This Week in Science: 3/13 – 3/19


Bowie Funk, East Staff Writer

Ancient People Made Cheese in Poland

Archaeology and Ancient Cultures

A new study by the University of York, UK, has found evidence of cheese making in a site dated to the late Neolithic period in what is now Poland.  This cheese was made from the milk of several different animal species.

What current scientists think is that cheese making arose nearly ten thousand years ago all around the world, from Iraq, where people made cheese from goats and sheep, to China, where people made cheese from water buffaloes.  Most cheese originally came from China, as they were the dominant superpower at the time, being one of the oldest civilizations who farmed.  Before this widespread use of it though, cheese was likely made locally in small communities for one very specific purpose.

When people were first starting to raise animals for the purpose of getting milk, such as cows, goats, and sheep, many people were still lactose intolerant.  This is because many adults belonging to hunter-gatherer societies didn’t (and don’t) often drink milk, often only using animals for their body parts and meat.  Cheese was the solution to drink milk with less lactose, but back to the artifacts at hand.

Researchers looked at the practice of dairy processing in the Late Neolithic, identifying high curd-content residues in pottery indicating cheesemaking, and revealing that multiple dairy species were utilized.

Dr. Harry Robson, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said, “These results contribute significantly to our understanding of the use of dairy products by some of the earliest farmers of Central Europe.  Whilst previous research has shown that dairy products were widely available in some European regions during this period, here, for the first time, we have clear evidence for a diversified dairy herd, including cattle, sheep and goats, from the analysis of ceramics.”

Ancient Sea Reptile Found on an Arctic Island

(Paleontology and Fossils)

A currently unidentified sea reptile has been discovered and identified on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen in Svalbard, Norway.  It is thought to be a new species of an ancient lineage of animals dating back over 250 million years.

Ichthyosaurs were widespread throughout the Triassic period, a time right after a mass extinction, the End Permian Extinction killing nearly 90% of all animals big and small.  Most of these synapsids were relatives of our own ancestors, although these animals were larger and unlike anything we would see today.  After the extinction though, the synapsids were greatly reduced, only filling a few niches whereas the diapsids, or reptile, took over.  During this time of clashing creatures and evolution experimenting with life, reptiles took to the seas, and this is why the ichthyosaurs existed.

This specific group, the ichthyosaurs, was the dominant group of aquatic reptiles during the Triassic and Lower Jurassic periods, with some of the largest reptile over being in this group.  For example, Shastasaurus is commonly thought of to be the aquatic largest reptile ever, reaching lengths of over 70 feet in length.  However, this new reptile was more akin to the smaller, more streamline predatory ichthyosaurs such as Cymbospondylus, an animal that was advanced for the group.  Now, it is thought that advanced forms existed as far back as the Induan stage at the beginning of the Mesozoic era.  Carbon dating finds that this animal was living in the ancient oceans over 250 million years ago, far before the more advanced ichthyosaurs were thought to have evolved.

Fossilized Feces Reveals a Colony of Ancient Animals

Paleontology and Fossils

A small team of paleontologists have uncovered a site filled with the now fossilized remains of pterosaur guano in Oregon, USA.  The researchers recruited 82 volunteers, some of whom were affiliated with the North America Research Group, which is in turn affiliated with the Rice Rock and Mineral Museum in Hillsboro. Others were from the University of Oregon.  What they found segments the idea that pterosaurs nested in large groups like many seabirds do today and published their finding in the journal Lethaia.

This site was dated to the Lower Cretaceous in the Hudspeth Formation, a time where dinosaurs and pterosaurs were at their peak, living all over the globe and adapting to every niche.  A few years before, in 2018, Oregon got its very first dinosaur fossil, called the Mitchell ornithopod, which was likely a small, herbivorous runner.  Ever since, paleontologists have come to Oregon to find new fossils like these remarkable ones now.

In the scat, scientists have found fragments of fossilized shells of clams and ammonites, suggesting the region was home to large flocks of fish eating creatures.  At the time, only pterosaurs would flock together and eat large amounts of shellfish, now bolstering the theory that pterosaurs, like the ones that made these coprolites, came together in large flocks.