Tag: Prehistoric

World’s Oldest Bread Shows Hunter-Gathers Were Baking 4,000 Years Before Birth Of Farming

Excavations at Shubayqa 1

Hunter-gatherers were baking bread thousands of years before the birth of farming, archaeologists have discovered after digging up pieces from the world’s oldest loaf.

The remains of a charred flatbread were found at an archaeological site in Jordan dating back 14,400 years by an European team of researchers including experts from University College London and The University of Cambridge.

It is the oldest direct evidence of bread found to date, and it predates the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years.

The team say the effort needed to produce bread from wild grains probably meant it was reserved for special occasions.

Bread involves labour intensive processing which includes dehusking, grinding of cereals and kneading and baking,” said Professor Dorian Fuller, of the UCL Institute of Archaeology.

“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.”

The bread was discovered at a hunter-gatherer site known as Shubayqa 1 located in the Black Desert in northeastern Jordan.

One of the fireplaces where the bread-like products were discovered at Shubayqa 1.

The people who lived there, known as Natufians, existed through the transition from hunter-gathering to farming and so are often studied by archaeologists hoping to understand when and why the switch occurred.

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

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 use plants in new ways, rather than simply eating them raw.

But the flat bread found at Shubayqa 1 is the earliest evidence of bread making so far, and it shows that baking was invented way before we plants were cultivated.

Bread particles under the microscope

The presence of hundreds 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,” said archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, of the University of Copenhagen who is the first author of the study.

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.”

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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According To Scientists, Winged Archaeopteryx Dinosaur Flew In Short Bursts Like A Pheasant

Archaeopteryx flapped its wings but was not capable of long distance flight. Nor could it soar like birds of prey.

Instead, the feathered Jurassic creature probably made short bursts of ­limited low-level flight to escape danger, say experts in Grenoble, France, after X-ray analysis of fossil bones.

Pheasants fly in a similar way to avoid predators or human hunters.

Archaeopteryx – which means “ancient wing” – lived in the Late Jurassic period in what is now southern Germany.

The first fossil skeleton of one of the creatures, known as the London Specimen, was unearthed in 1861 near Langenaltheim and is housed at London’s Natural History Museum.

Similar in size to a magpie, it shared characteristics of Earth-bound dinosaurs and modern birds, including winged feathers, sharp teeth, three fingers with claws, and a long bony tail.

However despite being thought of as the first bird, experts now view Archeopteryx as a flying dinosaur.

Nor was it a direct ancestor of modern birds. Despite sharing a common dinosaur ancestor with birds, Archaeopteryx represents a “dead end” side branch on the evolutionary tree.

Present day birds are generally believed to have evolved from a group of small meat-eating dinosaurs known as maniraptoran theropods.

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Why Our Ancestors Drilled Holes In Each Other’s Skull

The earliest clear evidence of trepanation dates to approximately 7,000 years ago. It was practised in places as diverse as Ancient Greece, North and South America, Africa, Polynesia and the Far East.

People probably developed the practice independently in several locations.

Trepanation had been abandoned by most cultures by the end of the Middle Ages, but the practice was still being carried out in a few isolated parts of Africa and Polynesia until the early 1900s.

Since the very first scientific studies on trepanation were published in the 19th Century, scholars have continued to argue that ancient humans sometimes performed trepanation to allow the passage of spirits into or out of the body, or as part of an initiation rite.

However, convincing evidence is hard to come by. It is almost impossible to completely rule out the possibility that a trepanation was carried out for medical reasons, because some brain conditions leave no trace on the skull.

However, in a small corner of Russia archaeologists have turned up some of the best evidence for ritual trepanation ever discovered.

The story begins in 1997. Archaeologists were excavating a prehistoric burial site close to the city of Rostov-on-Don in the far south of Russia, near the northern reaches of the Black Sea.

The site contained the skeletal remains of 35 humans, distributed among 20 separate graves. Based on the style of the burials, the archaeologists knew that they dated to between approximately 5,000 and 3,000 BC, a period known as the Chalcolithic or “Copper Age“.

