What did people eat before agriculture? New study offers insight

A human tooth discovered at Taforalt Cave in Morocco in an undated photograph. (REUTERS)
A human tooth discovered at Taforalt Cave in Morocco in an undated photograph. (REUTERS)
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Updated 30 April 2024
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What did people eat before agriculture? New study offers insight

A human tooth discovered at Taforalt Cave in Morocco in an undated photograph. (REUTERS)
  • Analysis of forms — or isotopes — of elements including carbon, nitrogen, zinc, sulfur and strontium in these remains indicated the type and amount of plants and meat they ate

WASHINGTON: The advent of agriculture roughly 11,500 years ago in the Middle East was a milestone for humankind — a revolution in diet and lifestyle that moved beyond the way hunter-gatherers had existed since Homo sapiens arose more than 300,000 years ago in Africa.
While the scarcity of well-preserved human remains from the period preceding this turning point has made the diet of pre-agricultural people a bit of a mystery, new research is now providing insight into this question. Scientists reconstructed the dietary practices of one such culture from North Africa, surprisingly documenting a heavily plant-based diet.
The researchers examined chemical signatures in bones and teeth from the remains of seven people, as well as various isolated teeth, from about 15,000 years ago found in a cave outside the village of Taforalt in northeastern Morocco. The people were part of what is called the Iberomaurusian culture.
Analysis of forms — or isotopes — of elements including carbon, nitrogen, zinc, sulfur and strontium in these remains indicated the type and amount of plants and meat they ate. Found at the site were remains from different edible wild plants including sweet acorns, pine nuts, pistachio, oats and legumes called pulses. The main prey, based on bones discovered at the cave, was a species called Barbary sheep.
“The prevailing notion has been that hunter-gatherers’ diets were primarily composed of animal proteins. However, the evidence from Taforalt demonstrates that plants constituted a big part of the hunter-gatherers’ menu,” said Zineb Moubtahij, a doctoral student in archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and lead author of the study published on Monday in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
“It is important as it suggests that possibly several populations in the world already started to include substantial amount of plants in their diet” in the period before agriculture was developed, added archeogeochemist and study co-author Klervia Jaouen of the French research agency CNRS.
The Iberomaurusians were hunter-gatherers who inhabited parts of Morocco and Libya from around 25,000 to 11,000 years ago. Evidence indicates the cave served as a living space and burial site.
These people used the cave for significant portions of each year, suggesting a lifestyle more sedentary than simply roaming the landscape searching for resources, the researchers said. They exploited wild plants that ripened at different seasons of the year, while their dental cavities illustrated a reliance on starchy botanical species.
Edible plants may have been stored by the hunter-gatherers year-round to guard against seasonal shortages of prey and ensure a regular food supply, the researchers said.
These people ate only wild plants, the researchers found. The Iberomaurusians never developed agriculture, which came relatively late to North Africa.
“Interestingly, our findings showed minimal evidence of seafood or freshwater food consumption among these ancient groups. Additionally, it seems that these humans may have introduced wild plants into the diets of their infants at an earlier stage than previously believed,” Moubtahij said.
“Specifically, we focused on the transition from breastfeeding to solid foods in infants. Breast milk has a unique isotopic signature, distinct from the isotopic composition of solid foods typically consumed by adults.”
Two infants were among the seven people whose remains were studied. By comparing the chemical composition of an infant’s tooth, formed during the breastfeeding period, with the composition of bone tissue, which reflects the diet shortly before death, the researchers discerned changes in the baby’s diet over time. The evidence indicated the introduction of solid foods at around the age of 12 months, with babies weaned earlier than expected for a pre-agricultural society.
North Africa is a key region for studying Homo sapiens evolution and dispersal out of Africa.
“Understanding why some hunter-gatherer groups transitioned to agriculture while others did not can provide valuable insights into the drivers of agricultural innovation and the factors that influenced human societies’ decisions to adopt new subsistence strategies,” Moubtahij said.

