STONE AGE DIET
Ann Gibbons wrote in National Geographic: “A Stone Age diet “is the one and only diet that ideally fits our genetic makeup,” writes Loren Cordain, an evolutionary nutritionist at Colorado State University, in his book The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat. After studying the diets of living hunter-gatherers and concluding that 73 percent of these societies derived more than half their calories from meat, Cordain came up with his own Paleo prescription: Eat plenty of lean meat and fish but not dairy products, beans, or cereal grains—foods introduced into our diet after the invention of cooking and agriculture. Paleo-diet advocates like Cordain say that if we stick to the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors once ate, we can avoid the diseases of civilization, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, even acne. [Source: Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, September 2014 /*/]
“That sounds appealing. But is it true that we all evolved to eat a meat-centric diet? Both paleontologists studying the fossils of our ancestors and anthropologists documenting the diets of indigenous people today say the picture is a bit more complicated. The popular embrace of a Paleo diet, Ungar and others point out, is based on a stew of misconceptions. /*/
“The real Paleolithic diet, though, wasn’t all meat and marrow. It’s true that hunter-gatherers around the world crave meat more than any other food and usually get around 30 percent of their annual calories from animals. But most also endure lean times when they eat less than a handful of meat each week. New studies suggest that more than a reliance on meat in ancient human diets fueled the brain’s expansion.” /*/
Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Prehistoric Art witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHprehistoric ; Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Iceman Photscan iceman.eurac.edu/ ; Otzi Official Site iceman.it Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica britannica.com/; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication geochembio.com; Food Timeline, History of Food foodtimeline.org ; Food and History teacheroz.com/food ;
Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory
Studying Ancient Diets
Ann Gibbons wrote in National Geographic: “Until agriculture was developed around 10,000 years ago, all humans got their food by hunting, gathering, and fishing. As farming emerged, nomadic hunter-gatherers gradually were pushed off prime farmland, and eventually they became limited to the forests of the Amazon, the arid grasslands of Africa, the remote islands of Southeast Asia, and the tundra of the Arctic. Today only a few scattered tribes of hunter-gatherers remain on the planet. [Source: Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, September 2014 /*/]
“That’s why scientists are intensifying efforts to learn what they can about an ancient diet and way of life before they disappear. “Hunter-gatherers are not living fossils,” says Alyssa Crittenden, a nutritional anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who studies the diet of Tanzania’s Hadza people, some of the last true hunter-gatherers. “That being said, we have a small handful of foraging populations that remain on the planet. We are running out of time. If we want to glean any information on what a nomadic, foraging lifestyle looks like, we need to capture their diet now.” /*/
“So far studies of foragers like the Tsimane, Arctic Inuit, and Hadza have found that these peoples traditionally didn’t develop high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or cardiovascular disease. “A lot of people believe there is a discordance between what we eat today and what our ancestors evolved to eat,” says paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas. The notion that we’re trapped in Stone Age bodies in a fast-food world is driving the current craze for Paleolithic diets. The popularity of these so-called caveman or Stone Age diets is based on the idea that modern humans evolved to eat the way hunter-gatherers did during the Paleolithic—the period from about 2.6 million years ago to the start of the agricultural revolution—and that our genes haven’t had enough time to adapt to farmed foods.
Cooked Food Versus Raw Food
Ann Gibbons wrote in National Geographic: “The latest clue as to why our modern diet may be making us sick comes from Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham, who argues that the biggest revolution in the human diet came not when we started to eat meat but when we learned to cook. Our human ancestors who began cooking sometime between 1.8 million and 400,000 years ago probably had more children who thrived, Wrangham says. Pounding and heating food “predigests” it, so our guts spend less energy breaking it down, absorb more than if the food were raw, and thus extract more fuel for our brains. “Cooking produces soft, energy-rich foods,” says Wrangham. Today we can’t survive on raw, unprocessed food alone, he says. We have evolved to depend upon cooked food. [Source: Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, September 2014 /*/]
“To test his ideas, Wrangham and his students fed raw and cooked food to rats and mice. When I visited Wrangham’s lab at Harvard, his then graduate student, Rachel Carmody, opened the door of a small refrigerator to show me plastic bags filled with meat and sweet potatoes, some raw and some cooked. Mice raised on cooked foods gained 15 to 40 percent more weight than mice raised only on raw food. /*/
“If Wrangham is right, cooking not only gave early humans the energy they needed to build bigger brains but also helped them get more calories from food so that they could gain weight. In the modern context the flip side of his hypothesis is that we may be victims of our own success. We have gotten so good at processing foods that for the first time in human evolution, many humans are getting more calories than they burn in a day.”