One of the graves contained the skeletons of five adults – two women and three men – together with an infant aged between one and two years, and a girl in her mid-teens.

Finding multiple skeletons in the same prehistoric grave is not particularly unusual. But what had been done to their skulls was: the two women, two of the men and the teenage girl had all been trepanned.

Each of their skulls contained a single hole, several centimetres wide and roughly ellipsoidal in shape, with signs of scraping around the edges.

The skull of the third man contained a depression which also showed evidence of having been carved, but not an actual hole. Only the infant’s skull was unblemished.

The job of analysing the contents of the grave fell to Elena Batieva, an anthropologist now at the Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

She immediately recognised the holes as trepanations, and she soon realised that these trepanations were unusual.

They had all been made in almost exactly the same location: a point on the skull called the “obelion“. The obelion is on the top of the skull and towards the rear, roughly where a high ponytail might be gathered.

Less than 1% of all recorded trepanations are located above the obelion point. What’s more, Batieva knew that such trepanations were even less common in ancient Russia.

As far as she was aware at the time, there was just one other recorded case of an obelion trepanation: a skull unearthed in 1974 at an archaeological site remarkably close to the one she was excavating.

Clearly, finding even one obelion trepanation is remarkable. But Batieva was looking at five, all of them buried in the same grave. This was, and is, unprecedented.

There is a good reason why obelion trepanation is uncommon: it is very dangerous.

The obelion point is located directly above the superior sagittal sinus, where blood from the brain collects before flowing into the brain’s main outgoing veins.

Opening the skull in this location would have risked major haemorrhage and death.

This suggests the Copper Age inhabitants of Russia must have had good reason to perform such trepanation procedures.

Yet none of the skulls showed any signs of having suffered any injury or illness, before or after the trepanation had been performed.

In other words, it appeared as if all of these people were trepanned while they were completely healthy. Was their trepanation evidence of some sort of ritual?

It was an intriguing possibility. However, Batieva had to give up the trail. She had many more skeletons to analyse from all over southern Russia, and could not afford to get sidetracked by just a few skulls, however enigmatic.

Before she gave up, Batieva decided to search through Russia’s unpublished archaeological records, in case any more strange obelion trepanations had been discovered but not reported.

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Pinky-Sized Fossil Of A Vulnerable Baby Bird That Died Shortly After It Hatched 127 Million Years Ago Sheds New Light On The Evolution Of Avians

The bird fossil.

Look at the length of your pinky finger. There was once a teeth-bearing, claw-wearing bird on this planet that was just that small.

About a decade ago, scientists unearthed the fossilized remains of a baby bird at the bottom of a lake in central Spain.

With recent analysis, they have found that the nearly complete avian skeleton dates back roughly 127 million years, putting it in the Mesozoic Era, during the time of dinosaurs.

The fossil is of a young hatchling belonging to the Enantiornithes family, a group of prehistoric birds. These flyers would have looked similar to modern birds, but with teeth and clawed fingers at the ends of their wings.

The specimen is less than two inches long and would have weighed just three ounces in life, making it possibly the smallest Mesozoic avian fossil known to date.

And this immature hatchling find could provide some clues about how ancient birds developed over time. A study, published March 5 in the journal Nature Communications, outlines just that.

Baby Bird Bones

Since the bird likely died soon after it hatched, it’s difficult to identify its species, says study co-author Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the LA Natural History Museum.

It could have died in a forest nearby and then may have been brought to the lake at the Los Hoyas archaeological site in central Spain. There, it would have fallen to the bottom and been preserved for millions of years.

[Hatchling fossils are] extremely fragile and very difficult to find in the fossil record,” Chiappe says. “[This find is] really neat because it’s one of those very rare, very young individuals.”

At first, the team tried to analyze the specimen with micro-CT scanning.

After that, they used a synchrotron—a high-tech particle accelerator that studies miniscule matter using very intense light—to zoom in on the specimen at the submicron level.

There, they were able to observe the detailed microstructures of the bones.

The skeleton only lacks its feet, most of its hands, and the tip of its tail. Its partially crushed skull is large in relation to its body, and its bones are largely disarticulated.

