Scandinavian prehistoric barley farming, earlier than thought


This 1970 music video from Britain says about itself:

TrafficJohn Barleycorn (must die) + lyrics

The character of John Barleycorn in this old British folk song is a personification of the important cereal crop barley. In the song, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering indignities, attacks and death that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.

From the University of Helsinki in Finland:

A 5,000-year-old barley grain discovered in Finland changes understanding of livelihoods

April 3, 2019

Summary: A 5,000-year-old barley grain discovered in Aland, southern Finland, turns researchers’ understanding of ancient Northern livelihoods upside down. New findings reveal that hunter-gatherers took to farming already 5,000 years ago in eastern Sweden, and on the Aland Islands, located on the southwest coast of Finland.

On the basis of prior research, representatives of the Pitted Ware Culture from the Stone Age have been known as hard-core sealers, or even Inuits of the Baltic Sea. Now, researchers have discovered barley and wheat grains in areas previously inhabited by this culture, leading to the conclusion that the Pitted Ware Culture adopted agriculture on a small scale.

A study carried out in cooperation with parties representing the discipline of archaeology and the Department of Chemistry at the University of Helsinki, as well as Swedish operators in the field of archaeology (The Archaeologists, a governmental consultant agency, and Arkeologikonsult, a business), found grains of barley and wheat in Pitted Ware settlements on Finland’s Aland Islands and in the region of modern Stockholm.

The age of the grains was ascertained using radiocarbon dating. Based on the results, the grains originated in the period of the Pitted Ware culture, thus being approximately 4,300-5,300 years old. In addition to the cereal grains, the plant remnants found in the sites included hazelnut shells, apple seeds, tuberous roots of lesser celandine and rose hips.

The study suggests that small-scale farming was adopted by the Pitted Ware Culture by learning the trade from farmers of the Funnel Beaker Culture, the latter having expanded from continental Europe to Scandinavia.

Other archaeological artefacts are also evidence of close contact between these two cultures.

“The grains found on Aland are proof that the Pitted Ware Culture introduced cultivation to places where it had not yet been practised,” says Santeri Vanhanen, a doctoral student of archaeology at the University of Helsinki.

Cereal perhaps used to brew beer?

The 5,000-year-old barley grain found on Aland is the oldest grain of cereal ever found in Finland. The researchers also found a handful of barley and wheat grains a few hundred years younger, representing either common wheat or club wheat.

“We also dated one barley grain found in Raseborg, southern Finland. This grain and the other earliest grains found in mainland Finland date back some 3,500 years, some 1,500 years behind Aland according to current knowledge,” Vanhanen explains.

In prior studies, it has been extremely difficult to demonstrate that the hunter-gatherer population would have adopted farming during recorded history, let alone in the Stone Age. Research on ancient DNA has in recent years proven that the spread of agriculture in Europe was almost exclusively down to migrants.

“We find it possible that this population, which was primarily specialised in marine hunting, continued to grow plants as the practice provided the community with social significance.”

From time to time, an abundance of pig bones are found at Pitted Ware sites, even though pigs were not an important part of their daily nourishment. For instance, the bones of more than 30 pigs were found in a grave located on the island of Gotland.

“Members of the Pitted Ware culture may have held ritual feasts where pigs and cereal products were consumed. It’s not inconceivable that grains might even have been used to brew beer, but the evidence is yet to be found,” Vanhanen continues.

Grain age determined through radiocarbon dating

The research relies primarily on archaeobotanical methodology, which helps examine plant remains preserved in archaeological sites. In this study, soil samples were collected from the sites, from which plant remains were extracted using a flotation method. The plant remains are charred; in other words, the grains and seeds have turned into carbon after having come to contact with fire.

Plant remains can be identified by examining them through a microscope and comparing them to modern plant parts. The age of individual grains can be determined with radiocarbon dating, based on the fractionation of the radioactive carbon-14 isotope. This way, the age of a grain aged several millennia can be determined with a precision of a few centuries.

Norwegian lemmings, new study


This 2013 video is called 3 Facts About Lemmings

Another video used to say about itself:

Norway Lemmings Norske Lemen

10 October 2013

Lemmings in all their cuteness, with the beautiful Norwegian mountains as a backdrop.

I also bust one of the great lemming myths; the one [propagated by Walt Disney] that claims they commit mass suicide by throwing themselves off cliffs and drowning in the Arctic seas.

From Wildlife Extra:

Norwegian Lemmings stand out in a crowd and scream to deter predators

Conspicuous, boldly coloured fur and loud barks warn would-be predators that little Norwegian Lemmings are not to be messed with, researchers have discovered.

The findings of the team headed by Malte Andersson from the University of Göteborg in Sweden appears in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

The Norwegian Lemming (Lemmus lemmus) is endemic to northern Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Kola peninsula in Russia.

The animals have a red-brown back, yellow flanks, white breast, chin and cheeks and a large black patch on the head, neck and shoulders.

They are unique among small rodents in their ferocity, and will readily fight back the aerial attacks of predators such as the Long-tailed Skua with loud screams, lunges and bites.

Most smaller rodents rarely aggressively protect themselves from predators; a willingness to have a go, therefore, is worth advertising.

Through five field tests, Andersson noted that the Norwegian Lemming’s remarkable traits can be ascribed to aposematism: the use of warning colours and other methods to signal to predators that the potential prey has some form of defence, for example being toxic.

