World’s oldest cheese discovery in Egypt


This video from Italy says about itself:

Farmer Follows Ancient Roman Recipe To Make Cheese – From the Milk of Endangered Goats

6 June 2018

This Sicilian farmer produces artisan vegetarian cheeses by following ancient Roman recipes. His cheese is made from the milk of endangered Girgentana goats – currently, there are only about 1300 of these goats left in the world. He uses vegetable rennet instead of animal rennet, which is taken from the stomach of the animals, which makes his cheeses purely vegetarian.

From the American Chemical Society:

World’s oldest cheese found in Egyptian tomb

August 15, 2018

Aging usually improves the flavor of cheese, but that’s not why some very old cheese discovered in an Egyptian tomb is drawing attention. Instead, it’s thought to be the most ancient solid cheese ever found, according to a study published in ACS’ journal Analytical Chemistry.

The tomb of Ptahmes, mayor of Memphis in Egypt during the 13th century BC, was initially unearthed in 1885. After being lost under drifting sands, it was rediscovered in 2010, and archeologists found broken jars at the site a few years later. One jar contained a solidified whitish mass, as well as canvas fabric that might have covered the jar or been used to preserve its contents. Enrico Greco and colleagues wanted to analyze the whitish substance to determine its identity.

After dissolving the sample, the researchers purified its protein constituents and analyzed them with liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. The peptides detected by these techniques show the sample was a dairy product made from cow milk and sheep or goat milk. The characteristics of the canvas fabric, which indicate it was suitable for containing a solid rather than a liquid, and the absence of other specific markers, support the conclusion that the dairy product was a solid cheese.

Other peptides in the food sample suggest it was contaminated with Brucella melitensis, a bacterium that causes brucellosis. This potentially deadly disease spreads from animals to people, typically from eating unpasteurized dairy products. If the team’s preliminary analysis is confirmed, the sample would represent the earliest reported biomolecular evidence of the disease.

I blogged before on still older cheese; some 5700 years before Ptahmes; made in Poland. However, that cheese seems to have been not solid cheese. So, this recent discovery in Egypt is still the oldest known solid cheese.

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Homo erectus, extinct by laziness?


This 2016 video is called HD Documentary: Becoming Human, Episode 2, Birth of Humanity (Homo Erectus).

From Australian National University:

Laziness helped lead to extinction of Homo erectus

August 10, 2018

New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were ‘lazy’.

An archaeological excavation of ancient human populations in the Arabian Peninsula during the Early Stone Age, found that Homo erectus used ‘least-effort strategies’ for tool making and collecting resources.

This ‘laziness’ paired with an inability to adapt to a changing climate likely played a role in the species going extinct, according to lead researcher Dr Ceri Shipton of the ANU School of Culture, History and Language.

“They really don’t seem to have been pushing themselves”, Dr Shipton said.

“I don’t get the sense they were explorers looking over the horizon. They didn’t have that same sense of wonder that we have.”

Dr Shipton said this was evident in the way the species made their stone tools and collected resources.

“To make their stone tools they would use whatever rocks they could find lying around their camp, which were mostly of comparatively low quality to what later stone tool makers used”, he said.

“At the site we looked at there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill.

“But rather than walk up the hill they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.

“When we looked at the rocky outcrop there were no signs of any activity, no artefacts and no quarrying of the stone.

“They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?’.”

This is in contrast to the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances.

Dr Shipton said a failure to progress technologically, as their environment dried out into a desert, also contributed to the population’s demise.

“Not only were they lazy, but they were also very conservative”, Dr Shipton said.

“The sediment samples showed the environment around them was changing, but they were doing the exact same things with their tools.

“There was no progression at all, and their tools are never very far from these now dry river beds. I think in the end the environment just got too dry for them.”

The excavation and survey work was undertaken in 2014 at the site of Saffaqah near Dawadmi in central Saudi Arabia.

Whales in Roman empire days


This 2017 video is called Gray Whale swimming through kelp forest – Recored from a drone in 4k.

From the University of York in England:

Ancient bones reveal 2 whale species lost from the Mediterranean Sea

Ancient bones from Roman archaeological sites reveal 2 whale species lost from the Mediterranean Sea

July 11, 2018

Two thousand years ago the Mediterranean Sea was a haven for two species of whale which have since virtually disappeared from the North Atlantic, a new study analysing ancient bones suggests.

The discovery of the whale bones in the ruins of a Roman fish processing factory located at the strait of Gibraltar also hints at the possibility that the Romans may have hunted the whales.

