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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘agriculture

[LINK] Languages of the World on the Basques and their history

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In her post “On the Basques, Their Genes, Their Language, and What They Mean for the Indo-European Debate”, Asya Perelstvaig looks at what the latest in linguistics and genetics mean about the history of the Basques and wider Europe.

With those clarifications in mind, let’s now turn to the Günther et al. article. According to the authors, they conducted the first ever “genome-wide sequence data from eight individuals associated with archaeological remains from farming cultures in the El Portalón cave (Atapuerca, Spain)”. These pre‑historic individuals “emerged from the same group of people as other Early European farmers”. The advancing agriculturalists mixed with—and eventually acculturated—local hunter-gatherers. Besides showing how agriculture must have spread through southwestern Europe, which Günther et al. argue was mostly through migration rather than cultural transmission, the genome data from the El Portalón skeletons sheds new light on the origins of the Basque people: because “the El Portalón individuals showed the greatest genetic affinity to Basques”, Günther et al. conclude “that Basques and their language may be linked with the spread of agriculture across Europe”.

In other words, three population waves can be distinguished in the pre-historic peopling of Europe: Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, Near-Eastern agriculturalists, and Steppe pastoralists. (Some scholars deny the existence/importance of the third wave, but recent genetic evidence, discussed in my earlier post, strongly supports migration from the steppes.) Each new wave mixed with, acculturated, and in some cases subsumed the pre-existing population. While this broad-strokes picture is largely agreed on, the issue of which contemporary groups show how much genetic and/or linguistic connection to which pre‑historic population is a more controversial one. Thus, Basques have been commonly assumed to be descendants of the first population wave, the hunter-gatherers. Gradually pushed into the mountainous “refuge zone” in the Pyrenees, they maintained their genetic uniqueness (for instance, earlier genetic studies found them to have “a higher-than-normal frequency of Rh‑negative blood types”, as pointed out by Balter), as well as their language. Or so the story went. If Günther et al. are correct, Basques are descendants not of the hunter-gatherers but rather of the agriculturalists who spread through southern Europe and into Iberia, ultimately from the Near East.

This conclusion has important consequences for the Indo-European debate. If the distinctiveness of the Basques is a result of them being descendants of an earlier wave, surrounded by a sea of advancing Indo-European-speaking groups (primarily, Celtic- and later Latin-speaking), and that earlier wave was the farming population, it follows that the advancing Indo-Europeans must be the third population wave, the steppe pastoralists (who eventually adopt agriculture, as more suitable to the geographical conditions of their new habitat). In other words, the finding that links Basques to agriculturalists rather than hunter-gatherers provides a strong argument in favor of the Steppe theory of Indo-European origins (as schematized on the left). According to the Anatolian alternative, the original Indo-Europeans were the Near Eastern agriculturalists, who later spread into Europe. For this to be possible, we need to assume that the Basques and the Indo-Europeans were two very different waves of agriculturalists that presumably came from different places and did not mix much. There is little evidence, as far as I am aware, to support such a scenario.

But as mentioned above, we should be careful about distinguishing “peoples” and their languages. As Balter points out, we “cannot entirely rule out the possibility that Basque still has its origins in a hunter-gatherer language that was retained and carried along as farming spread throughout Iberia”. Is this possibility, however remote, a way out for the advocates of the Anatolian theory? I remain skeptical about this scenario, however, as it would involve hunter-gatherers contributing the Basque (or more broadly Vasconic) language, the agriculturalists contributing the distinctive Basque genetic make-up and the Indo-European language, with the steppe pastoralists bringing in the characteristic “Indo-European” DNA signature but making no major impact on the language. This scenario seems quite outlandish to me.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 29, 2015 at 3:41 am

[LINK] “Washington state and Native tribe strike deal on marijuana sales”

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Al Jazeera America notes the marijuana pact in Washington State with the Suquamish.

Washington state and a Native American tribe have reached an agreement on the growth and sale of marijuana, a deal that will pave the way for the tribe to run a legal cannabis store and is the first agreement of its kind in the United States, the tribe and state officials said.

Under the pact, a tribal tax equivalent to the state excise tax will be applied to pot sales to non-tribal customers on Suquamish tribal lands.

