Noodles, moon cakes and other foods dating to 2,500 years ago were recently unearthed in a Chinese cemetery.

By Jennifer Viegas

Fri Nov 19, 2010 10:29 AM ET




Noodles, cakes, porridge, and meat bones dating to around 2,500 years ago were recently unearthed at a Chinese cemetery, according to a paper that will appear in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


Since the cakes were cooked in an oven-like hearth, the findings suggest that the Chinese may have been among the world's first bakers. Prior research determined the ancient Egyptians were also baking bread at around the same time, but this latest discovery indicates that individuals in northern China were skillful bakers who likely learned baking and other more complex cooking techniques much earlier.


"With the use of fire and grindstones, large amounts of cereals were consumed and transformed into staple foods," lead author Yiwen Gong and his team wrote in the paper.


Gong, a researcher at the Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his team dug up the foods at the Subeixi Cemeteries in the Turpan District of Xinjiang, China. This important cultural communication center between East and Central China has a desert climate.


"As a result, the climate is so dry that many mummies and plant remains have been well preserved without decaying," according to the scientists, who added that the human remains they unearthed at the site looked more European than Asian.


"Judging from the preserved mummies, most of them resemble typical Europeans, with light-colored hair, deep-set eyes, and protruding noses," the researchers wrote. "Of the 19 mummies examined, only three are Mongolian."


The individuals may have been living in a semi agricultural, pastoral artists' community, since a pottery workshop was found nearby, and each person was buried with pottery. The archaeologists also found bows, arrows, saddles, leather chest-protectors, boots, woodenwares, knives, an iron aw, a leather scabbard, and a sweater in the graves. But the scientists focused this particular study on the excavated food.


The food included noodles mounded in an earthenware bowl, sheep's heads (which may have held symbolic meaning), another earthenware bowl full of porridge, and elliptical-shaped cakes as well as round baked goods that resembled modern Chinese moon cakes.


Chemical analysis of the starches revealed that both the noodles and cakes were made of common millet.


The scientists next put new millet through a barrage of cooking experiments to see if they could duplicate the micro-structure of the ancient foods, which would then reveal how the prehistoric chefs cooked the millet.


The researchers determined that boiling damages the appearance of individual millet grains, while baking leaves them more intact. The scientists therefore believe the millet grains in one bowl were once boiled into porridge, the noodles were boiled, and the cakes were baked.


"Baking technology was not a traditional cooking method in the ancient Chinese cuisine, and has been seldom reported to date," according to the authors, who nevertheless believe these latest food discoveries indicate baking must have been a widespread cooking practice in northwest China 2,500 years ago.


The discoveries add to the growing body of evidence that millet was the grain of choice for this part of China. Houyuan Lu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geology and Physics, along with other researchers, unearthed millet-made noodles dating to 4,000 years ago at the Laija archaeological site, also in northwest China.


In that case, "the noodles were thin, delicate, more than 19.7 inches in length and yellow in color," according to Lu and his colleagues. "They resemble the La-Mian noodle, a traditional Chinese noodle that is made by repeatedly pulling and stretching the dough by hand."


Gong and his team point out that millet was domesticated about 10,000 years ago in northwest China and was probably a food staple because of its drought resistance and ability to grow in poor soils.



Ancient trumpets played eerie notes

Scientists analyze tunes from 3,000-year-old conch-shell instruments for insight into pre-Inca civilization

By Marissa Cevallos

Web edition : Thursday, November 18th, 2010   


Now you can hear a marine-inspired melody from before the time of the Little Mermaid’s hot crustacean band. Acoustic scientists put their lips to ancient conch shells to figure out how humans used these trumpets 3,000 years ago. The well-preserved, ornately decorated shells found at a pre-Inca religious site in Peru offered researchers a rare opportunity to jam on primeval instruments.


The music, powerfully haunting and droning, could have been used in religious ceremonies, the scientists say. The team reported their analysis November 17 at the Second Pan-American/Iberian Meeting on Acoustics in Cancun, Mexico.


“You can really feel it in your chest,” says Jonathan Abel, an acoustician at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. “It has a rough texture like a tonal animal roar.”


Archaeologists had unearthed 20 complete Strombus galeatus marine shell trumpets in 2001 at Chavín de Huántar, an ancient ceremonial center in the Andes. Polished, painted and etched with symbols, the shells had well-formed mouthpieces and distinct V-shaped cuts. The cuts may have been used as a rest for the player’s thumb, says study coauthor Perry Cook, a computer scientist at Princeton University and avid shell musician, or to allow the player to see over the instrument while walking. 


