Prehistoric South Africans cooked vegetables


This 2015 video says about itself:

What Did Prehistoric Humans Actually Eat?

Ancient humans existed thousands of years ago, and they were very different than humans today! What did they eat?

Read more here. And here.

From the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

Early modern humans cooked starchy food in South Africa, 170,000 years ago

The discovery also points to food being shared and the use of wooden digging sticks to extract the plants from the ground

January 2, 2020

“The inhabitants of the Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the Kwazulu-Natal/eSwatini border were cooking starchy plants 170 thousand years ago,” says Professor Lyn Wadley, a scientist from the Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa (Wits ESI). “This discovery is much older than earlier reports for cooking similar plants and it provides a fascinating insight into the behavioural practices of early modern humans in southern Africa. It also implies that they shared food and used wooden sticks to extract plants from the ground.”

It is extraordinary that such fragile plant remains have survived for so long,” says Dr Christine Sievers, a scientist from the University of the Witwatersrand, who completed the archaeobotanical work with Wadley. The underground food plants were uncovered during excavations at Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains (on the border of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, and eSwatini [formerly Swaziland]), where the team has been digging since 2015. During the excavation, Wadley and Sievers recognised the small, charred cylinders as rhizomes. All appear to belong to the same species, and 55 charred, whole rhizomes were identified as Hypoxis, commonly called the Yellow Star flower. “The most likely of the species growing in KwaZulu-Natal today is the slender-leafed Hypoxis angustifolia that is favoured as food,” adds Sievers. “It has small rhizomes with white flesh that is more palatable than the bitter, orange flesh of rhizomes from the better known medicinal Hypoxis species (incorrectly called African Potato).”

The Border Cave plant identifications were made on the size and shape of the rhizomes and on the vascular structure examined under a scanning electron microscope. Modern Hypoxis rhizomes and their ancient counterparts have similar cellular structures and the same inclusions of microscopic crystal bundles, called raphides. The features are still recognisable even in the charred specimens. Over a four-year period, Wadley and Sievers made a collection of modern rhizomes and geophytes from the Lebombo area. “We compared the botanical features of the modern geophytes and the ancient charred specimens, in order to identify them,” explains Sievers.

Hypoxis rhizomes are nutritious and carbohydrate-rich with an energy value of approximately 500 KJ/100g. While they are edible raw, the rhizomes are fibrous and have high fracture toughness until they are cooked. The rhizomes are rich in starch and would have been an ideal staple plant food. “Cooking the fibre-rich rhizomes would have made them easier to peel and to digest so more of them could be consumed and the nutritional benefits would be greater,” says Wadley.

Wooden digging sticks used to extract the plants from the ground

“The discovery also implies the use of wooden digging sticks to extract the rhizomes from the ground. One of these tools was found at Border Cave and is directly dated at circa 40,000 years ago,” says co-author of the paper and co-director of the excavation, Professor Francesco d’Errico, (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Université de Bordeaux, France and University of Bergen, Norway). Dr Lucinda Backwell (Instituto Superior de Estudios Sociales, ISES-CONICET, Tucumán, Argentina) also co-authored the paper and was a co-director of the excavation.

The plants were cooked and shared

The Hypoxis rhizomes were mostly recovered from fireplaces and ash dumps rather than from surrounding sediment. “The Border Cave inhabitants would have dug Hypoxis rhizomes from the hillside near the cave, and carried them back to the cave to cook them in the ashes of fireplaces,” says Wadley. “The fact that they were brought back to the cave rather than cooked in the field suggests that food was shared at the home base. This suggests that the rhizomes were roasted in ashes and that, in the process, some were lost. While the evidence for cooking is circumstantial, it is nonetheless compelling.”

Discoveries at Border Cave

This new discovery adds to the long list of important finds at Border Cave. The site has been repeatedly excavated since Raymond Dart first worked there in 1934. Amongst earlier discoveries were the burial of a baby with a Conus seashell at 74,000 years ago, a variety of bone tools, an ancient counting device, ostrich eggshell beads, resin, and poison that may once have been used on hunting weapons.

The Border Cave Heritage Site

Border Cave is a heritage site with a small site museum. The cave and museum are open to the public, though bookings are essential [Olga Vilane (+27) (0) 72 180 4332]. Wadley and her colleagues hope that the Border Cave discovery will emphasise the importance of the site as an irreplaceable cultural resource for South Africa and the rest of the world.

