Eat Your Breakfast! Archaeologist Finds a Cave Full of Stone Age Cereal

Newsis breaking of a new discovery made by a Canadian archaeologist based in Calgary. Professor Julio Mercader, of the University of Calgary, has found evidence in a Mozambique cave thatHomo Sapienswere eating wild grains as early as100,000 years ago. The discoveryisreported today in the journal Science.

It’s being touted as theearliest direct evidence of humans using pre-domesticated cereals anywhere in the world, ina university press release.

Scientists have longbelieved that grains played little role in the Stone Age diet. Thisbelief isfueledbythe fact that its difficult to process grain using the tools of the time.

The cave thatMercader excavated had a layer that was usedby people from 105,000 years ago to 42,000 years ago.In it there was a vastnumberof tools.

Mercader took a sample of 70 from this assemblage.In particular he picked out the tools that could best be used to prepare Stone Age cereal, suggesting that stone age man was starting the day with porridge long before the Ready-Brek adverts came out.

These include cobble-sized core implements that have the right size and weight to be used as grinders of vegetable material: Cores and core scrapers make up more than one-third of the entire assemblage. Special pieces include a rhyolite grinder/core axe, a ground cobble, and a faceted quartz mortar, he said in his journal article.

Sure enough his work paid off, he recovered 2369 grains in all.

About 20% lack any starch residue (12 tools) but 80% have some, he said, adding, the average number of grains on lithics is 270 times larger than that in the sites free-standing sediments.

Grain city!

Hefound that most of the grain in question is an ancient variety of wild sorghum. A modern version of this wild plant grows nearby.

The conclusion:

“Middle Stone Age groups routinely brought starchy plants to their cave sites and that starch granules got attached to and preserved on stone tools.”

Mozambican data show that Middle Stone Age groups routinely brought starchy plants to their cave sites and that starch granules got attached to and preserved on stone tools.

So there we have it. What surprises me about this isnt that humans were eating grains 100,000 years ago (its a sticky business trying to date when humans first consumed grain),but the sheer amount of cereal that was found.

It certainly does blow a hole in the idea that grain wasnt significant during this period. It would be interesting to know why these people used grain to the degree that they did.

The long stretch of time of these tools (60,000 years!) suggests that it wasnt some one-time event precipitated by a famine. It seems to be constant.

But why just in this area? Why dont we have evidence on this all across the archaeological record? Are there more examples waiting to be found?

So many questions which (as is usually the case) only more archaeological work will answer.