Category Archives: ASIA

Ancient temple found inside a pond in Odisha

1,200 Year Old Temple Found Buried In Odisha Sand

During the refurbishment job of the Bateswar temple close Rushikulya rookery in Ganjam District of Odisha, on the east shore of India, buried artifacts of the 8th century are emerging.

The temple is located on the coastal sand dunes around eight km from the Kolkata-Chennai Highway near Humma.

According to Odisha State Archaeology department superintendent Sanghamitra Satpathy, with the financial support of the World Bank, Rs.1.64-crore renovation work was taken up at the Bateswar temple under the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project (ICZMP).

During the renovation, remnants of a Parvati temple were discovered from under the sand on the periphery of the Bateswar temple.

According to the priest of the Bateswar temple, some idols were also discovered from this newly-discovered small temple.

Steps to preserve the temple

Meanwhile, the State Archaeology department has decided to take necessary steps to preserve the newly-discovered temple.

Senior historian and retired head of history department of Berhampur University, Ashok Kumar Rath, who has researched on the archaeological remains of this region said the Bateswar temple as well as the newly-discovered temple on its premises belonged to the 8th Century.

“The two-chambered Bateswar temple has archaeological resemblance with Laxmaneswar, Bharateswar and Shatrughneswar temples of Bhubaneswar, which were also built in the 7th or 8th Century AD,” said Prof. Rath.

1,200 Year Old Temple Found Buried In Odisha Sand
The recently-discovered 8th-century temple in Ganjam district of Odisha

According to him, this ancient temple was built during the Shilodvhav period of the Odisha history and was linked with the maritime history of this region.

The Bateswar temple also has some stone inscriptions in ‘Devanagari’ and ‘Kutila’ scripts that have become dull with time.

But as per the historians, these inscriptions are of later period, may be of 10th Century during the reign of Ganga dynasty.

During ancient times, ports existed at Palur and Ganjam near the Rushikulya rookery.

It is felt that based on the maritime activity in the region, an urban civilization may have existed in the area and Bateswar temple was part of it.

“More excavation around the Bateswar temple can reveal more information,” said Prof. Rath.

A drought revealed a palace thousands of years old submerged in an Iraq reservoir

A drought revealed a palace thousands of years old submerged in an Iraq reservoir

As the waters of the Mosul dam reservoir in northern Iraq receded last fall, they revealed a stunning sight: a Bronze Age palace, many of its mud-brick walls and carefully planned rooms remarkably preserved.

The discovery of the ruins in the Mosul Dam reservoir on the banks of the Tigris River inspired a spontaneous archeological dig that will improve understanding of the Mittani Empire.

One of the least-researched empires of the Ancient Near East, the Kurdish-German team of researchers said in a press release.

A drought revealed a palace thousands of years old submerged in an Iraq reservoir
The Mittani Empire is one of the least researched civilizations of the Ancient Near East.

“The find is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the region in recent decades,” Kurdish archeologist Hasan Ahmed Qasim said in a press release.

The palace would have originally stood just 65 feet from the river on an elevated terrace. A terrace wall of mud bricks was later added to stabilize the building, adding to the imposing architecture.

Ivana Puljiz, an archeologist from the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies, describes the palace, known as Kemune, as a carefully designed building with mud-brick walls up to two meters (6.6 feet) thick.

Some of the walls are more than two meters high, and various rooms have plastered walls, she added.

The team also found wall paintings in shades of red and blue, which were probably a common feature of palaces at the time but have rarely been found preserved.

“Discovering wall paintings in Kemune is an archaeological sensation,” she said in a press release.

“Kemune is only the second site in the region where wall paintings of the Mittani period have been discovered,” Puljiz told CNN in an email.

Photos of the clay tablets found at the site have been sent to Germany for translation.

Ten clay tablets covered in cuneiform, an ancient system of writing, were also discovered. High-resolution photos of the texts have been sent to Germany for translation.