 


Cyprus displays once-looted antiquities dating back thousands of years

Cyprus displays once-looted antiquities dating back thousands of years
Updated 22 July 2024
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Cyprus displays once-looted antiquities dating back thousands of years

Cyprus displays once-looted antiquities dating back thousands of years
  • The returned artifacts numbering around 60 were part of a larger haul of 250 antiquities that German authorities had seized from Turkish art dealer Aydin Dikmen in 1997

NICOSIA: Cyprus on Monday put on display artifacts — some of them thousands of years old — that were returned after a Turkish art dealer looted them from the ethnically divided island nation decades ago.
Aydin Dikmen took the artifacts from the country’s breakaway north in the years after Cyprus’ split in 1974, when Turkiye invaded following a coup mounted by supporters of union with Greece. The antiquities were kept in Germany after authorities there seized them in 1997, and protracted legal battles secured their repatriation in three batches, the last one this year.
Addressing the unveiling ceremony at Cyprus’ archaeological museum, President Nikos Christodoulides said the destruction of a country’s cultural heritage as evidenced in recent conflicts becomes a “deliberate campaign of cultural and religious cleansing that aims to eliminate identity.”
Among the 60 most recently returned artifacts put on display include jewelry from the Chalcolithic Period between 3500-1500 B.C. and Bronze Age bird-shaped idols.
Antiquities that Dikmen also looted but were returned years ago include 1,500-year-old mosaics of Saints Luke, Mark, Matthew and James. They are among the few examples of early Christian works to survive the Iconoclastic period in the 8th and 9th centuries when most such works were destroyed.
Cyprus’ authorities and the country’s Orthodox Church for decades have been hunting for the island’s looted antiquities and centuries-old relics from as many as 500 churches in open auctions and on the black market.
The museum’s antiquities curator, Eftychia Zachariou, told the ceremony that Cyprus in recent years has benefited from a shift in thinking among authorities in many countries who now opt to repatriate antiquities of dubious provenance.


Baby flamingos saved from drought-decimated lake in Algeria

Baby flamingos saved from drought-decimated lake in Algeria
Updated 22 July 2024
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Baby flamingos saved from drought-decimated lake in Algeria

Baby flamingos saved from drought-decimated lake in Algeria

OUM EL BOUAGHI: Around 300 pink flamingo chicks were rescued by volunteers in eastern Algeria after the salt lake where they hatched dried up following years of high temperatures and drought.
Thousands of flamingos migrate each year to nest in Lake Tinsilt, located around 450 kilometers (about 280 miles) southeast of the capital Algiers.
It is one of the largest wetlands in the country, with an area of more than 20 square kilometers.
“Barely a month ago there was water here,” volunteer Mourad Ajroud told AFP on Friday, pointing to what is now a vast expanse of cracked earth littered with the carcasses of dead birds.
The disappearance of the lake, which locals and Algerian media attribute to high temperatures and a years-long drought, has driven the adult flamingos away.
They left behind their unhatched eggs and defenseless chicks, dozens of which have died from hunger, thirst, poaching and wolf attacks.
A group of volunteers provided their cars and trucks to transfer 283 pink flamingos about 50 kilometers away to Lake Mahidiya, about 50 kilometers away.
The wetland near Ain Mlila remains flush thanks to a steady flow of water from nearby rivers and lakes.
The rescue operation was initiated by local amateur photographer Tarek Kawajlia, who documents the wildlife in his area, and noticed the decrease in the size of the lake and the flight of birds.
The volunteers carry out “morning and evening patrols to follow the chicks until they recover and are able to fly, so that they can return next year to the sabkha (marsh) and life can resume its normal course,” Kawajlia told AFP.
Ajroud, 53, said the group was not able to save all the birds.
“We couldn’t transport them all,” he said sadly, as another volunteer takes an injured bird to a veterinary clinic.
A few hours after the chicks were released at their new habitat, some adult birds joined them.
“The operation was successful and the parents found their little ones in a magnificent scene,” Kawajlia said in a comment on one of his photos posted to Facebook.
Lake Tinsilt is one of the around 50 bodies of water in Algeria declared wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar international environment treaty to protect wetlands.
Last year, about a hundred pink flamingos died at Lake Telamine in western Algeria’s Oran province due to wastewater pollution, according to environmental activists.


