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Due to unprecedented contacts between peoples and culture in today’s “global village” certain animal and plant species are spreading widely throughout the world, often causing enormous damage to local species.
Recent studies have shown that alien species have had a substantial impact not only in recent times but also in antiquity. This is exemplified in a study published in the August 25th issue of Scientific Reports by a team led by archaeologists from Bar-Ilan University’s Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology (Suembikya (Sue) Frumin, Prof. Ehud Weiss and Prof. Aren Maeir) and the Hebrew University (Dr. Liora Kolska Horwitz), describing the bio-archaeological remains of the Philistine culture during the Iron Age (12th century to 7th century BCE).
The team compiled a database of plant remains extracted from Bronze and Iron Ages sites in the southern Levant, both Philistine and non-Philistine. By analyzing this database, the researchers concluded that the Philistines brought to Israel not just themselves but also their plants.
The species they brought are all cultivars that had not been seen in Israel previously. This includes edible parts of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) which originates in western Europe; the sycamore tree (Ficus sycomorus), whose fruits are known to be cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean, especially Egypt, and whose presence in Israel as a locally grown tree is first attested to in the Iron Age by the presence of its fruit; and finally, cumin (Cuminum cyminum), a spice originating in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Sue Frumin, a PhD student at Prof. Ehud Weiss’s archaeobotanical lab, Bar-Ilan University, explains that “the edible parts of these species – opium poppy, sycamore, and cumin – were not identified in the archaeobotanical record of Israel prior to the Iron Age, when the Philistine culture first appeared in the region. None of these plants grows wild in Israel today, but instead grows only as cultivated plants.”
In addition to the translocation of exotic plants from other regions, the Philistines were the first community to exploit over 70 species of synanthropic plants (species which benefit from living in the vicinity of man) that were locally available in Israel, such as Purslane, Wild Radish, Saltwort, Henbane and Vigna. These plant species were not found in archaeological sites pre-dating the Iron Age, or in Iron Age archaeological sites recognized as belonging to non-Philistine cultures – Canaanite, Israelite, Judahite, and Phoenician. The “agricultural revolution” that accompanied the Philistine culture reflects a different agrarian regime and dietary preferences to that of their contemporaries.
The fact that the three exotic plants introduced by the Philistines originate from different regions accords well with the diverse geographic origin of these people. The Philistines – one of the so called Sea Peoples, and mentioned in the Bible and other ancient sources – were a multi-ethnic community with origins in the Aegean, Turkey, Cyprus and other regions in the Eastern Mediterranean who settled on the southern coastal plain of Israel in the early Iron Age (12th century BCE), and integrated with Canaanite and other local populations, finally to disappear at the end of the Iron Age (ca. 600 BCE).
The results of this research indicate that the ca. 600 year presence of the Philistine culture in Israel had a major and long-term impact on local floral biodiversity. The Philistines left as a biological heritage a variety of plants still cultivated in Israel, including, among others, sycamore, cumin, coriander, bay tree and opium poppy.
The Philistines also left their mark on the local fauna. In a previous study also published inScientific Reports in which two of the present authors (Maeir and Kolska Horwitz) participated, DNA extracted from ancient pig bones from Philistine and non-Philistine sites in Israel demonstrated that European pigs were introduced by the Philistines into Israel and slowly swamped the local pig populations through inter-breeding. As a consequence, modern wild boar in Israel today bears a European haplotype rather than a local, Near Eastern one.
As illustrated by these studies, the examination of the ancient bio-archaeological record has the potential to help us understand the long-term mechanisms and vectors that have contributed to current floral and faunal biodiversity, information that may also assist contemporary ecologists in dealing with the pressing issue of invasive species.
While its golden days are well behind, work continues to be done there and hominin discoveries continue to be made, albeit quite fragmentary. This is indeed the case with the recent discovery of the OH (Olduvai Hominin) 86, a left hand finger bone encased in a particular type of sediment, called a Tuffaceous Silt.
The hominin that once operated this finger died for whatever reason near the then Olduvai Lake, 1.84 million years ago, the lake sediments then sped up the fossilisation process of this little finger bone. Unfortunately, the rest of the skeleton was likely washed away and scattered. Nevertheless Palaeoanthropologists were able to draw some very interesting conclusions from something as small as a finger bone.
The analysis conducted on this bone suggests that we are looking at the earliest modern human-like hand bone. Fossil phalanx bones older than this one, have features similar to those of our own hand bones, but OH 86 has a more robust form of what we have today. At 1.84 million years of age, this hand bone features an enhanced gracility that other hominin phalanges of this time do not have.
The team of palaeoanthropologists led by Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, compared the morphology of OH 86 with other phalanges from different parts of the world and from different ages. Modern human and Catarrhine (dry-nosed primates) proximal phalanges represented the modern day sample, while seven phalanges represented the fossil hominin sample. These are listed below:
Qafzeh 9 – Homo sapiens
Qafzeh 8 – Homo sapiens
Kebara 2 – Homo neanderthalensis
ATE9-2 – Homo sp.
IPS21350.15 – Pierolapithecus catalaunicus
AL (Afar Locality) 333-62 – Australopithecus afarensis
StW (Sterkfontein Witwatersrand) 28 – Australopithecus sp.
UW (University of Witwatersrand) 88-121 – Australopithecus sediba
The above represents two million years of hominin phalanx evolution, but when the curvature of OH 86 was analysed, the Israeli specimens, a mere 120,000 years of age, show more similarities with OH 86 than those of South Africa and Ethiopia. The phalanx of Pierolapithecus catalaunicus was found to have differed the most, not surprising since that phalanx is over 11 million years of age. The phalanges of Gorillas and modern humans shared more similarities with OH 86 than any other group of ape.
If we look at other hominin anatomical regions, we see that the hominin KNM-ER (Kenya National Museum – East Rudolf) 3228 has a pelvis practically identical to modern human males and don’t forget the hominin remains of Dmanisi, Georgia, which have modern human-like leg proportions. You could say that the basic structure of the modern human were well in place by about one and a half million years ago. The robusticity of these features from then on became more gracile and the size of the brain began to increase.
As scientists we often forget that we gain knowledge from the demise of our early ancestors. Imagine a hominin, carefully making its way to the refreshing waters of Lake Oldupai. Silence in the landscape as the sun sets casting that beautiful warm light across the savannah. Unaware of what lurks in the waters of the lake, our hominin quenches it’s thirst. Within a split second, the hominin is between massive jaws, dragged in to the lake waters and forced to drown.
The carcass is stripped of all the crocodile needs and the remains scatter. Fossilisation takes place, while the waxing and waning of the Oldupai Lake ensures that future apes…………………..we Homo sapiens will have difficulty in finding these remains. But as you have seen here, even the smallest fossil finger can ooze its secrets.
For more on the subject, Check out Nature CommunicationsWritten by Charles T. G. Clarke
Today, we sit down and talk with ‘Punk Archaeologist’ and ‘Archaeogamer’, Andrew Reinhard.
Andrew on Twitter: @Archaeogaming
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