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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

Archaeologists may have discovered the lost city of Tu’am

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Excavations in the Umm Al Quwain area of the UAE have revealed 6th century ruins that could be the lost city of Tu’am.

The ruins are situated on Al Sinniyah Island, part of a collection of small islands on the western part of the Khor Al Bidiyah peninsula.

Previous studies on the island have revealed a pearling village and monastery, which has been the focus of the latest season of excavations.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a larger settlement, with the earliest signs of occupation dating back to the 4th century AD and peaking in the 5th or 6th century.

The team uncovered traces of large semi-urbanised tenement buildings measuring 30 square metres, which are tightly packed around narrow walkways. According to the researchers, the settlement could be the lost city of Tu’am as described in Ancient Arab texts.

Tu’am was a regional capital on the Gulf coast that was famed for its pearl fishing industry and trade in precious gems.

The population went into decline following a plague and regional tensions, and subsequently was abandoned. Mass graves in the vicinity support the historical account of plague, as the skeletal remains show no evidence of trauma or a violent death.

“Our archaeological work has discovered the largest settlement by far ever found on the Gulf coast of the Emirates,” said Prof Tim Power of UAE University.

“And it’s exactly the right period for the city described in the early Islamic geographical sources. It’s clearly a really important place. No one has ever found it.”

Professor Power explained that while they have not found irrefutable evidence (such as an inscription bearing the town’s name), no other major settlements from this period have been discovered on the coast, strengthening the argument that the settlement is Tu’am. “It’s a process of elimination,” he explained.

Header Image Credit : Umm Al Quwain Department of Tourism and Archaeology

Sources : NUAE

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

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Archaeology

New findings in North America’s first city

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Cahokia was the largest urban settlement of the Mississippian culture, a mound-building pre-Columbian civilisation that emerged in the Midwestern, Eastern, and South-eastern United States.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the city was founded around AD 1050 along the banks of the Mississippi River, located near present-day St. Louis, Missouri.

The city covered an area between six to nine square miles (notably larger than many contemporary European cities such as London) and was home to up to 20,000 inhabitants at its peak.

Following the tradition of the Mississippian culture, the people of Cahokia constructed large earthen mounds – ranging from raised platforms, conical, and ridge-top designs – involving the movement of 55 million cubic feet of earth over a period that lasted several decades.

The largest mound is known as “Monks Mound,” named after a group of Trappist monks, which rises to a height of 290 metres and was once the tallest building construction in North America.

Image Credit : MattGush – iStock

Archaeologists and students from Saint Louis University (SLU) have recently conducted a series of excavations on the western periphery of the Cahokia Mounds.

The team unearthed 900-year-old ceramics, microdrills, structures, and wall trenches dating from around AD 1100 to 1200, during the Sterling Phase of the Mississippian Period. According to the archaeologists, the finds offer new insights into a crucial period in the chiefdom’s development, coinciding with Cahokia’s rapid population growth.

The excavations follow an aerial survey by SLU and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency using Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to conduct Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) to determine whether further mounds or archaeological features lie within the acres of thick forests and swampy land near the site’s main complex.

Header Image Credit : Alamy

Sources : KSDK

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

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