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Ancient grains offer insights into the birth and growth of the world's oldest cities
by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Jun 6, 2017

3D models reveal food residues in ancient fossilized feces
Washington (UPI) Jun 6, 2017 - Researchers in Sweden have found evidence of food residues preserved in ancient fossilized feces.

Synchrotron scanning yielded 3D models of tiny fragments of beetles, fish and bivalves in 230-million-year-old feces samples.

Fossilized feces are called coprolites. The scatological evidence can offer unique insights into the lifestyle and diet of ancient species, including dinosaurs.

Until now, must coprolites are analyzed by imaging 2D cross-sections. The technique limits the ability of scientists to study the entirety of the fossil and can damage the coprolite's contents.

Researchers at Uppsala University used synchrotron tomography -- like CT scanning but with more intense X-rays -- to create 3D images of two Triassic age feces samples.

In one of the two samples, the scans revealed 3D images of wing cases and a portion of a leg, representing the remains of three different beetle species. Models of the second sample revealed crushed clam shells and fragments of a partially digested fish.

The scientists described their breakthrough analysis in the journal Scientific Reports.

"We have so far only seen the top of the iceberg," lead study author Martin Qvarnström, a PhD student at Uppsala, said in a news release. "The next step will be to analyze all types of coprolites from the same fossil locality in order to work out who ate what -- or whom -- and understand the interactions within the ecosystem."

By studying ancient grains, researchers have gained insights into how the world's oldest cities grew and evolved some 8,000 years ago.

Using stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis to survey ancient, charred grains, archaeologists from the University of Oxford were able to reconstruct the growing conditions of Mesopotamia, the historical region stretching across modern-day Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Kuwait.

The research team's findings -- detailed in the journal Nature Plants -- suggest as populations in the region's ancient cities grew, farmers looked to cultivate large swaths of land instead of funneling more resources, like manure, into existing plots. Farmers didn't attempt to plant denser rows, they simply expanded.

Researchers suggest the development would have put a premium on fertile acreage, and allowed powerful landholders greater socioeconomic and political advantages -- increasing inequality in the earliest urban centers. The growth of farm acreage would have also benefitted those controlling access to specialized plough animals.

"Each cereal grain found buried in an archaeological site holds within it a record of the environmental conditions under which it was grown," lead researcher Amy Bogaard, a professor of archaeology at Oxford, said in a news release. 'Studying many samples of grain from a number of ancient sites allows us to build up a picture of how farming changed with the waxing and waning of early cities, and in particular how people coped with the need to feed growing urban populations."

Researchers found that as the scale of farming operations in Mesopotamia grew, resources were stretched thin and soil health suffered. Farming acreage declined in health as nutrients went un-replenished.

"It was a solution that enabled enormous urban agglomerations to develop, but was risky when environmental or political conditions changed," Bogaard said. "Examining how prehistoric farmers coped with changing conditions could yield some useful advice for modern day governments facing similar pressures of growing populations and changing environments."

Tourists risk getting bit when they mistake monkey aggression for affection
Washington (UPI) Jun 1, 2017
New research suggests humans aren't all that great at reading the facial cues of monkeys. Misinterpreting the emotional state of monkeys, researchers argue, increases the risk of being bitten. In many places around the world, monkey-human interactions are unavoidable. Many tourists visit places for the express purpose of interacting with monkeys. But intimate encounters can sometimes en ... read more

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