Better With Age

Kevin Lewis

October 16, 2021

Hallstatt miners consumed blue cheese and beer during the Iron Age and retained a non-Westernized gut microbiome until the Baroque period
Frank Maixner et al.
Current Biology, forthcoming

We subjected human paleofeces dating from the Bronze Age to the Baroque period (18th century AD) to in-depth microscopic, metagenomic, and proteomic analyses. The paleofeces were preserved in the underground salt mines of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hallstatt in Austria. This allowed us to reconstruct the diet of the former population and gain insights into their ancient gut microbiome composition. Our dietary survey identified bran and glumes of different cereals as some of the most prevalent plant fragments. This highly fibrous, carbohydrate-rich diet was supplemented with proteins from broad beans and occasionally with fruits, nuts, or animal food products. Due to these traditional dietary habits, all ancient miners up to the Baroque period have gut microbiome structures akin to modern non-Westernized individuals whose diets are also mainly composed of unprocessed foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. This may indicate a shift in the gut community composition of modern Westernized populations due to quite recent dietary and lifestyle changes. When we extended our microbial survey to fungi present in the paleofeces, in one of the Iron Age samples, we observed a high abundance of Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA. Genome-wide analysis indicates that both fungi were involved in food fermentation and provides the first molecular evidence for blue cheese and beer consumption in Iron Age Europe. 

Early line and hook fishing at the Epipaleolithic site of Jordan River Dureijat (Northern Israel)
Antonella Pedergnana et al.
PLoS ONE, October 2021

Nineteen broken and complete bone fish hooks and six grooved stones recovered from the Epipaleolithic site of Jordan River Dureijat in the Hula Valley of Israel represent the largest collection of fishing technology from the Epipaleolithic and Paleolithic periods. Although Jordan River Dureijat was occupied throughout the Epipaleolithic (~20-10 kya), the fish hooks appear only at the later stage of this period (15,000-12,000 cal BP). This paper presents a multidimensional study of the hooks, grooved stones, site context, and the fish assemblage from macro and micro perspectives following technological, use wear, residue and zooarchaeological approaches. The study of the fish hooks reveals significant variability in hook size, shape and feature type and provides the first evidence that several landmark innovations in fishing technology were already in use at this early date. These include inner and outer barbs, a variety of line attachment techniques including knobs, grooves and adhesives and some of the earliest evidence for artificial lures. Wear on the grooved stones is consistent with their use as sinkers while plant fibers recovered from the grooves of one hook shank and one stone suggest the use of fishing line. This together with associations between the grooved stones and hooks in the same archaeological layers, suggests the emergence of a sophisticated line and hook technology. The complexity of this technology is highlighted by the multiple steps required to manufacture each component and combine them into an integrated system. The appearance of such technology in the Levantine Epipaleolithic record reflects a deep knowledge of fish behavior and ecology. This coincides with significant larger-scale patterns in subsistence evolution, namely broad spectrum foraging, which is an important first signal of the beginning of the transition to agriculture in this region. 

Climate change facilitated the early colonization of the Azores Archipelago during medieval times
Pedro Raposeiro et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 12 October 2021

Humans have made such dramatic and permanent changes to Earth's landscapes that much of it is now substantially and irreversibly altered from its preanthropogenic state. Remote islands, until recently isolated from humans, offer insights into how these landscapes evolved in response to human-induced perturbations. However, little is known about when and how remote systems were colonized because archaeological data and historical records are scarce and incomplete. Here, we use a multiproxy approach to reconstruct the initial colonization and subsequent environmental impacts on the Azores Archipelago. Our reconstructions provide unambiguous evidence for widespread human disturbance of this archipelago starting between 700-60+50 and 850-60+60 Common Era (CE), ca. 700 y earlier than historical records suggest the onset of Portuguese settlement of the islands. Settlement proceeded in three phases, during which human pressure on the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems grew steadily (i.e., through livestock introductions, logging, and fire), resulting in irreversible changes. Our climate models suggest that the initial colonization at the end of the early Middle Ages (500 to 900 CE) occurred in conjunction with anomalous northeasterly winds and warmer Northern Hemisphere temperatures. These climate conditions likely inhibited exploration from southern Europe and facilitated human settlers from the northeast Atlantic. These results are consistent with recent archaeological and genetic data suggesting that the Norse were most likely the earliest settlers on the islands. 

Stable isotopes reveal intensive pig husbandry practices in the middle Yellow River region by the Yangshao period (7000-5000 BP)
Quan Zhang et al.
PLoS ONE, October 2021

It is well-known that pigs (Sus scrofa) were domesticated very early in Neolithic China, but far less is known about the processes by which pig husbandry intensified so that pork became the most important animal protein for humans are less clear. Here, we explore pig feeding practices using the carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of bone collagen, focusing on developments in pig husbandry during the Yangshao period (7000-5000 BP) in the middle Yellow River region of China, and at the site of Xipo (5800-5000 BP) in particular. The results show that the diets of domestic pigs at Xipo were dominated by millet foods. Comparisons with other Yangshao sites in the region show a trend of increasing millet foddering for pigs throughout the Yangshao period. These results, and comparisons of the isotopic data for pigs against those for humans from the Xipo cemetery (5300-5000 BP), suggest that pigs were closely managed by humans. The evidence points to an intensification of Neolithic pig husbandry in the middle Yellow River region from this period.] 

Who was buried with Nestor's Cup? Macroscopic and microscopic analyses of the cremated remains from Tomb 168 (second half of the 8th century BCE, Pithekoussai, Ischia Island, Italy)
Melania Gigante et al.
PLoS ONE, October 2021

Cremation 168 from the second half of the 8th century BCE (Pithekoussai's necropolis, Ischia Island, Italy), better known as the Tomb of Nestor's Cup, is widely considered as one of the most intriguing discoveries in the Mediterranean Pre-Classic archaeology. A drinking cup, from which the Tomb's name derives, bears one of the earliest surviving examples of written Greek, representing the oldest Homeric poetry ever recovered. According to previous osteological analyses, the Cup is associated with the cremated remains of a juvenile, aged approximately 10-14 years at death. Since then, a vast body of literature has attempted to explain the unique association between the exceptionality of the grave good complex, the symposiac and erotic evocation of the Nestor's Cup inscription with the young age of the individual buried with it. This paper reconsiders previous assessments of the remains by combining gross morphology with qualitative histology and histomorphometric analyses of the burnt bone fragments. This work reveals the commingled nature of the bone assemblage, identifying for the first time, more than one human individual mixed with faunal remains. These outcomes dramatically change previous reconstructions of the cremation deposit, rewriting the answer to the question: who was buried with Nestor's Cup?


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