Once thought of as near total carnivores, early humans ate ground flour 20,000 years before the dawn of agriculture. 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, according to a paper published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1.
“It’s another nail in the coffin of the idea that hunter–gatherers didn’t use plants for food,” says Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study. 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.