Prior to 10000 B.C. all of humankind lived by harvesting what nature offered, be it animal or vegetable. By the end of the last great Ice Age [ca 8500 B.C.], most of the large game animals had been hunted to extinction. The great age of the hunter neared its end. Hunting never disappeared, but its role in providing food for mankind was increasingly constricted. Fishing remained an important means of procuring animal food, but even this activity suffered from the increasing desiccation of large portions of the Earth. The problem of growing deserts was especially acute in North Africa and Southwest Asia. [Source: Internet Archive, from UNT]
The Hadza of Tanzania are the world’s last full-time hunter-gatherers. They live on what they find: game, honey, and plants, including tubers, berries, and baobab fruit. Ann Gibbons wrote in National Geographic: ““Year-round observations confirm that hunter-gatherers often have dismal success as hunters. The Hadza and Kung bushmen of Africa, for example, fail to get meat more than half the time when they venture forth with bows and arrows. This suggests it was even harder for our ancestors who didn’t have these weapons. “Everybody thinks you wander out into the savanna and there are antelopes everywhere, just waiting for you to bonk them on the head,” says paleoanthropologist Alison Brooks of George Washington University, an expert on the Dobe Kung of Botswana. No one eats meat all that often, except in the Arctic, where Inuit and other groups traditionally got as much as 99 percent of their calories from seals, narwhals, and fish. [Source: Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, September 2014 /*/]
“So how do hunter-gatherers get energy when there’s no meat? It turns out that “man the hunter” is backed up by “woman the forager,” who, with some help from children, provides more calories during difficult times. When meat, fruit, or honey is scarce, foragers depend on “fallback foods,” says Brooks. The Hadza get almost 70 percent of their calories from plants. The Kung traditionally rely on tubers and mongongo nuts, the Aka and Baka Pygmies of the Congo River Basin on yams, the Tsimane and Yanomami Indians of the Amazon on plantains and manioc, the Australian Aboriginals on nut grass and water chestnuts. /*/
““There’s been a consistent story about hunting defining us and that meat made us human,” says Amanda Henry, a paleobiologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. “Frankly, I think that misses half of the story. They want meat, sure. But what they actually live on is plant foods.” What’s more, she found starch granules from plants on fossil teeth and stone tools, which suggests humans may have been eating grains, as well as tubers, for at least 100,000 years—long enough to have evolved the ability to tolerate them. The notion that we stopped evolving in the Paleolithic period simply isn’t true. Our teeth, jaws, and faces have gotten smaller, and our DNA has changed since the invention of agriculture. “Are humans still evolving? Yes!” says geneticist Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania.” /*/
Rain Forest Diet
Ann Gibbons wrote in National Geographic: “It’s suppertime in the Amazon of lowland Bolivia, and Ana Cuata Maito is stirring a porridge of plantains and sweet manioc over a fire smoldering on the dirt floor of her thatched hut, listening for the voice of her husband as he returns from the forest with his scrawny hunting dog.“With an infant girl nursing at her breast and a seven-year-old boy tugging at her sleeve, she looks spent when she tells me that she hopes her husband, Deonicio Nate, will bring home meat tonight. “The children are sad when there is no meat,” Maito says through an interpreter, as she swats away mosquitoes. [Source: Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, September 2014 /*/]
“Nate left before dawn on this day in January with his rifle and machete to get an early start on the two-hour trek to the old-growth forest. There he silently scanned the canopy for brown capuchin monkeys and raccoonlike coatis, while his dog sniffed the ground for the scent of piglike peccaries or reddish brown capybaras. If he was lucky, Nate would spot one of the biggest packets of meat in the forest—tapirs, with long, prehensile snouts that rummage for buds and shoots among the damp ferns. /*/