Artist swaps British Museum coin with fake

Artist swaps British Museum coin with fake
Updated 22 July 2024
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Artist swaps British Museum coin with fake

Artist swaps British Museum coin with fake
  • Ile Sartuzi said the idea came to him when he saw a museum volunteer handing visitors coins to handle

LONDON: A Brazilian conceptual artist swapped a historic British coin for a fake in the British Museum to highlight the large number of foreign objects it holds.
Ile Sartuzi said the idea came to him when he saw a museum volunteer handing visitors coins to handle.
He asked for an English Civil War-era silver coin because “It is one of the few British things in the British Museum” and then created a diversion while he swapped it for the fake.
Sartuzi told Reuters he deposited the original coin in the museum’s collection box on the way out. The Art Newspaper first reported his act, which he recounted in a video made for his master’s degree at Goldsmiths, University of London.
The British Museum said it would inform police about the incident, which took place in June.
“This is a disappointing and derivative act that abuses a volunteer led service aimed at giving visitors the opportunity to handle real items and engage with history,” a museum spokesperson said when asked for comment.
Sartuzi said institutions such as the British museum and France’s Louvre view themselves as the “holders of the treasures of humanity. The problem is that these institutions are the basis of imperialist cultures that looted a lot of these objects from the global south and world.”
The British Museum has been under scrutiny over the way it acquired some of the artefacts it holds, with some countries asking for pieces to be returned. Examples include the Parthenon Sculptures and Nigeria’s bronzes looted by British troops in 1897. It did not respond to Sartuzi’s allegations.
Sartuzi, who has exhibited in Brazil, Portugal and London, said he had sought advice from an art lawyer before swapping the coin.
The Museum dismissed an employee a year ago and ordered a review of security after it discovered hundreds of items had been stolen from its collection or were missing.


A 12-year-old girl is accused of smothering her 8-year-old cousin over an iPhone

iPhones are displayed during an event in Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (AP)
iPhones are displayed during an event in Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (AP)
Updated 21 July 2024
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A 12-year-old girl is accused of smothering her 8-year-old cousin over an iPhone

iPhones are displayed during an event in Cupertino, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (AP)
  • The recording shows the older child using bedding to suffocate her cousin as the younger girl slept in the top bunk, Gibson District Attorney Frederick Agee’s statement said

HUMBOLDT, Tennessee: A 12-year-old girl in Tennessee has been charged with murder, accused of smothering her 8-year-old cousin as the younger girl slept. A relative said they had been arguing over an iPhone.
A security camera recorded the killing, inside the bedroom they shared on July 15 in Humboldt, Tennessee, the county prosecutor said.
The recording shows the older child using bedding to suffocate her cousin as the younger girl slept in the top bunk, Gibson District Attorney Frederick Agee’s statement said. After the child died, “the juvenile cleaned up the victim and repositioned her body,” Agee said.
A relative told WREG-TV in Memphis that the girls had been arguing over an iPhone after coming from out of town to stay with their grandmother.
The girl was charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence after authorities obtained the video on Wednesday.
“I consider this to be one of the most disturbing violent acts committed by either an adult or juvenile that my office has prosecuted,” Agee wrote in the statement.
He said he would petition a judge to prosecute the girl, who turns 13 later this month, in adult court, which would allow for “a lengthier sentence, whether that will be through incarceration or supervision with court-ordered conditions.”

 


Watermelon soap from cosmetics firm Lush will support Palestinian children’s mental health

Watermelon soap from cosmetics firm Lush will support Palestinian children’s mental health
Updated 19 July 2024
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Watermelon soap from cosmetics firm Lush will support Palestinian children’s mental health

Watermelon soap from cosmetics firm Lush will support Palestinian children’s mental health
  • Soap made from natural ingredients and safe synthetics such as rapeseed, coconut, watermelon, bergamot, rose

LONDON: British cosmetics retailer Lush has launched a watermelon soap, the proceeds of which will fund essential mental health support and trauma counseling for children in Gaza and the West Bank.

Watermelons have emerged as a symbol of solidarity with Palestine, as they contain the colors of the Palestinian flag.

The Lush soap is made from natural ingredients and safe synthetics such as rapeseed, coconut, watermelon, bergamot and rose.

In 2011, the British Medical Journal published a review study that found high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among Palestinian children. New research by Save the Children has reported that feelings of depression, hyperactivity, a preference for being alone, and aggression are now reported by 95 percent of children in Gaza.

Lush’s support is nothing new. The company sources extra virgin olive oil from Palestine’s Marda Permaculture Farm, which is dedicated to social and environmental regeneration. The farm encourages sustainable agricultural practices and offers economic opportunities to local communities.