Pears Confit is a less common but not uncommon dessert. I get it anytime I see it on a menu. Easy to make too.
Pears Confit is a less common but not uncommon dessert. I get it anytime I see it on a menu. Easy to make too.
Some 4,000 years ago a young woman's cremated bones – charred scraps of her shroud and the wood from her funeral pyre still clinging to them – was carefully wrapped in a fur along with her most valuable possessions, packed into a basket, and carried up to one of the highest and most exposed spots on Dartmoor, where they were buried in a small stone box covered by a mound of peat.
The discovery of her remains is rewriting the history of the bronze age moor. The bundle contained a treasury of unique objects: a tin bead and 34 tin studs, which are the earliest evidence of metal-working in the south-west; textiles, including a unique nettle fibre belt with a leather fringe; jewellery, including amber from the Baltic and shale from Whitby; and wooden ear studs, which are the earliest examples of wood turning ever found in Britain.
The site chosen for her grave was no accident. At 600 metres above sea level, White Horse hill is so remote that getting there even today is a 45-minute walk across heather and bog, after a half-hour drive up a military track from the nearest road. The closest known prehistoric habitation site is far down in the valley below, near the grave of the former poet laureate Ted Hughes.
Analysing and interpreting one of the most intriguing burials ever found in Britain is now occupying scientists across several continents. A BBC documentary, Mystery of the Moor, was first intended only for local broadcast, but as the scale of the find became clear, it will now be shown nationally on BBC2 on 9 March.
Scientists in Britain, Denmark and the Smithsonian in the US have been working on the fur. It is not dog, wolf, deer, horse or sheep, but may be a bear skin, from a species that became extinct in Britain at least 1,000 years ago.
"I am consumed with excitement about this find. I never expected to see anything like it in my lifetime," Jane Marchand, chief archaeologist at the Dartmoor National Park Authority said. "The last Dartmoor burial with grave goods was back in the days of the Victorian gentleman antiquarians. This is the first scientifically excavated burial on the moor, and the most significant ever."
It has not yet been possible definitively to identify the sex of the fragmented charred bones, though they suggest a slight individual aged between 15 and 25 years.
"I shouldn't really say her – but given the nature of the objects, and the fact that there is no dagger or other weapon of any kind, such as we know were found in other burials from the period, I personally have no doubt that this was a young woman," Marchand said. "Any one of the artefacts would make the find remarkable."
Although Dartmoor is speckled with prehistoric monuments, including standing stones, stone rows, and hundreds of circular hut sites, very few prehistoric burials of any kind have been found. What gives the White Horse hill international importance is the survival of so much organic material, which usually disintegrates without trace in the acid soil.
Apart from the basket, this burial had the belt; the ear studs – identical to those on sale in many goth shops – made from spindle wood, a hard fine-grained wood often used for knitting needles, from trees which still grow on the lower slopes of Dartmoor; and the unique arm band, plaited from cowhair and originally studded with 34 tin beads that would have shone like silver. There were even charred scraps of textile that may be the remains of a shroud, and fragments of charcoal from the funeral pyre.
Although tin – essential for making bronze – from Cornwall and Devon became famous across the ancient world, there was no previous evidence of smelting from such an early date. The necklace, which included amber from the Baltic, had a large tin bead made from part of an ingot beaten flat and then rolled. Although research continues, the archaeologists are convinced it was made locally.
The cist, a stone box, was first spotted more than a decade ago by a walker on Duchy of Cornwall land, when an end slab collapsed as the peat mound that had sheltered it for 4,000 years was gradually washed away. However, it was only excavated three years ago when archaeologists realised the site was eroding so fast any possible contents would inevitably soon be lost. It was only when they lifted the top slab that the scale of the discovery became apparent. The fur and the basket were a wet blackened sludgy mess, but through it they could see beads and other objects. "As we carefully lifted the bundle a bead fell out – and I knew immediately we had something extraordinary," Marchand said. "Previously we had eight beads from Dartmoor; now we have 200."
The contents were taken to the Wiltshire conservation laboratory, where the basket alone took a year's work to clean, freeze dry, and have its contents removed. The empty cist was reconstructed on the site. However, this winter's storms have done so much damage the archaeologists are now debating whether they will have to move the stones or leave them to inevitable disintegration.