“This evening, however, Nate emerges from the forest with no meat. At 39, he’s an energetic guy who doesn’t seem easily defeated—when he isn’t hunting or fishing or weaving palm fronds into roof panels, he’s in the woods carving a new canoe from a log. But when he finally sits down to eat his porridge from a metal bowl, he complains that it’s hard to get enough meat for his family: two wives (not uncommon in the tribe) and 12 children. Loggers are scaring away the animals. He can’t fish on the river because a storm washed away his canoe. /*/
“The story is similar for each of the families I visit in Anachere, a community of about 90 members of the ancient Tsimane Indian tribe. It’s the rainy season, when it’s hardest to hunt or fish. More than 15,000 Tsimane live in about a hundred villages along two rivers in the Amazon Basin near the main market town of San Borja, 225 miles from La Paz. But Anachere is a two-day trip from San Borja by motorized dugout canoe, so the Tsimane living there still get most of their food from the forest, the river, or their gardens. /*/
“A villager named José Mayer Cunay, 78, who, with his son Felipe Mayer Lero, 39, has planted a lush garden by the river over the past 30 years. José leads us down a trail past trees laden with golden papayas and mangoes, clusters of green plantains, and orbs of grapefruit that dangle from branches like earrings. Vibrant red “lobster claw” heliconia flowers and wild ginger grow like weeds among stalks of corn and sugarcane. “José’s family has more fruit than anyone,” says Rosinger. Yet in the family’s open-air shelter Felipe’s wife, Catalina, is preparing the same bland porridge as other households. When I ask if the food in the garden can tide them over when there’s little meat, Felipe shakes his head. “It’s not enough to live on,” he says. “I need to hunt and fish. My body doesn’t want to eat just these plants.” /*/
“On my last afternoon visiting the Tsimane in Anachere, one of Deonicio Nate’s daughters, Albania, 13, tells us that her father and half-brother Alberto, 16, are back from hunting and that they’ve got something. We follow her to the cooking hut and smell the animals before we see them—three raccoonlike coatis have been laid across the fire, fur and all. As the fire singes the coatis’ striped pelts, Albania and her sister, Emiliana, 12, scrape off fur until the animals’ flesh is bare. Then they take the carcasses to a stream to clean and prepare them for roasting.
“Nate’s wives are cleaning two armadillos as well, preparing to cook them in a stew with shredded plantains. Nate sits by the fire, describing a good day’s hunt. First he shot the armadillos as they napped by a stream. Then his dog spotted a pack of coatis and chased them, killing two as the rest darted up a tree. Alberto fired his shotgun but missed. He fired again and hit a coati. Three coatis and two armadillos were enough, so father and son packed up and headed home. As family members enjoy the feast, I watch their little boy, Alfonso, who had been sick all week. He is dancing around the fire, happily chewing on a cooked piece of coati tail” /*/
Hunter-Gatherers Use Same Amount of Energy as Modern Life-Style Westerners?
Popular Archaeology reported: “Results from a new study published in the July 25, 2012 issue of PLoS ONE reveal that there is no difference between the energy expenditure of modern hunter-gatherers and Westerners, challenging the widely accepted theory that today’s sedentary lifestyle in Western countries is the reason for rising obesity levels. The findings are also significant for understanding our relationship to our ancient hunter-gatherer past, as the study subjects are members of a modern-day hunter-gatherer population that is believed to closely reflect the way our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors once lived. [Source: populararchaeology, July 25,2012 The study: Pontzer H, Raichlen DA, Wood BM, Mabulla AZP, Racette SB, et al. (2012) Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Human Obesity. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40503. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040503 \=/]
“Led by Herman Pontzer of Hunter College in New York City, along with David Raichlen of the University of Arizona and Brian M. Wood of Stanford University, the research team measured the daily energy expenditure (calories) of members of the Hadza, a population of hunter-gatherers who live in the open savannah of northern Tanzania. The Hadza, because of their life-style, are thought by scientists to closely approximate the way ancient hunter-gatherers in Africa may have lived tens of thousands of years ago in what many consider to be a possible ancestral homeland for modern humans. They found that, despite a way of life that involved trekking long distances to forage for wild plants and game, the Hadza actually did not burn more calories each day than modern-day adults in the U.S. and Europe. In their analysis, they tested for effects of body weight, body fat percentage, age, and gender. The study was significant in that it was the first to directly measure energy expenditure in hunter-gatherers; before, scientists had relied primarily upon estimates. \=/