Aposematism is unusual in herbivorous mammals, however, being much more common among insects, snakes and frogs.

In one of the experiments, 18 observers found it easier to spot Norwegian Lemmings in their natural habitat than their main rodent neighbour, the Grey-sided Vole.

In another test, Andersson noted that Brown Lemmings only gave anti-predatory warning calls in one out of 39 instances when a human (seen as a potential predator) was near.

Norwegian Lemmings, on the other hand, did so in 36 of 110 cases.

Black and white or yellow are classic warning colorations, which some birds instinctively know to avoid.

Andersson explains that such calls and coloration are often useful at close range, where a lemming is likely to be discovered even if silent.

They signal to a predator that the rodent will put up a fight if attacked.

“The Norwegian Lemming combines acoustics with visual conspicuousness, probably to reduce its risk of becoming prey,” says Andersson, who believes that such aposematism could help explain why the long-distance movements of Norwegian Lemmings are so conspicuous.

North American polar vortex disturbs Scandinavian bears’ hibernation


This video from Alaska is called Katmai National Park Bears: Brown Bear Hibernation.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Polar vortex over US brings abnormally mild weather to Scandinavia

Weather system disrupts flora and fauna in Nordic countries, with bears reportedly emerging from hibernation

Jessica Aldred

Friday 10 January 2014 17.11 GMT

The freezing polar vortex that has gripped the US has extended an abnormally mild winter in Scandinavia and disrupted the seasonal patterns of flora and fauna.

The weather system that brought snow, ice and record low temperatures to many parts of the United States this week left Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavia much warmer than normal.

On the back of a generally mild winter, there have been reports of bears emerging early from hibernation in Finland, changes in the behaviour of migratory birds off the coast of Sweden and plants appearing earlier than normal in Norway.

Scandinavia and Russia’s cold weather during the winter comes from a high-pressure system that keeps warmer, more humid air and low-pressure systems with wind and rain from coming up from the Atlantic Ocean.

The weakening of the jetstream that holds this in place has allowed cold air to spill further south into much of the United States and Canada, while bringing above-average temperatures to parts of Europe.

The knock-on effects of the vortex follow one of the mildest Decembers in a century in Nordic countries. Ketil Isaksen, a scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, said the country had been 4.2C above the mean temperature for December with parts of Oslo and south-eastern Norway experiencing the third warmest December on record. “It was very unusual to see no snow in large areas where it is normal in December. Only in the mountains and certain parts of Norway could you find snow.”

Much of the precipitation in lowland and populated areas had fallen as rain instead of snow, he said. “In general it was a very wet December. Large parts of Norway had up to three times as much rain as normal and the country as a whole had 180% more than average.”

Finland too has seen heavy rain, with flooding in western coastal areas and the majority of Finland’s lakes containing record volumes of water. Temperatures exceeded their normal seasonal average by 4-5C nationwide, with Helsinki and southern Finland recording the mildest second half of December in 30 years.

Temperatures in parts of Sweden have fluctuated greatly, at Nikkaluokta falling from 4.7C on 3 December to -40.8C on 9 December, then rising two days later to 7.7C. Many locations measured their warmest December temperatures on record. “In the north, winter has arrived, but in the south it’s autumn according to the meteorological definition,” the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said.

The rainy weather in Finland has reportedly disrupted the winter slumbers of many bears, bringing them out of hibernation early. Heavy rains and high waters may have invaded some dens, forcing the animals to seek new shelter.

Prof Jon Swenson of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, leader of the Scandinavian bear project, said he was worried about the indirect effects of the warmer weather. “If you go down into southern Europe, it’s warmer, and there are some bears that don’t hibernate.

“It doesn’t seem to be harmful not to hibernate,” he said. “What we are afraid of is that it means there will be more thawing periods … this really stresses the berry-producing plants. This can cause some mortality, and can have a very adverse effect on berry production. And that’s what the bears survive on in the autumn, and what they use to get them through the winter. So the results of this mild weather won’t be seen for some time.”

Last week, the local Norwegian newspaper Sunnmørsposten published reader photographs of daffodils emerging as early as 14 December as well as crocuses, daisies, dandelions and honeysuckle.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Norway chief executive, Nina Jensen, said she was “cautious about drawing conclusions from one mild winter into specific changes in nature”, but there were signals that changes were happening.

“We are definitely seeing plants like bluebells flowering that wouldn’t come out until spring, and birds singing that wouldn’t normally be at this time of year. There are quite obvious changes in the growth season, plant growth and migratory bird routes and timing. The flip side of this warmer winter is that we will also have an increasing threat of harmful introduced organisms, such as the wild boar or ticks that thrive in warmer temperatures.”

Pål Hermansen, a wildlife photographer based in Oslo, said: “It’s the smaller things where you see it most, especially butterflies and other insects. The combination of ‘proper winters’ with lots of snow, alternating with winters like this one, makes everything very unstable. In the 30 years I’ve been working we’ve seen butterfly populations reduce by 80-90%. We’re now seeing mosquitos and ticks during the winter, which is unheard of. Ticks are spreading much further north than they ever were before.”

Stephen Menzie, an ornithologist working at Falsterbo Bird Observatory – a migration point in south-west Sweden – said it was “certainly true” that milder weather this year had played a part in delaying the southbound migration of many species.

“We had one day in November when we ringed over 800 birds, compared to the same period last year when we struggled to catch double figures on most days.”

Additional reporting by Ben McPherson in Oslo