The nearly complete specimen is smaller than others, but its wings are larger than complete isolated wing remains described from mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber.

The young hatchling would have been in a critical stage of skeletal formation when it died, so its bones could provide insights about the species’ bone structure and development.

Its sternum is made of cartilage, meaning it hadn’t fully developed at the time of death.

“It gives some hint as to flight ability,” says Ryan McKellar, curator of invertebrate paleontology at Canada’s Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

“It would have been a weak flyer probably, if at all.”

But being youthfully flightless didn’t necessarily mean the hatchling was dependent on its parents. Some modern birds, like love birds, are born naked with their eyes shut, so they rely heavily on their parents from birth.

But others, like chickens, are fiercely independent, born with feathers and able to move from the time they hatch.

This shows that birds in the group Enantiornithes were more diverse than archaeologists have previously thought them to be.

Our goal is to understand the deep history of the bird lineage and to get a better idea of how early some of the birds develop the same types of strategies and systems that we see among living birds,” Chiappe says.

Avian Preservation

Birds are perfect for surveying bone development because they have large, easily accessible eggs. They also have to be able to fuse their bones to strengthen their skeletons, which must withstand the stress of flight.

This isn’t the first hatchling to be discovered, but it’s certainly one of the smallest. Other fossilized samples have been found preserved in tree sap.

Last year, a 99-million-year-old hatchling from the same enantionithes family was found in a chunk of Burmese amber. Other remains of birds, along with ticks, spiders, and dinosaur feathers, have also been found.

Sometimes, recrystallization can damage the structure of fossils. But this hatchling is still well preserved.

McKellar says the preservation of the bone in this specimen appears to be just as good as it would be had it been preserved in Burmese amber.

There are spectacular finds that are coming out of many places,” Chiappe says. “We’re very fortunate to be living now, from that perspective.”

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Study Reveals Prehistoric Humans Loved Their Dogs

The longstanding belief about human-canine relationships is that the world’s earliest dogs were mere work animals used to hunt game, but it turns out 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, Early Neolithic Siberian foragers had a soft spot for prehistoric Fido.

By analyzing 17 canine burial sites throughout the region, a team of anthropologists was able to determine quite a bit about the relationship between ancient Siberian foragers and their canine companions, which scientists believe looked a lot like large versions of the Siberian Husky.

University of Alberta anthropologist and lead author of the study Robert Losey says dog owners commonly lived near bodies of water, and the Lake Baikal region in modern day Siberia, as well as the areas near the Angara and Lena Rivers, seemed to fit the bill.

By examining sites in these areas, Losey and his team discovered that these Neolithic foragers and their dogs subsisted on the same diet, which included a lot of fish and seal.

“Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries,” Losey tells Discovery News.

While humans in largely pastoral communities seemed to rarely bury their dogs after death, dogs who lived in hunter-gatherer communities like those in Siberia seemed to share a close and personal connection with their people and were often buried ceremoniously — and not as a celebration of the canine’s hunting skills, evidence suggests.

If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9,000 years ago),” Losey explains.

The level of care with which these dogs were buried — alongside treasured items the dogs likely used everyday, and in some cases alongside their human companions — suggest a special bond must have existed between these ancient peoples and their four-legged friends.

One dog was laid to rest with what looked like a small round stone in his mouth, which the team interpreted to be either some sort of a toy or a special token. Other prehistoric pooches were entombed in death with trinkets like spoons and knives.

Unearthing another site revealed the skeleton of a man who was buried alongside his two dogs, the remains of each dog carefully placed to the left and right of the person.

Maybe the most interesting — and heartwarming, even — burial site contained the ancient remains of a dog whose owner lovingly placed a necklace made of four red deer tooth pendants around the pup’s neck.

A necklace fashioned in the same style as others worn by humans of the time. Perhaps the necklace was the forager’s way of honoring his best friend.

I think the hunter-gatherers here saw some of their dogs as being nearly the same as themselves,” Losey says, “even at a spiritual level.

People came to know them as unique, special individuals,” he adds.

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