To record the tunes and understand the acoustic context in which the instruments, called pututus, were played, the researchers traveled to Chavín.


As an expert shell musician blew into the horn, researchers recorded the sound’s path via four tiny microphones placed inside the player’s mouth, the shell’s mouthpiece, the shell’s main body and at the shell’s large opening, or bell. Similar to a bugle, the instruments only sound one or two tones, but like a French horn, the pitch changes when the player plunges his hand into the bell.


The team used signal-processing software to characterize the acoustic properties of each trumpet. Following the sound’s path made it possible to reconstruct the ancient shell’s interior, a feat that normally involves sawing the shell apart or zapping it with X-rays.


The researchers also wanted to know how the site’s ceremonial chamber, a stone labyrinth with sharply twisting corridors and ventilation shafts, changed the trumpet’s sound. To find out, the team arranged six microphones around the musician and reconstructed the sound patterns on a computer.


If the trumpets were played inside the stone chamber in which they were found, the drone would have sounded like it was coming from several different directions at once. In the dimly lit religious center, that could have created a sense of confusion, Abel says.


“Were they used to scare people while they were there?” asks Abel. “There are still a lot of things left open.”


Turns out, such questions about how sounds affect people and their behavior, an area called psychoacoustics, can be tested. It's a field of active research, and not just for ancient civilizations: Another group at Stanford is now studying how a room’s acoustics affects human behavior. In one recent experiment, researchers separated test subjects into different acoustic environments to do a simple task — ladling water from one bucket to another in a dimly lit room.


“What your ear can actually hear plays into how you would behave, or the psychological experience in the situation,” says Abel.




A musician plays the fundamental frequency and the first overtone of a 3,000-year-old shell trumpet unearthed in Peru. Click here to listen.



Prehispanic Decapitated Ballgame Player Sculpture Discovered by Archaeologists in Mexico


MEXICO CITY.- A Prehispanic sculpture that represents a beheaded ballgame player was discovered by archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) at El Teul Archaeological Zone, in Zacatecas, one of the few Mesoamerican sites continuously occupied for 18 centuries.


The life-size finding took place during research work conducted for the opening to public visit of the ceremonial site in 2012. The quarry dates from 900-1100 of the Common Era and evidence determines that the sculpture was created beheaded, maybe to serve as a pedestal for the heads of sacrificed players of the ritual ballgame.


The cylindrical sculpture with a 52 centimeter diameter is 1.97 meters high and weighs nearly a ton, and was located in the southeast area of the Ballgame court. Fragments of a similar sculpture were found in the northern extreme, so it is possible to find a pair of similar sculptures in the western side, still unexplored.


The discovery adds up to the great diversity of material found: shell and greenstone beads found in shaft tombs, ear ornaments with Teotihuacan motives, codex-style polychrome ceramics, as well as copper rattles and rings manufactured in one of the few Prehispanic foundries discovered.


According to archaeologist Peter Jimenez Betts, co director of the Cerro del Teul Archaeological Project, this richness in objects is the result from a continued occupation that the hill presented for at least 1,800 years. In contrast, great cities like Teotihuacan and Monte Alban were inhabited for 8 and 12 centuries, in that order.


In this sense, Cerro del Teul, symbol of the Zacatecas town Teul de Gonzalez Ortega, is one of the few sites in America with uninterrupted occupation from 200 BC to 1531 AD. In relation with its temporal sequence, it can only be compared with Cholula, in Puebla, and it is most probably the only site with such a long occupation in Mesoamerican western and northern regions.


Peter Jimenez and archaeologist Laura Solar, co director of the project, share the opinion of El Teul being the most important ceremonial center of Caxcan people, one of the bravest groups that fought Spanish Conquerors several times, almost defeating them in the famous Mixton War.


Caxcan occupied Cerro del Teul for less than 2 centuries (1350/1400-1531 AD). Destruction of the temple in this particular stage happened when Caxcan decided to keep using it as a ceremonial center. Tlaxcaltecas, allied with Spaniards, were in charge of burning the site to ashes, leaving scarce vestiges of the last settlement period.


“Indigenous people were taken down the hill and the town was renamed San Juan Bautista del Teul; this Christian character was implanted in places where the cult to Tlaloc, god of water, was important. Cerro del Teul is an altepetl, an elevation that contains water, where life is generated.