The jewellery and other conserved artefacts will feature in an exhibition later this year at Plymouth city museum, but although work continues on her bones, it is unlikely to answer the mystery of who she was, how she died, and why at such a young age she merited a burial fit for a queen.
Researchers from New Zealand's University of Otago studying 3000-year-old skeletons from the oldest known cemetery in the Pacific Islands are casting new light on the diet and lives of the enigmatic Lapita people, the likely ancestors of Polynesians.
Their results—obtained from analysing stable isotope ratios of three elements in the bone collagen of 49 adults buried at the Teouma archaeological site on Vanuatu's Efate Island—suggest that its early Lapita settlers ate reef fish, marine turtles, fruit bats, free-range pigs and chickens, rather than primarily relying on growing crops for human food and animal fodder.
The findings are newly published in the prestigious international journal PLOS ONE. Study lead author Dr Rebecca Kinaston and colleague Associate Professor Hallie Buckley at the Department of Anatomy carried out the research in collaboration with the Vanuatu National Museum and researchers from the University of Marseilles and CNRS (UMR 7269 and UMR 7041) in France and The Australian National University, Canberra.
Dr Kinaston says the study is the most detailed analysis of Lapita diet ever undertaken and provides intriguing insights into the socio-cultural elements of their society.
"It was a unique opportunity to assess the lifeways of a colonising population on a tropical Pacific island," she says.
The researchers analysed the isotopic ratios of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur in adult human bone collagen and compared these with ratios in ancient and modern plants and animals from the location, which provided a comprehensive dietary baseline.
"Examining these ratios gave us direct evidence of the broad make-up of these adults' diets over the 10-20 years before they died, which helps clear up the long-running debate about how the Lapita settlers sustained themselves during the early phases of colonising each island during their eastward drive across the Pacific."
Dr Kinaston says it appears that the new colonists, rather than relying mainly on a "transported landscape" of the crop plants and domesticated animals they brought with them, were practicing a mixed subsistence strategy.
"The dietary pattern we found suggests that in addition to eating pigs and chickens, settlers were also foraging for a variety of marine food and consuming wild animals—especially fruit bats—and that whatever horticultural food they produced was not heavily relied on," she says.
Isotopic analysis of the ancient pig bones found at the site also suggests that they were free-ranging rather than penned and given fodder from harvested crops.
Study of the human bones revealed a sex difference in diet compositions, showing that Lapita men had more varied diets and greater access to protein from sources such as tortoises, pigs and chicken than women did.
"This may have resulted from unequal food distribution, suggesting that males may have been considered of higher status in Lapita society and treated preferentially," Dr Kinaston says.
“You may have seen the picture, in Johnson's Historie, which shows Anne Bonney as a strapping virago in deplorable trousers and inadequate blouse, armed with cutlass, battle-axe, and pistols, one of which she is discharging at some unfortunate off camera. But that was ages ago, when she'd been a wild young pirate groupie racketing around with Calico Jack, scuttling ships, slitting throats, ravishing innocent youths, and styling herself “Ms.” Nowadays the bra-burning buccaneerette had become an exquisitely languid young matron who ate far too much creamy food, dieted self-indulgently, read popular novels in bed, crammed herself into fashionable creations, and couldn't have roused herself to scuttle or slit a paper bag, although she remained passionately addicted to young men, innocent or not, because (she maintained) it took her mind off slimming.“ (George MacDonald Fraser, “The Pyrates”)
Born out of wedlock in Kinsale in Ireland and emigrating to America at a very young age with her father, little Anne Cormac must have been something of an enfant terrible, a redhead with a fierce temper who ran off with a pirate from Charleston, was disinherited by her father and she burned down his plantation for his pains. Anne ended up as Mrs Bonny in the pirate sanctuary of New Providence, known as Nassau these days, and while the husband of her bosom earned a penny on the side as an informer for the governor of the island, the illustrious Woodes Rogers, Anne hung round in sailor taverns, met the notorious pirate captain “Calico Jack” Rackham, the two fell in love, went aboard Charles Vane’s sloop “Ranger” where Rackham had a job as first mate and became an eighteenth century version of “Bonnie and Clyde”.
