Blog Archives

Dizzying heights: Prehistoric farming on the ‘roof of the world’

Animal teeth, bones and plant remains have helped researchers from Cambridge, China and America to pinpoint a date for what could be the earliest sustained human habitation at high altitude.

Archaeological discoveries from the ‘roof of the world’ on the Tibetan Plateau indicate that from 3,600 years ago, crop growing and the raising of livestock was taking place year-round at hitherto unprecedented altitudes.

The findings, published today in Science, demonstrate that across 53 archaeological sites spanning 800 miles, there is evidence of sustained farming and human habitation between 2,500 metres above sea level (8,200ft) and 3,400 metres (11,154ft).

Evidence of an intermittent human presence on the Tibetan Plateau has been dated to at least 20,000 years ago, with the first semi-permanent villages established only 5,200 years ago. The presence of crops and livestock at the altitudes discovered by researchers indicates a more sustained human presence than is needed to merely hunt game at such heights.

Professor Martin Jones, from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, and one of the lead researchers on the project, said: “Until now, when and how humans started to live and farm at such extraordinary heights has remained an open question. Our understanding of sustained habitation above 2-3,000m on the Tibetan Plateau has to date been hampered by the scarcity of archaeological data available.

“But our findings show that not only did these farmer-herders conquer unheard of heights in terms of raising livestock and growing crops like barley and millet, but that human expansion into the higher, colder altitudes took place as the continental temperatures were becoming colder.

“Year-round survival at these altitudes must have led to some very challenging conditions indeed — and this poses further, interesting questions for researchers about the adaptation of humans, livestock and crops to life at such dizzying heights.”

Professor Jones hopes more work will now be undertaken to look at genetic resistance in humans to altitude sickness, and genetic response in crop plants in relation to attributes such as grain vernalisation, flowering time response and ultraviolet radiation tolerance — as well as research into the genetic and ethnic identity of the human communities themselves.

Research on the Tibetan Plateau has also raised interesting questions about the timing and introduction of Western crops such as barley and wheat — staples of the so-called ‘Fertile Crescent’. From 4,000-3,600 years ago, this meeting of east and west led to the joining or displacement of traditional North Chinese crops of broomcorn and foxtail millet. The importation of Western cereals enabled human communities to adapt to the harsher conditions of higher altitudes in the Plateau.

In order to ascertain during what period and at what altitude sustained food produced first enabled an enduring human presence, the research group collected artefacts, animal bones and plant remains from 53 sites across the late Yangshao, Majiayao, Qiija, Xindian, Kayue and Nuomuhong cultures.

Cereal grains (foxtail millet, broomcorn millet, barley and wheat) were identified at all 53 sites and animal bones and teeth (from sheep, cattle and pig) were discovered at ten sites. Of the 53 sites, an earlier group (dating from 5,200-3,600 years ago) reached a maximum elevation of 2,527m while a later group of 29 sites (dating from 3,600-2,300 years ago) approached 3,400m in altitude.

Professor Jones believes the Tibetan Plateau research could have wider and further-reaching implications for today’s world in terms of global food security and the possibilities of rebalancing the ‘global diet’; at present heavily, and perhaps unsustainably, swayed in favour of the big three crops of rice, wheat and maize.

He said: “Our current knowledge of agricultural foods emphasises a relatively small number of crops growing in the intensively managed lowlands. The more we learn about the rich ecology of past and present societies, and the wider range of crops they raised in the world’s more challenging environments, the more options we will have for thinking through food security issues in the future.”

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Alliance for Food & Farming launches updated website

The Alliance for Food & Farming, a non-profit group founded to deliver credible information to consumer about the safety of fruits and vegetables, recently launched its newly updated website — www.foodandfarming.info.

“We’re working hard to raise the profile of our organization within the produce industry,” Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Western Growers and the current chairman of the Alliance for Food & Farming, said in a press release. “As part of that effort, we have revised and updated our website with some basic information about the Alliance and the work we do to assure consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables.”

Executive Director Marilyn Dolan added that the goal of the Alliance for Food & Farming is to communicate honestly about important issues that can affect consumer confidence in fruits and vegetables.