“It is surprising because modern sedentary lifestyles characteristic of those living in Western countries are thought to be quite different from those of hunter-gatherers, and by extension our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors. This fact is raised by many as the cause of the current rise in global obesity. Moreover, it challenges long-held assumptions that our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors, always “on the go”, must have expended more energy than modern populations. It also suggests that metaboloc rates are actually comparatively constant among diverse human populations. “These results highlight the complexity of energy expenditure,” says Pontzer . “It’s not simply a function of physical activity. Our metabolic rates may be more a reflection of our shared evolutionary past than our diverse modern lifestyles.” \=/
British Diet 6000 Years Ago
Studies of old rubbish dumps and dirty dishes have revealed that, 6,000 years ago, ancient Britons gave up their passion for fish to begin a love affair with milk. According to the University of Bristol: “The change by our ancestors from hunter-gathers to farmers is one of the most intensively researched aspects of archaeology. Now a large-scale investigation of British archaeological sites dating from around 4,600 B.C. to A.D. 1,400 has examined millions of fragments of bone and analysed over 1,000 cooking pots. [Source: University of Bristol, February 12, 2014 ||||]
“The team, led by Professor Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol's School of Chemistry, developed new techniques in an effort to identify fish oils in the pots. Remarkably, they showed that more than 99 per cent of the earliest farmer's cooking pots lacked sea food residues. Other clues to ancient diets lie within human bones themselves, explored by the Cardiff group led by Dr Jacqui Mulville. The sea passes on a unique chemical signature to the skeletons of those eating seafood; while the early fisher folk possessed this signature it was lacking in the later farmers. ||||
“Lead author of the study, Dr Lucy Cramp said: "The absence of lipid residues of marine foods in hundreds of cooking pots is really significant. It certainly stacks up with the skeletal isotope evidence to provide a clear picture that seafood was of little importance in the diets of the Neolithic farmers of the region." Returning to the pots, the Bristol team used a compound-specific carbon isotope technique they have developed to identify the actual fats preserved in the cooking pots, showing that dairy products dominated the menu right across Britain and Ireland as soon as cattle and sheep arrived. ||||
“The ability to milk animals was a revolution in food production as, for the first time humans did not have to kill animals to obtain food. As every farmer knows, milking stock requires a high level of skill and knowledge. In view of this, team member, Alison Sheridan from the National Museum of Scotland concludes that: "The use of cattle for dairy products from the earliest Neolithic confirms the view that farming was introduced by experienced immigrants. Viewed together the findings show that Early British hunters feasted on venison and wild boar and ate large quantities of sea food, including seals and shellfish. With the introduction of domestic animals some 6,000 years ago they quickly gave up wild foods and fishing was largely abandoned, and people adopted a new diet based around dairying. ||||
Dr Cramp continued: "Amazingly, it was another 4,000 years before sea food remains appeared in pots again, during the Iron Age, and it was only with the arrival of the Vikings that fish became a significant part of our diet." Dr Mulville said: "Whilst we like to think of ourselves as a nation of fish eaters, with fish and chips as our national dish, it seems that early British farmers preferred beef, mutton and milk." Why people changed so abruptly from a seafood to farming diet remains a mystery. Professor Evershed said: "Since such a clear transition is not seen in the Baltic region, perhaps the hazardous North Atlantic waters were simply too difficult to fish effectively until new technologies arrived, making dairying the only sustainable option."
Earliest Use of Spices: 23,000 Years Ago?