Soon famed and feared among her victims as well as by the crew of the “Ranger” for her skill at arms, Anne was on parental leave in 1720, giving birth to her and “Calico Jack’s” son in Cuba, returning to work soon afterwards only to go into business for themselves when she and Jack gathered a crew and stole the sloop “Revenge”. When Anne showed some interest in one of her new mates, a sailor named Read, taken on board after the capture of a Dutch slaver, things threatened to end up in a drama of jealousy until it turned out that Read was actually a girl called Mary. In something of a ménage-à-trois, Rackham, Bonny and Read terrorised the Caribbean waters while a warrant was issued by Governor Rogers and on a fine October morning off Jamaica’s west coast, while Jack and his crew recovered from a rum party, HM Frigate “Phoenix”, Cpt Jonathan Barnet, turned up, boarded the “Revenge” and while Anne and Mary were the only ones being halfway sober and putting up some resistance, the whole crapulous crew was captured.
The whole rum lot was sentenced to the rope in New Providence, Anne and Mary escaped that fate by pleading their bellies, meaning they were pregnant and couldn’t be hanged immediately under English law, Mary died in prison, probably in childbirth, in 1721, Jack went to the scaffold with his wife’s words: “I’m sorry to see you here, Jack, but if you’d fought like a man, you wouldn't need to hang like a dog.” already in 1720 and Anne herself was very probably ransomed by her father, returned to his repaired plantation, married a Charleston local named Joseph Burleigh in December 1721, bringing ten more children into the world over the next decades and dying at the ripe old age of 80 in 1782 in York County, Virginia.
Depicted below is a colourised version of Anne Bonny’s portrait from Charles Johnson’s “A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates“ (1724), found on http://pirates.hegewisch.net/pirates.html
And more on:
New evidence establishes for the first time that Cahokia, a sprawling, pre-Columbian city situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, hosted a sizable population of immigrants.
Cahokia was an early experiment in urban life, said Thomas Emerson, who led the new analysis. Emerson is Illinois state archaeologist and the director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey at the University of Illinois.
Researchers have traditionally thought of Cahokia as a relatively homogeneous and stable population drawn from the immediate area, he said. "But increasingly archaeologists are realizing that Cahokia at AD 1100 was very likely an urban center with as many as 20,000 inhabitants," he said. "Such early centers around the world grow by immigration, not by birthrate."
The new analysis, reported in the Journal of Archaeological Research, tested the chemical composition of 133 teeth from 87 people buried at Cahokia during its heyday. The researchers looked specifically at strontium isotope ratios in the teeth and in the remains of small mammals from the same area.
"Strontium isotope ratios in rock, soil, groundwater and vegetation vary according to the underlying geology of a region," the researchers wrote. "As an animal eats and drinks, the local strontium isotope composition of the water, plants and animals consumed is recorded in its skeletal tissues." Strontium signatures may not be unique to a location, Emerson said, but the ratios in a person's teeth can be compared to those of plants and animals in the immediate environment.
"Teeth retain the isotopic signature of an individual's diet at various periods of life depending on the tooth type sampled, ranging from in utero to approximately 16 years of age," the researchers wrote. The strontium signature in the teeth can be compared to that of their place of burial, to determine whether the person lived only in that vicinity. Early teeth and later teeth may have different strontium signatures, an indication that the person immigrated.
By analyzing the teeth of those buried in different locations in Cahokia, Emerson, state archaeological survey bioarchaeologist Kristin Hedman and graduate student Philip Slater discovered that immigrants formed one-third of the population of the city throughout its history (from about AD 1050 through the early 1300s).
"This indicates that Cahokia as a political, social and religious center was extremely fluid and dynamic, with a constantly fluctuating composition," Emerson said.
The findings contradict traditional anthropological models of Cahokian society that are built on analogies with 19th-century Native American groups, Emerson said.
"Cahokia, because it was multiethnic and perhaps even multilingual, must have been a virtual 'melting pot' that fostered new ways of living, new political and social patterns and perhaps even new religious beliefs," he said.
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