Portuguese crowberry seeds Corema album Cova de les Cendres Alicante

The finding of Portuguese crowberry seeds in a cave in Alicante confirms its consumption in the Upper Palaeolithic

The finding of Portuguese crowberry seeds in a cave in Alicante confirms its consumption in the Upper Palaeolithic

Portuguese crowberry seeds Corema album Cova de les Cendres Alicante
Cristina Real, Ernestina Badal, Carmen M. Martinez and Villaverde

Carmen María Martínez, researcher at the University of Valencia, leads a study that reveals the consumption during the Upper Paleolithic of Portuguese crowberry (Corema album) fruits, which is currently endangered in the Mediterranean with a few specimens in the Serra Gelada. Published in the Quaternary Science Reviews magazine, the work on samples found in the Cova de les Cendres (Teulada-Moraira, Alicante) confirms the increase in aridity and sea level fluctuations at the time.

“This is one of the most important Palaeolithic sites on the peninsular Mediterranean façade. The excellent preservation conditions have allowed the recovery of an abundant archaeobotanical record from which light is shed on the collection of vegetables by the human groups that frequented the cavity and on the landscape they inhabited”, according to Ernestina Badal, Cristina Real, Valentín Villaverde, Dídac Roman and Carmen María Martínez, from the PREMEDOC-GIUV2015-213 research group of the Department of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History. The Centre for Forest Research and Experimentation (CIEF) and the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) have also participated in the work.

Hunter-gatherers who frequented the Cova de les Cendres not only collected these fruits, but also managed the vegetation and avoided using the plants from which they obtained food as fuel. Thus, no remaining charcoal from the more than 8,500 fragments analysed in the study has been documented. The Upper Paleolithic began about 35,000 years ago and is the period in which Homo sapiens sapiens arrived in Europe. It is characterised by the specialisation in hunting, the increase in the processing of plant foods and the diversification of tools.

The Portuguese crowberry fruits played a key role in human nutrition due to its high content of vitamin C, potassium, calcium and magnesium, according to the analysis carried out by the researcher in agrobiodiversity of the UPV Maria Dolores Raigón, since a diet based only on animal protein causes health problems. Its high nutritional value and the abundant presence of seeds suggest that there was a systematic collection of these fruits.

“The current distribution of this plant is limited to the coastal dunes of the peninsular Atlantic coast, but it has a single Mediterranean population of 11 individuals in the Serra Gelada (Benidorm), which is considered endangered by the Valencian Species Catalogue of Threatened Flora and it is believed that it is a relic of the existing population in the Cova de les Cendres”, highlight P. Pablo Ferrer, Inma Ferrando and Emilio Laguna from the CIEF. The causes of its disappearance point to a strong impact due to the increase in aridity during the maximum glacial period that took place some 20,000 years ago and to the destruction of its habitat due to the subsequent fluctuations in sea level.

Information on the collection of plants in Europe is scarce due to plant remains preservation problems in archaeological sites. These (coal, seeds, fruits and leaves) provide information on how humans lived at the time, the climate, how the landscape was modelled and the presence of different types of vegetation.

The data collected through archaeobotanical analysis show changes in regional biodiversity and could be useful for the design of environmental management policies and current and future biodiversity conservation strategies. According to the team, an interdisciplinary research is needed from Botany, Archaeology and other areas, working together to understand how ecosystems have changed over time, how humans have had to adapt to these changes and how their activities have altered the territory.

The Centre for Forestry Research and Experimentation (CIEF) and the Institute for the Conservation and Improvement of Valencian Agrobiodiversity of the Polytechnic University of Valencia participated in this study. It has been funded by the Universitat de València through the pre-doctoral grant Atracció del Talent, the Valencian Government with the PROMETEU program and the Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Article: C. M. Martínez-Varea et al.: «Corema album archaeobotanical remains in western Mediterranean basin. Assessing fruit consumption during Upper Palaeolithic in Cova de les Cendres (Alicante, Spain)». Quaternary Science Reviews 207 (2019) 1-12. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.01.004

 

 

Press release from Asociación RUVID / ES


Talking stones Alabama cave Manitou Cave Cherokee inscriptions

Researchers interpret Cherokee inscriptions in Alabama cave

Researchers interpret Cherokee inscriptions in Alabama cave

Talking stones Alabama cave Manitou Cave Cherokee inscriptions
Cherokee inscriptions found in Manitou Cave, Alabama. Photograph by A. Cressler

For the first time, a team of scholars and archaeologists has recorded and interpreted Cherokee inscriptions in Manitou Cave, Alabama. These inscriptions reveal evidence of secluded ceremonial activities at a time of crisis for the Cherokee, who were displaced from their ancestral lands and sent westward on the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.

"These are the first Cherokee inscriptions ever found in a cave context, and the first from a cave to be translated," said Jan Simek, president emeritus of the University of Tennessee System and Distinguished Professor of Science in UT's Department of Anthropology. Simek is a co-author of the study "Talking Stones: Cherokee Syllabary in Manitou Cave, Alabama," published recently in Antiquity. "They tell us about what the people who wrote on the walls were doing in the cave and provide a direct link to how some Native Americans viewed caves as sacred places."

The research team that worked to understand the nature and meaning of these historic inscriptions included scholars from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees, and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma as well as Euro-American archaeologists.

The researchers concentrated on two main groups of Cherokee inscriptions found in Manitou Cave, a popular tourist site near Fort Payne, Alabama. Until now, indigenous uses of the cave had been unrecorded, as typical archaeological evidence like artifacts or deposits have been removed during its time as a tourist attraction.

The first inscription records an important ritual event that took place in 1828, translated as "The leaders of the stickball team on the 30th day in their month April 1828." A nearby inscription reads "We who are those that have blood come out of their nose and mouth."

Stickball is a Cherokee sport similar to lacrosse.

"It is far more than a simple game," Simek said. "It is a ceremonial event that often continues over days, focusing on competition between two communities who epitomize the spirit and power of the people and their ancestors."

A second series of inscriptions is located on the ceiling nearer to the entrance of the cave.

"The ceiling inscriptions are written backwards, as if addressing readers inside the rock itself," Simek said. "This corresponds with part of one inscription which reads 'I am your grandson.' This is how the Cherokee might formally address the Old Ones, which can include deceased Cherokee ancestors as well as comprise other supernatural beings who inhabited the world before the Cherokee came into existence."

The inscriptions analyzed by researchers indicate that caves like Manitou were seen by the Cherokee as spiritually potent places where wall embellishment was appropriate in the context of ceremonial action.

Since their work in Manitou Cave, the researchers have identified several caves with similar inscriptions. They will continue to collaborate as scholars from the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes and archaeologists.

"Our research has shown that the Cherokee voice in Alabama did in fact outlast the Trail of Tears," Simek said. "We will continue to document and protect these previously unknown records of indigenous American history and culture."

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Along with Simek, the study's authors are Beau Duke Carroll, who took part in the research as a graduate student in UT's Department of Anthropology; Alan Cressler of the US Geological Survey; Tom Belt, a member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees and coordinator of the Cherokee Language program at Western Carolina University; and Julie Reed, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and former faculty member in UT's Department of History, now at Pennsylvania State University.

 

Press release from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville