Saturday, May 18, 2019

Modern Humans Were Cooking Starchy Plants 120,000 Years Ago

Flour has been in use since the Upper Paleolithic era in Europe (ca. 40,000 years ago) and in pre-Columbian, pre-Neolithic North American, but this example is much older.
"Our results showed that these small ashy hearths were used for cooking food and starchy roots and tubers were clearly part of their diet, from the earliest levels at around 120,000 years ago through to 65,000 years ago," says Larbey. "Despite changes in hunting strategies and stone tool technologies, they were still cooking roots and tubers." 
. . .

By combining cooked roots and tubers as a staple with protein and fats from shellfish, fish, small and large fauna, these communities were able to optimally adapt to their environment, indicating great ecological intelligence as early as 120,000 years ago. 
"Starch diet isn't something that happens when we started farming, but rather, is as old as humans themselves," says Larbey. Farming in Africa only started in the last 10,000 years of human existence.
From here.

The paper is:

Cynthia Larbey, et al., "Cooked starchy food in hearths ca. 120 kya and 65 kya (MIS 5e and MIS 4) from Klasies River Cave, South Africa." 131 Journal of Human Evolution 210 (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2019.03.015


DDeden said...

You claim 'flour', but mention only starchy food use. Does the actual paper specify flour processing 120ka? I have claimed actual flour production was invented at the Papuan region around 44ka associated with sago palm grub hunting and linear watercraft invention.

andrew said...

This particular article doesn't mention flour. I've seen it in other papers that I've blogged about previously. Flour has almost surely been independently invented multiple times in human history.

andrew said...

Some prior discussion is at

DDeden said...

I must strongly disagree that logic dictates flour processing was invented independently multiple times, especially in reference to starch consumption 120,000 years ago. Flour was a very specialized byproduct of grub harvesting in Papua IMO, and spread globally from there along with bark canoes & atlatl-dart launchers.

andrew said...

If flour processing was only invented in Papua, then the technology needed to back migrate from Papua, where humans arrived ca. 45,000 to 60,000 years ago, to Italy, ca. 25,000 years ago.

This isn't impossible. But, there is really no evidence that it happened. There are no genetic traces of that in Europe (even in ancient DNA from ca. 40,000 years ago), and there is also no evidence in linguistics or artifacts or technologies or biological species of back migration of other Papuan flora, fauna, or technology that far, at least, until the Papuans can into contact with Austronesian people, nor is there evidence that Papuans had the capacity for long distance maritime travel prior to contact with Austronesian people (contact that first happened in the Holocene era, i.e. in the last 10,000 years).

The only way that flour could have been developed just once is if it was developed in Africa prior to the Out of Africa event that provided most Papuan ancestry and then was brought with the Out of Africans to Europe, Papua and in the initial Founding population wave to the New World. This scenario is less plausible in my view than independent invention, however, because while starch consumption is attested 120,000 years ago, flour use has not been attested anywhere in Africa or the Middle East prior to the Upper Paleolithic yet.