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Prehistoric chefs retained strong cooking traditions

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Archaeologists have combined a combination of DNA analysis and ceramic studies to investigate the dissemination of broomcorn millet across Eurasia, shedding light on how regional culinary customs persisted despite the introduction of new crops.

Originating in China, broomcorn millet was typically prepared through boiling and steaming, resulting in a moist and adhesive product. In Central Asia, however, grains were commonly ground and baked into bread. When millet was introduced, locals applied their existing cooking methods to the new grain.

“It was already known that staple crops had moved long distances across the Old World in prehistory, at the same time that regional cuisines had persisted in a conservative fashion”, states author Dr Hongen Jiang from The University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “We didn’t know how those two opposing trends interconnected.”

To unravel this mystery, a team of researchers from various Chinese, UK, and US institutions analysed DNA from preserved millet remains in Xinjiang, China, dating from 1700 BC to AD 700. They compared this with cooking vessels to reconstruct prehistoric cooking techniques, the results of which are published in the journal Antiquity.

“Just as remarkable as the vast journeys staple crops made across prehistoric Eurasia is the enduring persistence of the regional culinary cultures that received those crops”, says Dr Jiang. “Conventional studies of ancient pottery can be combined with novel DNA science to reveal how they interconnect.”

The stickiness of broomcorn millet is influenced by specific gene variations. By analysing the DNA of grain samples, Drs. Harriet Hunt and Diane Lister from Kew Gardens and Cambridge University determined that millet grains from Xinjiang lacked the genes that make them sticky. This implies that, as millet spread westward, it retained a non-sticky consistency, even though sticky millet was prevalent in eastern China. Thus, crops extended farther west than the culinary traditions associated with them.

Ceramic evidence supports this, with eastern Chinese vessels designed for boiling, featuring a tripod base, while those in Central Asia have rounded bottoms, a design originating in the Altai mountains. Despite the introduction of millet to Xinjiang from the east, the vessels used to cook it were from the north, underscoring the survival of cooking traditions despite the incorporation of new ingredients.

The westward expansion of staple crops undoubtedly transformed the diets of the populations it reached, but culturally ingrained cooking traditions likely remained steadfast. Dr. Xinyi Liu from Washington University in St. Louis points out a parallel pattern in the opposite direction: wheat travelled eastward to ancient China about 4000 years ago, but the western grinding-and-baking tradition did not follow suit. The DNA evidence suggests that crops adapted to the people, rather than the reverse.

Header Image Credit : Antiquity Journal

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

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Archaeology

Trove of Roman objects linked to feasting found at Ostia antica

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Archaeologists have uncovered a trove of Roman objects linked to ritual feasting at Ostia antica.

Ostia Antica is an ancient harbour town located at the mouth of the Tiber River. The harbour served as the main port for Rome, transporting goods and people from the coast along the Via Ostiensis.

Archaeologists recently excavated the area of Regio I – Insula XV, a “sacred area” or precinct housing several temples and sanctuaries. At the centre is the temple of Hercules,  a 31 x 16 metre monument which dates from the Republican Era.

Excavations have revealed a substantial well situated at the base of the temple of Hercules. Upon draining the well, it was discovered to hold a significant collection of objects dating from the 1st to 2nd century AD.

Among the objects are various ceramics, miniatures, lamps, glass containers, fragments of marble, and burnt animal bones (pigs and cattle). According to the archaeologists, the trove corresponds with ritual feasting associated with cult at the temple.

In a press statement by the Ministry of Culture: “The discovery of burnt bones confirms that animal sacrifices were carried out in the sanctuary, while the common ceramics, also bearing traces of fire, indicate that the meat was cooked and consumed during banquets in honour of divinity. The remains of one or more ritual meals were thrown into the well, the last ones probably when their function had ceased.”

Header Image Credit : Ministry of Culture

Sources : Ministry of Culture

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

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Archaeology

Labyrinthine structure discovered from the Minoan civilisation

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Archaeologists have discovered a monumental labyrinthine structure on the summit of Papoura Hill in Crete.

The discovery was made during the installation of a radar system in preparation for the construction of a new airport in the area.

According to experts, the structure dates from between 2000 to 1700 BC shortly before or at the start of the palaeopalatial Minoan period.

The Minoan civilisation was a Bronze Age culture that emerged on the island of Crete around 3100 BC. The culture is known for the monumental architecture and energetic art, and is often regarded as the first civilisation in Europe.

Image Credit : Greek Ministry of Culture

The chronology of the Minoans is characterised into three distinct phases – Early Minoan (EM), Middle Minoan (MM), and Late Minoan (LM).

The palaeopalatial structure is part of the MMI – II grouping in the Middle Minoan, a period in which the first palaces were built and saw the development of the Minoan writing systems, Cretan hieroglyphic and Linear A.

The structure comprises of 8 concentric stone rings that converge on a central circular building. The entire diameter of the complex measures 48 metres and covers an area of approximately 1800 square metres.

Within the central structure are four designated zones in which radial walls intersect vertically and form a labyrinthine structure. Zones A and B appear to be have the main concentration of human activity, evidenced by the presence of large amounts of animals bones.

According to the experts, this residential area likely had a truncated cone or vaulted appearance and is the first monument of this type excavated in Crete. It can perhaps be paralleled with the elliptical MM building of the Chamezi Archaeological Site, as well as with the so-called circular proto-Hellenic cyclopean building of Tiryns.

The Minister of Culture, said: “This is a unique and highly significant find. Solutions are in place to ensure the completion of the archaeological research and the protection of the monument.”

Header Image Credit : Greek Ministry of Culture

Sources : Greek Ministry of Culture

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

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