Category Archives: ASIA

Bread Existed 4000 Years Before Agriculture, Archaeologists Discover

Bread Existed 4000 Years Before Agriculture, Archaeologists Discover

Researchers discovered the charred remains of a flatbread baked by hunter-gatherers 14,400 years ago at an archeological site in northeastern Jordan.

It is the oldest direct evidence of bread found to date, predating the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. The findings suggest that bread production based on wild cereals may have encouraged hunter-gatherers to cultivate cereals, and thus contributed to the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period.

A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London and University of Cambridge have analysed charred food remains from a 14,400-year-old Natufian hunter-gatherer site – a site known as Shubayqa 1 located in the Black Desert in northeastern Jordan.

The results, which are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide the earliest empirical evidence for the production of bread:“The presence of 100’s of charred food remains in the fireplaces from Shubayqa 1 is an exceptional find, and it has given us the chance to characterize 14,000-year-old food practices.

The 24 remains analysed in this study show that wild ancestors of domesticated cereals such as barley, einkorn, and oat had been ground, sieved and kneaded prior to cooking.

The remains are very similar to unleavened flatbreads identified at several Neolithic and Roman sites in Europe and Turkey. So we now know that bread-like products were produced long before the development of farming.

The next step is to evaluate if the production and consumption of bread influenced the emergence of plant cultivation and domestication at all,” said University of Copenhagen archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, who is the 1st author of the study.

University of Copenhagen archaeologist Tobias Richter, who led the excavations at Shubayqa 1 in Jordan, explained: “Natufian hunter-gatherers are of particular interest to us because they lived through a transitional period when people became more sedentary and their diet began to change.

Flint sickle blades as well as ground stone tools found at Natufian sites in the Levant have long led archaeologists to suspect that people had begun to exploit plants in a different and perhaps more effective way.

But the flat bread found at Shubayqa 1 is the earliest evidence of bread making recovered so far, and it shows that baking was invented before we had plant cultivation. So this evidence confirms some of our ideas.

Indeed, it may be that the early and extremely time-consuming production of bread based on wild cereals may have been one of the key driving forces behind the later agricultural revolution where wild cereals were cultivated to provide more convenient sources of food.”

Charred remains under the microscope

The charred food remains were analysed with electronic microscopy at a University College London lab by PhD candidate Lara Gonzalez Carratero (UCL Institute of Archaeology), who is an expert on prehistoric bread: “The identification of ‘bread’ or other cereal-based products in archaeology is not straightforward.

Dr. Amaia Arranz-Otaegui and Ali Shakaiteer sampling cereals in the Shubayqa area.
Dr. Amaia Arranz-Otaegui and Ali Shakaiteer sampling cereals in the Shubayqa area. 

There has been a tendency to simplify classification without really testing it against an identification criteria. We have established a new set of criteria to identify flat bread, dough and porridge like products in the archaeological record.

Using Scanning Electron Microscopy we identified the microstructures and particles of each charred food remain,” said Gonzalez Carratero.“Bread involves labour intensive processing which includes dehusking, grinding of cereals and kneading and baking.

That it was produced before farming methods suggests it was seen as special, and the desire to make more of this special food probably contributed to the decision to begin to cultivate cereals. All of this relies on new methodological developments that allow us to identify the remains of bread from very small charred fragments using high magnification,” said Professor Dorian Fuller (UCL Institute of Archaeology).

Research into prehistoric food practices continues

A grant recently awarded to the University of Copenhagen team will ensure that research into food making during the transition to the Neolithic will continue: “The Danish Council for Independent Research has recently approved further funding for our work, which will allow us to investigate how people consumed different plants and animals in greater detail.

Building on our research into early bread, this will in the future give us a better idea why certain ingredients were favoured over others and were eventually selected for cultivation,” said Tobias Richter.

Researchers Find Hundreds of Mysterious Stone Structures in the Sahara

Researchers Find Hundreds of Mysterious Stone Structures in the Sahara

The structures come in various shapes and sizes, including one that curves off into the horizon (shown here).

In Western Sahara, a territory in Africa little explored by archeologists, hundreds of stone structures dating back thousands of years have been discovered.

The structures seem to come in all sizes and shapes, and archaeologists are not sure what many of them were used for or when they were created, archaeologists report in the book “The Archaeology of Western Sahara: A Synthesis of Fieldwork, 2002 to 2009” (Oxbow Books, 2018).

About 75 % of the Western Saharan territory, including most of the coastline, is controlled by Morocco, while 25 percent is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Before 1991, the 2 governments were in a state of war.

