Tag Archives: #history

Secrets of the paleo diet

Discovery reveals plant-based menu of prehistoric man


Original Article:

popular- archaeology.com

780,000 year old remains of edible fruits and seeds discovered in the northern Jordan Valley. Credit: Yaakov Langsam


THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM—A tiny grape pip (scale 1mm), left on the ground some 780,000 years ago, is one of more than 9,000 remains of edible plants discovered in an old Stone Age site in Israel on the shoreline of Lake Hula in the northern Jordan valley, dating back to the Acheulian culture from 1.75-0.25 million years ago. The floral collection provides rich testimony of the plant-based diet of our prehistoric ancestors.

While around the world remains of Paleolithic plants are scarce, this unique macro-botanical assemblage has allowed researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University to study the vegetal diet of humans from early-mid-Pleistocene, which is central to understanding the evolution, adaptation and exploitation of the environment by hominins.
The findings were recovered during archeological excavations at the waterlogged site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, where the earliest evidence of human-controlled fire in western Asia was discovered in recent years.
Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar of the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who conducted the excavations with colleagues, have long studied findings of hominid occupations in the Levantine Corridor, through which several hominin waves dispersed out of Africa.
In a research paper that will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on December 5, titled “The plant component of an Acheulian diet: a case study from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel”, Prof. Goren-Inbar reveals the discovery of the ancient macrobotanical remains, which for the first time indicate to the rich variety of plant assortments and subsistence opportunities that were available to the early humans on the transition from an African-based to a Eurasian diet.
“In recent years we were met with a golden opportunity to reveal numerous remains of fruits, nuts and seeds from trees, shrubs and the lake, alongside the remains of animals and man-made stone tools in one locality,” Prof. Goren-Inbar said.
Of the remains found on site, Prof. Goren-Inbar and Dr. Yoel Melamed of the Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar Ilan University have identified 55 species of edible plants, including seeds, fruits, nuts, leaves, stems, roots and tubers.

The findings, many of them minor in size, have been preserved for hundreds of thousands of years thanks to the damp conditions in the vicinity of the site, said Dr. Melamed. The basalts under and in the site were dated by Ar/Ar and the dates were further confirmed by results of paleomagnetic analyses.
“This region is known for the wealth of plants, but what surprised us were the sources of plant food coming from the lake. We found more than 10 species that existed here in prehistoric times but no longer today, such as two types of water nuts, from which seven were edible,” explained Dr. Melamed.

The site was submerged under the Jordan River and the Hula Lake in conditions of humidity and lack of oxygen, aided by the fast covering of layers of sediments, in which archaeologists also found stone tools and animal fossils.
Gesher Benot Ya’aqov is also the place where Prof. Goren-Inbar found the earliest evidence of the use of fire in Eurasia (LINK). “The use of fire is very important because a lot of the plants are toxic or inedible. Using fire, like roasting nuts and roots for example, allows the use of various parts of the plant and increases the diversity of the plant component of the Acheulian diet, alongside aquatic and terrestrial fauna,” said Prof. Goren-Inbar.
The use of fire and the availability of a diverse range of flora highlight the ability of prehistoric man to adjust to a new environment, to exploit the environment for his own benefit and to colonize beyond Africa.
Article Source: Hebrew University press release.


Presidential Bees

In the USA – and probably no place else on Earth – today is Presidents Day. When I was a kid, we called it Washington’s Birthday and got the day off from school, though Lincoln’s birthday seemed to be somehow conflated with it. These days, I live in Canada. We also get a holiday. It’s not “Prime Ministers Day” but instead today is Family Day and it has nothing to do with politics.

But let’s look at Presidents Day.  I think that all presidents could be better leaders if they were beekeepers before entering the White House. Bees teach patience, restraint, and frugality. They encourage caution yet promote curiosity. Every beekeeper becomes a mini-scientist, observing how nature and ecology interact while testing new techniques. Beekeepers are business folks and environmentalists and they blend these worlds together, becoming diplomats and experts at compromise. They make deals with their bees by honest actions, not lengthy contracts written in legalese. Certainly these beekeeper’s qualities are qualities that a president ought to have.

Few presidents kept bees, but at least one was keenly interested in beekeeping. Thomas Jefferson is sometimes described as a farmer, scientist, diplomat, musician, and writer. The third US president kick-started the whole American experiment (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, 2-term president) yet he found time to ponder and maybe even putter among the bees. His library included beekeeping books, including Francois Huber’s famous bee guide that described the freshly-discovered secrets of the queen bee’s mating habits. It had been published about the time Jefferson took office.

Jefferson, visiting South Dakota

Jefferson had an insatiable curiosity – when he went to his inaugural ball, he had fossils in his waistcoat pocket. He knew that a geologist would be there and he wanted to see if the fossils could be identified. Later, after he doubled the size of his country through the Louisiana Purchase, he sent Lewis and Clarke west to map it and to search for scientific curiosities.

