Earliest church in the tropics unearthed in former heart of Atlantic slave trade

Heritage Daily - Thu, 2015-11-19 01:21
Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge have unearthed the earliest known European Christian church in the tropics on one of the Cabo Verde islands, 500km off the coast of West Africa, where the Portuguese established a stronghold to start the first commerce with Africa south of the Sahara.

This turned into a global trade in African slaves from the 16th century, in which Cabo Verde played a central part as a major trans-shipment centre.

The earliest remains of the church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição date from around 1470, with a further larger construction dating from 1500. Extensions and a re-cladding of the church with tiles imported from Lisbon have also been documented.

This church is the oldest formal European colonial building yet discovered in sub-Saharan Africa, say researchers. It was found amongst the ruins of Cidade Velha, the former capital of Cabo Verde, which at its height was the second richest city in the Portuguese empire; a city that channelled slavery for almost 300 years.

“It’s a profound social and political story to which these new archaeological investigations are making an invaluable contribution,” said Cambridge’s Professor Marie Louise Stig Sørensen.

Archaeologists from the University and the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) have just completed the excavation and conservation of this building for public display, and have been working with the Cabo Verde government and local partners on the town’s archaeology since 2007.

“We’ve managed to recover the entire footprint-plan of the church, including its vestry, side-chapel and porch, and it now presents a really striking monument,” said Christopher Evans, Director of the CAU.

“Evidently constructed around 1500, the most complicated portion is the east-end’s chancel where the main altar stood, and which has seen much rebuilding due to seasonal flash-flood damage. Though the chancel’s sequence proved complicated to disentangle, under it all we exposed a gothic-style chapel,” he said.

“This had been built as a free-standing structure prior to the church itself and is now the earliest known building on the islands – the whole exercise has been a tremendous success.”

During the excavation several tombstones of local dignitaries were recovered. One enormous stone found in the side chapel belonged to Fernão Fiel de Lugo, a slaver and the town’s ‘treasure holder’ between 1542 and 1557. “This is a place of immense cultural and heritage value. This excavation has revealed the tombs and graves of people that we only know from history books and always felt could be fiction,” Cidade Velha’s Mayor, Dr Manuel Monteiro de Pina, said.

The research team discovered a densely packed cemetery dug into the floor of the church, which they say will be of great importance for future academic investigations. It is estimated that more than 1,000 people were buried here before 1525, providing a capsule of the first 50 years of colonial life on the island.

Preliminary analysis of samples shows that about half the bodies are African, with the rest from various parts of Europe. An excavation is being planned to collect data for isotope analysis of more bodies to learn more about the country’s founding population and its early slave history.

“From historical texts we have learned about the development of a ‘Creole’ society at an early date with land inherited by people of mixed race who could also hold official positions. The human remains give us the opportunity to test this representation of the first people in Cabo Verde,” said Evans.

The significance of the discovery, a central feature of the Cidade Velha UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been widely acknowledged. Hundreds of people have visited the site since work began, and school groups have frequently been brought out to see the church. On his visit, the President Jorge Carlos Fonseca endorsed the contribution made by this project. “I can see the importance the site has for Cabo Verde to understand our history and our identity,” he said.

“The hope is that the work will both encourage much-needed cultural tourism, and help the nation build a more nuanced sense of its notable past,” said Sørensen.

The ten small islands that make up Cabo Verde are harsh volcanic rock, and were barren of people, mammals and trees until the Portuguese arrived in 1456. The Portuguese transformed the islands into one of the major hubs for the transatlantic slave trade, bringing with them crops, livestock and people in the form of traders, missionaries and thousands upon thousands of slaves. The slaves were funnelled through the islands where they were ‘sorted’ and sold before being shipped off to plantations across the Atlantic World.

The discovery of Brazil, in particular, and the establishment of plantations there, caused trade through Cabo Verde to explode. “The islands were a focal point for the initial wave of globalisation, all built on the back of the slave trade,” said Sørensen. “The excavation reveals these global connections as the finds include fine ware and faience from Portugal, German stoneware, Chinese porcelain and pottery from different parts of West Africa.”

In addition to the excavated church, there were around 22 other churches in the small river valley where the old town of Cidade Velha sits, including a large cathedral built with imported Portuguese stones. It is clear the church had huge influence here – a mere 15 degrees north of the equator – from the late medieval period onwards, say the researchers.

