Category Archives: diet

Delayed Use of Food Resources among Early Holocene Foragers of the Libyan Sahara

Dismantling Dung: Delayed Use of Food Resources among Early Holocene Foragers of the Libyan Sahara

At Uan Afuda, and other Early Holocene sites of the Acacus mountains, in the Libyan Sahara, dung layers and plant accumulation are a major, but repeatedly neglected, feature of hunter-gatherer communities. To understand the formation and meaning of such features, a multidimensional analysis has been undertaken, combining micromorphological, palynological, botanical, archaeozoological, and archaeological data. The hypothesis here formulated is twofold: plant accumulations are evidence of anthropic activity aimed at the storage of fodder; and dung layers are related to a forced penning of a ruminant, very likely Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia). The exploration of these two features has hinted at the existence of a deep reciprocal relationship, which has been interpreted as the cultural control of wild Barbary sheep, leading to a delayed use of food resources. This behavior may be considered an opportunistic strategy adopted to minimize the effects of lean periods and implicates increasing cultural complexity within Late Acacus Saharan forager societies of the 9th millennium B.P.

Studying the ‘management’ of Barbary sheep (a kind of gazelle related to sheep and goats) during the Holocene. The paper points out a few flaws with Ehrets use of the terms ‘to drive’ etc in proto Northern Sudanic…

Of interest here is the evidence that the first forms of a planned or delayed use of resources in NorthAfrica were initially directed toward animal rather than plant resources. As a matter of fact, with the Proto-Northern-Sudanic, the roots dedicated to the vegetal world are grains and grindstones, not necessarily implicating either a delayed use of resources, or a possible incipient domestication. Conversely, with regard to the animal universe, the root “to drive” may be referred to a kind of hunting or also other activities. Since examples of hunting performed by means of fences are not known in North Africa, the idea that the root may be related to the driving of animals in specific areas (corrals?) appears to be appropriate. Finally, the root “to milk” is also linked to a typical secondary exploitation, as may be seen in the case of Bos exploitation at Bir Kiseiba in the eastern Sahara.

So I’m not the only person who spotted it. The fact that captured wild animals were being ‘kept’ in the Sahara not that far away from Nabta in space and time does have a bearing on the suggested cattle domestication there. A similar scenario to the Barbary sheep would seem more likely, as physically distinguishable domesticated cattle only appear along with Neolithic Asian goats and sheep, and don’t show an closer point of origin like Nabta with dates for domesticated cattle radiating out from the area (fully domesticated cattle should have been seen from dates as old as 8,300 bp in Egypt and Nubia if that were the case- but they aren’t). It would be interesting to look at the bone isotope values of pre-domestication sites in both Asia and north Africa to see it they were using dairy from tamed animals.


Early Holocene cultivation before domestication in northern Syria

Early Holocene cultivation before domestication in northern Syria

Abstract Charred plant remains from the sites of Tell Qaramel, Jerf el Ahmar, Dja’de and Tell ‘Abr situated in northern Syria and dated to the tenth and ninth millennia cal B.C. demonstrate that a wide variety of wild pulses, cereals, fruits and nuts was exploited. Five lines of evidence suggest that cultivation was practised at three of the sites. (1) Wild einkorn, wild rye and lentils occur outside their natural habitats. (2) The founder crops barley, emmer and single-grained einkorn appear at different times. (3) An assemblage of weeds of cultivation was identified. (4) There is a gradual decrease in gathered plants such as small seeded grasses and Polygonum/Rumex. (5) Barley grains increase in breadth and thickness. Morphological domestication did not become established, perhaps because seed stock was regularly collected from wild stands. Charred rodent droppings indicate large-scale grain storage.


I shall have a go at reading this one when my kids are at school tomorrow. So far, I have picked out-

A good sign of pre-domestic cultivation is the presence of wild cereals outside their natural habitats. The sites of Jerf el Ahmar, Cheik Hassan, Mureybet and Abu Hureyra are almost 200 km south of current-day wild rye habitats and between 100 and 150 km south of wild einkorn habitats.