Prior to the study, by an international team of ecologists, archaeologists and geneticists, it was assumed that the Mediterranean Sea was outside of the historical range of the right and gray whale.

Academics from the Archaeology Department at the University of York used ancient DNA analysis and collagen fingerprinting to identify the bones as belonging to the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and the Atlantic gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus).

After centuries of whaling, the right whale currently occurs as a very threatened population off eastern North America and the gray whale has completely disappeared from the North Atlantic and is now restricted to the North Pacific.

Co-author of the study Dr Camilla Speller, from the University of York, said: “These new molecular methods are opening whole new windows into past ecosystems. Whales are often neglected in archaeological studies, because their bones are frequently too fragmented to be identifiable by their shape.

“Our study shows that these two species were once part of the Mediterranean marine ecosystem and probably used the sheltered basin as a calving ground.

“The findings contribute to the debate on whether, alongside catching large fish such as tuna, the Romans had a form of whaling industry or if perhaps the bones are evidence of opportunistic scavenging from beached whales along the coast line.”

Both species of whale are migratory, and their presence east of Gibraltar is a strong indication that they previously entered the Mediterranean Sea to give birth.

The Gibraltar region was at the centre of a massive fish-processing industry during Roman times, with products exported across the entire Roman Empire. The ruins of hundreds of factories with large salting tanks can still be seen today in the region.

Lead author of the study Dr Ana Rodrigues, from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, said: “Romans did not have the necessary technology to capture the types of large whales currently found in the Mediterranean, which are high-seas species. But right and gray whales and their calves would have come very close to shore, making them tempting targets for local fishermen.”

It is possible that both species could have been captured using small rowing boats and hand harpoons, methods used by medieval Basque whalers centuries later.

The knowledge that coastal whales were once present in the Mediterranean also sheds new light on ancient historical sources.

Anne Charpentier, lecturer at the University of Montpellier and co-author in the study, said: “We can finally understand a 1st-Century description by the famous Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, of killer whales attacking whales and their new-born calves in the Cadiz bay.

“It doesn’t match anything that can be seen there today, but it fits perfectly with the ecology if right and gray whales used to be present.”

The study authors are now calling for historians and archaeologists to re-examine their material in the light of the knowledge that coastal whales where once part of the Mediterranean marine ecosystem.

Dr Rodriguez added: “It seems incredible that we could have lost and then forgotten two large whale species in a region as well-studied as the Mediterranean. It makes you wonder what else we have forgotten.”

Forgotten Mediterranean calving grounds of gray and North Atlantic right whales: evidence from Roman archaeological records is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.

The study was an international collaboration between scientists at the universities of York, Montpellier (France), Cadiz (Spain), Oviedo (Spain) and the Centre for Fishery Studies in Asturias, Spain.

Neanderthal deer hunting, new research


This 2011 video is called Neanderthals Hunt Down A Horse – Planet Of The Apemen; Battle For Earth – Episode Two – BBC One.

The video depicts Neanderthals as brown-skinned. However, living in not so sunny Ice Age Europe, they had long along lost the black complexion of their African ancestors. After modern humans came to Europe from Africa later, they were dark-skinned even still shortly after the Ice Age, and, like Neanderthals earlier, gradually became light complexioned.

From the Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz in Germany:

Neanderthals practiced close-range hunting 120,000 years ago

July 2, 2018

An international team of scientists reports the oldest unambiguous hunting lesions documented in the history of humankind. The lesions were found on skeletons of two large-sized extinct fallow deer killed by Neandertals about 120,000 years ago around the shores of a small lake (Neumark-Nord 1) near present-day Halle in the eastern part of Germany. The study was led by Professor Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser of the Department of Ancient Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and was now published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The study constitutes a significant step forward in our knowledge of the Neandertal niche. It demonstrates how Neandertals obtained their prey, first and foremost in terms of their much debated hunting equipment while also shedding light on their hunting skills.

With an innovative experimental ballistic setup including state-of-the-art motion-sensor technology, the researchers were able to reproduce the specific form of one of the lesions. The results prove the use of a wooden thrusting spear that was impacted with low velocity. This suggests that Neandertals approached animals very closely and thrusted rather than threw their spears at the animals, most likely from an underhand thrusting angle. Such a confrontational way of hunting required careful planning and concealment as well as close cooperation between individual hunters.

The lake where the hunts took place was surrounded by a close canopy forest, a type of environment deemed particularly challenging for hunter-gatherers, even modern human ones. Interestingly, the excavations in the Neumark-Nord area have yielded tens of thousands of bones of large mammals, including red and fallow deer, horses, and bovids, as well as thousands of lithic artefacts from this uniquely rich Last Interglacial lake landscape, attesting to the success of Neandertal survival in forested environments.

