London, Oct 19 (ANI): Early humans, who were initially thought of as near total carnivores, ate ground flour 20,000 years before the dawn of agriculture, it has been found.
Flour residues recovered from 30,000-year-old grinding stones found in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic point to widespread processing and consumption of plant grain.
"It's another nail in the coffin of the idea that hunter-gatherers didn't use plants for food," Nature quoted Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study, as saying.
Work in recent years has also uncovered a handful of Stone Age sites in the Near East with evidence for plant-eating.
The meat-centric view of early modern humans stems partly from the fact that meat-eating leaves a more indelible mark in the archaeological record than omnivory, says Laura Longo, an archaeologist at the University of Siena in Italy and an author on the paper.
Stone blades used for hunting and animal bones bearing cut-marks are common finds, whereas plants leave few relics. Complicating matters, archaeologists typically washed the grinding tools used to process plants, removing any preserved plant matter, says Longo.
Beginning in the early 2000s, Longo and her colleagues started analysing unwashed stone tools from a 28,000-year-old human settlement in central Italy called Bilancino. Patterns of wear on the sandstone tools suggest that they were used for grinding, like a mortar and pestle. The stones were also coated with several kinds of microscopic starch grains. Longo and her colleagues identified the grains based on their shape as belonging to the root of a species of cattail and the grains of a grass called Brachypodium.
The researchers also found grinding tools coated with cattail and fern residues at human sites in southern Moravia in the Czech Republic and south of Moscow, all dated to roughly 30,000 years old.
Unlike Neolithic humans, who domesticated and cultivated grains such as wheat and barley, these hunter-gatherers relied on wild vegetation.
The finding has been published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1. (ANI)