October 19, 2010

30,000-year old evidence of plant food processing

PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1006993107

Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing

Anna Revedin et al.

European Paleolithic subsistence is assumed to have been largely based on animal protein and fat, whereas evidence for plant consumption is rare. We present evidence of starch grains from various wild plants on the surfaces of grinding tools at the sites of Bilancino II (Italy), Kostenki 16–Uglyanka (Russia), and Pavlov VI (Czech Republic). The samples originate from a variety of geographical and environmental contexts, ranging from northeastern Europe to the central Mediterranean, and dated to the Mid-Upper Paleolithic (Gravettian and Gorodtsovian). The three sites suggest that vegetal food processing, and possibly the production of flour, was a common practice, widespread across Europe from at least ~30,000 y ago. It is likely that high energy content plant foods were available and were used as components of the food economy of these mobile hunter–gatherers.

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9 comments:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

There is similar evidence for flour use 10,000 years ago in Utah, which is long before agriculture arrived in the New World.

onur said...

There is similar evidence for flour use 10,000 years ago in Utah, which is long before agriculture arrived in the New World.

Arrived? You should have meant "developed" as the New World agriculture is almost certainly an indigenous development.

Gioiello said...

Everything is going even beyond my desires.

Ponto said...

Yes Moroni was busy wasn't it?

Were those regions of Europe continuously occupied by humans? The results mean nothing if those people died out and left no descendants to survive the Neolithic farmer push. Mobile hunter/gatherers still have territories which they defended against intruders.

eurologist said...

Were those regions of Europe continuously occupied by humans?

Yes, they were. And in the 5,000 or so years before the advent of farming (not farmers, in most of Europe), the European population was hugely expanding from those. Also, don't forget that several of these populations were anything but "mobile hunter-gatherers." They had long settled at preferred summer/winter locations, settled around lakes for fishing, build the structures that were later adopted by farmers (rather than using the stone houses of Anatolia), and had started to grow trees for nuts and other plants for fibers, if not also food.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

"[I]n the 5,000 or so years before the advent of farming (not farmers, in most of Europe), the European population was hugely expanding from those. Also, don't forget that several of these populations were anything but "mobile hunter-gatherers." They had long settled at preferred summer/winter locations, settled around lakes for fishing, build the structures . . ."

There is ample evidence for viewing fishing societies, like the Siberian origin fishing society that established itself in Greenland and subsequently vanished, the Jomon culture of Japan of 30,000 years ago, and the Native American societies of the Pacific Northwest as analytically distinct from either the traditional stereotype of the "hunter-gatherer" mode of food acquisition, farming, herder, or proto-farming (i.e. subsistence on cultivated but not domesticated from wild version plants and animals).

Fishing societies have lots in common with farming societies (e.g. settled villages, larger population groupings, earlier development of ceramics) than more stereotypical hunter-gatherer societies.

It also probably makes sense to distinguish between "subsistance farming" societies, when everybody makes their own food, which were found in the early Neolithic, from "market farming" societies where people sell or barter their food to others, something that coincides more or less with the appearance of urbanization, writing, and metallurgy, for example, on a much large scale.

Six categories of food production, rather than two surely disappoints reductionists, but really adds explanatory value to our understanding of how culture developed in pre-history.

"Arrived? You should have meant "developed" as the New World agriculture is almost certainly an indigenous development."

Of course, you are correct. Arrived can have a sense in which it means "appeared" rather than "came from somewhere else" but "developed" is surely a better word.

Melissa said...

Nov 2010 Natural History just had an article indicating earlier evidence of pre-historic humans using plant materials for food: In the article they stated that between 105k and 42k years ago people occupied a cave in Mozambique where they found evidence of these plant materials on stone scrapers, grinders, points and flakes. This is based on Julio Mercader's research via Univ of Calgary in Alberta. They stated that sorghum, African wine palm, false banana, pigeon pea and African potato residues were found.
Prior to this the earliest evidence I've read about human-plan relationships was found at a cave in Shanidar Iraq where yarrow flowers were found at the burial site.

ashraf said...

I think this discovery (ie Europe being the earliest region in the world to developp agriculture-though,in the future, there could be other discoveries of earlier farming in other regions of the world)could lead us to think that after LGM those European farmers (R1b?) migrated back to warmer Western Asia where they did also spread farming there (and perhaps also the Caucasoid race)then migrated again to Europe during the Neolithic.

Gioiello said...

Many thanks, Ashraf. This is just my theory from at least five years and my bet that R1b1b2 was born in Italy.
Anyway from 30,000 years ago and neolithic something has happened: probably hg. R wasn't then, but certainly there were mtDNA U2 (found at Kostenki and now the closest in Italy)and other mtDNA and Y.
Bilancino II is just in Tuscany.