“From the texts, we hope to gain information on the inner structure of the Mittani empire, its economic organization, and the relationship of the Mittani capital with the administrative centers in the neighboring regions,” Puljiz told CNN.

Archeologists first became aware of the site in 2010 when water levels in the reservoir were low, but this is the first time they have been able to excavate.

However, the site was submerged shortly after the dig, Puljiz said, adding: “It is unclear when it will emerge again.”

Qasim also worked on another project with the University of Tübingen, uncovering a Bronze Age city in northern Iraq in 2016.
The team unearthed the city, which lies beneath what is now the small village of Bassetki in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, close to territory that was held by ISIS.

Days after the dig was completed, Iraqi security forces began their push to take Mosul back from ISIS.

Measuring a kilometer in length and 500 meters across (about 1,000 yards by roughly 550 yards), the ancient urban area features grand houses, a palace, an extensive road network, and a cemetery.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated where and how the text on the clay tablets would be analyzed.

Severed head of large wolf found perfectly preserved in Siberian permafrost 40,000 years after it died

The severed head of large wolf found perfectly preserved in Siberian permafrost 40,000 years after it died

The severed head of large wolf found perfectly preserved in Siberian permafrost 40,000 years after it died
Scientists estimate that the wolf lived 40,000 years ago.

The sensational find is believed to be the world’s first full-sized Pleistocene wolf, and due to the high quality of preservation, provides new insight into the extinct species.

You never know what you might encounter during a casual stroll in Siberia. Local resident, Pavel Efimov, was walking along the Tirekhtyakh River in the Russian Republic of Sakha when he came across something bizarre: a severed wolf head.

But upon closer examination by experts, they found that it wasn’t just the head of any kind of wolf, but that of a prehistoric predator which lived 40,000 years ago during the Ice Age.

“This is a unique discovery of the first-ever remains of a fully grown Pleistocene wolf with its tissue preserved,” paleontologist Albert Protopopov from the Republic of Sakha Academy of Sciences told The Siberian Times.

The head, which measures 16 inches in length and is larger than half the body length of a modern-day wolf, is astonishingly well-preserved with its fangs, thick fur, soft tissue, and brain intact.

Although this is not the first such discovery of an ancient wolf in the Siberian territory, other discoveries have typically been skull specimens or the remains of pups. This head is believed to be from an adult wolf aged between two to four years old when it died.

The incredible discovery was announced in a joint exhibition organized by Yakutian and Japanese scientists in Tokyo, Japan. Further analysis of the wolf’s DNA will be done by an international team of scientists at the Swedish Museum of Natural History.

By examining the wolf’s ancient DNA, researchers hope to learn more about the evolution of ancient wolves to their modern iterations.

The researchers have time-stamped the impressive specimen to 40,000 years ago during the Pleistocene era.

Analyzing the specimen’s ancient DNA will allow scientists to learn more about the evolution of modern wolves.

In addition to some genetic analysis, the ancient wolf’s features will be reconstructed using a non-invasive x-ray with which the inside of the skull can be examined without destroying the head.

The Siberian permafrost, which includes areas in northern Canada, Alaska, and Greenland, has been host to other incredible archaeological finds in the past.

In fact, the team responsible for the recovery of this wolf head struck big in 2015 and 2017 with the discovery of several ancient cave lion cubs.

In 2017, one ancient cave lion cub was discovered around the same place by the Tirekhtyakh River in the Siberian permafrost territory.

Before then, researchers had already uncovered two other cubs — which scientists named Uyan and Dina — in 2015. The two cubs were unearthed on the banks of a different river still in the permafrost region.

“Everyone was amazed then and did not believe that such a thing is possible, and now, two years later, another cave lion has been found in the Abyiski district,” Protopopov said then.

Researchers dated all three cub specimens between 20,000 to 50,000 years ago, around the same time the ancient cave lion population became extinct.

CT scan of the wolf’s skull.