-as interesting. Which makes it even more baffling that rye was being grown at Abu Hureyra about 13k ago, and suggests that a more northerly Euphrates based group started growing it first. However, this will have to wait until tomorrow as dinner has to be put on the table right now.

The role of wild grasses in subsistence and sedentism: new evidence from the northern Fertile Crescent

The role of wild grasses in subsistence and sedentism: new evidence from the northern Fertile Crescent
Manon Savard, Mark Nesbitt and Martin K. Jones

Sedentism is usually regarded as a pre-condition for the development of crop husbandry in Southwest Asia and,  consequently, sedentary pre-agrarian sites are an important focus of research on the origins of agriculture. It is often assumed that wild grasses were as important for hunter-gatherers as domesticated cereals were for early farmers, and that wild grass exploitation may therefore have had a critical role in enabling sedentism. Results from the analysis of  archaeobotanical assemblages from Hallan C¸ emi, Demirko¨ y, Qermez Dere and M’lefaat, and comparison with those of other sedentary pre-agrarian sites in Southwest Asia, challenge the role often attributed to the exploitation of grasses at this time. Archaeobotanical and ethnographical evidence instead suggests that hunter-gatherers took an opportunistic approach to the resources available and their subsistence strategies were not necessarily centred on grasses and ‘wild cereals’.


An interesting insight into the diets of pre Neolithic communities from the Levant/Southern Turkey. It shows that sedentism was being achieved without a grain based dite at these sites:

At Hallan Cemi, where there is bioarchaeological evidence for year-round occupation, sedentism was possible without the exploitation of grasses as an important subsistence strategy. At M’lefaat, where there is also strong bioarchaeological evidence for year-round occupation, other food plants are as important as grasses in terms of proportions and ubiquity.


The lactase-persistence-associated allele in early Neolithic Europeans

The lactase-persistence-associated allele in early Neolithic Europeans

Lactase persistence (LP), the dominant Mendelian trait conferring the ability to digest the milk sugar lactose in adults, has risen to high frequency in central and northern Europeans in the last 20,000 years. This trait is likely to have conferred a selective advantage in individuals who consume appreciable amounts of unfermented milk. Some have argued for the “culture-historical hypothesis,” whereby LP alleles were rare until the advent of dairying early in the Neolithic but then rose rapidly in frequency under natural selection. Others favor the “reverse cause hypothesis,” whereby dairying was adopted in populations with preadaptive high LP allele frequencies. Analysis based on the conservation of lactase gene haplotypes indicates a recent origin and high selection coefficients for LP, although it has not been possible to say whether early Neolithic European populations were lactase persistent at appreciable frequencies. We developed a stepwise strategy for obtaining reliable nuclear ancient DNA from ancient skeletons, based on (i) the selection of skeletons from archaeological sites that showed excellent biomolecular preservation, (ii) obtaining highly reproducible human mitochondrial DNA sequences, and (iii) reliable short tandem repeat (STR) genotypes from the same specimens. By applying this experimental strategy, we have obtained high-confidence LP-associated genotypes from eight Neolithic and one Mesolithic human remains, using a range of strict criteria for ancient DNA work. We did not observe the allele most commonly associated with LP in Europeans, thus providing evidence for the culture-historical hypothesis, and indicating that LP was rare in early European farmers.

Just an archived item- I’ve posted a news  item on this before but it’s nice to have the paper. The lactose tolerance seems to only about 8,000 years old, and has occured independantly in several different pastoralist groups around the world. I guess retention of a juvenille trait is an easy mutation for the genome to make. Last time I looked it was worked out on a computer simulation to have spread with the  Linearbandkeramik culture

World’s oldest booze from China.

This gets it’s own entry, as this isn’t exactly wine, although I expect the effect was the same if you drank it. It predates the middle Eastern wine by about a thousand years. Link It was found at the Neolithic Jaihu site on the Yellow river in the Henang province in China. The site is remarkable for its proto-writing and ancient bone flutes as well as it’s early forays into brewing alcohol. It also has very early rice cultivation at the site (millet was the norm before).


