Audio News for December 9th  to December 15th, 2012

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from December 9th to December 15th, 2012.


Talk about aged!  Evidence of European cheese making dates back 7000 years



In our first story, an international team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol in the UK, has revealed the first indisputable evidence that humans in prehistoric Northern Europe made cheese more than 7,000 years ago.  Researchers analyzed fatty acids extracted from unglazed pottery pierced with small holes excavated from archaeological sites in Poland.  The study showed prehistoric humans processed dairy products in the ceramic vessels.  Additionally, the characteristics of the sieves, close in shape to modern cheese-strainers, provides compelling evidence that these early Europeans used specialized vessels for cheese making.  

Before this study, researchers had detected milk residues in early sites in northwestern Anatolia from 8,000 years ago and in Libya nearly 7,000 years ago.  Nevertheless, it had been impossible to detect the presence of cheese products.

Researchers from the Organic Geochemistry Unit at the University of Bristol, together with colleagues at Princeton, studied unglazed pottery from the region of Kuyavia in Poland dating from around 7,000 years ago.  Archaeologists interpreted the pottery as cheese-strainers due to the peculiar presence of small sized holes on the surface of the shards.  In fact, these archaeological shards looked like modern cheese-strainers.  Using lipid biomarker and stable isotope analysis, researchers examined preserved fatty acids trapped in the fabric of the pottery and showed that the prehistoric makers had used the sieves for processing dairy products.  Additionally, the researchers detected milk residues in non-perforated bowls, which the people may have used with the sieves.  Contrastingly, the analyses of non-perforated pottery, cooking pots or bottles, demonstrated that these early Europeans were not using them for processing milk.  The presence of ruminant carcass fats in cooking pots showed their use to cook meat, while the presence of beeswax in bottles suggests the sealing of the pottery to store water.  

The processing of milk and particularly the production of cheese were critical in early agricultural societies as it allowed the preservation of milk in a non-perishable and transportable form and, of primary importance, it made milk a more digestible commodity for early prehistoric farmers.  

The presence of the sieves in the ceramic collection of the sites proves that prehistoric people produced milk and even cheese at these sites.  Of course, the makers could have used the sieves for straining other things as well, such as curds from whey, meat from stock or honeycombs from honey.  Researchers decided to test the cheese-making hypothesis by analyzing the lipids trapped into the ceramic fabric of the sieves.  The presence of milk residues in sieves constitutes the earliest direct evidence for cheese making.  So far, early evidence for cheese making was mostly iconographic, that is to say, murals showing milk processing, which dates to several millennia later than the cheese strainers.


Party On! Cauldrons and cattle skulls evidence of Iron-Age feast


For our next story, we see how researchers have unearthed remnants of an Iron-Age feast, including cattle skulls and 13 cauldrons, in Chiseldon, England.  The discovery marks the largest assemblage of early cauldrons ever found in Europe.  

One cauldron features a handle plate in the form of a cow's head.  Zoomorphic decoration is otherwise unknown on a British cauldron.  

According to Julia Farley, curator of European Iron Age collections at the British Museum, analysis of the interiors revealed traces of animal fats, suggesting Iron Age people used them for cooking and serving meat-rich stews at feasts over 2,000 ago.  

The makers of the cauldrons used an iron and copper alloy that dates to the second or first century BC.  They built their cauldrons to last, with an iron rim and band supporting circular suspension handles.  The main body of the cauldrons comprised a central band and bowl of sheet copper alloy riveted together.  

The last use of the cauldrons, which researchers found buried in a pit, is a bit of a mystery, but the research team suspects the users consumed large quantities of food and drink.  Feasts at the time would have marked significant events in the calendar or special occasions, such as marriages.  The evidence suggests beef was the main event at the last big feast involving the cauldrons.  The two cattle skulls, cow cauldron decoration, and traces of animal fats all theoretically point to beef.  However, the researchers say it's too soon to make that conclusion.  Notwithstanding the cattle skulls, it might well have been pork since pigs were important animals in feasting.  DNA testing of the lipids could solve the mystery.


Ancient embalmers overlooked a tool

Source:Original Headline:   Oops!  Brain-Removal Tool Left in Mummy's Skull

Our next story, from Croatia, involves an ancient Egyptian mummy.  Researchers at the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb discovered a brain-removal tool used by ancient Egyptian embalmers lodged in the skull of a female mummy dating back around 2,400 years.  Removal of the brain was an Egyptian mummification procedure that started around 3,500 years ago and remained in use in later periods.  

A series of CT scans revealed the object, located between the left parietal bone and the back of the skull of a woman who died at about age 40.  Researchers then inserted an endoscope, a thin tube used for noninvasive medical procedures, to get a closer look and ultimately detach it from the resin that filled the skull.  According to the researchers, they found themselves looking at an object more than 8 centimeters long used for liquefying and removing the brain.
The embalmers inserted the instrument through a hole punched into the ethmoid bone near the nose in order to remove some of the brain matter and liquify the remainder.  The embalmers accidentally left this stick in the skull.  The tool may have broken apart during the procedure.  

This accident, unfortunate for the ancient mummy, has provided researchers with a very rare artifact.  The only other brain-removal stick researchers have found inside a mummy's skull dates back 2,200 years.  Brought to Croatia in the 19th century without a coffin, the mummy’s original site is unknown.  Radiocarbon dating and CT scans of the mummy determined its date to be around 2,400 years.  The stick is quite brittle and the team could not do their analysis as thoroughly as they had hoped.  

Botanical scientists determined that the tool’s manufacturer, in its creation, used plants in the group that includes forms of palm and bamboo.  The recent discovery suggests embalmers used an organic stick, not an iron hook, in at least some of these procedures, possibly for economic reasons.  

Researchers note that organic material also made up the tool found in the skull of the other mummy, dating from 2,200 years ago.


Garden shed turns out to be 18th century woodworking shop

Original Headline:  Untouched 18th Century Woodworking Shop Found


Imagine peeking into an old garden shed and discovering the oldest woodworking shop in United States.  Ritchie Garrison, professor of history and director of the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture at the University of Delaware, and his associate Michael Burrey were in the process of revamping Garrison's 19th century house in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Burrey coincidentally was also working on a project at a local preschool in Duxbury, Massachusetts, where he discovered what turns out to be an 18th century joiner's shop.  

If the date painted on the building is accurate, the shop could trace back to at least 1789.  Eighteenth century shops are extremely rare, unlike the more common 19th-century shops.  The shop provided all sorts of clues to its uses and even the local ecology 200 years ago.  In addition, although the school used the shed, many of the features of the shop are essentially untouched.  The original workbenches, for instance, are still intact and in good condition.  

Burry and Garrison also noticed a conspicuously removed fireplace.  The fireplace told the historian that the woodworkers were doing things that required warmth, such as using glue, explaining that 18th-century glue needed to reach a certain temperature to work.  As for the shop’s wood itself, dendrochronology shows that it is from the second or third generation of trees replanted after original New England settlement by Europeans.  According to local records, the workshop belonged to a master carpenter named Luther Sampson.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!