Spices have been used for a long time by humans but it is hard to pin down exactly when their use began. The word “cumin” can be traced back to Sumerian. Archeological evidence in the Americas indicates that chili peppers have been cultivated and consumed for around 5,000 years. In a cave in Israel, researchers found coriander seeds that were dated to 23,000 years old. Ginger is described in very old ancient medicinal texts. Garlic was popular with the ancient Egyptians
Dr Hayley Saul of the University of York, UK, told the BBC: “There’s a cave in Israel where coriander has been found, and that’s dated to around 23,000 years ago. But it’s very difficult to build up a picture of exactly how it’s used. It’s linking it to cooking that’s quite important,” [Source: Suzi Gage, BBC News, August 21, 2013 |::|
On the use of spices 6000 years ago in Europe, described below, the BBC reported: “It seems that while prehistoric cuisine was flavoursome, it was far from varied. The researchers found no evidence for other spices, with the phytoliths being quite consistent across the sites they investigated. “I think it was just really creative, and we often don’t give hunter-gatherer cultures in the past credit for exactly how inventive and creative they were with things. “It’s often seen as being a period of culinary hardship where people were really struggling, but actually, its people really knew their environments, and knew how to make the best with what they’ve got. I think they were very clever, really,” said Dr Saul.” |::|
Europeans Spiced Their Food 6000 Years Ago
Europeans began using spices on their food at least 6,000 years ago. Suzi Gage reported for the BBC: “Researchers found evidence for garlic mustard in the residues left on ancient pottery shards discovered in what is now Denmark and Germany. The spice was found alongside fat residues from meat and fish. Writing in the journal Plos One, the scientists make the case that garlic mustard contains little nutritional value and therefore must have been used to flavour the foods. “This is the earliest evidence, as far as I know, of spice use in this region in the Western Baltic; something that has basically no nutritional value, but has this value in a taste sense,” said Dr Hayley Saul, who led the study from the University of York, UK. [Source: Suzi Gage, BBC News, August 21, 2013 |::|
“The researchers looked at charred deposits found on the inside of pottery shards that had been dated to between 5,800 and 6,150 years ago. These deposits contained microscopic traces of plant-based silica, known as phytoliths, which can be used to identify the plants from which they came. It was these phytoliths that provided the evidence of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in the carbonised scrapings. The team found more phytoliths from residues taken from the inside of pots than from the outside, which they say shows that these were the direct result of culinary practice. |::|
“The implications from these findings challenge the previously held belief that hunter-gatherers were simply concerned with searching for calorific food. Dr Saul believes these latest results point to something much more like cuisine. “That’s quite a new idea for hunter-gatherer archaeology in Europe,” she told BBC News. The York scientist said it was likely that prehistoric chefs would have crushed the seeds: “Actually to get the flavour out you have to crush it really. I suspect that if they hadn’t been crushing the seeds, we would probably find more intact seeds in residues.” |::|
Early Uses of Salt
Throughout history, the availability of salt has been or grat importance. What is regarded as oldest town in Europe, Solnitsata in Bulgaria, was a salt production center. It dates back to 5400 BC. The name Solnitsata means "salt works". See Below [Source: Wikipedia +]
Salt was the best-known and most widely-used food preservative, especially for meat, until canning and artificial refrigeration were invented a hundred or so years ago. A very ancient salt-works operation has been discovered at the Poiana Slatinei archaeological site next to a salt spring in Lunca, Neam County, Romania. Evidence indicates that Neolithic people of the Precucuteni Culture boiled the salt-laden spring water through the process of briquetage to extract the salt as far back as 6050 B.C.. The salt extracted from this operation may have had a direct correlation to the rapid growth of this society's population soon after its initial production began. The harvest of salt from the surface of Xiechi Lake near Yuncheng in Shanxi, China, dates back to at least 6000 BC, making it one of the oldest verifiable saltworks. +
There is a fair amount of salt in animal meat, blood, and mil and thus nomads and herders who subsist on their flocks and herds do not need additional salt. Plants do not have much salt and thus agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers that feed primarily on cereals, fruits, vegetable and plant matter need to supplement their diet with salt. With the spread of civilization, salt became one of the world's main trading commodities. Highly valued by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Hittites, it was used to ceremonially seal agreements and as a purifying agent in sacrifices. +
Salt may have been used for barter in connection with the obsidian trade in Anatolia in the Neolithic Era. Salt was included among funeral offerings found in ancient Egyptian tombs from the third millennium BC, as were salted birds, and salt fish. From about 2800 BC, the Egyptians began exporting salted fish to the Phoenicians in return for Lebanon cedar, glass, and the dye Tyrian purple; the Phoenicians traded Egyptian salted fish and salt from North Africa throughout their Mediterranean trade empire +
Europe’s ‘Oldest Town’: A 6,700-Year-Old Salt Production Center in Bulgaria
In 2012, a Bulgarian professor said he had Europe’s ‘oldest town’ near Varna in Bulgaria. The Sofia Globe reported: “Europe’s oldest urban settlement is near Provadia, a town of about 13,000 people about 40 kilometers inland from Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna, according to archaeology Professor Vassil Nikolov, citing evidence from work done at the Provadia – Solnitsata archaeological site in summer 2012. [Source: Sofia Globe, October 8 2012, from Sofia, Bulgaria]
“The team of archaeologists headed by Nikolov excavated stone walls estimated to date from 4700 to 4200 B.C.” about 1,500 years before the start of ancient Greek civilisation. “The walls are two metres thick and three metres high, and according to Nikolov are the earliest and most massive fortifications from Europe’s pre-history. There were about 300 to 350 people living at the site in those times, living in two-storey houses and earning their living by salt mining. To this day, Provadia is an important salt centre, with a large-scale foreign investor represented in the area. Estimates are that salt has been extracted in the area for about 7500. Nikolov said that salt was the currency of ancient times, both in terms of value and prestige. As the only place in the Balkans used to produce salt at the time, Provadia –Solnitsatsa of the fifth century B.C. was the “mint” of the region, Nikolov said.