Washington voters legalized the possession of marijuana and its regulated sale when they approved Initiative 502 in 2013, and the state’s first stores opened early this year.

“This agreement is an excellent model for future compacts,” said Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board chairman Jane Rushford, according to the Seattle Times.

Board officials said in a news release that the 10-year agreement signed Monday will govern the production, processing and sale of marijuana on the tribe’s land located in Kitsap County, which is just a few miles west of Seattle.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 24, 2015 at 9:18 pm

[LINK] On recovering unique grape variants and developing their wines

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Andrea Vogt at The Telegraph wrote an interesting article syndicated to the National Post about the efforts of scientists to preserve endangered grape populations.

High on a windswept hillside on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, vineyard workers are carefully harvesting a variety of Zibibbo grapes from vines at risk of extinction.

Also known as Muscat of Alexandria, because it is thought to have originated in the Egyptian city, the grape is used to make Passito wines, some of Italy’s most prized dessert wines.

For the past five years, scientists have been searching remote outposts across the Mediterranean basin for endangered strains of this ancient vine, carefully removing vines from overgrown estates and remote mountain tops in Spain, Italy, Greece and France and cultivating them on test plots on Pantelleria.

This month, the first fruits of their labour are being harvested from 2,117 vines scattered across the remote volcanic island, where the grape cultivation techniques used to produce Passito were inscribed last year on Unesco’s world heritage list.

“These biotypes are at risk of disappearing across the Mediterranean, but we believe that with careful cultivation, their genetic patrimony can help us enhance existing and new Zibibbo wines,” said the project’s lead scientist Attilo Scienza, professor of viticulture at the University of Milan.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 23, 2015 at 5:19 pm

[LINK] “How We Can Tame Overlooked Wild Plants to Feed the World”

Wired‘s Hillary Rosner describes intriguing efforts by some scientists to produce wholly new food crops, using promising plants from the wild and breeding them into more useful forms.

A hand-painted wooden sign marks the entrance to Steven Cannon’s community garden, tucked between a sidewalk and some train tracks in Ames, Iowa. It depicts the iconic image of a seedling poking from a mound of dirt. At the far end of the garden, Cannon, a tall and reedy geneticist for the US Department of Agriculture, digs into the soil with a shovel and then his bare hands, pulling up fistfuls of lumpy roots. Strip the scene to its essence—ignore the cars driving past and the power lines strung overhead—and you could be watching a Neolithic farmer. They collected seeds from wild plants, buried them near their homes, and harvested the crop, hoping it would be bigger and better than the last one. That simple act—agriculture—came to define us as a species.

Cannon isn’t trying to re-create the past, though. He’s inventing the future. On this fall afternoon, his team is harvesting tubers that resemble dark-skinned fingerling potatoes. They’re called Apios americana, the potato bean—a legume endemic to North America. Native Americans gathered them and may even have served them at the first Thanksgiving. European settlers found them thriving in their cranberry bogs—places with low light, few nutrients, and bad soil. But they didn’t bother domesticating them into an agricultural staple.

After a couple hours of labor, Cannon’s harvest is complete. A dozen rubber bowls overflow with dirt-crusted tubers. Still, he is disappointed. “We were hoping for a little better yield,” he says. “This is about average.” Average is fine if you’re just messing around in a kitchen garden. But Cannon is up to something far more essential. The potato bean is part of his plan for remaking our food supply from the ground up. He doesn’t want to just grow Apios. He wants to turn it into a new crop that could help feed the world.

We need new crops. Thousands of years of breeding and decades of genetic modification have made the crops we sow predictable, easy to harvest, and capable of feeding more than 9 billion people. But they are also vulnerable to disease, pests, and the whims of weather. That’s troubling, because global warming is bringing more disease, more pests, and more whimsical weather. On current trend lines, global wheat and soybean harvest yields could fall by nearly 30 percent by midcentury. Corn yields could drop by 7.5 percent. In the baking-hot European summer of 2003, plant growth fell by 30 percent. By 2050, that kind of summer will be the new normal. “Suppose the US breadbasket ends up with a climate like Texas,” Cannon said at a genetics meeting last year. “We need to look to species already adapted to extremes.”