Centuries later, pirate attacks plagued the islands. French privateer Jacques Cassard launched a devastating attack on Cidade Velha in 1712, from which it would never recover, and, as slavery began to be outlawed during the 19th century, the islands lost their financial basis and were neglected by the Portuguese. The islanders were left to the mercy of an inhospitable landscape with erratic rainfall that undermined agricultural activities and caused drinking water to be scarce.

Cabo Verde became a republic in 1975, and as an independent nation it is coming to terms with a heritage and identity rooted in slavery. The research team believe the new archaeological discoveries will prove integral to this process.

“Cabo Verde is a young nation in many ways, and it needs its history to be unearthed and accessed so it can continue to build its national identity,” said Sørensen.

Evans added: “The finds so far clearly demonstrate the fantastic potentials of Cabo Verde’s archaeology and the contribution they can make to the future of these Atlantic islands.”


Categories: General

The first human uses of beeswax have been established in Anatolia in 7000 BCE

Heritage Daily - Thu, 2015-11-19 01:18
The current loss of bee populations as a result of pesticides, viruses and parasites has increased awareness about their economic importance and essential role in farming societies.

Our relationship with bees stretches way back before modern farming, which is shown, for example, in various depictions in Ancient Egypt or, going back even further, in the prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula, as in the famous panel in the Araña rock shelter in Bicorp, Valencia. But in actual fact, until now we have had no direct information as to when and where our interest in bees and their products came about. This is what this piece of work is about.

Given that beeswax is a unique lipid complex, its ‘biological footprint’, which is fairly degradation resistant, can be identified in the study of the organic residues preserved in archaeological sites. With this aim in mind, the international research team led by the School of Chemistry of the University of Bristol, analysed ceramic vessels of the Neolithic period in the Near East, Europe and North Africa. “Now we know that beeswax was used continuously from the seventh millennium BCE, probably as an integral part in different tools, in rituals, cosmetics, medicine, as a fuel or to make receptacles waterproof,” explained Alfonso Alday, lecturer in the Prehistory Area and, together with the late Lydia Zapata, a UPV/EHU participant in the research.

Farming emerged during the Neolithic era in various spots in the Middle East, and on occasions it had unexpected consequences: the opening up of forests to gain land and pastures encouraged the development of landscapes in which bushes and flowers provided environments suited to bees. In some way, the bees were the ‘pursuers of agriculture’, spreading their habitat as more farmland was being prepared.

The work on over 6,400 prehistoric vessels has specified the where and when of the first uses of beeswax. Now we know that the oldest evidence of it is to be found in Neolithic sites in Anatolia (Cayonü) in the seventh millennium BCE, in other words, corresponding to the oldest pottery cultures in the region. It is in this same area that the famous Çatalhöyük settlement is located and from which comes an ancient pictorial depiction of a bees’ nest. The use of beeswax has also been detected in prehistoric populations in the north-west of Anatolia; it has been dated between 5,500 and 5,000 years BCE often mixed with the fat of ruminants.

In Europe the first known finds are somewhat later: in Greece around 4900-4500, in Rumania from 5500-5200 onwards, and in Serbia in 5300-4600. We are aware of its use round about the same time in Central Europe in the Neolithic culture of Austria and Germany. More recent are the French and Slovenian cases. On the Iberian Peninsula the 130 receptacles analysed have not preserved any remains of wax, so it is necessary to conduct further research given than in Levantine art there are various depictions of bees: “You have to bear in mind the fact that the detection of signs of lipids of the wax inside the vessels is very low and that the number of receptacles analysed in Iberia is still very low,” but the logical thing is that the bees would also have found suitable environments to develop on the Iberian Peninsula since the beginnings of farming, in other words, about 5,500 years ago,” added Alday.

On the other hand, in this work we have shown that in Denmark and in the British Isles the use of bee products was earlier than expected, while the absence of evidence above parallel 57 on the Eurasian Steppe is probably indicating to us the ecological limit of bee colonies.


Categories: General

‘Fourth strand’ of European ancestry originated with hunter-gatherers isolated by Ice Age

Heritage Daily - Thu, 2015-11-19 01:13
The first sequencing of ancient genomes extracted from human remains that date back to the Late Upper Palaeolithic period over 13,000 years ago has revealed a previously unknown “fourth strand” of ancient European ancestry.

This new lineage stems from populations of hunter-gatherers that split from western hunter-gatherers shortly after the ‘out of Africa’ expansion some 45,000 years ago and went on to settle in the Caucasus region, where southern Russia meets Georgia today.