Like the wolf’s head, the lion cubs were incredibly well-preserved. The Cubs had all their limbs intact and showed no external injuries. The prehistoric animals were so perfect that they sparked a sudden interest among some scientists to clone the little beasts.

Just this past year, a 40,000-year-old extinct horse and 50,000-year-old wolf pup were also uncovered in the permafrost.

The ancient cave lion cubs were placed side-by-side with the new wolf specimen during the recent announcement by the researchers. The ancient wolf head has yet to ignite the same cloning discussion, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future.

Scientists discover oldest human fossil outside of Africa

Oldest non-African modern human fossil revealed to be 195,000 years old

The popular consensus in palaeoanthropology places the ancestors of our species exclusively in Africa before making a successful migration into Eurasia around 60,000 years ago.

There has been some level of recognition that perhaps small numbers of early modern humans reached the Levant and the Middle East around 120,000 years ago.

It was believed that these earlier populations represented a small-scale failed migration that barely managed to leave the continent before dying off. Now new Homo sapiens fossils from Israel suggest that this popular model is almost completely wrong.

Human origins are a murky affair; there is no definitive narrative to this story beyond a few fixed points between which lines can potentially be drawn in multiple (at times conflicting) directions.

The first thing anyone that follows palaeoanthropology should recognize is that the entire subject is dependent not so much on archaeological and genetic evidence as it is on accurate interpretations and sensible assumptions.

There is no Homo sapiens DNA available that is older than 45,000 years, and the fossil record of early modern and archaic Homo sapiens is very sparse. This means any favored human-origins hypothesis can change rapidly on the turn of a trowel.

Israeli scientists have published a confirmation of an archaic Homo sapiens jaw fragment associated with a discovery made back in 2002, at the Misliya Cave site, one of Mount Carmel’s many caves.

The article released in the science journal Nature, titled “Israeli Fossils Are the Oldest Modern Humans Ever Found Outside of Africa,” explains that the archaeological dig is situated just a few kilometers away from the Skhul cave, which has already produced modern-human remains dated at 80,000 to 120,000 years old.

After considerable analysis by multiple methods and involving international teams, the jaw fragment was accepted to be that of an early modern human living around 177,000 to 194,000 years ago.

Misliya Cave, the archaeological site where part of an adult upper jaw was found.
Misliya Cave, the archaeological site where part of an adult upper jaw was found.

“We called it ‘Searching for the Origins of the Earliest Modern Humans’; this was what we were looking for,” says Mina Weinstein-Evron, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel.

This incredibly ancient human bone further erodes the recent “Out of Africa” model. Not only were early modern human populations living beyond Africa 120,000 years ago, but they had already colonized western Eurasia almost 200,000 years ago. This date from Israel is virtually contemporary with those of the oldest early modern human remains found in East Africa, at 160,000 to 195,000 years of age (the Omo and Herto Skulls).

This latest announcement comes hot on the heels of several other “problematic” findings, including a new status for China’s Dali Skull, now identified as being that of a 260,000-year-old archaic Homo sapiens.

The other major upset for existing models involved the detection of an interbreeding event between Neanderthals and archaic Homo sapiens that occurred somewhere in Eurasia around 270,000 years ago, emerging from the study of a Neanderthal bone at the Hohlenstein-Stadel archaeological site in Germany.

The Hohlenstein-Stadel genetic study was published by Nature in late 2016, under the title “Deeply Divergent Archaic Mitochondrial Genome Provides Lower Time Boundary for African Gene flows into Neanderthals.”

When we factor in additional discoveries of potential early Homo sapiens populations living at Jebel Irhoud in Morocco around 300,000 years ago and others in China at dates closely matching those of the Dali skull, we begin to recognize Homo sapiens as a highly mobile and widespread species even from their very earliest appearance in the fossil record. It is time to completely abandon any romantic idea of a human genesis in an Eden-like human enclave somewhere in East Africa around 200,000 years ago.

