Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Bronze Age Lunch Box

From the International Business Times comes this article about a recent analysis of a find, made in the Swiss Alps in 2012, of a wooden lunch box that dates to about 1500 BCE.  The box had previously been frozen in a glacier for thousands of years.

How do the scholars know it was a lunch box? you may ask.  They "know" it because the interior of the box contained molecular traces of "spelt, emmer, and barley," grains commonly eaten in ancient times. Since no actual grains were found in the box, perhaps the box was discarded when empty for some reason. 

Interesting details about the find include the following:
  • The box is not unique.  A very similar box had previously been found in the Schnidejoch pass (2756 m asl), located east of the Lötschenpass where the box that is the subject of the present analysis was found.
  • The box has a "round base made of Swiss pine, and the bent rim [is] made of willow, sewn together with splint twigs of European larch."  The photograph of the box that accompanies the article shows it to be slightly oval in shape.
  • It's fairly small; about 20 cm (7.8 inches), measured across its shorter dimension.
  • Several types of analysis were performed on the box's interior to identify the contents, including gas chromatography-mass spectrometry; lipid extraction; protein extraction; and microscopic analysis.  
  • All the proteins detected were plant proteins, of types consistent with the former presence of spelt, emmer, and barley.  Interestingly, no traces of millet were found.  This is interesting because millet is the one grain of which evidence has been found in Bronze Age pottery, and Bronze Age pottery, to date, shows no evidence of wheat or barley proteins.
For more detail about the find and the analysis that detected that the box had contained grains, go here.  

I find it fascinating to see how improvements in science permit archaeologists to derive more and more information from finds, allowing better deductions about the history of how ordinary people lived.

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