It was partly from the explorers that Jefferson confirmed that honey bees had been imported from Europe and were not native to the continent. It’s interesting that this was even a question in the president’s mind, but more than two hundred years had passed since the early settlers had brought the first bees across the Atlantic. People had lost track of whether bees were native to America, or had arrived with the Europeans. In Jefferson’s Natural History Encyclopedia of Virginia, he wrote that the natives “call them the white man’s fly” and Jefferson agreed with them – honey bees are European imports. Here are Thomas Jefferson’s own words about the arrival and distribution of honey bees:

“The honey-bee is not a native of our continent. Marcgrave indeed mentions a species of honey-bee in Brasil. But this has no sting, and is therefore different from the one we have, which resembles perfectly that of Europe. The Indians concur with us in the tradition that it was brought from Europe; but, when, and by whom, we know not. The bees have generally extended themselves into the country, a little in advance of the white settlers. The Indians therefore call them the white man’s fly, and consider their approach as indicating the approach of the settlements of the whites.”

Estate records for both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson listed dozens of hives on their plantations. There aren’t many stories about those hives, but I saw a bit about Edmund Bacon, Jefferson’s plantation manager. He wrote, “I remember General Dearborne coming to my house once with Mr. Jefferson, to look at my bees. I had a very large stand, more than forty hives.” Forty hives, in the early 1800s or today,  is significant.

After the first and third presidents, I don’t know if any others had bees among their possessions. If we skip way, way ahead, we find that the Obamas had bees at the White House. These were kept by a fellow who worked on the grounds but the bees were enthusiastically welcomed by Michelle and her daughters.

Here’s the American president on the lawn on a beautiful spring afternoon, reading Where the Wild Stings Are to a hundred kids who are distracted by . . . a BEE. The youngsters are scared but Obama calms them down. Watch this short video and you’ll hear three of the coolest words ever uttered by any president: “Bees are good.”

🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝 🐝

Post Script:  I didn’t intend for this to be a political piece, just an appeal to reason. I didn’t mention the current president by name, but I have no doubt that he’d have a different personality if keeping bees had been part of his background.  Beekeeping transcends politics – most of the readers of this blog are conservatives and I sometimes agree with their thoughts. A few months ago, I blogged about Vice-President Pence’s wife, Karen, an avid pet owner and beekeeping enthusiast. Karen keeps bees at the government-owned vice-presidential estate near D.C. where she, Mike, and the kids live.

Feel free to add your comments, below, whether political or otherwise. But play nicely with each other or you will be banned from this site….

Did ancient irrigation technology travel Silk Road?



Using satellite imaging and drone reconnaissance, archaeologists from Washington University in St. Louis have discovered an ancient irrigation system that allowed a farming community in northwestern China to raise livestock and cultivate crops in one of the world’s driest desert climates.

Source: Did ancient irrigation technology travel Silk Road?

Origins of domestic turkeys in Mayan and Aztec culture




Original Article:


An international team of researchers from the University of York, the Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico, Washington State University and Simon Fraser University have been studying the earliest indication of domestic turkeys in ancient Mexico.
The team studied the spatial remains of 55 turkeys, dating from between 300BCE-1500CE in various parts of pre-Columbian Meso-America.
They discovered that Turkeys weren’t just a prized food source, but was also culturally significant for sacrifices and ritual practices.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, Dr Aurélie Manin, said:  “Turkey bones are rarely found in domestic refuse in Mesoamerica and most of the turkeys we studied had not been eaten – some were found buried in temples and human graves, perhaps as companions for the afterlife. This fits with what we know about the iconography of the period, where we see turkeys depicted as gods and appearing as symbols in the calendar.
“The archaeological evidence suggests that meat from deer and rabbit was a more popular meal choice for people in pre-Columbian societies; turkeys are likely to have also been kept for their increasingly important symbolic and cultural role”.
Dr Camilla Speller of the University of York said: “Even though humans in this part of the word had been practicing agriculture for around 10,000 years, the turkey was the first animal, other than the dog, people in Mesoamerica started to take under their control.
“Turkeys would have made a good choice for domestication as there were not many other animals of suitable temperament available and turkeys would have been drawn to human settlements searching for scraps”
Some of the remains the researchers analysed were from a cousin of the common turkey – the brightly plumed Ocellated turkey.  In a strange twist the researchers found that the diets of these more ornate birds remained largely composed of wild plants and insects, suggesting that they were left to roam free and never domesticated.
The team also measured the carbon isotope ratios in the turkey bones to reconstruct their diets. They found that the turkeys were gobbling crops cultivated by humans such as corn in increasing amounts, particularly in the centuries leading up to Spanish exploration, implying more intensive farming of the birds.
Interestingly, the gradual intensification of turkey farming does not directly correlate to an increase in human population size, a link you would expect to see if turkeys were reared simply as a source of nutrition.
By analysing the DNA of the birds, the researches were also able to confirm that modern European turkeys descend from Mexican ancestors.
York University