“Although hominins most likely started hunting with weapons more than 500,000 years ago, actual evidence on how wooden spear-like objects like those found at Clacton-on-Sea in England as well as in Schöningen and Lehringen in German were used was absent prior to the identification of the Neumark-Nord hunting lesions”, stated Gaudzinski-Windheuser. “As far as spear use is concerned, we now finally have the crime scene fitting to the proverbial smoking gun.”

New extinct gibbon species discovery in Chinese tomb


This 2015 video is called Singing Gibbons.

By Bruce Bower, 2:00pm, June 21, 2018:

A 2,200-year-old Chinese tomb held a new gibbon species, now extinct

Researchers suspect that humans drove this previously unknown lineage to extinction

A royal crypt from China’s past has issued a conservation alert for apes currently eking out an existence in East Asia.

The partial remains of a gibbon were discovered in 2004 in an excavation of a 2,200- to 2,300-year-old tomb in central China’s Shaanxi Province. Now, detailed comparisons of the animal’s face and teeth with those of living gibbons show that the buried ape is from a previously unknown and now-extinct genus and species, conservation biologist Samuel Turvey and colleagues report in the June 22 Science. His team named the creature Junzi imperialis.

There’s currently no way to know precisely when J. imperialis died out. But hunting and the loss of forests due to expanding human populations likely played big roles in the demise of the ape, the researchers contend.

“Until the discovery of J. imperialis, it was thought that the worrying global decline of apes was a modern-day phenomenon”, says Turvey, of the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology. “We’re now realizing that there may have been numerous human-caused extinctions of apes and other primates in the past.”

The climate was relatively stable several thousand years ago, and no vertebrate extinctions have been definitively linked to natural climate shifts over the past 10,000 years. So “it is reasonable to conclude that Junzi became extinct as a result of human impacts”, says study coauthor Alejandra Ortiz, a paleoanthropologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Historical records indicate that gibbons with features similar to those of J. imperialis, as well as some other distinctive-looking gibbon populations no longer observed in the wild, inhabited central and southern China up to around 300 years ago, the researchers say. Most gibbons today are found in Southeast Asia.

The tomb is thought to have belonged to the grandmother of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuang, who ordered the building of the Great Wall of China and the famous terra-cotta warriors (SN: 9/16/17, p. 19). Twelve pits with animal remains, including those of the gibbon, were found in the crypt. During Qin’s reign and throughout much of Chinese history, gibbons were thought to have noble traits, and royals often acquired gibbons as high-status pets. Ancient Chinese art includes many depictions of gibbons, too.

Turvey’s group compared a 3-D digital reconstruction of the gibbon’s skull, based on its skeletal remains, with 477 skulls from nearly all living species of gibbons and siamangs, a closely related ape. Digital images of the recovered gibbon’s upper and lower molar teeth were compared with 789 molars from 279 present-day gibbon and siamang individuals.

“The science in this paper is strong, but its message for the future of apes and all animals and plants on Earth today is dismal”, says biological anthropologist Brenda Benefit of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. All species of gibbons living today remain imperiled, as do most other primates, due to serious challenges from habitat loss, hunting and the international trade in exotic pets (SN: 3/17/18, p. 10).

While the new report highlights long-standing human threats to gibbons’ survival, the ancient gibbon’s remains may not represent a new genus, holds biological anthropologist Terry Harrison of New York University. A partial skull from a captive ape of unknown geographic origin leaves crucial questions unanswered, including what the creature’s lower body looked like, Harrison says. Relatively complete skeletons of wild gibbons from Chinese sites dating to the past 10,000 years are needed to check the Shaanxi ape’s evolutionary ID, he contends.

See also here.

Amelia Edwards, British lesbian Egyptologist


This 2009 video from Britain says about itself:

Amelia Edwards: Egyptology’s Greatest Woman (at London’s Petrie Museum)

Heritage Key enters the Petrie Museum in London to talk to the curator Dr Stephen Quirke, who explains the importance of one of the co-founders of the Egypt Exploration Society – Amelia Edwards.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Friday, June 8, 2018

Frosty’s Ramblings: Amelia Edwards: lesbian and Egyptologist

With Pride month beginning tomorrow, PETER FROST tells the remarkable story of the author of A Thousand Miles up the Nile

AMELIA B EDWARDS was a Victorian English writer of the Arthur Conan Doyle School. Like Conan Doyle — who didn’t think Sherlock Holmes was his best writing — she made her not inconsiderable fortune from the books she didn’t rate as her favourites or her best work.