Here these hunter-gatherers largely remained for millennia, becoming increasingly isolated as the Ice Age culminated in the last ‘Glacial Maximum’ some 25,000 years ago, which they weathered in the relative shelter of the Caucasus mountains until eventual thawing allowed movement and brought them into contact with other populations, likely from further east.

This led to a genetic mixture that resulted in the Yamnaya culture: horse-borne Steppe herders that swept into Western Europe around 5,000 years ago, arguably heralding the start of the Bronze Age and bringing with them metallurgy and animal herding skills, along with the Caucasus hunter-gatherer strand of ancestral DNA – now present in almost all populations from the European continent.

The research was conducted by an international team led by scientists from Cambridge University, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. The findings are published today in the journal Nature Communications.

“The question of where the Yamnaya come from has been something of a mystery up to now,” said one of the lead senior authors Dr Andrea Manica, from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology.

“We can now answer that as we’ve found that their genetic make-up is a mix of Eastern European hunter-gatherers and a population from this pocket of Caucasus hunter-gatherers who weathered much of the last Ice Age in apparent isolation. This Caucasus pocket is the fourth major strand of ancient European ancestry, one that we were unaware of until now,” he said

Professor Daniel Bradley, leader of the Trinity team, said: “This is a major new piece in the human ancestry jigsaw, the influence of which is now present within almost all populations from the European continent and many beyond.”

Previously, ancient Eurasian genomes had revealed three ancestral populations that contributed to contemporary Europeans in varying degrees, says Manica.

Following the ‘out of Africa’ expansion, some hunter-gatherer populations migrated north-west, eventually colonising much of Europe from Spain to Hungary, while other populations settled around the eastern Mediterranean and Levant, where they would develop agriculture around 10,000 years ago. These early farmers then expanded into and colonised Europe.

Finally, at the start of the Bronze Age around 5,000 years ago, there was a wave of migration from central Eurasia into Western Europe – the Yamnaya.

However, the sequencing of ancient DNA recovered from two separate burials in Western Georgia – one over 13,000 years old, the other almost 10,000 years old – has enabled scientists to reveal that the Yamnaya owed half their ancestry to previously unknown and genetically distinct hunter-gatherer sources: the fourth strand.

By reading the DNA, the researchers were able to show that the lineage of this fourth Caucasus hunter-gatherer strand diverged from the western hunter-gatherers just after the expansion of anatomically modern humans into Europe from Africa.

The Caucasus hunter-gatherer genome showed a continued mixture with the ancestors of the early farmers in the Levant area, which Manica says makes sense given the relative proximity. This ends, however, around 25,000 years ago – just before the time of the last glacial maximum, or peak Ice Age.

At this point, Caucasus hunter-gatherer populations shrink as the genes homogenise, a sign of breeding between those with increasingly similar DNA. This doesn’t change for thousands of years as these populations remain in apparent isolation in the shelter of the mountains – possibly cut off from other major ancestral populations for as long as 15,000 years – until migrations began again as the Glacial Maximum recedes, and the Yamnaya culture ultimately emerges.

“We knew that the Yamnaya had this big genetic component that we couldn’t place, and we can now see it was this ancient lineage hiding in the Caucasus during the last Ice Age,” said Manica.

While the Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry would eventually be carried west by the Yamnaya, the researchers found it also had a significant influence further east. A similar population must have migrated into South Asia at some point, says Eppie Jones, a PhD student from Trinity College who is the first author of the paper.

“India is a complete mix of Asian and European genetic components. The Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry is the best match we’ve found for the European genetic component found right across modern Indian populations,” Jones said. Researchers say this strand of ancestry may have flowed into the region with the bringers of Indo-Aryan languages.

The widespread nature of the Caucasus hunter-gatherer ancestry following its long isolation makes sense geographically, says Professor Ron Pinhasi, a lead senior author from University College Dublin. “The Caucasus region sits almost at a crossroads of the Eurasian landmass, with arguably the most sensible migration routes both west and east in the vicinity.”

He added: “The sequencing of genomes from this key region will have a major impact on the fields of palaeogeneomics and human evolution in Eurasia, as it bridges a major geographic gap in our knowledge.”

David Lordkipanidze, Director of the Georgian National Museum and co-author of the paper, said: “This is the first sequence from Georgia – I am sure soon we will get more palaeogenetic information from our rich collections of fossils.”


Categories: General

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