.
To address this gap in knowledge, Bryc and her collaborators analyzed DNA sequence variations called single-nucleotide polymorphisms in the genomes of 5,269 self-described African Americans, 8,663 Latinos, and 148,789 European Americans. These individuals actively participate in 23andMe research by submitting saliva samples, consenting for data to be used for research, and completing surveys. 23andMe is a personal genomics company that provides direct-to-consumer genetic testing and services that include the analysis of DNA samples to generate ancestry-related genetic reports.
The researchers found that regional ancestry differences reflect historical events such as waves of immigration. For example, Scandinavian ancestry is found in trace proportions in most states but comprises about 10% of ancestry in European Americans living in Minnesota and the Dakotas. They also found that individuals identify roughly with the majority of their genetic ancestry, contrary to expectations under a social "one-drop rule." Indeed, more than six million Americans who self-identify as European might carry African ancestry, and as many as five million self-described European Americans might have at least 1% Native American ancestry.
"These findings suggest that many individuals with partial African and Native American ancestry have 'passed' into the white community, thereby undermining the use of cultural labels that separate individuals into discrete, non-overlapping groups," Bryc says. "Taken together, our results suggest that genetic ancestry can be leveraged to augment historical records and inform cultural processes shaping modern populations."