Science Briefs

September 1, 2013 

Garlic mustard? A very ancient condiment

Early Europeans had a taste for spicy food, new research led by England’s University of York has revealed.

Archaeologists at York, working with colleagues in Denmark, Germany and Spain, have found evidence of the use of spices in cuisine at the transition to agriculture. The researchers discovered traces of garlic mustard on the charred remains of pottery dating back nearly 7,000 years.

The silicate remains of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) along with animal and fish residues were discovered through microfossil analysis of carbonized food deposits from pots found at sites in Denmark and Germany. The pottery dated from the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture.

Previously, scientists have analyzed starches that survive well in carbonized and noncarbonized residues to test for the use of spices in prehistoric cooking. But the new research suggests that the recovery of phytoliths – silicate deposits from plants – offers the additional possibility to identify leafy or woody seed material used as spices, not detectable using starch analysis. PLOS ONE

Legacy of acid rain: Water getting more alkaline

Human activities are changing the water chemistry of many streams and rivers in the Eastern United States, with consequences for water supplies and aquatic life, according to a study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

In the first survey of its kind, researchers looked at long-term alkalinity trends in 97 streams and rivers from Florida to New Hampshire. Sites ranged from small headwater streams to some of the nation’s largest rivers. Over the past 25 to 60 years, two-thirds have become significantly more alkaline.

Alkalinity is a measure of water’s ability to neutralize acid. In excess, it can cause ammonia toxicity and algal blooms, altering water quality and harming aquatic life. It also exacerbates the Stalinization of fresh water.

In what may seem like a paradox, human activities that create acid conditions are driving the problem: Acid rain, acidic mining waste and agricultural fertilizers speed the breakdown of limestone, other carbonate rocks, and even concrete and cement. Alkaline particles are washed off into streams and rivers. caryinstitute.org

Preview of fall skies at PARI presentation this month

The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, near Brevard, will hold a presentation Sept. 13 about celestial objects visible this fall in the Western North Carolina Skies. The activities, open to the public, include a tour of the PARI campus, a presentation in the PARI StarLab planetarium and – weather permitting – celestial observations using PARI’s Telescopes.

The presentation begins at 7 p.m. Reservations, which are required, will be accepted until 3 p.m. Sept. 13. Cost: $20; $15 for seniors and military; $10 for 14 and younger. Information: http://bit.ly/19WXZfE, or email cwhitworth@pari.edu. Reservations: 828-862-5554. Staff reports

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