Archive of 'Recent Discoveries and Results'
- Emotional news for lovers of a dry white wine. The blissful Hippocrene
was composed from wild grapes from the sixth millennium BC in the lands
of its natural habitat. But, as the author shows, the cultivation,
domestication and selective breeding of the grape following
in the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age was aimed primarily at the
enjoyment of its sweetness.
Sweeter than Wine? The Use of the Grape in Early Western Asia.
- The serendipitous discovery that the default shape of a mudball is
biconical inspired research into spindle whorls. It turned out that all
things being equal, center-weighted spindle whorls are most suited fibers
that need more twist; linen fibers need a lot of twist, and the crimped,
scaly fibers of sheep wool need relatively little twist. Early west Asian
ceramic spindle whorls are normally biconical. It may be no
coincidence, therefore, that our first evidence for spindle whorls
roughly coincides with our first evidence for spun fibers, i.e., flax!
("Serendipity: Secrets of the Mudballs," by Naomi F. Miller, Kimberly E.
Leaman, and Julie Unruh.
48(3):40-41. Don't miss Mudball: The Movie!
- Plant remains from three sites in the Kur River Basin spanning the
late seventh to mid fifth millennium B.C. suggest that the
post-Pleistocene advance of the oak forest had not yet reached that area.
("Some Plant Remains from the 2004 Excavations of Tall-e Mushki, Tall-e
Jari A and B, an Tall-e Bakun A and B," by Naomi F. Miller and Masoumeh
Kimiaie, in The Origins of State Organizations in Prehistoric Highland Fars,
Southern Iran. Excavations at Tall-e Bakun) [pdf on-line]
- Human impact on the vegetation of west Asia can be traced with the
earliest archaeobotanical records to those of the Iron Age. Local
deforestation is reflected in changes in proportions of dominant tree
taxa as well as increasing seed:charcoal raios (reflecting increases in
dung fuel use relative to wood). Although long- and short-term climate
fluctuations undoubtedly occurred, their impact on vegetation
was negligible compared to human impact. ("Long-Term Vegetation Changes in
East." In The Archaeology of Global Change. The Impact of Humans on
Their Environment, eds. C.L. Redman, S.R. James, P.R. Fish, and
J.D. Rogers, pp. 130-140. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C.
- Archaeological survey and excavation suggest that during much of the
third millennium (between the Banesh [Proto-Elamite] and Kaftari
[Elamite] periods), permanent settlements virtually disappeared in Fars
province, Iran. Analysis of pottery and stratigraphy at Malyan, one of the
few sites with both Banesh and Kaftari period deposits,
suggests that the site may have been occupied by a small permanent
population who had a ceramic tradition that eventually evolved into the
mature Kaftari style; i.e., the Malyan Kaftari occupation is just a
continuation, perhaps with some new influences, of the earlier Banesh
Banesh-Kaftari Interface. The View from
Malyan." (corrected version, published 2004, 42:77-89)
- The people who lived at Anau North ('Chalcolithic
deposits, fifth and fourth millennia BC) settled in a landscape
dominated by tugai vegetation (lots of Tamarix).
Fields were probably cleared along the stream (a precursor of the Anau
Su), perhaps interspersed with tugai thickets, and herds
grazed on nearby steppe. The two main crops, six-row barley
(Hordeum vulgare supsp. vulgare) and bread wheat
(Triticum aestivum), almost undoubtedly were irrigated,
perhaps by simple gravity flow. Human activities had only a negligible
impact on the vegetation in the period considered here. Over time,
however, fields may have expanded at the expense of pasture and
tugai in the immediate vicinity of the settlement. ("The Use of
Plants at Anau North." In A Central Asian Village at the Dawn of
Civilization, Excavations at Anau,
Turkmenistan, by F. Hiebert, pp. 127-138, Appendix C (pp. 201-215). University
of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia. [Download pdf]
- The gradual integration of animals into a mixed farming system can be
traced in the Euphrates valley at the sites of Cafer, Gritille, and Abu
Hureyra. During the PPNB (era of early farming), where people used pulses
most, they decline over the period when animal domestication was becoming
established. This makes some sense on nutritional grounds, since
regardless of peoples' conscious knowledge, a steady supply of meat or
milk satisfies the same human protein needs as the consumption of pulses
together with cereals. As people integrated agricultural and pastoral
production during the PPNB, they developed a subsistence system that,
through its productivity and stability, allowed for large permanent
settlements and promoted population expansion into zones previously
occupied solely by foragers. (For details see "Down the Garden Path: How
Plant and Animal Husbandry Came Together in the Ancient Near East."
Down the Garden
Near Eastern Archaeology 64(1-2): 134-137, and "Tracing the
Development of the Agropastoral Economy in Southeastern Anatolia
and Northern Syria," in The Dawn of Farming in the Near East, 2002
- As the Sumerian proverb puts it, "Food: that's the thing! Drink:
that's the thing!" From bread and beer to wine and cheese, the people
of the ancient Near East and North Africa developed a rich cuisine
based on a set of crops and livestock domesticated in southwest Asia.
Sophisticated technologies of food preservation transformed grapes
into wine, milk into cheese, and many other foods into storable goods.
Without that consistent food supply dependent on stored resources, the
early civilizations could not have arisen. (Read all about it in "The
Beginnings of Agriculture: The Ancient Near East and North Africa,"
original, accurate title "Food and Drink in the Ancient Near East and
North Africa," by
N.F. Miller and W. Wetterstrom, in The Cambridge World History of
- Gold pendants associated with the grave of Puabi in the Royal
Tombs at Ur, previously identified as wheat and a bush, in fact
represent flowering and fruiting branches of the male and female date
palm. Furthermore, the "pomegranate"-like fruit is probably apple
("Plant Forms in
Jewelry from the Royal Cemetery at Ur." Iraq
62: 149-155 and "
Date Sex in Mesopotamia!."
Expedition 42(1): 30-36. And check out the website, too!
- Biodiversity preservation and archaeological conservation are
coming together as we develop methods of reducing soil erosion on the
Midas Mound (c. 800 B.C., Gordion, Turkey) by getting native plants to
thrive on the steep slopes of this 53-m high monument ("Erosion, Biodiversity, and Archaeology:
Preserving the Midas Tumulus at Gordion/Erozyon,
Bioçeşitlilik ve Arkeoloji Gordion'daki Midas
Höyüğü'nün Korunması," in Arkeoloji ve Sanat 93:
12-17+plate). [Download pdf
See also "Archaeobotanists Preserve Midas's
Wealth," Anthropology Newsletter 39 (4): 14-15 (1998); for
updated articles, see: "Plants and Mudbrick: Preserving the Midas Tumulus
at Gordion, Turkey," by N.F. Miller and K. Bluemel (Conservation and
Management of Archaeological Sites 3:225-237) and "
Plants in the Service of Archaeological Preservation."
Expedition 42(1): 30-36.
- Plausible evidence for irrigation of cereal crops in Central
Asia occurs at Chalcolithic Anau, Turkmenistan, whose assemblage
includes very plump examples of 6-row barley and bread wheat. Fruit and
nuts do not seem to be of any significance until the Bronze Age--with
grape at Anau
South and Gonur (Turkmenistan) and Djarkutan (Uzbekistan) and
Pistacia vera, the pistachio of commerce, at Djarkutan.
(Agricultural Development in Western Central Asia in the Chalcolithic and
Vegetation History and
Archaeobotany 8: 13-19. [Download
- Between the Late Bronze Age and the Medieval period, the arboreal
vegetation available to the people of Gordion changed. Although they
always had access to woodland types, there was a gradual increase in the
use of trees of secondary forest (e.g., hawthorn) and riparian types
(e.g., willow/poplar). (Seeds, Charcoal and Archaeological Context:
Interpreting Ancient Environment and Patterns of Land Use.
TÜBA-AR. 2: 15-27. [Download pdf]
- During the glacial period, post-glacial warming and the Younger
Dryas, vegetation does not seem to have been affected by human
activities to any appreciable extent. Forest expansion at the beginning
of the Holocene occurred independently of human agency, though early
Neolithic farmers were able to take advantage of improved climatic
conditions. Absence of macrobotanical remains precludes discussion of
possible drought from 6000 to 5500 bc. By farming, herding, and
fuel-cutting, human populations began to have an impact on the landscape
at different different times and places. Deleterious effects of these
activities became evident in the Tigris-Euphrates drainage during the
third millennium bc based on macrobotanical evidence from archaeological
sites. Even more widespread, permanent deforestation did not occur until
the Iron Age. (The Macrobotanical Evidence for Vegetation in the Near
East, c. 18 000/16 000 bc to 4 000 bc. Paléorient
- Spatial and temporal patterning in the distribution of
Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age plant remains and animal bones reflects
land use practices at several sites along the Euphrates (Kurban, Hacinebi,
anyparticular period, from north to south, the proportion of wood charcoal
declines. The proportion of wild seeds to cereals increases. The
proportion of barley relative to wheat increases. And, significantly, the
proportion of sheep and goat relative to cattle and pig also increases.
That is, toward the steppe, pastoral production is more important,
animals are sent out to graze, and dung fuel is burned, and toward the
forest, agriculture is more secure, animals eat more cultigens, and dung
fuel is less necessary. At Kurban, pastoral production seems to have been
most important when the site was an independent small settlement and also
when it was part of a much larger urban system. (Farming and Herding
along the Euphrates: Environmental Constraint and Cultural Choice. MASCA
Research Papers in Science and Archaeology 14, pp. 123-132)
- If the diverse seed assemblages of the Epipaleolithic come from
gazelle dung burned as fuel, one would be hard-pressed to use the
material to support the "Broad Spectrum Revolution" hypothesis for the
origins of agriculture--(Seed-Eaters
of the Ancient Near East: Human or
Herbivore? Current Anthropology 37: 521-528, with criticism by
G.C. Hillman, A.J. Legge, and P.A. Rowley-Conwy and response, CA
- A plant/plant product known to Pliny as aspalathus,
sometimes identfied as camelthorn, is most likely to be caper
(Capparis, probably C. spinosa). (The Aspalathus
Bulletin of the
American Schools of Oriental Research 297: 55-60.)
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