“He said that finds of gravesites at a necropolis showed that people in the town were wealthy. Ritual burial practices also were strange and complex, he said. Copper needles and pottery found in graves at the site showed that people had been wealthy, but in some cases the corpses had been cut in half and buried from the pelvis up.”
The BBC reportedly: The walled fortified settlement, near the modern town of Provadia, is thought to have been an important centre for salt production. Its discovery in north-east Bulgaria may explain the huge gold hoard found nearby 40 years ago. Archaeologists believe that the town was home to some 350 people and dates back to between 4700 and 4200 BC. That is [Source: October 31, 2012 |::|]
“The residents boiled water from a local spring and used it to create salt bricks, which were traded and used to preserve meat. Salt was a hugely valuable commodity at the time, which experts say could help to explain the huge defensive stone walls which ringed the town. Excavations at the site, beginning in 2005, have also uncovered the remains of two-storey houses, a series of pits used for rituals, as well as parts of a gate and bastion structures. "We are not talking about a town like the Greek city-states, ancient Rome or medieval settlements, but about what archaeologists agree constituted a town in the fifth millennium BC," Vasil Nikolov, a researcher with Bulgaria's National Institute of Archaeology, told the AFP news agency. |::|
Archaeologist Krum Bachvarov from the institute said the latest find was "extremely interesting". "The huge walls around the settlement, which were built very tall and with stone blocks... are also something unseen in excavations of prehistoric sites in south-east Europe so far," he told AFP. Similar salt mines near Tuzla in Bosnia and Turda in Romania help prove the existence of a series of civilisations which also mined copper and gold in the Carpathian and Balkan mountains during the same period.” |::|
Svetla Dimitrova wrote in se times.com: “The site is more than 100 metres in diameter.The settlement is one part of a much larger complex from the same period, which includes a salt production unit, a sanctuary and a necropolis. Archeologists said they believe Provadia’s ancient residents made a living by producing salt. They suspect production began in 5500 BC and by 4500 BC produced 5,000 kg annually. The salt trade helped the ancients obtain raw materials, some of which were used to craft luxury goods like jewelry, and also gain enormous economic power, Nikolov added. The Provadia finds may provide significant clues about the origin of the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis riches, dating back to around 4300 B.C. [Source: Svetla Dimitrova, se times.com. January 18, 2013]
Beehive Products Exploited at Least 8,500 Years Ago
Humans have been exploiting bees at least 8,500 year ago according to the paper ‘Widespread Exploitation of the Honeybee by Early Neolithic Farmers’ in Nature in 2015. Dr Mélanie Roffet-Salque, of the University of Bristol, was the lead author of the paper. According to the University of Bristol: “Previous evidence from prehistoric rock art is inferred to show honey hunters and Pharaonic Egyptian murals show early scenes of beekeeping. However, the close association between early farmers and the honeybee remained uncertain. This study has gathered together evidence for the presence of beeswax in the pottery vessels of the first farmers of Europe by investigating chemical components trapped in the clay fabric of more than 6,000 potsherds from over 150 Old World archaeological sites. [Source: University of Bristol, November 12, 2015 |=|]
“The distinctive chemical ‘fingerprint’ of beeswax was detected at multiple Neolithic sites across Europe indicating just how widespread the association between humans and honeybees was in prehistoric times. For example, beeswax was detected in cooking pots from an archaeological site in Turkey, dating to the seventh millennium BC – the oldest evidence yet for the use of bee products by Neolithic farmers. |=|
“The paper bring together over 20 years of research carried out at Bristol’s Organic Geochemistry Unit (School of Chemistry) led by Professor Richard Evershed. Co-authors of the paper include archaeologists involved in the large scale investigation of sites across Europe, the Near East and Northern Africa. Dr Roffet-Salque said: “The most obvious reason for exploiting the honeybee would be for honey, as this would have been a rare sweetener for prehistoric people. However, beeswax could have been used in its own right for various technological, ritual, cosmetic and medicinal purposes, for example, to waterproof porous ceramic vessels.” |=|
The lack of evidence for beeswax use at Neolithic sites above the 57th parallel North as in Scotland and Fennoscandia points to an ecological limit to the natural occurrence of honeybees at that time. Professor Evershed said: “The lack of a fossil record of the honeybee means it’s ecologically invisible for most of the past 10,000 years. Although evidence from ancient Egyptian murals and prehistoric rock art suggests mankind’s association with the honeybee dates back over thousands of years, when and where this association emerged has been unknown – until now. Our study is the first to provide unequivocal evidence, based solely on a chemical ‘fingerprint’, for the palaeoecological distribution of an economically and culturally important animal. It shows widespread exploitation of the honeybee by early farmers and pushes back the chronology of human-honeybee association to substantially earlier dates.”