Jaihu site, Jaihu script (6kya), and the oldest playable musical instruments found, bone flutes (9kya).

A chemist from University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (McGovern; he’s written an interesting book on wine history) analysed potsherds from Jaihu and discovered they had been used to brew a wine like drink from honey, hawthorn or wild grape and rice. The pots dated to between 8,000 and 9,000 years old.

It would be interesting to know just where brewing originated, did it move West from a central Asian point of discovery or was it discovered in multiple locations?

The oldest known grape wine, from Iran

So far, the oldest known evidence of grape wine is about 7,000 years old, from a Neolithic settlement in Iran’s Zagros mountains, Hajji Firuz Tepe. Link, byMark Berkowitz.


A  7,000 years old potsherd  came from one of six two-and-one-half-gallon jars came from the kitchen area of a mud-brick building in Hajji Firuz Tepe, a Neolithic village in Iran’s northern Zagros Mountains. A team from the University of Pennsylvania Museum found calcium salt from tartaric acid, which occurs naturally in large amounts only in grapes. Resin from the terebinth tree was also present, presumably used as a preservative, indicating that the wine was deliberately made and did not result from the unintentional fermentation of grape juice. It also suggests that the wine makers weren’t beginners, as adding preservative is something that will take time to figure out

Analysis of the Hajji Firuz Tepe sherd comes in the wake of two other recent discoveries of early wine-making in this region where grapes grow in the wild. Residue from a jar from Godin Tepe, in the nearby middle Zagros Mountains, was dated to 5,100 years ago, until now the earliest evidence of wine-making. Grape presses dating to the late third millennium B.C. have been found at Titris Höyük in southeastern Turkey.

I wonder… would drinking alcohol have been a survival advantage? The liquid would be sterile. Historically even children drank  ‘small beer’ ( a very weak beer) in England because it was safer.

Palaeodiets of Humans and Fauna at the Spanish Mesolithic Site of El Collado

Palaeodiets of Humans and Fauna at the Spanish Mesolithic Site of El Collado

The first human stable isotope results from the Spanish Levant, from the Mesolithic (ca. 7500 BP, Mesolithic IIIA phase) site of El Collado (near Oliva, Valencia) provide evidence for the consumption of marine protein by humans, estimated at approximately 25% of the dietary protein for some individuals. Isotopic analysis of human remains from other coastal Mesolithic sites in Europe, particularly along the Atlantic coast, also shows significant consumption of marine foods, but the amount of marine food consumed by the El Collado humans was much less than at those sites. This may be because of a different dietary adaptation or because the Mediterranean is much less productive than the Atlantic.


Figure 1. Spanish sites with Mesolithic human remains. 1, Abric del Cingle Vermell (Catalonia); 2, Cueva de Los Azules I (Asturias); 3, Cueva de Balmori (Asturias); 4, Poza l’Egua (Asturias); 5, Cueva de Nerja (Malaga); 6, El Collado (Valencia); 7, Cueva de Colomba (Asturias); 8, Cueva de los Canes (Asturias); 9, Abrigo de Aizpea (Navarre); 10, Cuartamentero (Asturias); 11, Colombres (Asturias); 12, Molino de Gasparı´n (Asturias); 13, Cueva de Mazaculos II (Asturias); A, Asturias, with a series of closely located sites. On the basis of the lithic material, Aparicio (1992, 89) placed the Mesolithic occupation of El Collado between 10,000 and 6500 BC, with the phase of most intense utilization around 7500–6500 BC. Subsequently, two radiocarbon determinations made on human bone from burial 12 yielded the ages of BP and BP (Aparicio 7,570160 7,640120 1992; Pe´rez-Pe´rez et al. 1995), which calibrate to 6630–6250 BC (Stuiver and Reimer 1993; Stuiver, Reimer, and Reimer.

It seems that everyones ancestors ate a lot of seafood if they lived on the coast.