Archive for January, 2010

South American Aqueducts- How Peruvian Cultures Irrigated their Crops

By: The Scribe on January, 2010

If there is one thing that is essential to a culture’s survival it is the availability of water. A constant water source is necessary not only for drinking but for irrigating crops as well. In the arid conditions found in the Andes Mountains, how was it then that some ancient cultures such as the Chavin and the Incas were able to flourish?

Archaeologists have now found evidence that several ancient cultures built canals in order to irrigate crops and carry a steady supply of water to areas where water was not normally available. Four canals have been found that date from between 5400 and 6700 years ago, showing evidence that South America was the sight of irrigated agriculture long before any other region in the Americas.

The canals were found on the south side of the Nanchoc River in an area known as the Zana Valley. The valley is an area where some of the oldest civilizations have been found in South America. The canals were shallow and quite narrow. They were lined with pebbles and larger stones and measured anywhere from less than one mile to more than two miles long. The fact that these canals were found near the remains of stone hoes, charred plants and other examples of agricultural life strongly points to the fact that the canals were used to water crops. image

Evidence shows that the canals were not built all at one time. The earliest canal seems to have been built when there was a higher amount of rainfall. Water travelled along the canal all year long. Other canals were not used as frequently and were even abandoned at one point. Scientists think that this may have meant the site was abandoned at some point.

Instead of fighting gravity and working against their surroundings, it was clear to archaeologists that the canals used positioning in order to allow gravity to move the water from its source to the crops. The slopes allowed the water to travel easily and reliably to the crops in order to make sure they had the water they needed in order to flourish.

Before the canals were found, scientists were finding it difficult to explain how a complex society based on agriculture could flourish in such an arid area. Some societies flourished in South America as much as 5,000 to 6,700 years ago and without a steady supply of water, this would have been incredibly difficult to accomplish.

The water that travelled along the canals was drawn from small streams. Crops had been planted in areas that were lower than the rivers although they were not naturally wet. This showed that the civilizations which utilized the canals were organized enough to notice their surroundings and use the geography to their advantage, rather than simply choosing random areas to plant their crops.

imageAlthough the canals only date back by as much as 6,700 years, many scientists believe that there may have been an organized system of irrigation as much as 9,000 to 10,000 years ago although they feel that evidence of these very early canals will be hard to find.

Would You Like Some Lead With Your Food?

By: The Scribe on January, 2010

Roman cooking was well known for its excesses. While meals were often quite simple and basic in the early days of the Republic they eventually evolved into very elaborate affairs. The main meal of the day was the cena, which would usually begin at 4pm and often lasted late into the night. When guests were present, the meal could go on for hours. Diners were often entertained by acrobats and other professionals while they ate and meals were often made up of a number of different courses.

There were three main additives that were used in Roman cooking. These included carenum, defrutum and sapa. These ingredients were all made in much the same way. Grape juice or must was boiled down in pots so that water would evaporate. This left a liquid that could be used to sweeten or preserve various types of food and drink. Sapa was created when the liquid had reached one third of its regular volume. When half of the volume had been reduced, the liquid was known as defrutum. When only one third of the liquid remained, it was known as carenum.Grapes being made into must

The problem with these ingredients is that they were made in lead lined pots. This meant that lead acetate crystals would work their way into the liquid and were therefore consumed along with the food or drink. The lead was actually what caused the mixture to become sweet. When defrutum is made properly it can reach lead levels that are as high as 29,000 ppb. Drinking liquid that has this much lead in it can easily cause acute or chronic lead poisoning.

There were many rules that surrounded the making of defrutum. Pliny the Elder, a well-known Roman historian and author, felt that defrutum needed to be made during the New Moon. He also warned that defrutum should never be made in copper or bronze kettles. He felt that this would cause the defrutum to take on an unpleasant metallic taste.

Cato the Censor, a Roman statesman, felt that the quality of the grape juice would affect the taste of the defrutum. He felt that it was important to use must that was as sweet as possible and that boiling it in a lead pot was most important.

imageDefrutum was not just added to wine in order to make it sweeter. Romans would add it to meat dishes to make them sweeter. Some ducks and suckling pigs were fed defrutum in order to make their meat sweeter before being cooked. The most popular condiment in Rome, oenogarum, was made up of a mixture of defrutum and garum. Garum is a fermented fish sauce that was a staple of every day cooking in Rome. Defrutum and sapa were both used to preserve fruit such as quince and melon. Roman soldiers were often given food that had been preserved in defrutum as part of their standard rations. Roman women would often use defrutum or sapa as a cosmetic as well.

Because of the high levels of lead that are found in defrutum, it is now believed that this substance, along with the dishes used to eat and drink from, may have actually contributed to illness and the overall decline of the Roman Empire.