“The fossil could indicate that Israel and the rest of the Arabian Peninsula were part of a larger region in which H. sapiens evolved,” says John Shea, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University in New York.

Perhaps the most intriguing implication of these very early modern human population in Eurasia is that we no longer require a migration into Eurasia 120,000 years ago to explain fossils from that later period.

It may well be that these were the descendants of more archaic Homo sapiens already present across the continent, while fully modern humans of today would be descendants of a few that survived extinction 73,000 years ago in a refuge somewhere before expanding once again across the continent 13,000 years later. Perhaps it is time for us to be more skeptical of claims involving additional migrations out of Africa and consider other interpretations of the available evidence.

Siberian Princess reveals her 2,500 year old tattoos

Siberian Princess reveals her 2,500-year-old tattoos

The intricate patterns of 2,500-year-old tattoos – some from the body of a Siberian ‘princess’ preserved in the permafrost – have been revealed in Russia. 

The remarkable body art includes mythological creatures and experts say the elaborate drawings were a sign of age and status for the ancient nomadic Pazyryk people, described in the 5th century BC by the Greek historian Herodotus.

But scientist Natalia Polosmak – who discovered the remains of ice-clad ‘Princess Ukok’ high in the Altai Mountains – is also struck about how little has changed in more than two millennia.

The Body of Princess Ukok, who died aged 25, had several tattoos on her body, including a deer with a griffon’s beak and a Capricorn’s antlers. The tattoos have been perfectly preserved for 2,500 years.

‘I think we have not moved far from Pazyryks in how the tattoos are made,’ she told the Siberian Times ( SiberianTimes.com ). ‘It is still about a craving to make yourself as beautiful as possible.”For example, about the British. 

‘A lot of them go on holiday to Greece, and when I’ve been there I heard how Greeks were smiling and saying that a British man’s age can be easily understood by the number of tattoos on his body.  ‘I’m talking about the working class now.  And I noticed it, too. 

‘The older a person, the more tattoos are on his body.’ Dr. Polosmak added: ‘We can say that most likely there was  – and is – one place on the body for everyone to start putting the tattoos on, and it was a left shoulder. 

Researchers also found two warriors close to the Princess , and were able to reconstruct their tattoos. Here, one is shown with an animal covering the right side of his body, across his right shoulder and stretching from his chest to his back.

‘I can assume so because all the mummies we found with just one tattoo had it on their left shoulders.’ And nowadays this is the same place where people try to put the tattoos on, thousands of years on. 

‘I think its linked to the body composition – as the left shoulder is the place where it is noticeable most, where it looks the most beautiful. ‘Nothing changes with years, the body stays the same, and the person making a tattoo now is getting closer to his ancestors than he or she may realise.

‘The tattoo patterns are from the ancient ‘princess’ who died at around the age of 25 – and from two warriors found on an ancient permafrost burial site at Ukok Plateau some 2,500 meters above sea level close to Russia’s frontiers with modern-day  Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan.

Princess Ukok’s hand with marked tattoos on her fingers. She was dug out of the ice 19 years ago, and is set to go on public display in the Altai Republic.

The reconstruction of the tattoos in the images shown here was released to coincide with the moving of the remains of the princess, dug out of the ice 19 years ago, to a permanent glass sarcophagus in the National Museum in Gorno-Altaisk, capital of the Altai Republic.  

Eventually, she will be displayed to tourists. Buried around her were six horses, saddled and bridled, her spiritual escorts to the next world, and a symbol of her evident status, though experts are divided on whether she was a royal or a revered folk tale narrator, a healer or a holy woman. 

Next to hear body was a meal of sheep and horse meat and ornaments made from felt, wood, bronze and gold.  And a small container of cannabis, say some accounts, along with a stone plate on which were the burned seeds of coriander. 

‘Tattoos were used as a mean of personal identification – like a passport now if you like,’ said Dr. Polosmak. ‘The Pazyryks also believed the tattoos would be helpful in another life, making it easy for the people of the same family and culture to find each other after death.  