“Experts around the world agree that eating more fruits and vegetables is the best thing we can do to reduce disease, prevent obesity and improve our health,” Dolan said. “But, consumers sometimes need to know more about organic and conventional fruits and vegetables so they can make the right shopping choices for themselves and their families. The Alliance for Food & Farming exists to help provide this information.”



According to Dolan, the Alliance for Food & Farming uses information from experts in science, nutrition and farming, and then offers facts and information about the safety of fruits and vegetables sold in the United States. The organization is voluntarily funded by both conventional and organic farmers and farming organizations.

“What is very unique about this group is that it is truly an alliance of other organizations from throughout the produce industry,” McInerney said, noting that Alliance membership is made up of over 50 organizations, including national and regional trade associations, commodity groups and individual grower-shippers.  

A list of the Alliance for Food & Farming board members is posted on the new website and includes the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Northwest Horticultural Council and the U.S. Potato Board, along with Western Growers and nine other produce commodity groups. 





“When it comes to the issue of pesticide residues, we have made a some tremendous inroads in changing the way the media covers this important issue as part of an Alliance for Food & Farming initiative called Safe Fruits & Veggies launched in 2010,” said McInerney. “This has been one of the most successful educational outreach campaigns in the history of the produce industry and is a great example of how a united effort to fight back can make real change.”



In addition to the issue of pesticide residues, the Alliance also provides information on foodborne illness as well as other fruit and vegetable food safety issues. The new Alliance website provides an overview of the food-safety topics the group addresses and includes information about the benefits of Alliance membership and explains how to join the Alliance.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Alliance for Food & Farming launches updated website

The Alliance for Food & Farming, a non-profit group founded to deliver credible information to consumer about the safety of fruits and vegetables, recently launched its newly updated website — www.foodandfarming.info.

“We’re working hard to raise the profile of our organization within the produce industry,” Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Western Growers and the current chairman of the Alliance for Food & Farming, said in a press release. “As part of that effort, we have revised and updated our website with some basic information about the Alliance and the work we do to assure consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables.”

Executive Director Marilyn Dolan added that the goal of the Alliance for Food & Farming is to communicate honestly about important issues that can affect consumer confidence in fruits and vegetables.

“Experts around the world agree that eating more fruits and vegetables is the best thing we can do to reduce disease, prevent obesity and improve our health,” Dolan said. “But, consumers sometimes need to know more about organic and conventional fruits and vegetables so they can make the right shopping choices for themselves and their families. The Alliance for Food & Farming exists to help provide this information.”



According to Dolan, the Alliance for Food & Farming uses information from experts in science, nutrition and farming, and then offers facts and information about the safety of fruits and vegetables sold in the United States. The organization is voluntarily funded by both conventional and organic farmers and farming organizations.

“What is very unique about this group is that it is truly an alliance of other organizations from throughout the produce industry,” McInerney said, noting that Alliance membership is made up of over 50 organizations, including national and regional trade associations, commodity groups and individual grower-shippers.  

A list of the Alliance for Food & Farming board members is posted on the new website and includes the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Northwest Horticultural Council and the U.S. Potato Board, along with Western Growers and nine other produce commodity groups. 





“When it comes to the issue of pesticide residues, we have made a some tremendous inroads in changing the way the media covers this important issue as part of an Alliance for Food & Farming initiative called Safe Fruits & Veggies launched in 2010,” said McInerney. “This has been one of the most successful educational outreach campaigns in the history of the produce industry and is a great example of how a united effort to fight back can make real change.”



In addition to the issue of pesticide residues, the Alliance also provides information on foodborne illness as well as other fruit and vegetable food safety issues. The new Alliance website provides an overview of the food-safety topics the group addresses and includes information about the benefits of Alliance membership and explains how to join the Alliance.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Alliance for Food & Farming launches updated website

The Alliance for Food & Farming, a non-profit group founded to deliver credible information to consumer about the safety of fruits and vegetables, recently launched its newly updated website — www.foodandfarming.info.

“We’re working hard to raise the profile of our organization within the produce industry,” Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Western Growers and the current chairman of the Alliance for Food & Farming, said in a press release. “As part of that effort, we have revised and updated our website with some basic information about the Alliance and the work we do to assure consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables.”

Executive Director Marilyn Dolan added that the goal of the Alliance for Food & Farming is to communicate honestly about important issues that can affect consumer confidence in fruits and vegetables.

“Experts around the world agree that eating more fruits and vegetables is the best thing we can do to reduce disease, prevent obesity and improve our health,” Dolan said. “But, consumers sometimes need to know more about organic and conventional fruits and vegetables so they can make the right shopping choices for themselves and their families. The Alliance for Food & Farming exists to help provide this information.”



According to Dolan, the Alliance for Food & Farming uses information from experts in science, nutrition and farming, and then offers facts and information about the safety of fruits and vegetables sold in the United States. The organization is voluntarily funded by both conventional and organic farmers and farming organizations.

“What is very unique about this group is that it is truly an alliance of other organizations from throughout the produce industry,” McInerney said, noting that Alliance membership is made up of over 50 organizations, including national and regional trade associations, commodity groups and individual grower-shippers.  

A list of the Alliance for Food & Farming board members is posted on the new website and includes the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Northwest Horticultural Council and the U.S. Potato Board, along with Western Growers and nine other produce commodity groups. 





“When it comes to the issue of pesticide residues, we have made a some tremendous inroads in changing the way the media covers this important issue as part of an Alliance for Food & Farming initiative called Safe Fruits & Veggies launched in 2010,” said McInerney. “This has been one of the most successful educational outreach campaigns in the history of the produce industry and is a great example of how a united effort to fight back can make real change.”



In addition to the issue of pesticide residues, the Alliance also provides information on foodborne illness as well as other fruit and vegetable food safety issues. The new Alliance website provides an overview of the food-safety topics the group addresses and includes information about the benefits of Alliance membership and explains how to join the Alliance.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Diversified farming practices might preserve evolutionary diversity of wildlife

As humans transform the planet to meet our needs, all sorts of wildlife continue to be pushed aside, including many species that play key roles in Earth’s life-support systems. In particular, the transformation of forests into agricultural lands has dramatically reduced biodiversity around the world.

A new study by scientists at Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, in this week’s issue of Science shows that evolutionarily distinct species suffer most heavily in intensively farmed areas. They also found, however, that an extraordinary amount of evolutionary history is sustained in diversified farming systems, which outlines a strategy for balancing agricultural activity and conservation efforts.

“This work is urgent, because humanity is driving about half of all known life to extinction, mostly through agricultural activities to support our vast numbers and meat-rich diets,” said Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science at Stanford and senior author on the paper. “How are we restructuring the tree of life? What are the implications for people? And what can we do to harmonize farming with nature?”

Calculating evolutionary history

The findings arise from a 12-year research project conducted by Stanford scientists at the intersections of farms and jungles in Costa Rica. Much of the research has focused on how farming practices can impact biodiversity, and has gone so far as to establish the economic value of pest-eating birds and crop-pollinating bees.

The researchers have developed an extraordinarily detailed data set to show human impacts on phylogenetic diversity, a measure of the evolutionary history embodied in wildlife — in this case, birds.

For example, an area inhabited by two species of blackbirds that diverged only a couple of million years ago would have relatively low phylogenetic diversity. The tinamou — a speckled, football-shaped flightless bird — diverged from blackbirds about 100 million years ago, and if it moved into the blackbird’s habitat, the phylogenetic diversity of that area would increase significantly.

“If you have an area with lots of closely related species, you won’t have a lot of phylogenetic diversity,” said co-lead author Luke Frishkoff, a biology doctoral student at Stanford. “The further apart species are on the evolutionary tree, the more phylogenetic diversity your system represents.”

The biologists counted almost 120,000 birds, hailing from nearly 500 species, in three different types of habitats in Costa Rica: untouched forest reserves; farmlands with multiple crops and small patches of forest; and intensive farmlands consisting of single crops, such as sugar cane or pineapple, with no adjoining forest areas. They then analyzed the species spread across those types of places and calculated phylogenetic diversity in each.

The findings were bad and good. Not surprisingly, the diversified farmlands supported on average 300 million years of evolutionary history fewer than forests. But they retained an astonishing 600 million more years of evolutionary history than the single crop farms.