Corpses and 4,000-Year-Old Preserved Fruit Shows Honey’s Preservative Power
Tara MacIsaac wrote in Epoch Times: “An Early Bronze Age burial mound in Georgia, known as a kurgan, held in its depths astonishingly well preserved wild fruits. Sitting underground for thousands of years, left as nourishment for the hungry souls of the dead, these fruits even exuded the aroma of fresh fruit when researchers sliced into them.They were preserved in honey. Honey was also found on the bones in the burial chamber, suggesting it may have been used for embalming the corpses. [Source: Tara MacIsaac, Epoch Times, August 12, 2014]
“Honey has a low concentration of water and a high concentration of sugar. Much like salt, it can push the water out of bacteria cells, drying them up before they can get to the food (or corpses) the honey is protecting. Honey is essentially a combination of sugars and hydrogen peroxide. Just as hydrogen peroxide is used to clean bacteria from wounds, it can also kill bacteria that cause food to spoil.
Ancient Assyrians, who lived in a region east of Egypt, also preserved corpses in honey. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian city of Susa in the 4th century B.C., he found large quantities of 200-year-old purple dye well-preserved under a layer of honey.
Skipping ahead to 2011, researchers isolated a bacterial strain in some types of honey that has very unusual properties. One of it’s surprising characteristics is its ability to produce a compound, thurincin H, that forms into a helical structure. This structure may allow it to infiltrate the membranes of other bacteria to destroy it. “Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the compound mimics the structure of the molecules that form bacterial membranes … but it may disrupt those membranes by forming a rigid pore,” explained a Cornell University article.
Nut Eating by Our Human Ancestors
Some of our earliest human ancestors are believed to have been avid nut eaters, prefering nuts to fruit. Gabriele Macho, a professor of paleoanthropology at the University of Bradford, and colleague Daisuke Shimizu analyzed the teeth of Australopithecus anamensis, a hominid that lived in Africa 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago of whom "Lucy" is the most famous. Based on actual tooth finds and sophisticated computer models showing multiple external and internal details of the teeth, they determined that tooth structure on wear and tear on teeth was more consistent with eating nuts than fruits.
Evidence from an archeological dig in Israel shows that nuts formed a major part of man's diet 780,000 years ago. Seven varieties of nuts — wild almond, prickly water lily, water chestnut and two kinds of both acorns and pistachios — along with stone tools to crack them open was found buried deep in a bog. The pistachios and water chestnut are similar to those eaten today. Over 50 pitted stones and a depression were found at the Israel site. The depression and the stones appear to have used to crack open large quantities of hard nuts. These stone tools, called "nutting stones"
Hebrew University reported: “The remains of seven types of 780,000-year-old nuts have been found at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in Israel's Hula Valley. The nuts and the stone tools found with them are the first evidence that various types of nuts formed a major parts of man's diet 780,000 years ago and that hominins (prehistoric men) had developed an assortment of tools to crack open nuts during the Early-Middle Pleistocene Period, according to researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University, who explained that the nuts were anaerobically preserved because the site has been waterlogged since its destruction. [Source: Hebrew University, February 17, 2002 =]
“Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar and PhD candidate Gonen Sharon, of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, and Prof. Mordechai Kislev and PhD candidate Yoel Melamed of the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Life Sciences, outline the conclusions that can be drawn from these findings about life in the Hula Valley three-quarters of a million years ago in an article that will be printed in the prestigious journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA) on February 19,” 2002.