Perhaps her best-known work was a collection of ghost stories including the famous The Phantom Coach. Her novels included Barbara’s History and Lord Brackenbury.

But it was two travel books including A Thousand Miles up the Nile, and Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys: A Midsummer Ramble in the Dolomites, both written and illustrated by her, that were her proudest works.

Edwards was born in London to an Irish mother and a father who had been a British army officer before becoming a banker.

Home educated by her mother, she was already showing considerable promise as a writer at a very young age. She published her first poem at age seven, her first story at age 12.

She had work published in a large number of magazines including Chamber’s Journal and Charles Dickens’s Household Words, as well as the Saturday Review and the Morning Post.

Her first full-length novel was My Brother’s Wife, published when she was just 25. Her early novels were well received, but it was Barbara’s History, a novel about bigamy, that solidly established her reputation as a novelist.

It is hard today to understand just how popular she was. Her last novel, Lord Brackenbury, for instance, ran to no less than 15 editions.

The wealth these books brought her allowed her to write about what really interested her — travel and particularly Egyptology.

In the winter of 1873-4, accompanied by several friends, she toured Egypt, discovering a fascination with the land and its cultures, both ancient and modern.

She hired a dahabiyeh — a houseboat with a huge sail and an Egyptian crew. At this time Egypt and its many ancient sites had become a popular tourist destination with the well-to-do from England, Germany and other parts of Europe.

These tourists were often keen amateur archaeologists and they fell into two distinct camps. There were those who thought that all the best artefacts and works of art should be shipped home to the huge museums of Bloomsbury and many rival city museums of Germany or, even worse, into private collections.

Others took the view that the art should be left where it was in Egypt. Edwards sided with this view. A keen artist, she mostly sketched rather than collected what she saw.

She and her friends visited Cairo, Philae and ultimately reached Abu Simbel. Edwards’s description of her Nile voyage, A Thousand Miles up the Nile, was the outcome of this trip. The book was illustrated by beautiful and accurate wood engravings taken from her hand-drawn sketches. It became an immediate bestseller.

The book led, in 1882, to her co-founding the Egypt Exploration Fund, which still exists today as the Egypt Exploration Society.

Edwards’s travels in Egypt had made her aware of the increasing threats directed towards the ancient monuments by tourism and modern development.

Determined to stem these threats by the force of public awareness and scientific endeavour, Edwards became a tireless public advocate for the research and preservation of the ancient monuments.

She worked closely and supported the English archaeologist and Egyptologist Flinders Petrie. He became the first Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Philology at University College London, taking the chair that was set up and funded in 1892 by a bequest shortly after her death.

She had instructed that Petrie should be its first incumbent. He continued to excavate in Egypt after taking up the professorship, training many of the best archaeologists of the day.

One of his students was Howard Carter, who went on to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun.

With the aim of advancing the fund’s work, Edwards largely abandoned her other literary work to concentrate on Egyptology. She wrote the Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on Egyptology.

As part of her efforts, Edwards embarked on an ambitious lecture tour of the United States in the period 1889-90. The content of these lectures was later published as Pharaohs, Fellahs and Explorers.

As well as writing ghost stories and travel books, Amelia seems to have made no secret of her unconventional sexual orientation. Some modern biographers have tried to hide this aspect of her life but Edwards never did.

Her friend, the author and critic John Addington Symonds, told Henry Havelock Ellis that she made no secret of her lesbian lifestyle.

Havelock Ellis was in 1897 co-author of the first medical textbook in English on homosexuality and he also published works on a variety of sexual orientations and inclinations.

She told both Symonds and Ellis she had formed a menage a trois with an English woman and her clergyman husband. Symonds said she told him that one day the husband had married Edwards to his wife at the altar of his church.

This unconventional bisexual couple were almost certainly John Rice Byrne and Ellen Byrne who the 1871 census shows as living at 7 Cambridge Park, Bristol. He was a clergyman and school inspector. When they moved away from Bristol, Edwards told Symonds it was like a death blow.

Edwards died of influenza on April 15 1892 at Weston-super-Mare. She is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Henbury, Bristol, and her grave is marked by a distinctive Egyptian obelisk and stone ankh — the ancient Egyptian symbol of life shaped like a cross with a loop at the top.

Buried beside Edwards is her lifetime companion, partner and lover Ellen Drew Braysher, with whom she shared a home for 30 years. Historic England designated her grave as Grade II listed, celebrating it as a landmark in English LGBT history.

Today many of Edwards’s books, now long out of copyright, can be downloaded free from the internet.