Pages Navigation Menu

Science Writer and Editor

Ancient leftovers show the real Paleo diet was a veggie feast

Ancient leftovers show the real Paleo diet was a veggie feast

New Scientist

Image: DubeFranz

Today’s Paleo diet cookbooks might be missing a few pages. Archaeological excavations at a Stone Age site in Israel have revealed the first direct evidence of the sort of plants that our distant human ancestors ate with their meat and fish. Their tastes were more adventurous than we might expect, with roasted acorns and sedges both on the menu.

Archaeologists tend to emphasise the role of meat in ancient human diets, largely because the butchered bones of wild animals are so likely to be preserved at dig sites. Edible plants may have been overlooked simply because their remains don’t survive so well.

The Gesher Benot Ya’aqov site in northern Israel provides some of our first direct evidence of what plants early humans ate. The site was occupied 780,000 years ago, probably by Homo erectus or a very closely related species. Deep in history, waterlogging helped preserve evidence of its inhabitants’ diets – plants as well as meat.

Yoel Melamed and Naama Goren-Inbar at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, and their colleagues have compiled data on the diversity and abundance of plant remains during periods when there is evidence of human activity. They also looked at the plant remains from time frames when there is no evidence humans were present. By comparing the two sets of data, they could get a reasonable idea of which plants humans were deliberately gathering from their surroundings.

It turns out the ancient humans had extraordinarily broad tastes. They collected no fewer than 55 different kind of plant – harvesting their nuts, fruits, seeds and underground stems or eating them as vegetables. Read more on…