The tattoos of one of two warriors found on the ancient permafrost burial site at Ukok Plateau some 2,500 meters above sea level close to Russia’s frontiers with modern-day Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan
Tattoos are clearly visible on one of the warrior’s shoulders. The designs are similar to those found on the Princess.

‘Pazyryks repeated the same images of animals in other types of art, which is considered to be like a language of animal images, which represented their thoughts.’ The tattoos were ‘used to express some thoughts and to define one’s position both in society and in the world. The more tattoos were on the body, the longer it meant the person lived, and the higher was his position. 

‘For example, the body of one man, which was found earlier in the 20th century, had his entire body covered with tattoos, as you see on the picture of his torso,’ said Dr. Polosmak. ‘Our young woman – the princess – has only her two arms tattooed. So they signified both age and status.’

The Ukok plateau, Altai, Siberi, where Princess Ukok and two warriors were discovered. Their bodies were surrounded by six horses fully bridles, various offering of food and a pouch of cannabis.

The Siberian Times said: “The tattoos on the left shoulder of the ‘princess’  show a mythological animal – a deer with a griffon’s beak and a Capricorn’s antlers. ‘The antlers are decorated with the heads of griffons. ‘And the same griffon’s head is shown on the back of the animal.

The mouth of a spotted panther with a long tail is seen at the legs of a sheep. ‘She also has a dear’s head on her wrist, with big antlers. ‘There is a drawing on the animal’s body on a thumb on her left hand.  ‘On the man found close to the ‘princess’, the tattoos include the same fantastical creature, this time covering the right side of his body, across his right shoulder and stretching from his chest to his back. 

‘The patterns mirror the tattoos on a much more elaborately covered male body dug from the ice in 1929 whose highly decorated torso in reconstructed in our drawing here. 

‘His chest, arms, part of the back and the lower leg are covered with tattoos. There is an argali – a mountain sheep – along with the same dear with griffon’s vulture-like beak, with horns and the back of its head which has griffon’s head and an onager, is drawn on it.’

Ancient Indian Temple Finally Uncovered After Decades of Being Submerged in Reservoir

Ancient Indian Temple Finally Uncovered After Decades of Being Submerged in Reservoir

A decade ago, the waters of the Udyasamudram reservoir at Panagal in India’s Nalgonda district engulfed the Sri Shambulingeshwara Swamy temple.

Today, this stunningly beautiful temple, built in the 11th or 12th century AD and dedicated to Lord Shiva, re-emerges as the waters of the reservoir slowly subside.

Archaeologists were pleased to see that the temple is still in one piece, with its magnificent and detailed carvings as beautiful as when last seen. 

The intricate carvings show details as minuscule as the jewelry worn by the dancers and their facial expressions, sure to delight thousands of future visitors.

Sadly, the 23 shrines in the temple have all been stripped of the gems that adorned them, an example of the looting of ancient tombs and shrines that is so prevalent.

The ceilings and walls of the temple show a Perini Dance.  Though the carvings show female dancers, the Perini Dance was traditionally undertaken by warriors before Lord Shiva as they set off for battle. 

The ceremony originated during the Kakatiya dynasty in the area of the Telangana, which corresponds to the age of this temple.  The beautiful carvings inspired the resurrection of this form of dance.

Sambhu Lingeswara-Swami Temple-in-Mellacheruvu.
Sambhu Lingeswara-Swami Temple-in-Mellacheruvu. 

The director of Archaeology and Museums for the Government of Telangana has decided that the entire temple will be dismantled and moved to a safe location at the Panagal Museum before the waters rise again in the reservoir. 

In addition to dismantling and moving the temple, they will also move 12 columns and several loose sculptures found in the same area. 

The sculptures found relate to a Nandi (the bull that served as a mount for Lord Shiva), Lord Vinayaka (depicted with the head of an elephant), and other Hindu deities.

