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Ancient teeth reveal Bronze Age trade between South Asia and Mediterranean

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South Asian spices such as turmeric and fruits like the banana had already reached the Mediterranean more than 3000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought, says a team of researchers engaged in archaeological excavations in the Levant.

A news report published by the California based Courthouse News Service said that evidence from the excavations by a team of researchers working alongside German prehistoric archaeologist Philipp Stockhammer has shown that even in the Bronze Age, long-distance trade in food was already connecting distant societies.

The report said: The Levant was the site of global trade as long ago as 3,700 years, much earlier than previously believed, researchers found in an archaeological excavation of 16 Bronze Age bodies in modern Israel.

Philipp Stockhammer, a prehistoric archaeologist at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, and his colleagues analyzed food residues in the ancient corpses’ tooth tartar, also known as dental calculus. In these human fossils, which dated to the second millennium BCE, the scientists saw evidence of turmeric, bananas and soy.

“Exotic spices, fruits and oils from Asia had thus reached the Mediterranean several centuries, in some cases even millennia, earlier than had been previously thought,” Stockhammer said in a statement. “This is the earliest direct evidence to date of turmeric, banana and soy outside of South and East Asia.”

It’s no surprise that long-distance trade of food and spices was conducted during the Roman era, but evidence of trade with South Asia this early comes as a new find. Egypt and Mesopotamia were likely waypoints along the trade routes from South Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

The 16 bodies were excavated from Megiddo, a Bronze Age Canaanite city-state where the Canaans prepared to resist Egyptian military expansion in the 15th century BCE, and Tel Erani, where a Nagada Egyptian trading post sat more than 5,300 years ago.

Teeth are an excellent source of evidence for the lives of the ancients: bacteria from minerals, pathogens and other illuminating samples are deposited and preserved — essentially fossilized — for millennia.

“This enables us to find traces of what a person ate,” Stockhammer continued. “Anyone who does not practice good dental hygiene will still be telling us archaeologists what they have been eating thousands of years from now!”

His team’s process of paleoproteomics — analyzing the proteins preserved in mineralized tissues such as teeth and bones — “breaks new scientific ground,” said the study’s lead author, LMU biochemist Ashley Scott, in a statement.

Harvard University molecular archaeologist Christina Warinner, a senior author on the article, agrees.

“Our high-resolution study of ancient proteins and plant residues from human dental calculus is the first of its kind to study the cuisines of the ancient Near East,” Warinner said in a statement. “Our research demonstrates the great potential of these methods to detect foods that otherwise leave few archaeological traces. Dental calculus is such a valuable source of information about the lives of ancient peoples.”

The paleoproteomeics research method depends on the food proteins’ survival in teeth tartar over the years.

“Interestingly, we find that allergy-associated proteins appear to be the most stable in human calculus,” Scott said.

Wheat gluten, for instance, was found in the ancient teeth. By detecting plant microfossils known as phytoliths, which are rigid silica structures that helpfully persist after a plant’s decay, the scientists could also confirm the presence of cereals, dates and sesame in ancient Mediterranean diets.

The turmeric and soy proteins were found in a Megiddo individual’s teeth, and the banana proteins were recovered from a Tel Erani body. Bananas were domesticated and used in Southeast Asia since the 5th millennium BCE. Prior to this study, little was known about bananas’ trade or use until they came to West Africa by 1,000 BCE.

“Our analyses thus provide crucial information on the spread of the banana around the world. No archaeological or written evidence had previously suggested such an early spread into the Mediterranean region,” Stockhammer said in his statement. “I find it spectacular that food was exchanged over long distances at such an early point in history.”

The findings come with caveats, however, as it is impossible to know whether these particular individuals had simply lived, and therefore dined, in South Asia at some point in their lives before their remains wound up in the Levant, the eastern Mediterranean region that now covers Israel and Lebanon and parts of Syria and Jordan.

Still, the study — published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — may well indicate the earliest known signs of trade across Asia.

“We can now grasp the impact of globalization during the 2nd millennium BCE on East Mediterranean cuisine,” Stokchammer concluded. “Mediterranean cuisine was characterized by intercultural exchange from an early stage.”

 



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UNDP: Rs 600 bn tax cut a huge mistake

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Director of the Sustainable Finance Hub of the UNDP Marcos Neto has called the decision to do away with a range of taxes here a fundamental mistake committed by Sri Lanka.The comment was made at the Parliament complex during an interactive dialogue on ‘Revenue Generation as a Pathway to Sri Lanka’s Economic Recovery’ on Tuesday (09). It was organised on a request by Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, former Chairman of the Committee on Public Finance to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Opposition as well as several other parties alleged that the government had lost as much as Rs 600 bn due to the controversial decision to do away with a range of taxes including PAYE, NBT (Nation Building Tax), Withholding tax, Capital Gain tax imposed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, Bank Debit tax and unprecedented reduction of VAT (Value Added Tax). The 15% VAT and the 2% NBT which amounted to 17% imposed on all goods and services were unified and reduced to 8%, effective from the first of December 2019.

The decision was taken at the first Cabinet meeting of the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government on 27 Nov. 2019.Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe is on record as having said that the powers that be ignored the IMF warning not to do so and also the immediate need to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt (SF)

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Debate on power tariff hike on 29 Aug.

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Party leaders have decided to debate the electricity tariff hikes in parliament on 29 August.The date was fixed for the debate following a request by the main opposition SJB.The debate will be held from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on 29 August.

Chief Opposition Whip Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament on Wednesday (10) that as per the proposed tariff hike the monthly electricity bill of domestic consumers would increase by 75 percent to 125 percent. “This is unbearable. This is like sending the people to an electric chair while they are struggling to make ends meet amidst a massive increase in cost of living.

How does this government expect people would be able to pay such an exorbitant price for electricity? We demand a debate in parliament before this proposed tariff hike is implemented,” Kiriella said.

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British national to be deported

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has ordered Kayleigh Fraser, a British national whose passport has been taken into custody after she posted on social media anti-government protests, for violating her visa conditions, to leave the country by 15 August. The Department has already cancelled her visa.

Earlier this month Immigration and Emigration officials visited Fraser at her home and took her passport into custody. The Department said Fraser had been in Sri Lanka for medical reasons since 2019. She had returned home several times, it said.

The Immigration and Emigration officers told her to visit them within the next seven days.Fraser on 02 August said that a group of immigration officers had visited her and asked for her travel document. She said that officials told her that they would return her passport when she visited the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Fraser added that she had received an anonymous call asking her to leave Sri Lanka as soon as possible before facing ‘big problems.’ Immigration officials visited her house a few days after the call.

Fraser has shared a number of photographs and videos from the ‘Gota Go Gama’ site. Human Rights groups and activists have accused the Sri Lankan government of using Emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.

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