Between 2002 and 2009, archaeologists worked in the field surveying the landscape and doing a small amount of excavation in the part of Western Sahara that is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

They also investigated satellite pictures on Google Earth, they wrote in the book.”Due to its history of conflict, detailed archaeological and palaeoenvironmental research in Western Sahara has been extremely limited,” wrote Joanne Clarke, a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and Nick Brooks, an independent researcher.”

The archaeological map of Western Sahara remains literally and figuratively almost blank as far as the wider international archaeological research community is concerned, particularly away from the Atlantic coast,” wrote Clarke and Brooks, noting that people living in the area know of the stone structures, and some work has been done by Spanish researchers on rock art in Western Sahara.

Mysterious structures

The stone structures are designed in a wide variety of ways. Some are shaped like crescents, others form circles, some are in straight lines, some in rectangular shapes that look like a platform; some structures consist of rocks that have been piled up into a heap. And some of the structures use a combination of these designs.

For instance, one structure has a mix of straight lines, stone circles, a platform and rock piles that altogether form a complex about 2,066 feet (630 meters) long, the archaeologists noted in the book.

Here, a type of stone structure known as a "dolmen."
Here, a type of stone structure known as a “dolmen.”

Though the archaeologists are unsure of the purpose of many of the structures, they said some of them may mark the location of graves. Little excavation has been done on the structures, and archaeologists have found few artifacts that can be dated using a radiocarbon method. Among the few excavated sites are two “tumuli” (heaps of rock) that contain human burials dating back around 1,500 years.

Research suggests that Western Sahara was once a wetter place that could sustain more animal life than it does today. Archaeologists documented rock art showing images of cattle, giraffe, oryx and Barbary sheep while environmental researchers found evidence for lakes and other water sources that dried up thousands of years ago.

Security problems

At present, security problems in the region mean that fieldwork has stopped, Clarke and Brooks told Live Science. The terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb operates in the desert regions near Western Sahara, and in 2013 they kidnapped two Spanish aid workers at a refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria, just across the border from Western Sahara.

While the Sahrawi people and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic strongly oppose the terrorist group, it’s extremely difficult for authorities to effectively patrol the vast desert areas where the stone structures are located, Clarke and Brooks said. This means archaeologists can’t work there safely right now.

This problem is not unique to Western Sahara, as the security risks posed by terrorist and extremist groups in the region mean that archaeologists can’t work in much of North Africa right now, they said.

Ancient 3,000-year-old tablet suggests Biblical king may have existed

Ancient 3,000-year-old tablet suggests Biblical king may have existed

The pieced together remains of the ninth century B.C. inscribed tablet known as the Mesha Stele.
The pieced together remains of the ninth century B.C. inscribed tablet known as the Mesha Stele.

A new reading of an ancient tablet that is hard to decipher suggests that the biblical King Balak may have been a real historical person, suggests a new study.

But the study’s researchers recommend that people take this finding “with due caution,” and other biblical experts agree.”As the authors admit, this proposal is very tentative,” said Ronald Hendel, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the study. 

The tablet in question is known as the Mesha Stele, an inscribed 3-foot-tall (1 meter) black basalt stone that dates to the 2nd half of the 9th century B.C. The 34 lines on the Mesha Stele describe how King Mesha of Moab triumphed over the Israelites. The inscription is written in Moabite, which is very close to Hebrew.

However, the Mesha Stele is extremely cracked and parts of it are challenging to read because of that damage. When Westerners became aware of the tablet in the 1860s, several people tried to buy it from the Bedouins, who owned the stone.

As negotiations dragged on, 1 Westerner was able to get a paper rubbing of the Mesha Stele; that paper was torn during an ensuing fight, according to a 1994 report in the journal Biblical Archaeology Review.

In the meantime, negotiations soured between the Bedouins and the prospective buyers, who included people from Prussia (North Germany), France and England, in part because of political affiliations with an Ottoman official, whom the Bedouins disliked. So, the Bedouins smashed the Mesha Stele into pieces by heating it up and pouring cold water on it.

Since then, archaeologists have tried to reassemble the smashed tablet by connecting the broken pieces. Now, the Mesha Stele is on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris; about two-thirds of the tablet are made of its original pieces, and the remaining one-third is made of modern writing on plaster, which was informed by the torn paper rubbing, according to the 1994 report.

What does it say?

Researchers have spent countless hours trying to decipher the tablet’s challenging portions. For instance, in the mid-1990s, it was proposed that line 31 referred to “the House of David,” that is, the dynasty of the biblical king.

But some experts are skeptical of this interpretation. In the fall of 2018, the France Secondary School (College de France) had an exhibit on the Mesha Stele, showing a high-resolution, well-lit image of the rubbing. “And of course, we wished to check the validity of the reading ‘House of David,’ suggested for this line in the past,” said study co-researcher Israel Finkelstein, a professor emeritus at the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

The text contained a definite “B,” Finkelstein said. The earlier interpretation was that this stood for “Bet,” which means “house” in Hebrew. But Finkelstein and two colleagues thought that it stood for something else: Balak, a Moab king mentioned in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Numbers.