Lord Shiva, to whom this temple is dedicated, is one of the Hindu trinity of Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu.  Lord Shiva is the destroyer and transformer and is most often depicted with the symbols that identify him. 

These icons include a snake around his neck, a third eye on his forehead, matted hair with the River Ganges flowing from it, a crescent moon upon his head, a trishula or trident, and a damaru (an instrument with two beads on leather cords that make a sound against a small hourglass shaped drum when it is swung from side to side).

The temple has a very romantic legend associated with it.  The legend states that before the temple was built, a cow herder saw one of his cows empty her udder over a rock. 

He was very angry and broke the rock into eleven pieces and threw them away.  The next day he found that the rock had been reassembled, so he took his story to the local ruler, who recognized that this was a Shiva Linga, and ordered a temple to be built around it. 

Swamy temple that had submerged under Udyasamudram reservoir a decade ago at Panagal in Nalgonda district.
Swamy temple that had submerged under Udyasamudram reservoir a decade ago at Panagal in Nalgonda district. 

The temple contains a circular hole of around 2 inches across which has water running through it all year round.  This feature denotes this as a Swayam Abhisheka Linga, or self-purifying linga.

The Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri is celebrated annually in late winter–February or March–in honor of Lord Shiva. This “Great Night of Shiva” is celebrated by keeping an all-night vigil at a temple dedicated to Shiva, accompanied by meditation.

Relocating this beautiful temple will save it from being submerged in the waters of the reservoir when they rise again.  It will also bring attention to an important Hindu temple and a stunning example of the work undertaken by Katatiyan artists.

This Is the Oldest Known Inscription Bearing the Full Name of Jerusalem

This Is the Oldest Known Inscription Bearing the Full Name of Jerusalem

The oldest discovered inscription of “Jerusalem” found to date
The oldest discovered inscription of “Jerusalem” found to date

The Israel Museum unveiled a pillar from the 2nd Temple period bearing a 3-line inscription, the earliest stone inscription of the full modern Hebrew spelling of “Jerusalem.”

“Hananiah son of Dodalos of Yerushalayim [the way the ancient Jewish city is written in Hebrew today]” was discovered during a salvage excavation earlier this year of a large Hasmonean Period Jewish artisans’ village near what is today’s western entrance to the city.

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Danit Levi said when her team alerted her to the find.

She could not believe that the word “Yerushalayim” could be on an ancient pillar and that it must be graffiti.

Danit Levy, director of the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, inspects the inscribed column in the field.

When she saw the expertly chiseled Hebrew lettering in the 31.5-inch tall column, she dusted it off and began to read.“My heart started to pound, and I was sure everyone could hear it. My hands were trembling so badly I couldn’t properly take a picture,” she said.

Levi believes the column and inscription date back to 100 BCE, and belonged to or was built with money from Hananiah son of Dodalos—Dodalos being a nickname used at the time to refer to artists, based on the Greek myth of Daedalus.

Levi said the column was located in a Jewish village, but that it was found in a ceramic construction workshop used by the Tenth Roman Legion—the army that would eventually destroy Jerusalem and exile the Jews—evidently being reused in a plastered wall.

There is a disagreement among experts as to whether the word “Yerushalayim” was etched in Aramaic or Hebrew. While the bar is the Aramaic word for “son,” the Aramaic pronunciation of Jerusalem was “Yerushalem,” whereas the word in the inscription was written “Yerushalayim,” just like in Hebrew.

The artisan village was located near a natural source for clay, water, and fuel, along the main arter leading to the Temple, which, as noted by IAA’s Jerusalem Regional Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch at the event, is still in use today as a roadway to the Old City.

The artisan village is situated on a massive 200-acre plot, likely in order to accommodate the needs of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who would ascend to the Temple three times a year during festivals, as well as the 50,000 residents of the city at the time.

The column is currently on display at the Israel Museum in the Second Temple period exhibit.