“Seven species of edible fruits covered with a hard shell were found at the site: wild almond; prickly water lily; acorns from the Q. calliprinos evergreen and the Mt. Tabor oak; Atlantic pistachio; pistachio; and water chestnut. Most of them only can be cracked open by a hard hammer. They all have a high nutritional value and no doubt played a key role in the diet of the hominins at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov. (The pistachios and water chestnuts found at the site are similar to those available today in the Far East and northern Europe.) "Ethnographic studies of the contemporary hunter-gatherer population show that nuts were part of the human diet in all parts of the world. There is extensive documentation of the use of hammers and anvils to crack open nuts. The tools of contemporary hunter-gather tribes exhibit great similarity to the artifacts found at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov," Prof. Goren-Inbar said. "Some 50 pitted stones with at least one pit were found at the site. The pits appear to have been formed when the stones were used to crack open large quantities of hard nuts. Some of the stones are the size of hammers, while larger stones, some weighing as much as 30 kg, could be used as anvils." =
“Research on chimpanzees in Western Africa found many cases in which chimpanzees consumed a variety of nuts after using tools to crack them open. The chimpanzees would match the stone to the type of nut, using wooden tools to crack nuts with softer shells and stone tools to crack those with harder shells. The tools the chimpanzees used have pits in them that resemble those in the stones found at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov. "The wide range of activities (hunting, gathering, tool-making, etc) performed at the site show that Gesher Benot Ya'aqov was inhabited for an extended period and that its residents were very familiar with their surroundings and used a variety of strategies to survive and live in the Hula Valley in prehistoric times. Research on chimpanzees and on contemporary hunter-gather tribes show that nut-gathering was performed mainly by women and children. It can be concluded that the people living on the Lake Hula shore 780,000 years ago already had developed a complex society composed of members of various ages and both genders," Prof. Goren-Inbar concluded. “=
The Natufians (12,500 -9500 B.C.) — hunter- gathers who are believed to have played a role in the development of agriculture — may have collected almonds, acorns and pistachios. Pistachios are a member of the cashew family, originating from trees native to Central Asia and the Middle East. Archaeology shows that pistachio seeds were a common food as early as 6750 B.C. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were said to have contained pistachio trees during the reign of King Merodach-Baladan about 700 B.C.. The modern pistachio P. vera was first cultivated in Bronze Age Central Asia, where the earliest example is from Djarkutan, modern Uzbekistan. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Almonds come from a species of tree native to Mediterranean climate regions of the Middle East, from Syria and Turkey to India and Pakistan. It was spread by humans in ancient times along the shores of the Mediterranean into northern Africa and southern Europe. The wild form of domesticated almond grows in parts of the Levant and is believed to be native to Armenia and western Azerbaijan where it was apparently domesticated. Wild almond species were grown by early farmers, "at first unintentionally in the garbage heaps, and later intentionally in their orchards". +
Almonds were one of the earliest domesticated fruit trees due to "the ability of the grower to raise attractive almonds from seed. Thus, in spite of the fact that this plant does not lend itself to propagation from suckers or from cuttings, it could have been domesticated even before the introduction of grafting". Domesticated almonds appear in the Early Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC) such as the archaeological sites of Numeria (Jordan), or possibly earlier. Another well-known archaeological example of the almond is the fruit found in Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt (c. 1325 BC), probably imported from the Levant. +
Archaeologists have found large quantities of hazelnut shells in Mesolithic (1200- 9000 B.C., dates vary) and Neolithic (9000-4000 B.C., dates vary) sites in what is now Sweden, Denmark, and Germany. Evidence fo hazelnuts in China dates to around 3000 B.C. In 1995, evidence of large-scale nut processing, some 9,000 years old ago, was found in a midden pit on the island of Colonsay in Scotland. The evidence consists of a large, shallow pit full of the remains of hundreds of thousands of burned hazelnut shells. The nuts were radiocarbon dated to 7720+/-110BP, which calibrates to circa 6000 BC. Similar sites in Britain are known only at Farnham in Surrey and Cass ny Hawin on the Isle of Man. [Source: Hazelnut Hill, Wikipedia]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018