About Hypoxis angustifolia

Hypoxis angustifolia is evergreen, so it has visibility year-round, unlike the more common deciduous Hypoxis species. It thrives in a variety of modern habitats and is thus likely to have had wide distribution in the past as it does today. It occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, south Sudan, some Indian Ocean islands, and as far afield as Yemen. Its presence in Yemen may imply even wider distribution of this Hypoxis plant during previous humid conditions. Hypoxis angustifolia rhizomes grow in clumps so many can be harvested at once. “All of the rhizome’s attributes imply that it could have provided a reliable, familiar food source for early humans trekking within Africa, or even out of Africa,” said Lyn Wadley. Hunter-gatherers tend to be highly mobile so the wide distribution of a potential staple plant food would have ensured food security.

Ancient Egyptian head cones, first time discovery


Head cones depicted in paintings and carvings from the Egyptian site of Amarna often perch on the noggins of prominent and powerful individuals. Egypt Exploration Society, Antiquity Publications Ltd.

By Bruce Bower, 10 December 2919:

Archaeologists have finally found ancient Egyptian wax head cones

The mysterious headgear appears often in art dating from around 3,550 to 2,000 years ago

Long before extraterrestrial Coneheads in Saturday Night Live skits claimed to have come from France, real-life cone heads existed in Egypt.

Prominent people wearing cone-shaped headgear appear frequently in Egyptian art dating from around 3,550 to 2,000 years ago. But none of those cones have ever been found, until now. Archaeologists report unearthing two such headpieces at the ancient Egyptian city of Amarna.

Built by the pharaoh Akhenaten and occupied from around 1347 B.C. to 1332 B.C., Amarna contains thousands of graves of ordinary people. Excavated skeletons of two people were topped by remnants of head cones, archaeologist Anna Stevens of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues report in the December Antiquity. One cone adorned the skeleton of a woman in her 20s. The other was atop the skeleton of a 15- to 20-year-old of undetermined sex.

Scientists expected that graves of social elites would yield the first head cones, Stevens says. “But the most surprising thing is that these objects turned up at all.” Some scholars have argued that head cones existed only as artistic devices, not real objects.

Portable infrared and X-ray machines determined that the cones were hollow and made of wax, probably beeswax. Although some investigators have speculated that head cones contained animal fat or wax scented with a substance such as tree resin, the Amarna finds contain no fat traces or perfume. Any perfume originally in the two head cones likely evaporated, Stevens says. Names and occupations of the cone-topped Amarna individuals, as well as the meanings attached to such headgear, are unknown. Stevens suspects that the head cones found at Amarna were believed to provide spiritual assistance in the afterlife.

Infrared images reveal hidden tattoos on Egyptian mummies. The images of eyes, crosses and more on 7 females may challenge ideas about the practice: here.

Ancient Puerto Ricans barbecued clams


This 6 September 2015 video says about itself:

Puerto Rican recipe: Stew Clams w/ Pasta

Recipe

12 little clams
12 large clams
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups of tomato sauce
1 teaspoon Adobo
1 sazon packed
2 tablespoons sofrito
1 tablespoon garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves.

Topped with fresh cilantro and lemon wedges.

And, a long time before 2015 … from Cardiff University in Wales:

Barbequed clams on the menu for ancient Puerto Ricans

Analysis of fossilized shells reveals cooking habits of Caribbean civilizations over 2500 years ago

November 27, 2019

Scientists have reconstructed the cooking techniques of the early inhabitants of Puerto Rico by analysing the remains of clams.

Led by Philip Staudigel, who conducted the analysis as a graduate student at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Cardiff University, the team has used new chemical analysis techniques to identify the exact cooking temperatures at which clams were cooked over 2500 years ago.

With cooking temperatures getting up to around 200oC according to the new analysis, the team believe the early Puerto Ricans were partial to a barbeque rather than boiling their food as a soup.

The study, which also involved academics from the University of Miami and Valencia College, has been published today in the journal Science Advances.

Whilst the results throw new light on the cultural practices of the first communities to arrive on the island of Puerto Rico, they also provide at least circumstantial evidence that ceramic pottery technology was not widespread during this period of history — it’s likely that this would be the only way in which the clams could have been boiled.

Lead author of the study Dr Philip Staudigel, currently at Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “Much of peoples’ identity draws upon on where they came from, one of the most profound expressions of this is in cooking. We learn to cook from our parents, who learned from their parents.

“In many parts of the world, written records extend back thousands of years, which often includes recipes. This is not the case in the Caribbean, as there were no written texts, except for petroglyphs. By learning more about how ancient Puerto Rican natives cooked their meals, we can relate to these long-gone peoples through their food.”