“The loss of habitat to agriculture is the primary driver of diversity loss globally, but we hadn’t known until now how agriculture affected diversity in an evolutionary context,” said study co-lead author Daniel Karp, who began working on this project while he was a doctoral student at Stanford and has continued it as a research fellow at UC Berkeley. “We found that forests outperform agriculture when it comes to supporting a larger range of species that are more distantly related.”

But the fact that diversified farms conserve much more phylogenetic diversity than intensive agriculture is encouraging.

“It shows how important it is for biodiversity conservation to surround protected areas with productive forms of diversified agriculture, whenever possible,” said co-author Claire Kremen, a professor of environmental science, policy and management at UC Berkeley.

Saving a species

The authors trace the decline of phylogenetic diversity in farmland to the fact that evolutionarily distinct species tend to require niche habitats for survival, and these are often wiped out in developed lands.

While sparrows are adept at finding shelter in farmlands and are happy to eat a variety of seeds found in those areas, the tinamou and other evolutionarily distinct species are highly dependent on jungle habitats and have very specific needs such as diet that can only be met in those environments.

The researchers also outline a theory that human agriculture is simply tipping the scale in favor of species that trace their origin to similar conditions.

“Natural savannahs share some of the characteristics of diversified agriculture,” Frishkoff said. “We find some evidence that birds that evolved in those types of habitats, such as blackbirds and sparrows, are doing better in those habitats today.”

Preserving biodiversity and phylogenetic history is critical for both healthy ecosystems and prosperous farms, Frishkoff and Karp said. Different species specialize in keeping different pest insects under control, in pollinating the many flowering trees and other plants in tropical landscapes, and then in dispersing their seeds.

“Having just sparrows in an ecosystem is like investing only in technology stocks: If the bubble bursts, you lose,” Frishkoff said. “You want to have a truly diversified ecosystem, with an array of species each contributing different benefits. This work really highlights the need to preserve native tropical forest, and whenever possible to make agricultural systems as wildlife friendly as possible. Even relatively modest increases in vegetation on farms can support diverse lineages of birds.”

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Prehistoric dairy farming at the extremes

Finland’s love of milk has been traced back to 2500 BC thanks to high-tech techniques to analyse residues preserved in fragments of ancient pots.

The Finns are the world’s biggest milk drinkers today but experts had previously been unable to establish whether prehistoric dairy farming was possible in the harsh environment that far north, where there is snow for up to four months a year.

Research by the Universities of Bristol and Helsinki, published July 30 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first of its kind to identify that dairying took place at this latitude — 60 degrees north of the equator.

This is equally as far north as Canada’s Northwestern territories, Anchorage in Alaska, Southern Greenland and near Yakutsk in Siberia.

Researchers used a series of techniques, not just to analyse the ancient pots, but also to look at modern-day Finnish peoples’ ability to digest milk into adulthood.

By comparing the residues found in the walls of cooking pots from two separate eras and cultures, dating to circa 3900 BC to 3300 BC and circa 2500 BC, it was evident that the more recent pottery fragments showed evidence of milk fats.

This coincided with the transition from a culture of hunting and fishing — relying mainly on marine foods — to the arrival of ‘Corded Ware’ settlements which we now know saw the introduction of animal domestication.

Lead author Dr Lucy Cramp, from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol University, said: “This is remarkable evidence which proves that four and a half thousand years ago, Stone Age people must have been foddering and sheltering domesticated animals over harsh winters, in conditions that even nowadays we would find challenging.”

The results also drew a connection between the ‘Corded Ware’ farming settlers — who were likely to have been genetically different to the hunting and fishing communities — and modern day Finns.

Fellow researcher Dr Volker Heyd added: “Our results show a clear link between an incoming pre-historic population, milk drinking and the ability to digest milk in adulthood still visible in the genetic distribution of modern Finland, which remains one of the highest consumers of dairy products in the world.”

