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26 July 2009
Evidence from a 4000-year-old party in Peru

Researchers from the University of Missouri have found evidence of a grand scale party by ancient humans 4,000 years ago, in the form of remnants that still remain in the gourds and squashes that served as dishware at a Buena Vista site (Peru). The researchers studied the residues from gourds and squash artifacts that date back to 2200 BCE and recovered starch grains from manioc, potato, chili pepper, arrowroot and algarrobo. The starches provide clues about the foods consumed at feasts and document the earliest evidence of the consumption of algarrobo and arrowroot in Peru.
     "Archaeological starch grain research allows us to gain a better understanding of how ancient humans used plants, the types of food they ate, and how that food was prepared," said Neil Duncan, doctoral student of anthropology in the MU College of Arts and Science and lead author of the study. "This is the first study to analyze residue from bottle gourd or squash artifacts. Squash and bottle gourds had a variety of uses 4,000 years ago, including being used as dishes, net floats and symbolic containers. Residue analysis can help determine the specific use."
     In the study, researchers recovered starch grains from squash and gourd artifacts by a method that currently is used to recover microfossils from stone tools and ceramics. First, the artifact was placed in a special water bath to loosen and remove adhering residue. Then the artifact's interior surface was lightly brushed to remove any remaining residue. The residues were collected, and starch grains were isolated from each of these sediments. "The starch residues of edible plants found on the artifacts and the special archaeological context from which these artifacts were recovered suggest that the artifacts were used in a ritual setting for the serving and production of food," Duncan said.
     Scientists believe the Buena Vista site, where the starch grains were recovered, served as a small ceremonial center in the central Chillon Valley. The social and ritual use of food is not well understood during this time period in Peru, but this research will enhance the potential for understanding, Duncan said.

Source: EurekAlert! (21 July 2009), Thaindian News (22 July 2009)

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