In their study, the team analysed over 20kg of fossilised clamshells at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Stable Isotope Lab, which were collected from an archaeological site in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico.

The pre-Arawak population of Puerto Rico were the first inhabitants of the island, arriving sometime before 3000 BC, and came from Central and/or South America. They existed primarily from fishing, hunting, and gathering near the mangrove swamps and coastal areas where they had settled.

The fossilised shells, dating back to around 700 BC, were cleaned and turned into a powder, which was then analysed to determine its mineralogy, as well as the abundance of specific chemical bonds in the sample.

When certain minerals are heated, the bonds between atoms in the mineral can rearrange themselves, which can then be measured in the lab. The amount of rearrangement is proportional to the temperature the mineral is heated.

This technique, known as clumped isotope geochemistry, is often used to determine the temperature an organism formed at but in this instance was used to reconstruct the temperature at which the clams were cooked.

The abundance of bonds in the powdered fossils was then compared to clams which were cooked at known temperatures, as well as uncooked modern clams collected from a nearby beach.

Results showed that that the majority of clams were heated to temperatures greater than 100°C — the boiling point of water — but no greater than 200°C. The results also revealed a disparity between the cooking temperature of different clams, which the researchers believe could be associated with a grilling technique in which the clams are heated from below, meaning the ones at the bottom were heated more than the ones at the top.

“The clams from the archaeological site appeared to be most similar to clams which had been barbequed,” continued Dr Staudigel.

“Ancient Puerto Ricans didn’t use cookbooks, at least none that lasted to the present day. The only way we have of knowing how our ancestors cooked is to study what they left behind. Here, we demonstrated that a relatively new technique can be used to learn what temperature they cooked at, which is one important detail of the cooking process.”

Ancient African ostrich eggshell beads, new research


This April 2018 video says about itself:

Oldest Known Jewellery Ever Discovered

1. The Neanderthal Jewelry from Croatia

2. Nassarius Snail Beads

3. Ostrich Shell Beads of Kenya

4. Denisovan Stone Bracelet

5. The Gold Riches of Varna

6. Glasswork of Egypt

7. Mesopotamian jewelry

From the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany:

Ostrich eggshell beads reveal 10,000 years of cultural interaction across Africa

November 27, 2019

Summary: Researchers present an expanded analysis of African ostrich eggshell beads, testing the hypothesis that larger beads signal the arrival of herders. The data reveals a more nuanced interpretation that provides greater insight into the history of economic change and cultural contact.

Ostrich eggshell beads are some of the oldest ornaments made by humankind, and they can be found dating back at least 50,000 years in Africa. Previous research in southern Africa has shown that the beads increase in size about 2,000 years ago, when herding populations first enter the region. In the current study, researchers Jennifer Miller and Elizabeth Sawchuk investigate this idea using increased data and evaluate the hypothesis in a new region where it has never before been tested.

Review of old ideas, analysis of old collections

To conduct their study, the researchers recorded the diameters of 1,200 ostrich eggshell beads unearthed from 30 sites in Africa dating to the last 10,000 years. Many of these bead measurements were taken from decades-old unstudied collections, and so are being reported here for the first time. This new data increases the published bead diameter measurements from less than 100 to over 1,000, and reveals new trends that oppose longstanding beliefs.

The ostrich eggshell beads reflect different responses to the introduction of herding between eastern and southern Africa. In southern Africa, new bead styles appear alongside signs of herding, but do not replace the existing forager bead traditions. On the other hand, beads from the eastern Africa sites showed no change in style with the introduction of herding. Although eastern African bead sizes are consistently larger than those from southern Africa, the larger southern African herder beads fall within the eastern African forager size range, hinting at contact between these regions as herding spread. “These beads are symbols that were made by hunter-gatherers from both regions for more than 40,000 years,” says lead author Jennifer Miller, “so changes — or lack thereof — in these symbols tells us how these communities responded to cultural contact and economic change.”

Ostrich eggshell beads tell the story of ancient interaction

The story told by ostrich eggshell beads is more nuanced than previously believed. Contact with outside groups of herders likely introduced new bead styles along with domesticated animals, but the archaeological record suggests the incoming influence did not overwhelm existing local traditions. The existing customs were not replaced with new ones; rather they continued and incorporated some of the new elements.

In eastern Africa, studied here for the first time, there was no apparent change in bead style with the arrival of herding groups from the north. This may be because local foragers adopted herding while retaining their bead-making traditions, because migrant herders possessed similar traditions prior to contact, and/or because incoming herders adopted local styles. “In the modern world, migration, cultural contact, and economic change often create tension,” says Sawchuk, “ancient peoples experienced these situations too, and the patterns in cultural objects like ostrich eggshell beads give us a chance to study how they navigated these experiences.”

The researchers hope that this work inspires a renewed interest into ostrich eggshell beads, and recommend that future studies present individual bead diameters rather than a single average of many. Future research should also investigate questions related to manufacture, chemical identification, and the effects of taphonomic processes and wear on bead diameter. “This study shows that examining old collections can generate important findings without new excavation,” says Miller, “and we hope that future studies will take advantage of the wealth of artifacts that have been excavated but not yet studied.”

Prehistoric Floridans ate sea turtles, new research


This March 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Florida beaches are some of the highest density nesting sites for loggerhead turtles in the world. As such, they’re a major focus for conservationists looking out for this endangered species.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Ancient bone protein reveals which turtles were on the menu in Florida, Caribbean

November 4, 2019

Thousands of years ago, the inhabitants of modern-day Florida and the Caribbean feasted on sea turtles, leaving behind bones that tell tales of ancient diets and the ocean’s past.

An international team of scientists used cutting-edge technology to analyze proteins from these bones to help identify which turtle species people fished from the ocean millennia ago. This can aid modern conservation efforts by helping construct historical baselines for turtle populations, many of which are now endangered, and illuminate long-term trends of human impacts.

The technique, known as collagen fingerprinting, allows scientists to visualize distinct chemical signatures in collagen, the main structural protein in bone, that are often species-specific. This provides a complementary alternative to comparing specimens’ physical characteristics and analyzing ancient DNA, two methods that can be unsuccessful for species identification in fragmented archaeological bones found in the tropics.

Applying collagen fingerprinting to more than 100 turtle samples from archaeological sites up to 2,500 years old, the researchers found that 63% of the collagen-containing bones belonged to green turtles, Chelonia mydas, with smaller numbers of hawksbill turtles, Eretmochelys imbricata, and ridley turtles, Lepidochelys species. Some specimens previously identified as sea turtles from their skeletal features were in fact bones from snapping turtles, terrapins and tortoises.

“This is the first time anyone has obtained species-level information using proteins preserved in archaeological sea turtle bone,” said Virginia Harvey, the study’s lead author and a doctoral researcher in marine biology and zooarchaeology at the University of Manchester. “Our method has allowed us to unlock ancient data otherwise lost in time to see which species of turtle humans were targeting thousands of years ago in the Caribbean and Florida regions.”

Globally, sea turtles have been exploited for millennia for their meat, eggs, shells and other products. Today, they face threats from habitat loss and disturbance, poaching, pollution, climate change and fisheries. Only seven species of sea turtle remain, six of which are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Gaining a historical perspective on how turtle populations have changed through time is a crucial component of conserving them, Harvey said.

One of the research team’s initial goals was to discern whether any collagen still survived in ancient turtle bone remains. In an analysis of 130 archaeological turtle samples, the team was able to detect collagen in 88%.

“We were very impressed with the levels of protein preservation in the turtle bones, some of which are thought to be up to 2,500 years old,” said study co-author Michelle LeFebvre, assistant curator of South Florida archaeology and ethnography at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “The fact we were then able to use the protein signatures for species identification to better understand these archaeological sites was very exciting.” …

Using collagen fingerprinting to correct misidentifications based on physical characteristics was “a nice additional outcome of the study,” said Michael Buckley, senior author of the study and senior research fellow at the University of Manchester.

Susan deFrance, study co-author and professor in the University of Florida department of anthropology, said juvenile sea turtles are often misidentified because they are small and may lack the characteristics used to distinguish adult sea turtle bones.

“This is the first time we have been able to look so specifically into the preferred food choices of the site occupants,” she said. “At the Florida Gulf Coast site, they captured a lot of juvenile turtles. The positive species-level identifications of these samples could not have been accomplished without this collagen fingerprinting technology.”

At the same site, researchers found green turtle remains in both refuse heaps and mounds, but ridley turtle specimens were only found in mounds, suggesting they may have been reserved for feasting rituals, LeFebvre said.

“We knew these ancient people were eating sea turtles, but now we can begin to hone in on which turtles they were eating at particular times,” she said. “It’s no different than today — we associate certain foods with certain events. It’s how humans roll.”