“We have evidence of the 16th century Caxcan occupation, as well as of the earlier shaft tomb tradition, 2 or 3 centuries before Christ. In addition, we have found in most recent excavations vestiges of intermediate periods, which points out this was one of the few sites in the Americas with constant occupation for over 18 centuries”, declared archaeologist Jimenez.


In the panorama of what today is the State of Zacatecas, Teul was occupied at least 6 centuries before La Quemada and Alta Vista ceremonial centers, sharing history with them during the Medium Classic and Epi Classic periods, from 400 to 1000 of the Common Era, being occupied 500 years after they were abandoned.


Relevance of Cerro del Teul for archaeology, continued the Zacatecas INAH Center specialist, is that “studying it will help us answer basic questions regarding the Mesoamerican standard of living, the one that would arrive to La Quemada and Alta Vista. Answers about this gradual colonization are here”.


Significance of El Teul was registered in documents such as the 16th century “Plano del Obispado de Compostela” and the work of geodesic engineer Carl de Berghes, who created an accurate map of the settlement in mid 19th century, as an assignment of governor Francisco Garcia Salinas.


To present and as part of Cerro del Teul Archaeological Project, topographical surveying of the site is being carried out using Total Station, an electro-optical device that generates a three-dimensional model that allows precise location of excavations, architectural and sculptural elements and burials.


This register helps understanding the chronology of the place; excavation work has been systematic, currently concentrating on spaces at Conjunto Oriente (Eastern Conjunct) as: Ballgame court, Dos Monticulos (Two Monticules) Square, and Patio Hundido (Sunken Yard), distributed in the middle part of the hill.


A group of inhabitants of Teul de Gonzalez Ortega have added up to the work conducting cleaning and restoration work, as well as registration of items, excavation and supervision of the Total Station, thanks to resources from PET (Temporary Employment Program).


By means of the joint effort of the federal and Zacatecas state governments, Cerro del Teul Archaeological Zone will be open to the public in 2012, to contribute to the knowledge of Prehispanic culture in Zacatecas and the integration of tourism routes.



First Americans 'reached Europe five centuries before Columbus discoveries'

Scientists claim first Americans arrived long before Columbus bumped into an island in the Bahamas in 1492

Giles Tremlett Madrid

guardian.co.uk,          Tuesday 16 November 2010 17.43 GMT


When Christopher Columbus paraded his newly discovered American Indians through the streets of Spanish towns at the end of the 15th century, he was not in fact introducing the first native Americans to Europe, according to new research.


Scientists who have studied the genetic past of an Icelandic family now claim the first Americans reached Europe a full five centuries before Columbus bumped into an island in the Bahamas during his first voyage of discovery in 1492.


Researchers said today that a woman from the Americas probably arrived in Iceland 1,000 years ago, leaving behind genes that are reflected in about 80 Icelanders today.


The link was first detected among inhabitants of Iceland, home to one of the most thorough gene-mapping programs in the world, several years ago.


Initial suggestions that the genes may have arrived via Asia were ruled out after samples showed they had been in Iceland since the early 18th century, before Asian genes began appearing among Icelanders.


Investigators discovered the genes could be traced to common ancestors in the south of Iceland, near the Vatnajˆkull glacier, in around 1710.


"As the island was practically isolated from the 10th century onwards, the most probable hypothesis is that these genes correspond to an Amerindian woman who was taken from America by the Vikings some time around the year 1000," Carles Lalueza-Fox, of the Pompeu Fabra university in Spain, said.


Norse sagas suggest the Vikings discovered the Americas centuries before Columbus got there in 1492.


A Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, in the eastern Canadian region of Terranova, is thought to date to the 11th century.


Researchers said they would keep trying to determine when the Amerindian genes first arrived in Iceland.


"So far, we have got back to the early 18th century, but it would be interesting to find the same sequence further back in Icelandic history," Lalueza-Fox said.


The genetic research, made public by Spain's Centre for Scientific Research, was due to be published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.



Stonehenge mystery could rest on ball bearings


Thursday, 18 November 2010


Neolithic engineers may have used ball bearings in the construction of Stonehenge, it was claimed today.


The same technique that allows vehicles and machinery to run smoothly today could have been used to transport the monument's massive standing stones more than 4,000 years ago, according to a new theory.


Scientists showed how balls placed in grooved wooden tracks would have allowed the easy movement of stones weighing many tons.