“If Balak is indeed mentioned in the stele as the king of Horonaim [a city in Moab], this is the 1st time in which he appears outside of the Bible, in real-time evidence, that is, in a text written in his own time, in the 9th century BCE.

But this is just one idea, and it might not be correct, Hendel said.”We can read one letter, b, which they are guessing may be filled out as Balak, even though the following letters are missing,”

“It’s just a guess. It could be Bilbo or Barack, for all we know.”Moreover, the Bible places King Balak about 200 years before this tablet was created, so the timing doesn’t make sense, Hendel said.

The authors acknowledge this gap in the study: “To give a sense of authenticity to his story, [the Mesha Stele’s] author must have integrated into the plot certain elements borrowed from the ancient reality.”

In other words, “the study shows how a story in the Bible may include layers (memories) from different periods which were woven together by later authors into a story aimed to advance their ideology and theology,” Finkelstein said. “It also shows that the question of historicity in the Bible cannot be answered in a simplistic ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.”

Mummy Found Hiding Inside Ancient Buddha Statue

Mummified monk revealed inside 1,000-year-old Buddha statue

 

 The unusual contents of the statue were discovered in the 1990s when the statue underwent restoration
The unusual contents of the statue were discovered in the 1990s when the statue underwent restoration

Scientific tests have revealed that an ancient Buddhist statue contains a 1,000-year – old mummified monk’s perfectly preserved remains in what is thought to be the only such example in the world.

The monk, who is sitting in the lotus position, is thought to have starved himself to death in an act of extreme spiritual devotion in China or Tibet in the 10th century. His preserved remains were displayed in his monastery.

Some 200 years later, perhaps after his remains started to deteriorate, his mummified body was placed inside the elaborate, lacquered statue of Buddha.

The unusual contents of the statue were discovered in the 1990s when the statue underwent restoration. Experts were unable to remove the mummy due to the risk of disintegration, so they could do little more than peer into the darkened cavity of the Buddha.

Now, an international team of German, Dutch and Italian scientists has conducted a CAT scan which revealed the monk’s skeleton in perfect detail.

“It was not uncommon for monks to practise self-mummification but to find a mummified monk inside a statue is really extraordinary,” said Wilfrid Rosendahl, a German palaeontologist who led the research.

“It’s the only known example in the world.”Using a CAT scan, we saw that there was a perfectly preserved body with skin and muscles inside the statue. It’s a complete mummy, not just a skeleton. He was aged between 30 and 50.”

The mummy has been studied by an interdisciplinary team of experts, including radio carbon dating specialists and textile analysts, at the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, the Netherlands.

Using an endoscope, experts took samples from inside the mummy’s thoracic and abdominal cavities and discovered that the monk’s organs had been removed and replaced with ancient wads of paper printed with Chinese characters.

The scientists have conducted a CAT scan which revealed the monk's skeleton in perfect detail.
The scientists have conducted a CAT scan which revealed the monk’s skeleton in perfect detail. 

Samples of bone were also taken for DNA testing. The Buddha statue was bought several decades ago on the art market by a Dutch private collector, who had no idea that the mummy was hidden inside. It will go on display in museums around Europe, and is currently in the Natural History Museum in Budapest.” The monk died in a process of self-mummification,” said Dr. Rosendahl.

It was not uncommon for monks to practise self-mummification but to find a mummified monk inside a statue is really extraordinary," said Wilfrid Rosendahl
It was not uncommon for monks to practise self-mummification but to find a mummified monk inside a statue is really extraordinary,” said Wilfrid Rosendahl

During the last weeks, he would have started eating less food and drinking only water. Eventually, he would have gone into a trance, stopped breathing and died.

He basically starved himself to death.”The other monks would have put him close to a fire to dry him out and put him on display in the monastery, we think somewhere in China or Tibet.”

He was probably sitting for 200 years in the monastery and the monks then realized that he needed a bit of support and preservation so they put him inside the statue.”Mummified monks were not only the focus of religious devotion but important for the economy of the monastery because they attracted pilgrims who would offer donations.

The mummy has been studied by an interdisciplinary team of experts, including radio carbon dating specialists and textile analysts, at the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, the Netherlands.
The mummy has been studied by an interdisciplinary team of experts, including radio carbon dating specialists and textile analysts, at the Meander Medical Centre in Amersfoort, the Netherlands.

