Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Stone age pantry: Archaeologist unearths earliest evidence of modern humans using wild grains and tubers for food

Date:
December 18, 2009
Source:
University of Calgary
Summary:
The consumption of wild cereals among prehistoric hunters and gatherers appears to be far more ancient than previously thought, according to an archaeologist who has found the oldest example of extensive reliance on cereal and root staples in the diet of early Homo sapiens more than 100,000 years ago.

These are Middle Stone Age food processing tools recovered from the Ngalue cave site, Mozambique.
Credit: Grady Semmens, University of Calgary

The consumption of wild cereals among prehistoric hunters and gatherers appears to be far more ancient than previously thought, according to a University of Calgary archaeologist who has found the oldest example of extensive reliance on cereal and root staples in the diet of early Homo sapiens more than 100,000 years ago.

Julio Mercader, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Tropical Archaeology in the U of C's Department of Archaeology, recovered dozens of stone tools from a deep cave in Mozambique showing that wild sorghum, the ancestor of the chief cereal consumed today in sub-Saharan Africa for flours, breads, porridges and alcoholic beverages, was in Homo sapiens' pantry along with the African wine palm, the false banana, pigeon peas, wild oranges and the African "potato." This is the earliest direct evidence of humans using pre-domesticated cereals anywhere in the world. Mercader's findings are published in the December 18 issue of the research journal Science.

"This broadens the timeline for the use of grass seeds by our species, and is proof of an expanded and sophisticated diet much earlier than we believed," Mercader said. "This happened during the Middle Stone Age, a time when the collecting of wild grains has conventionally been perceived as an irrelevant activity and not as important as that of roots, fruits and nuts."

In 2007, Mercader and colleagues from Mozambique's University of Eduardo Mondlane excavated a limestone cave near Lake Niassa that was used intermittently by ancient foragers over the course of more than 60,000 years. Deep in this cave, they uncovered dozens of stone tools, animal bones and plant remains indicative of prehistoric dietary practices. The discovery of several thousand starch grains on the excavated plant grinders and scrapers showed that wild sorghum was being brought to the cave and processed systematically.

"It has been hypothesized that starch use represents a critical step in human evolution by improving the quality of the diet in the African savannas and woodlands where the modern human line first evolved. This could be considered one of the earliest examples of this dietary transformation," Mercader said. "The inclusion of cereals in our diet is considered an important step in human evolution because of the technical complexity and the culinary manipulation that are required to turn grains into staples."

Mercader said the evidence is on par with grass seed use by hunter-gatherers in many parts of the world during the closing stages of the last Ice Age, approximately 12,000 years ago. In this case, the trend dates back to the beginnings of the Ice Age, some 90,000 years earlier.

Mercader's work was supported by the Canada Research Chairs program, Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the U of C's Faculty of Social Science and the National Geographic Society.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Calgary. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Julio Mercader et al. Mozambican grass seed consumption during the Middle Stone Age. Science, December 18, 2009

Cite This Page:

University of Calgary. "Stone age pantry: Archaeologist unearths earliest evidence of modern humans using wild grains and tubers for food." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 December 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091217141312.htm>.
University of Calgary. (2009, December 18). Stone age pantry: Archaeologist unearths earliest evidence of modern humans using wild grains and tubers for food. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091217141312.htm
University of Calgary. "Stone age pantry: Archaeologist unearths earliest evidence of modern humans using wild grains and tubers for food." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091217141312.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

AP (July 29, 2014) Food scraps and other items left on the grounds by picnickers brings unwelcome visitors to the grounds of the world famous and popular Louvre Museum in Paris. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

London's Famed 'Gherkin' Goes on Sale for 650 Mln

AFP (July 29, 2014) London's "Gherkin" office tower, one of the landmarks on the British capital's skyline, went on sale for about 650 million ($1.1 billion, 820 million euros) on Tuesday after being placed into receivership. Duration: 00:36 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Asteroid's Timing Was 'Colossal Bad Luck' For The Dinosaurs

Newsy (July 28, 2014) The asteroid that killed the dinosaurs struck at the worst time for them. A new study says that if it hit earlier or later, they might've survived. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

Tourists Disappointed to Find Rome Attractions Under Restoration

AFP (July 26, 2014) Tourists visiting Italy at the peak of the summer season are disappointed to find some of Rome's most famous attractions being restored and offering limited access. Duration: 01:01 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins