Anthropology

4 Feb 2010

The Guardian January 22nd ... Israel is to fund a genetic study to determine if there is a link between the lost tribes of Israel and the Pashtun peoples of southern Afghanistan and its borders. The Afride tribe has been chosen for the study, many of whom live in northern India. Afride has been linked rather speculatively to Ephraim, while another tribe, the Yusufzai, are said to derive from Joseph.

Current World Archaeology February 2010 ... Europeans are able to digest raw milk that makes them different than for example the Chinese who are lactose intolerant. It enabled European farmers to colonise northern latitudes as they derived vitamin D from milk rather than from sunlight as in other parts of the world. The genetic mutation that allowed lactose tolerance first appeared in farmers around 7500 years ago, somewhere in central Europe.

Speigle Online December 24th ... archaeologist Patrick McGovern thinks alcohol played an important role in the adoption of agriculture. It was probably discovered accidentally in the form of fermented fruit or berries but once it was discovered they would have wanted to keep producing it, he enthuses. As early as 9000 years ago inhabitants of a Neolithic village in China were brewing mead with an alcohol strength of 10 per cent. McGovern analysed clay shards at the site in the Yellow River valley and found traces of alcohol produced by a mixture of fruit and honey. Wild rice was also an ingredient and the starch was inverted into malt sugar. Consuming high energy sugar and alcohol was in fact a clever survival technique in a hostile environment, he speculates. He also claims to have found evidence that alcohol, by-product or otherwise, spread rapidly around the world during the Neolithic period. He has even written a book on the subject, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and other alcoholic beverages, in which he claims the Neolithic revolution in the Early Holocene came about in response to an impulse to become intoxicated. Archaeologists have long wondered what came first - bread or beer. Beer is a fairly complicated process but so too is making bread flour - which requires separating the grains from the chaff. It is likely he says that early farmers enriched their diets with a hybrid swill that was probably nutritious - and used grains to mix with herbs and bits of meat to make gruel and stews. Nowadays, drinking alcohol is strictly taboo in Iran but in the prehistoric period everyone seems to have drunk wine and beer in large quantities. It may have spread from there to other parts of the world, such as Europe, with early farming migrants. The Sumerians also drank alcohol in rites associated with the gods and goddesses - but its origins may go way back into the Palaeolithic era. It is the evidence that is lacking.

BBC News January 9th ... Neanderthals used body paint according to scientists investigating a cave in Spain - and jewellery. They also painted things such as stone slabs, scallop shells and cockleshells. In other words they had the same ability to symbolise, imagine and create as modern humans. The late Aurignacian people used a mix of ornamentation.

Archaeo News number 335 (10th January) (archaeo-news [at] stonepages [dot] com) an ancient Aborigine story of a star falling into a waterhole in central Australia caused a student to look on Google Earth for an impact crater. He found a giant bowl shaped structure in Palm Valley.

Science Daily, January 20th 2007 ... an old story but worth regurgitating. University of Leicester archaeologist Terry Hopkinson claims Neanderthals were much more advanced than the popular image allows. He finds the sterio-typical description of them, especially in the media, as wholly unhelpful and actually ignored facts known about them for a considerable number of years. Neanderthals were innovators, he says, devising new tool technologies and adjusting to the Ice Age climate. The modern human mind did not turn on like a light switch 50,000 years ago.