The researchers are also eager to continue to apply collagen fingerprinting to other archaeological museum specimens, many of which have yet to be positively identified to the species level.

Harvey said she hopes the study inspires further research on sea turtles and other vulnerable and endangered animals.

“Now that this method is available, we hope that biologists, archaeologists and conservationists globally will continue this important work.”

Casper Toftgaard of the University of Copenhagen and Andrew Kitchener of National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh also co-authored the study.

Last Neanderthal eagle necklace discovered


This 1 November 2019 video from Spain says about itself:

The last Neanderthal necklace

Found for the first time in the [Iberian] Peninsula: remains of personal ornaments with eagle talons from the Neanderthal period. These remains are older than 39,000 [years] and were found in the cave Foradada in Calafell, they were probably part of a necklace.

From the University of Barcelona in Catalonia:

Ornament with eagle talons from Neanderthal Period

November 1, 2019

Eagle talons are regarded as the first materials used to make jewellery by Neanderthals, a practice which spread around Southern Europe about 120,000 and 40,000 years ago. Now, for the first time, researchers found evidence of the ornamental uses of eagle talons in the Iberian Peninsula. An article published on the cover of the journal Science Advances talks about the findings, which took place in the site of the cave Foradada in Calafell. The research was led by Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, researcher at the Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA) and member of the research team in a project of the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP) of the UB.

The interest in these findings lies in the fact that it is the most modern piece of the kind so far regarding the Neanderthal period and the first one found in the Iberian Peninsula. This circumstance widens the temporary and geographical limits that were estimated for this kind of Neanderthal ornaments. This would be “the last necklace made by the Neanderthals”, according to Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

“Neanderthals used eagle talons as symbolic elements, probably as necklace pendants, from the beginnings of the mid-Palaeolithic,” notes Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo. In particular, what researchers found in Cova Foradada are bone remains from Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila adalberti), from more than 39,000 years ago, with some marks that show these were used to take the talons so as to make pendants. The found remains correspond to the left leg of a big eagle. By the looks of the marks, and analogy regarding remains from different prehistorical sites and ethnographic documentation, researchers determined that the animal was not manipulated for consumption but for symbolic reasons. Eagle talons are the oldest ornamental elements known in Europe, even older than seashells Homo sapiens sapiens perforated in northern Africa.

The findings belong to the Châtelperronian culture, typical from the last Neanderthals that lived in Europe, and coincided with the moment when this species got in touch with Homo sapiens sapiens, from Africa -and expanding from the Middle East. Actually, Juan Ignacio Morales, researcher in the program Juan de la Cierva affiliated at SERP and signer of the article, presents this use of eagle talons as ornaments could have been a cultural transmission from the Neanderthals to modern humans, who adopted this practice after reaching Europe.

Cova Foradada covers the most meridional Châtelperronian culture site in Europe. The discovery involved a change in the map of the territory where the step from Middle Palaeolithic to Upper Palaeolithic took place 40,000 years ago, and where interaction between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens sapiens probably took place. Studies in Cova Foradada started in 1997. At the moment, the supervision of the excavation is led by Juan Ignacio Morales and Artur Cebrià. The archaeological study of this site is included in a SERP project funded by the Department of Culture of the Catalan Government and another funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, headed by UB professor and SERP director Josep M Fullola.

The first signer of the article in Science Advances is Antonio Rodríguez Hidalgo, from the Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA). Other participants, apart from SERP members, are the researchers from Rovira i Virgili University, the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES), the Natural History Museum of Paris, the University of Salamanca, the University of Calgary (Canada) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Growing up in Israel, Gili Greenbaum would give tours of local caves once inhabited by Neanderthals and wonder along with others why our distant cousins abruptly disappeared about 40,000 years ago. Now a scientist at Stanford, Greenbaum thinks he has an answer. In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, Greenbaum and his colleagues propose that complex disease transmission patterns can explain not only how modern humans were able to wipe out Neanderthals in Europe and Asia in just a few thousand years but also, perhaps more puzzling, why the end didn’t come sooner: here.

Small populations, inbreeding, and random demographic fluctuations could have been enough to cause Neanderthal extinction, according to a study published November 27, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Krist Vaesen from Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands, and colleagues. Paleoanthropologists agree that Neanderthals disappeared around 40,000 years ago — about the same time that anatomically modern humans began migrating into the Near East and Europe. However, the role modern humans played in Neanderthal extinction is disputed. In this study, the authors used population modelling to explore whether Neanderthal populations could have vanished without external factors such as competition from modern humans: here.