No-one has yet successfully explained how the heavy slabs used to build Stonehenge were shifted from their quarries to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.


Some, the "bluestones", weighed four tons each and were brought a distance of 150 miles from Pembrokeshire, Wales.


Attempts to re-enact transporting the blocks on wooden rollers or floating them on the sea have not proved convincing.


The hard surfaces and trenches needed when using rollers would also have left their mark on the landscape, but are missing.


Experts hit on the new idea after examining mysterious stone balls found near Stonehenge-like monuments in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.


About the size of a cricket ball, they are precisely fashioned to be within a millimetre of the same size.


This suggests they were meant to be used together in some way rather than individually.


The Scottish stone circles are similar in form to Stonehenge, but contain some much larger stones.


To test the theory, researchers from the University of Exeter constructed a model in which wooden balls were inserted into grooves dug out of timber planks.


When heavy concrete slabs were placed on a platform above the balls, held in position by more grooved tracks, they could be moved with ease.


Archaeologist Andrew Young described the experiment in which he sat on top of the slabs to provide extra weight.


He said: "The true test was when a colleague used his index finger to move me forward - a mere push and the slabs and I shot forward.


"This proved the balls could move large heavy objects and could be a viable explanation of how giant stones were moved."


The team went on to carry out a life-size test funded by an American TV documentary maker.


To reduce costs, the scientists used relatively soft green wood rather than the hard oak that would have been plentiful in Neolithic times, when Britain was covered in forest.


This time, the researchers used hand-shaped granite spheres as well as wooden balls.


The results proved the technique would have made it possible to move very heavy weights long distances.


Professor Bruce Bradley, director of experimental archaeology at the University of Exeter, said: "The demonstration indicated that big stones could have been moved using this ball bearing system with roughly 10 oxen and may have been able to transport stones up to 10 miles per day.


"This method also has no lasting impact on the landscape, as the tracks with the ball bearings are moved along leap-frogging each other as the tracks get moved up the line."


Neolithic people were known to cut long timber planks, which they used as walkways across bogs, Prof Bradley pointed out.


Although the tests do not prove for certain that the ball bearing method was used, they show "the concept works", he said.


He added: "This is a radical new departure, because previous ideas were not particularly effective in transporting large stones and left unanswered questions about the archaeological record they would have left behind."


The next stage in the project is to provide mathematical evidence of how much force would be needed to keep a stone moving.


Ultimately, the scientists hope to conduct a full-scale experiment in Aberdeenshire using more authentic materials, stone balls and a team of oxen.



Ancient Roman village discovered in parkland around stately home

Remains of a Roman road, the village and thousands of artefacts were found at Syon House in Isleworth

Maev Kennedy

The Guardian,            Wednesday 17 November 2010


A farming village established almost 2,000 years ago beside the Roman road leading westward out of London has been uncovered in the parkland around a stately home, now in deepest suburbia.


Extensive remains of the road and village, burials – including skeletons in ditches that are still puzzling archaeologists – and thousands of artefacts including pre-Roman jewellery were found at Syon House near the Thames in Isleworth. The mansion has been the London home of the Dukes of Northumberland for 400 years.


The finds were on the Brentford side of their land on a site being cleared for a new hotel. They were discovered only a few hundred yards from the spot where, according to passionately held local tradition, Julius Caesar crossed the Thames in 54 BC, defeating the British chieftain Cassivellaunus and his alliance of local tribes.


The haul includes pottery, a lava stone quern, coins, a dagger, jewellery including shale bangles and a gold Bronze Age bracelet, in addition to the foundations of huts and a stretch of Roman road.


The strange ditch burials, like the jewellery, may date from long before the Romans arrived, and are still being studied at the Museum of London.


The archaeological remains – described by the team from the Museum of London as "a valuable, rare insight into the daily life of an agricultural village on the outskirts of Londinium" – were only half a metre below the grass.


They were preserved in the heart of a densely built-up suburb thanks to the hundreds of acres of parkland surrounding the house. Most of the agricultural villages around the Roman city have been destroyed by later development.


The village grew up beside the road and may also have provided accommodation for travellers heading west out of the city towards Silchester – a major town near Reading that was abandoned after Roman times and never reinhabited.


The excavation was carried out two years ago, but the finds are only being revealed today. Some of the artefacts will be displayed in the new Waldorf Astoria hotel, due to open on the site later this winter.