The potato bean is one of those species. Versatile like a potato, protein-rich like a bean, with a flavor vaguely like a starchy peanut, Apios does well in both dry and soggy soils. And there are plenty of others like it. Roughly 18,000 species of legumes grow around the world. They’re packed with protein and help fertilize the soil. Yet people have domesticated fewer than 50, and commonly eat only half that many. Cannon has assembled a short list of additional candidates: marama beans, yehub nuts, lupine, and a bunch of other so-called orphan crops, wild edible plants that could change the face of agriculture if someone could just turn them into reliable crops.

The article goes into much more detail, providing among other things recipes.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 2, 2015 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Science

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[LINK] “Rice farming in Ontario lake sparks fight over treaty and property rights”

The Globe and Mail‘s Oliver Sachgau described a controversy surrounding the harvesting of wild rice in a southern Ontario lake.

For years, residents near Pigeon Lake in Southern Ontario were unhappy with a local wild rice harvester who was seeding the lake, filling their shorelines with the marshy plant. But when the locals decided to take action and cut down the plants, the simmering tension exploded into a fight over treaty and property rights.

The fight is raising fundamental questions over the balance of the rights of the residents, who see the lake as a recreational area and important waterway for their boats, with the rights of the First Nation community, who see the lake as an important source of food, protected by their treaty.

The issue revolves around the northern wild rice that grows on Pigeon Lake, in the Kawartha Lakes region, about 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto. The rice, which grows in tall, thick stalks, has always been a part of the lake’s ecosystem.

[. . .]

The rice has proliferated in recent years, and now covers an estimated 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the lake’s 57 square kilometres.

Larry Wood, a local, said he noticed a First Nations man spreading rice seeds across the lake a few years ago. It is that seeding he blames for the spread of the rice, which he says has now made the waterfront inaccessible for boats and is bringing down property values.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 1, 2015 at 7:22 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • blogTO notes that someone built a lego replica of Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood circa 1887.
  • Centauri Dreams notes the OSIRIS REx asteroid sample return mission’s launch.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on the HD 219134 planetary system, just nearby.
  • The Dragon’s Tales suggests nuclear fusion is getting measurably closer.
  • Joe. My. God. has more on the man who murdered a teenage girl at Jerusalem’s pride parade.
  • Language Hat notes the attitude of Jabotinsky towards the Hebrew language.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the mid-19th century convergence of anti-Communist and pro-slavery attitudes.
  • Marginal Revolution looks forward to an Uighur restaurant in Virginia.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw reflects on wool.
  • Torontoist reviews all of the terrible food available at the Canadian National Exhibition.
  • Towleroad reports testimony about the terrible fates facing gay men under ISIS rule.
  • Why I Love Toronto reports on the blogger’s exciting week.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the accidental release of Russia’s casualty information in the Ukrainian war, with two thousand dead.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Antipope’s Charlie Stross and Whatever’s John Scalzi react to the Sad Puppies’ shut-out at the Hugos.
  • blogTO notes a poll suggesting that 85% of Torontonians think taxis are safer than Uber.
  • Centauri Dreams considers the potential role comet impacts may have had on the development of life.
  • Crooked Timber’s Corey Robin engages with Ta-Nehisi Coates.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze considers ways to detect life on worlds inhabited by extremophiles and examines the impact of ultraviolet radiation on hypothetical Earth-like exoplanets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales is upset that the United States suggested Ukraine should not immediately respond to the intrusion of Little Green Men.
  • Far Outliers notes the extreme casualty projections for an invasion of Japan in the Second World War.
  • Language Hat notes the controversy over the question of who the Indo-Europeans were.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the life of a Brazilian leader of a famous naval rebellion.
  • Marginal Revolution tries to start a debate on what the United States would look like if it had open borders.
  • The Planetary Society Blog features a report by Marc Rayman noting the ongoing mapping of Ceres.
  • Savage Minds carries an interview with anthropologist Christian Zloniski regarding export agriculture in Baja California.
  • Torontoist describes the controversial visit of a Toronto journalist to the Soviet Union in 1932.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Crimea is removing Ukrainian from its education system and wonders if Belarus is moving away from Russia.

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