Professor Richard Evershed, from the School of Chemistry said: “It never ceases to amaze me that these sensitive chemical signatures of changing human life survive in the archaeological record for thousands of years. And it leaves one pondering what was motivating the people to move into these challenging regions?”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Prehistoric dairy farming at the extremes

Finland’s love of milk has been traced back to 2500 BC thanks to high-tech techniques to analyse residues preserved in fragments of ancient pots.

The Finns are the world’s biggest milk drinkers today but experts had previously been unable to establish whether prehistoric dairy farming was possible in the harsh environment that far north, where there is snow for up to four months a year.

Research by the Universities of Bristol and Helsinki, published July 30 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first of its kind to identify that dairying took place at this latitude — 60 degrees north of the equator.

This is equally as far north as Canada’s Northwestern territories, Anchorage in Alaska, Southern Greenland and near Yakutsk in Siberia.

Researchers used a series of techniques, not just to analyse the ancient pots, but also to look at modern-day Finnish peoples’ ability to digest milk into adulthood.

By comparing the residues found in the walls of cooking pots from two separate eras and cultures, dating to circa 3900 BC to 3300 BC and circa 2500 BC, it was evident that the more recent pottery fragments showed evidence of milk fats.

This coincided with the transition from a culture of hunting and fishing — relying mainly on marine foods — to the arrival of ‘Corded Ware’ settlements which we now know saw the introduction of animal domestication.

Lead author Dr Lucy Cramp, from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol University, said: “This is remarkable evidence which proves that four and a half thousand years ago, Stone Age people must have been foddering and sheltering domesticated animals over harsh winters, in conditions that even nowadays we would find challenging.”

The results also drew a connection between the ‘Corded Ware’ farming settlers — who were likely to have been genetically different to the hunting and fishing communities — and modern day Finns.

Fellow researcher Dr Volker Heyd added: “Our results show a clear link between an incoming pre-historic population, milk drinking and the ability to digest milk in adulthood still visible in the genetic distribution of modern Finland, which remains one of the highest consumers of dairy products in the world.”

Professor Richard Evershed, from the School of Chemistry said: “It never ceases to amaze me that these sensitive chemical signatures of changing human life survive in the archaeological record for thousands of years. And it leaves one pondering what was motivating the people to move into these challenging regions?”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Prehistoric dairy farming at the extremes

Finland’s love of milk has been traced back to 2500 BC thanks to high-tech techniques to analyse residues preserved in fragments of ancient pots.

The Finns are the world’s biggest milk drinkers today but experts had previously been unable to establish whether prehistoric dairy farming was possible in the harsh environment that far north, where there is snow for up to four months a year.

Research by the Universities of Bristol and Helsinki, published July 30 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first of its kind to identify that dairying took place at this latitude — 60 degrees north of the equator.

This is equally as far north as Canada’s Northwestern territories, Anchorage in Alaska, Southern Greenland and near Yakutsk in Siberia.

Researchers used a series of techniques, not just to analyse the ancient pots, but also to look at modern-day Finnish peoples’ ability to digest milk into adulthood.

By comparing the residues found in the walls of cooking pots from two separate eras and cultures, dating to circa 3900 BC to 3300 BC and circa 2500 BC, it was evident that the more recent pottery fragments showed evidence of milk fats.

This coincided with the transition from a culture of hunting and fishing — relying mainly on marine foods — to the arrival of ‘Corded Ware’ settlements which we now know saw the introduction of animal domestication.

Lead author Dr Lucy Cramp, from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol University, said: “This is remarkable evidence which proves that four and a half thousand years ago, Stone Age people must have been foddering and sheltering domesticated animals over harsh winters, in conditions that even nowadays we would find challenging.”

The results also drew a connection between the ‘Corded Ware’ farming settlers — who were likely to have been genetically different to the hunting and fishing communities — and modern day Finns.

Fellow researcher Dr Volker Heyd added: “Our results show a clear link between an incoming pre-historic population, milk drinking and the ability to digest milk in adulthood still visible in the genetic distribution of modern Finland, which remains one of the highest consumers of dairy products in the world.”

Professor Richard Evershed, from the School of Chemistry said: “It never ceases to amaze me that these sensitive chemical signatures of changing human life survive in the archaeological record for thousands of years. And it leaves one pondering what was motivating the people to move into these challenging regions?”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bristol. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily