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ARCHAEOLOGY

Students find 560,000-year-old tooth in France

Archaeology students have unearthed what is understood to be the oldest human body part ever found in France - a tooth from 560,000 years ago. Researchers have hailed it as a "major discovery".

Students find 560,000-year-old tooth in France
The two archaeological students who found the 560,000-year-old human tooth. Photo: Denis Dainat/Musée de Tautavel

The tooth was found by students who were working voluntarily in the Arago Cave in Tautavel, in the Pyrénées-Orientales département in southern France.

The site is already famous in archaeological circles as it was there that the Tautavel Man was discovered, a 450,000-year-old Homo Erectus. 

The tooth predates the Tautavel Man by 100,000 years. 

Christian Perrenoud, a geo-archaeologist working on the site, said that while the tooth was a “great find”, there's a lot more left to uncover. 
 
“We are pretty confident that the site has a lot more to reveal,” he told The Local.
 
He said it was unlikely to find the entire skeleton of the tooth's owner – they didn't do burials in those days – but that the team was hoping to find other bones. 
 
“Human remains from between 500,000 and 800,000 years ago are more than scarce in Europe nowadays, and this tooth fills a bit of the gap of the incompleteness in this 300,000-year period,” he said. 
 

(Photo: Denis Dainat/Musée de Tautavel)
 
He added that the team has found thousands of objects since excavation first began on the 560,000-year-old layer in May. 
 
The team has found in recent months plenty of information about the people living in the cave at the time, including the pollen content of the area, the vegetation, and even how far the people travelled to get their flint (about 30 kilometres).

The tooth was found by volunteer Camille, 16, on Thursday last week as she was working with another young archaeologist. 

The bone has been called Arago 149, is understood to be an adult incisor, but it's unclear as to whether it belonged to a man or woman.
 
Even though the tooth is said to be “very worn”, researchers hope that they can use it to learn more about the morphology of the first Europeans. 
 
The cave has been a goldfield for archaeologists over the past 50 years. They have dug up over 600,000 objects of interest.
 
In 2011, researchers at the cave discovered a baby tooth, suggesting Homo heidelbergensis, probably the ancestor of Homo sapiens in Africa and the Neanderthals in Europe, led a family life in the cave.
 
 

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ARCHAEOLOGY

French ‘learned wine-making’ from Italians

Despite now being perhaps the global capital of wine, France imported its earliest wine and learned wine-making from ancient Italians, according to archaeological evidence unearthed by US researchers.

French 'learned wine-making' from Italians
Did ancient Italians teach the French everything they know about wine-making? File photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

The earliest evidence of wine in France suggests that it came from Italy, and that it was mixed with basil, thyme and other herbs, according to research published on Monday.

This early wine may have been used as medicine, and likely was imbibed by the wealthy and powerful before eventually becoming a popular beverage enjoyed by the masses, researchers said.

The artifacts found at the French port site of Lattara, near the southern city of Montpellier, suggest that winemaking took root in France as early as 500 BC, as a result of libations and traditions introduced by the ancient Etruscans in what is now Italy.

"Even though France is now the centre of the world's wine culture, wine was originally an import to France," lead author Patrick McGovern told The Local.

"What the research shows is that the Etruscans, by importing wine to France, built up a great desire for wine in that area. Then the locals took the next logical step and grew the grapes and made the wine themselves," said McGovern, who is director of the biomolecular archaeology laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia.

The analysis in the US journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is based on ancient wine containers and a limestone press brought by seafaring Etruscan travelers.

The most significant of its findings, according to McGovern, is a limestone pressing platform dating to about 425 BC. 

"Finding that this was in fact used as a wine press shows local production of wine, rather than just importation," he said.

The study, McGovern told AFP, provides "clear chemical evidence, combined with botanical and archaeological data, showing how wine was introduced into France and initiated a native industry." 

Researchers studied three containers, known as amphoras, taken from an archeological site in Lattara where merchant quarters lay inside a walled settlement that dates to 525-474 BC.

The samples they chose were unbroken, unwashed and sealed, allowing for unhampered study of the residues inside.

Based on their shape, researchers could reasonably ascertain that the amphoras were made in the city of Cisra (modern Cerveteri) in central Italy.

Using state of the art chemical analysis techniques, researchers found tartaric acid, the biomarker of Eurasian grape wine.

They also discovered pine tree resin and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and basil in the wine residue, suggesting a medicinal use.

Tartaric acid was found on a nearby limestone pressing platform dating to about 425 BC, suggesting it was used as a wine press.

Together, the artifacts provide the earliest known biomolecular archaeological evidence of grape wine and winemaking on French soil, the study said.

"Now we know that the ancient Etruscans lured the Gauls into the Mediterranean wine culture by importing wine into southern France," said McGovern, who studies how wine culture originated in the Middle East some 9,000 years ago, and made its way to modern Europe.

"This built up a demand that could only be met by establishing a native industry, likely done by transplanting the domesticated vine from Italy, and enlisting the requisite winemaking expertise from the Etruscans."

The earliest known chemical evidence for wine was found in what is now northern Iran at the site of Hajji Firiz, and dates to about 5,400-5,000 BC.

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