"Syon Park has a rich and remarkable history," said the Duke of Northumberland, who has had students from Birkbeck College digging up his back garden every summer for the past six years to reveal the outline of a vast lost medieval abbey. "The Roman findings are an incredible addition to this legacy."



Roman road junction discovered at Network Rail site

Story by: EDWARD CONLON, Reporter

Friday, 19 November, 2010

13:01 PM


ARCHAEOLOGISTS have uncovered an ancient Roman road junction beneath a railway development site in March.


The find reveals a new junction on the historic Fen Causeway road which runs underneath Whitemoor Marshalling Yards, the site where Network Rail are building a brand new railway reycling centre worth £23 million.


The discovery points towards the town’s ancient history as a centre for settlement and trade, and provides evidence of further links to nearby settlements.


North Pennines Archaeology Ltd sent workers to the Whitemoor site to investigate the remains of the rail yard and establish whether the course of the Fen Causeway had been fully removed by the rail yard’s construction.


The archaeologists came across a 12 metre-wide road and an additional eight metre-wide road heading south-west of the junction. It is believed that this was built to meet an east-west road recently excavated at the County Council’s waste transfer facility at Melbourne Avenue.


Another possible road, though less well preserved, heads north-eastwards towards known settlements and the salterns in the Longhill Road area.


Kasia Gdaniec, of the Cambridgeshire County Council’s Historic Environment Team, said: “This has been a rare opportunity to investigate an unexpectedly well-preserved section of the Fen Causeway. It is the first time that a junction has been found in association with it,”


She added: “March has a wealth of fantastic archaeological remains that are exciting and challenging in equal measure.”


The discovery falls under the former marshalling yards where a new national railway recycling centre is in the second phase of construction. The centre will enable Network Rail to sort, clean, process, recycle and re-use railway materials.


The centre aims to create even more jobs in the town.



'Real' Mortimer's Hole uncovered by cave survey


Archaeologists in Nottingham say they have uncovered the true site of one of the country's most infamous caves.

Mortimer's Hole is reputed to be the route by which Edward III's troops entered the city's castle to capture Roger de Mortimer, in 1313.

The young Edward is said to have suspected Mortimer of been involved in the murder of his father, Edward II.

The official entrance of Mortimer's Hole is next to Brewhouse Yard but archaeologists now believe the real tunnel originates in a garden in the Park Estate.

The discovery was made during the Nottingham Caves Survey, a two-year project in which a laser scanner is being used to produce a three-dimensional record of Nottingham's sandstone caves.

University of Nottingham archaeologist Dr David Walker said: "It's almost certainly the real Mortimer's Hole."


"Early documents talk of a secret passage which the modern one certainly wasn't because it was used for carting stuff up from the River Leen to the castle," he said. "The documents all fit with this tiny sliver of a blocked cave which runs into a man's garden."

Roger de Mortimer was sent to the Tower and then hanged on 29 November 1330.

The archaeologist believes the real Mortimer's Hole is a tunnel currently known as the North-Western Passage.

From the house on Castle Grove in the Park Estate, the passage stretches for 30-40 metres and is partly filled with rubble.

Dr Walker said, once you get past the debris, the full height of the tunnel is exposed and there are rock cut steps at the bottom and an arch at the top.

Filled with rubble

The passage would have emerged in the former Middle Bailey, now the Castle Green, but it is now blocked.

Commenting on the new discovery Dave Green, the man in charge of heritage sites for Nottingham City Council said: "History is always controversial and full of differing opinions and ideas.

"We will look forward to presenting this new information alongside the stories we have always told on our cave tours and leave for the public to choose for themselves which is the real Mortimer's Hole."

The Nottingham Caves Survey began in March 2010.

The team from Trent and Peak Archaeology are producing a record of more than 500 sandstone caves around Nottingham.


So far the team have fully surveyed 35 caves.

"It's been quite a lot of work but it's only a dent in the 500 or so in the city," said Dr Walker.

To be able to survey the caves the archaeologists need to manoeuvre their equipment through the passages.

"We think there's probably about 150 in the city that are still accessible, so we've made a reasonable stab at that.

"We've done quite a wide range of caves in that time in terms of age and uses, from domestic caves to pub cellars to sand mines and tunnels under the castle," he said.

The project, costing £250,000, has been funded by the Greater Nottingham Partnership, East Midlands Development Agency, English Heritage, the University of Nottingham and Nottingham City Council.