Source: livescience

3000 year old trousers discovered in Chinese grave oldest ever found

3000-year-old trousers discovered in Chinese grave oldest ever found

That’s right–1000 years before Christ’s birth these were worn. Archeologists say the two men whose remains have recently been excavated from tombs in western China put their pants on one leg at a time, just as the rest of us are doing today.

With straight-fitting legs and a wide crotch, the ancient wool trousers resemble modern riding pants, says a team led by archaeologists Ulrike Beck and Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin.

The discoveries, uncovered in the Yanghai graveyard in China’s Tarim Basin, support previous work suggesting that nomadic herders in Central Asia invented pants to provide bodily protection and freedom of movement for horseback journeys and mounted warfare, the scientists report May 22, 2014, in Quaternary International. So not much changes – these highly decorated pants must have been someone’s pride and joy as a great deal of work has gone into them.  

The two men were around 40 years old when they died, and they were buried along with a decorated leather bridle, a decorated horsetail, a wooden horse bit, a battle-ax, whip, bow sheath, and a leather bracer for arm protection.  Their trouser design comprised three pieces of wool cloth, one for each leg and one for the crotch, which was stitched together and fastened at the waist with strings.  They were finished with woven designs on the legs.

Beck and Wagner described the trousers as “a ground-breaking achievement in the history of cloth making.”This new paper definitely supports the idea that trousers were invented for horse riding by mobile pastoralists, and that trousers were brought to the Tarim Basin by horse-riding peoples,” remarks linguist and China authority Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania.

Previously, Europeans and Asians wore gowns, robes, tunics, togas or — as observed on the 5,300-year-old body of Ötzi the Iceman — a three-piece combination of loincloth and individual leggings. A dry climate and hot summers helped preserve human corpses, clothing and other organic material in the Tarim Basin. More than 500 tombs have been excavated in a graveyard there since the early 1970s.

Earlier research on mummies from several Tarim Basin sites, led by Mair, identified a 2,600-year-old individual known as Cherchen Man who wore burgundy trousers probably made of wool. Trousers of Scythian nomads from West Asia date to roughly 2,500 years ago.

Mair suspects that horse riding began about 3,400 years ago and trouser-making came shortly thereafter in wetter regions to the north and west of the Tarim Basin. Ancient trousers from those areas are not likely to have been preserved, Mair says.

Horse riding’s origins are uncertain and could date to at least 4,000 years ago, comments archaeologist Margarita Gleba of University College London. If so, she says, “I would not be surprised if trousers appeared at least that far back.”

Front view of the woollen trousers (find number: 2003SYIM21:19, after Xinjiang, 2011) from the Yanghai site, tomb M21; (A) drawing: U. Beck; (B)

Front view of the woollen trousers (find number: 2003SYIM21:19, after Xinjiang, 2011) from the Yanghai site, tomb M21; (A) drawing: U. Beck; (B) 

The two trouser-wearing men entombed at Yanghai were roughly 40 years old and had probably been warriors as well as herders, the investigators say. One man was buried with a decorated leather bridle, a wooden horse bit, a battle-ax and a leather bracer for arm protection. Among objects placed with the other body were a whip, a decorated horse tail, a bow sheath, and a bow.

Beck and Wagner’s group obtained radiocarbon ages of fibers from both men’s trousers, and of three other items in one of the tombs.

The Yanghai Tombs (also spelled Yang-Hai) are located in the desert Turpan Basin of Shanshan County, Turpan District, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of northwest China. Yangshai lies at the base of the Fire or Flaming Mountains (Huoyan Shan) and the foothills of the Heavenly Mountains (Tian Shan), on the edge of the Turpan Oasis, that has drawn people for thousands of years. Yangshai is about 30 km southeast of the main site of Turfan or Gaochang.

The tombs are grouped into three localities: Group 1, Group 2, and Group 3. The localities are really artificial: the cemetery is one big location, measuring some 54,000 square meters (or about 600,000 square feet) in the area.

The people buried in the tombs were nomadic pastoralists of the Subeixi culture, one of many Steppe Societies who roamed the deserts and steppes of central Eurasia from Ukraine to China. The Yanghai Tombs were discovered in the early 1970s by local Turpan villagers who were repairing a karez, and the tombs were excavated through the early 21st century.

Much of the publication in English has been focused on the analysis of the hundreds of mummies and thousands of artifacts recovered from the tombs. More than 500 tombs were excavated in 2003 alone, under the direction of E.G. Lu, with support from the Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology and the Bureau of Cultural Relics of Turpan Prefecture.

The trousers were sewn together from three pieces of brown-colored wool cloth, one piece for each leg and an insert for the crotch. The tailoring involved no cutting but included side slits, strings for fastening at the waist and woven designs on the legs.

Source: phys.org