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Bronze Age metal cauldrons give clues about what people ate

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For a significant period, archaeologists have been deducing the applications of ancient tools through written accounts and contextual cues provided by the creators.

However, when it comes to dietary customs, they have been required to speculate about the food consumed and the methods of its preparation.

Published in the journal iScience, a recent study examined protein remains extracted from antique cooking cauldrons. The study revealed that individuals from the Caucasus region consumed animals such as deer, sheep, goats, and bovines belonging to the Maykop era (3700–2900 BC).

“It’s really exciting to get an idea of what people were making in these cauldrons so long ago,” says Shevan Wilkin of the University of Zurich. “This is the first evidence we have of preserved proteins of a feast—it’s a big cauldron. They were obviously making large meals, not just for individual families.”

It has been understood by scientists that the fats conserved within ancient pottery and the proteins derived from dental calculus, which is the solidified mineral plaque on teeth, retain indications of the proteins ingested by people in ancient times.

In this research, the integration of protein analysis and archaeological insights delves into precise aspects of the cuisine prepared using these specific containers. Numerous metal alloys possess antimicrobial attributes, and it is due to this characteristic that proteins have been exceptionally well-preserved on the cauldrons. The microorganisms in soil that typically break down proteins on surfaces like ceramic and stone encounter resistance on metal alloys.

“We have already established that people at the time most likely drank a soupy beer, but we did not know what was included on the main menu,” says Viktor Trifonov of the Institute for the History of Material Culture.

The team gathered eight residue samples taken from seven cauldrons that were unearthed at burial sites within the Caucasus region. This area lies between the Caspian and Black Seas, stretching from Southwestern Russia to Turkey, encompassing present-day nations such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. They successfully extracted proteins originating from blood, muscle tissue, and milk. Among these proteins, the presence of heat shock protein beta-1 suggested that the cauldrons were employed in cooking deer or bovine (cattle, yaks, or water buffalo) meats. Furthermore, the recovery of milk proteins from either sheep or goats indicated that the cauldrons were used for dairy preparation.

Although the cauldrons show signs of wear and tear from use, they also show signs of extensive repair. This suggests that they were valuable, requiring great skill to make and acting as important symbols of wealth or social position—perhaps a little like Le Creuset or Mauviel saucepans today.

The researchers would like to explore similarities and differences in the residues from a wider range of vessel types. “We would like to get a better idea of what people across this ancient steppe were doing and how food preparation differed from region to region and throughout time,” says Wilkin. Since cuisine is such an important part of culture, studies like this one may also help us to understand the cultural connections between different regions.

The methods used in this study have shown that there is great potential for this new approach. “If proteins are preserved on these vessels, there is a good chance they are preserved on a wide range of other prehistoric metal artifacts,” says Wilkin. “We still have a lot to learn, but this opens up the field in a really dramatic way.”

Cell Press

https://www.cell.com/iscience/fulltext/S2589-0042(23)01559-6

Header Image Credit : iScience/Wilkin et al

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Archaeology

Excavation of medieval shipbuilders reveals a Roman head of Mercury

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Excavations of a medieval shipbuilders has led to the discovery of a Roman settlement and a Roman head of Mercury.

The discovery was made at Smallhythe Place, a late 15th or early 16th century property managed by the National Trust near Tenterden in Kent, England.

Prior to the decline of the port and shipyard at Smallhythe during the 16th century, the local community played a crucial role in the shipbuilding industry, crafting vessels for notable figures, including members of royalty.

As part of a project funded by several UK institutions, over 60 volunteers from the National Trust participated in the excavation, along with professional archaeologists, students, and members of the Hastings Area Archaeological Research Group.

The excavation has revealed traces of a Roman settlement that was occupied between the 1st and 3rd centuries, including an incredibly rare figurine made of pipeclay that depicts the god, Mercury.

Mercury was a major god in the Roman pantheon and was associated with financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication (including divination), travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery, and thieves. He also served as the guide of souls to the underworld and was the messenger of the gods.

According to a press announcement by the National Trust: “This complete figurine probably would have depicted Mercury standing, either draped with a chlamys (a short cloak), or naked, holding a caduceus (a staff with two intertwined snakes).”

The team also unearthed thousands of artefacts, providing evidence of the evolution of Smallhythe Place from a Georgian farm to a midden dump, a shipbuilding site, and a brickworks.

The National Trust said: “To support our investigations, we received grants from the National Trust’s Inclusive Archaeology, Robert Kiln and the Roman Research Funds and from the Royal Archaeological Institute. During 2023, our project has received funding from the Society of Antiquaries and the William and Edith Oldham Charitable Trust.”

Header Image Credit : James Dobson

Sources : National Trust – Exploring Smallhythe Place: Archaeological Investigations by the River Rother

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Researchers find that Żagań-Lutnia5 is an Iron Age stronghold

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Archaeologists have conducted a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey of Żagań-Lutnia5, revealing that the monument is an Iron Age stronghold.

Żagań-Lutnia5 was first discovered in the 1960s near the town of Żagań in western Poland, with previous studies suggesting that the monument could be associated with the Białowieża group of the Lusatian urnfield culture.

The Lusatian culture existed in the later Bronze Age and early Iron Age (1300–500 BC) in most of what is now Poland. It formed part of the Urnfield systems found from eastern France, southern Germany and Austria to Hungary, and the Nordic Bronze Age in northwestern Germany and Scandinavia.

A recent study led by Dr. Arkadiusz Michalak on behalf of the Archaeological Museum of the Middle Oder River has revealed two parallel sequences of magnetic anomalies at Żagań-Lutnia5 that represent the remnants of earthen and wooden fortifications.

The course of the fortifications were recorded in the northern, western and southern parts of the study area, however, a study of the eastern section was limited due to a sewage collector built in the 1990’s.

Exploratory excavations found four cultural layers with remains of huts and hearths, in addition to a burnt layer from the last phase of occupation that suggests a period of conflict.

According to the researchers, the monument was likely built by the same people who constructed the stronghold in Wicin and a number of verified defensive settlements within the area of the Elbe, Nysa Łużycka and Odra.

As a result of the study, Żagań-Lutnia5 has been added to the catalogue of verified Early Iron Age strongholds located in today’s Lubusz Voivodeship.

Header Image Credit : Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments

Sources : Provincial Office for the Protection of Monuments – Archaeological research at the site of Żagań-Lutnia5

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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