Cave paintings from the Lascaux complex in France to the Ubirr in Australia share a common feature – they depict hunters and their prey. Very few of our Paleolithic ancestors seemed interested in painting still life paintings of fruits and vegetables. Which is unfortunate, given that they almost certainly ate more of a balanced diet than we often give them credit for, says Christiani.
“We had a lot of trouble talking about the ancient human diet, notes Christiani, archaeologist-in-residence at the Diet and Ancient Technology Laboratory (DANTE) in Italy. One of the reasons for this is that organic matter decay. So when we come across early prehistoric sites, all we tend to find are preserved bones, perhaps slaughter tools.”
This is one reason why prehistoric archaeologists tended to focus their resources on searching for such clues. This in turn fueled the popular notion that prehistoric diets consisted primarily of animal proteins.
The evolution of our diet
The story of what ancient humans actually ate, and how our diet evolved, is much richer. This began about 2.5 million years ago, when hominids began to use stone tools. Our early ancestors were likely vegetarians, before introducing meat to their diets through garbage collection. with invention stone tools And the growth of social cooperation, we’d then learn to look for ourselves.
“The use of controlled fire was a wonderful invention that allowed us to cook,” Christiani continues. “The energy we previously needed to digest raw meat, and even raw vegetables, can fuel our brains.”
This follows a picture of an ever-increasing nutritional complexity, with more advanced tools and the use of fire to enable us to outpace other species. This nutritional complexity – based on a mixture of plants, grains and meat – would also have enabled us to thrive in very different climates.
“This is what really sets us apart from other primates,” Christiani says. “While other species were stuck in ecological positionBecause of our diverse diets, we can migrate across the world using our tools and our brains.”
Guide to a balanced diet
However, there is still a dearth of concrete evidence that ancient humans had a well-balanced diet. To address this, Kristani developed a method of identification starch granules of food, which can remain trapped in the hardening dental plate (Call dental deposits) for thousands of years.
The hidden foods The project, of which Christiani was coordinating, recovered microscopic traces of starch from tools that might have been used to process tubers and grains. The project focused on remains from 40,000 to 8,000 years ago, from a number of sites in Europe.
“We found that ancient societies that were thought to be dependent on fish or meat also ate wild grains,” Christiani adds. “Their diets were more balanced. From the way the starches are preserved on their teeth and gadgets, we can also tell that they like making some kind of porridge.”
The technology was also able to demonstrate other behaviors such as using the mouth to tan skins, as well as using plants known for their medicinal properties. “This dental account is really a treasure from the past that we’re scraping,” Christiani notes.
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