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Ancient America

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Author Topic: Ancient America  (Read 237 times)
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« on: February 19, 2007, 08:00:20 pm »

American chili peppers from 6,000 years ago

Researchers report that across the Americas, chili peppers (Capsicum
species) were cultivated and traded as early as 6,000 years ago -
predating the invention of pottery in some areas of the Americas. The
researchers analyzed starch grains to trace the history of chili
peppers in the Americas.
     When Europeans arrived in the Americas, chili peppers were among
the most widespread of the plants domesticated in the New World.
However, the chronology and precise geography of their origins and
early dispersals had been very poorly understood. Tropical
environments, where many chili varieties were first domesticated and
then incorporated into prehistoric farming systems, degrade most
organic archaeological remains.
     Linda Perry of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington solved
the problem of decaying vegetable matter leaving scant evidence when
she found peppers could be identified from fossilised grains of
starch. Starch grains from chilli peppers were then found alongside
remnants of corn, yucca, squash, beans and palm fruit, suggesting
ancient recipes designed to make a taste more palatable. The starch
microfossils were found at seven sites dating from 6,000 years ago to
European contact and ranging from the Bahamas to southern Peru.
     Cultivated chili starch grains are discernible from those of
wild chilies. The remains of these domesticated chili peppers were
often found with corn, forming part of a major, ancient food complex
that predates pottery in some regions. The oldest Capsicum starch
grains were found in southwestern Ecuador at two sites dating to
6,100 years ago. The chili remains were associated with previously
identified corn, achira, arrowroot, leren, yuca, squash, beans and
palm fruit, adding to the picture of an early, complex agricultural
system in that region.
     In Panama, chilies occurred with corn and domesticated yams that
dated 5,600 years before present. Chilies were found at a site
occupied 6,000 years ago in the Peruvian Andes, with microscopic
remains of corn, arrowroot and possibly potato. In this case, the
chilies were identified as the species C. pubescens. The rocoto
pepper, a cultivar of this species, is still a staple in the Peruvian
diet. Newer sites in the Bahamas (1,000 ybp) and in Venezuela
(500-1,000 ybp) also yielded remains of both corn and chilies.
     The research also advances techniques in "archaeobiology," a
discipline that fuses archaeology and, in this case, botany. "We
demonstrate that prehistoric people from the Bahamas to Peru were
using chilies in a variety of foods a long time ago. The peppers
would have enhanced the flavor of early cultivars such as maize and
manioc and may have contributed to their rapid spread after they were
domesticated," said co-author Dolores Piperno, Smithsonian scientist
at the National Museum of Natural History and at the Smithsonian
Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
     It's impossible to identify with certainty the first spice ever
sprinkled on a roasting haunch or thrown in a stew-pot. But Wendy
Applequist, an ethnobotanist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, said
capers have been found at 10,000-year-old sites in Iran and Iraq;
coriander at a 8,500-year-old site in Israel; and fenugreek in
Syria's Tell Aswad, which is 9,000 years old. Whether these were
domesticated or wild is not known.

Sources: (15 February 2007), ScienceDaily, The Independent
(16 February 2007), (18 February 2007);
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2007, 08:00:32 pm »

Panama agriculture may be 7.800 years

Ancient people living in Panama were processing and eating domesticated species of plants like maize, manioc, and arrowroot at least as far back as 7,800 years ago much earlier than previously thought according to new research by a University of Calgary archaeologist.

One of the most hotly debated issues in the discipline of archaeology is how and why certain human societies switched from hunting and gathering to producing their own food through agriculture. Dr. Ruth Dickau, a post-doctoral researcher in the U of C's department of archaeology, has used a new technique called starch grain analysis to recover microscopic residues of plants directly off the stone tools that people were using in Panama 3,000 to 7,800 years ago.

"These results add to the growing evidence that the earliest beginnings of farming were not centred in arid highland regions like central Mexico and the Peruvian Andes as once believed, but in the lowland areas and humid forests of the American tropics," Dickau says.

"What is particularly interesting is that these crops were originally domesticated outside of Panama; maize was domesticated in Mexico, and manioc and arrowroot in South America. Panama, as a relatively narrow land-bridge between the two American continents, was an important route for the human spread of food crops, and clearly a region where agriculture was practiced very early in history."

Dickau is the lead author of a paper appearing next week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an internationally respected academic publication. The paper is titled "Starch Grain Evidence for the Preceramic Dispersals of Maize and Root Crops into Tropical Dry and Humid Forests of Panama."

Dry, arid areas favour archaeological preservation, whereas tropical regions typically don't especially when it comes to foodstuffs. But with starch grain analysis, researchers are able to isolate residue from microcrevices in both ground stone and flaked stone tools and identify preserved starch grains under a microscope.

"The ability of starch grain analysis to identify plant taxa in the unfavourable preservation environments of western and central Panama confirms the importance of this method for establishing the presence of particular plant species, both domesticated and wild, in the subsistence practices of early inhabitants of tropical forests," the authors write.


Much of Dickau's research was conducted as part of her graduate studies at Temple University in Philiadelphia. The second and third authors are Anthony J. Ranere (Temple University), and Richard G. Cooke (Smithsonian Tropical Research Inst., Panama).

To speak to Dr. Ruth Dickau, contact her office at (403) 220-5230, or phone Greg Harris, U of C media relations, at (403) 220-3506 or cell, (403) 540-7306 or email
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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2007, 08:54:46 pm »

Native American populations share gene signature

 * 14 February 2007
    * news service

A distinctive, repeating sequence of DNA found in people living at the eastern edge of Russia is also widespread among Native Americans, according to a new study. The finding lends support to the idea that Native Americans descended from a common founding population that lived near the Bering land bridge for some time.

Kari Schroeder at the University of California in Davis, US, and colleagues sampled the genes from various populations around the globe, including two at the eastern edge of Siberia, 53 elsewhere in Asia and 18 Native American populations. The study examined samples from roughly 1500 people in total, including 445 Native Americans.

The team looked for a series of nine repeating chunks of DNA, known as 9RA, which falls in a non-coding region of chromosome 9. They found the 9RA sequence in at least one member of all the Native American populations tested, such as the Cherokee and Apache people. The two populations in eastern Siberia, where the Bering land bridge once connected Asia to North America, also tested positive for the 9RA sequence.

The 9RA sequence did not appear in any of the other Asian populations examined in the study, including those from other parts of Siberia, from Mongolia or Japan.
Multiple migrations?

According to Schroeder, the high prevalence of this gene marker among native populations of North and South America - and its absence in most of Asia - lends strong support to the idea that Native Americans can trace their ancestry to a common founding population.

The 9RA mutation probably occurred in an ancestral population located at the eastern edge of Siberia, which subsequently migrated over the Bering land bridge, Schroeder says (watch how the land bridge was gradually submerged as see levels rose). There may have been multiple migrations from this founding population, occurring thousands of years apart, she adds.

"How many times did people cross the Bering land bridge? That would be a very difficult question to answer," says Jeffrey Long at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, US, who contributed to the new study. Other experts have previously suggested that Native Americans do not share a common ancestry because of the linguistic and dental differences among populations.
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