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Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern
Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern

A 3500-Year-Old ‘Lunch Box’ Discovered in Switzerland Once Contained Bronze Age Cereal

Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern
Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern

Around 3500 years ago, a traveler forging their way through a mountain pass in the Swiss Alps may have dropped their lunch box. As the International Business Times reports, archaeologists studying a Bronze Age wooden container discovered some 8500 feet above sea level found molecular traces of ancient "cereal": wheat and barley or rye grains. These contents could help experts learn more about how farming emerged in Europe during the Bronze Age, according to the researchers' new study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

The circular wooden container was discovered in a melting ice patch in 2012. Its base was made from Swiss pine and its rim from willow sewn together with European larch twigs. Its lightweight frame would have made it ideal for toting across the Alps.

A 3500-year-old "lunchbox" was discovered in an ice patch in the Swiss Alps.
Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern

A 3500-year-old "lunchbox," discovered in an ice patch in the Swiss Alps.
Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern

A 3500-year-old "lunchbox," discovered in an ice patch in the Swiss Alps.
Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern

Artifacts made from organic materials like wood often don’t survive in the archaeological record, making the box an extremely rare find. Noting a mysterious residue on its central surface, researchers from Germany's Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of York used microscopic and molecular analyses to see what kind of food the container once held.

Like all organic material, plants degrade over time, but thanks to new advances in technology, archaeologists can sometimes identify the lipids and proteins left behind on empty vessels. This can help them learn what people were eating and drinking long ago.

Researchers were expecting to find a milk residue left by porridge or some other type of food, so they were surprised to discover lipid-based biomarkers called alkylresorcinols that came from wheat or rye grain.

"One of the greatest challenges of lipid analysis in archaeology has been finding biomarkers for plants," said the paper's lead author, University of York bioarchaeologist André Colonese, in a news release. "There are only a few, and they do not preserve very well in ancient artifacts. You can imagine the relevance of this study, as we have now a new tool for tracking early culinary use of cereal grains—it really is very exciting. The next step is to look for them in ceramic artifacts."

The domestication and transmission of cereals was important to the emergence of farming, but archaeologists rarely find direct evidence of grain's early use. This discovery could help them learn more about how farming developed in Eurasia, and how important cereals were for both farmers and the general economy.

[h/t Archaeology]

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Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on Alor Island, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys and Rachel Wood.
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
These 12,000-Year-Old Fish Hooks Are the Oldest to Ever Be Discovered in a Grave
Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on Alor Island, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys and Rachel Wood.
Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on Alor Island, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys and Rachel Wood.

Prehistoric people who lived on Indonesia’s rugged and remote Alor Island held fishing in such high importance that even the dead were supplied with equipment for snagging a fresh catch. While digging at an archaeological site on the island’s south coast in 2014, scientists found a group of ancient fish hooks, which were buried with an adult human around 12,000 years ago. They’re the oldest fishhooks to ever be discovered in a grave, according to a new report published in the journal Antiquity.

Archaeologists from Australian National University found the partial skeleton while excavating an early rock shelter on Alor’s west coast. The bones—which appeared to belong to a female—were interred with five circular one-piece fish hooks made from sea snail shell. Also found was a perforated bivalve shell, buried beneath the skeleton’s chin. It’s unclear what purpose this artifact served, but experts did note that it had been smoothed and polished, and appeared to have once been dyed red.

Ancient fish hooks discovered in Indonesia by archaeologists from Australian National University
Rotating fish hooks found with the burial

Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on AlorIsland, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys, and Rachel Wood.

Prehistoric fish hooks found in Indonesia by archaeologists from Australian National University.
Circular rotating fish hooks found with the burial

Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on AlorIsland, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys and Rachel Wood.

Researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of charcoal samples found near the burial ground. From this, they determined that the fish hooks and human remains were buried during the Pleistocene Epoch.

Alor Island, the largest island in the volcanic Alor Archipelago, is rocky and lacks a variety of plant life and protein sources. For these reasons, fish was likely an important staple food for ancient residents, and the act of fishing may have also been considered cosmologically important, archaeologists say.

The burial on Alor Island "represents the earliest-known example of a culture for whom fishing was clearly an important activity among both the living and the dead,” the study's authors wrote. Additionally, if the skeleton indeed belonged to a woman (the bones themselves haven't yet been conclusively identified), the hooks might suggest that women in ancient Alor were tasked with hook-and-line fishing, just like those in ancient Australia.

Archaeologists have identified prehistoric fishing hooks at sites around the world. They range from 23,000-year-old hooks, discovered on Japan’s Okinawa Island (the world’s oldest-known fishing implements), to slate hooks from Siberia’s late Mesolithic period (the second-oldest hooks ever found in a gravesite).

The fishing hooks discovered on Alor are circular instead of J-shaped, and resemble other ancient hooks that were once used in countries like Japan, Australia, Mexico, and Chile. Some experts have suggested that these similarities in technology were the result of migration, cultural contact, or even from fish hooks left in migrating tuna. The researchers at Australian National University argue against this theory, hypothesizing that the similarly shaped hooks are instead evidence of “convergent cultural evolution in technology” around the globe.

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NOVA SCOTIA ARCHIVES AND RECORDS MANAGEMENT, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Mystery Shipwreck in Canada Might Be Tied to the 1917 Halifax Explosion
NOVA SCOTIA ARCHIVES AND RECORDS MANAGEMENT, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOVA SCOTIA ARCHIVES AND RECORDS MANAGEMENT, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

On December 6, 1917, a massive explosion boomed across Halifax Harbor, a key Nova Scotia port and a major center for naval ships in North America during World War I. A French cargo ship carrying high explosives, including TNT, collided with a Norwegian steamship, starting a fire that lit up the French vessel. The accident caused what would become the world’s biggest non-nuclear explosion. An entire neighborhood along the harbor was flattened to the ground.

Now, 100 years later, the spotlight is back on another potential victim of the explosion. As CBC News reports, a still-unidentified mystery shipwreck discovered in 2002 may be linked to the event, too.

Researchers don’t know much about the copper-clad, steam-powered schooner found at the bottom of Halifax Harbor during a geological survey of the sea floor. Its remains are half-buried under silt and marine life more than 90 feet below the surface of the water, around 330 feet away from the Halifax shipyard. The experts who have studied the ship since its initial discovery have yet to even identify its name.

There are no records of the ship’s sinking, leading researchers like marine geologist Gordon Fader, who helped find the wreck, to believe it sank during the explosion. Had it gone down after the event, there likely would have been some record of it in newspapers. And the ship was, by all accounts, a rather expensive vessel, possibly one that belonged to either the British navy or a very wealthy owner. It was made with high-quality copper and brass and built for speed, meaning its sinking would have cost someone a hefty chunk of money.

If the ship’s sinking did go unheralded in the aftermath of the massive Halifax explosion, researchers have two potential leads: There were two ships believed to be lost in the explosion that were never found, called the St. Bernard and the Lola R. But the descriptions of those ships don’t quite match up with what’s lying at the bottom of the harbor. A year and a half of research yielded no further information.

Since the last report came out in 2004, the search for its identity has slowed. We may never know the identity of the mystery ship. But as new technology becomes available for studying underwater remains, we can at least hope to glean some new clues.

[h/t CBC News]

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