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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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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre

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By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments

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The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.

 

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