Though this is the first inscription of its kind in stone, the full spelling of Jerusalem has been seen before, including on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written as early as 400 BCE.

Source: livescience

Bread Existed 4000 Years Before Agriculture, Archaeologists Discover

Bread Existed 4000 Years Before Agriculture, Archaeologists Discover

Researchers discovered the charred remains of a flatbread baked by hunter-gatherers 14,400 years ago at an archeological site in northeastern Jordan.

It is the oldest direct evidence of bread found to date, predating the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. The findings suggest that bread production based on wild cereals may have encouraged hunter-gatherers to cultivate cereals, and thus contributed to the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period.

A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London and University of Cambridge have analysed charred food remains from a 14,400-year-old Natufian hunter-gatherer site – a site known as Shubayqa 1 located in the Black Desert in northeastern Jordan.

The results, which are published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide the earliest empirical evidence for the production of bread:“The presence of 100’s of charred food remains in the fireplaces from Shubayqa 1 is an exceptional find, and it has given us the chance to characterize 14,000-year-old food practices.

The 24 remains analysed in this study show that wild ancestors of domesticated cereals such as barley, einkorn, and oat had been ground, sieved and kneaded prior to cooking.

The remains are very similar to unleavened flatbreads identified at several Neolithic and Roman sites in Europe and Turkey. So we now know that bread-like products were produced long before the development of farming.

The next step is to evaluate if the production and consumption of bread influenced the emergence of plant cultivation and domestication at all,” said University of Copenhagen archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, who is the 1st author of the study.

University of Copenhagen archaeologist Tobias Richter, who led the excavations at Shubayqa 1 in Jordan, explained: “Natufian hunter-gatherers are of particular interest to us because they lived through a transitional period when people became more sedentary and their diet began to change.

Flint sickle blades as well as ground stone tools found at Natufian sites in the Levant have long led archaeologists to suspect that people had begun to exploit plants in a different and perhaps more effective way.

But the flat bread found at Shubayqa 1 is the earliest evidence of bread making recovered so far, and it shows that baking was invented before we had plant cultivation. So this evidence confirms some of our ideas.

Indeed, it may be that the early and extremely time-consuming production of bread based on wild cereals may have been one of the key driving forces behind the later agricultural revolution where wild cereals were cultivated to provide more convenient sources of food.”

Charred remains under the microscope

The charred food remains were analysed with electronic microscopy at a University College London lab by PhD candidate Lara Gonzalez Carratero (UCL Institute of Archaeology), who is an expert on prehistoric bread: “The identification of ‘bread’ or other cereal-based products in archaeology is not straightforward.

Dr. Amaia Arranz-Otaegui and Ali Shakaiteer sampling cereals in the Shubayqa area.
Dr. Amaia Arranz-Otaegui and Ali Shakaiteer sampling cereals in the Shubayqa area. 

There has been a tendency to simplify classification without really testing it against an identification criteria. We have established a new set of criteria to identify flat bread, dough and porridge like products in the archaeological record.

Using Scanning Electron Microscopy we identified the microstructures and particles of each charred food remain,” said Gonzalez Carratero.“Bread involves labour intensive processing which includes dehusking, grinding of cereals and kneading and baking.

That it was produced before farming methods suggests it was seen as special, and the desire to make more of this special food probably contributed to the decision to begin to cultivate cereals. All of this relies on new methodological developments that allow us to identify the remains of bread from very small charred fragments using high magnification,” said Professor Dorian Fuller (UCL Institute of Archaeology).

Research into prehistoric food practices continues

A grant recently awarded to the University of Copenhagen team will ensure that research into food making during the transition to the Neolithic will continue: “The Danish Council for Independent Research has recently approved further funding for our work, which will allow us to investigate how people consumed different plants and animals in greater detail.

Building on our research into early bread, this will in the future give us a better idea why certain ingredients were favoured over others and were eventually selected for cultivation,” said Tobias Richter.