THINK the paleo diet makes sense? Well, you’ll need a side-serve of archeology with that. Turns out cave men and women have been tucking into their porridge for at least 32,000 years.
The controversial fad diet taps into an urge for simpler times and the pervading notion that things were ‘better back then’. It’s also spurred researchers into going through dusty reports and reassessing old finds in order to find out what it actually was.
Turns out a cave in Italy excavated in the 1980s contained evidence of grains being ground into gruel during an era known as the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic — much earlier than expected.
Farming is generally believed to have taken root some 10,000 years ago.
Researchers from the University of Florence scraped residue from stones found in a cave known as Grotta Paglicci in southern Italy. It turned out to be a mix of 32,000-year-old starch grains that had been treated in water, cooked and ground.
The most common grain among them was wild oats.
Paleo thinking … The much-hyped diet is almost certainly not what it is cracked up to be. Our hunter-gatherer past appears to have involved grains – and porridge – much earlier than generally thought. Source: Supplied
Porridge. This is incontrovertible proof it was on the paleo menu.
It seems the struggle to stave off starvation saw humans seek out alternatives to steak much, much earlier than previously thought.
Stalking plants required much less effort — and risk — than tackling woolly mammoths.
And it wasn’t just the precursors to turnips and carrots they pulled out of the ground. Nor did they rely solely on low-hanging fruit.
The cave, known as Grotta Pagliacci in southern Italy, has all the hallmarks of the era’s hunter-gatherer society: Pigment paintings on the walls, and charcoal-stained fire pits. Bones.
But the heavily worn stones and the swollen, gelatinized starch grains also indicate it was among the first flour mills.
A grinding stone from Grotta Paglicci, Italy, and a starch grain that was found embedded in its surface. Sources: Stefano Ricci, Marta Mariotti Lippi / University of Florence Source: Supplied
This is not to say the hunter-gatherers were farming. Instead, they were gathering wild-growing grains and carrying them back to the grotto to be ground.
The University of Florence team have published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Research leader Marta Mariotti Lippi says the flour could have been used by a people known as the Gravettian culture for simple, nutritious porridge-like meals. But it also had the potential to be baked into a flatbread.
Flour — and bread — would have been easy to carry around or to store for winter, the study notes. This would have been important for Palaeolithic nomads.
The University of Florence researchers hope to continue to study the stones and the caves to find out exactly what the processed flour was used for, and to what extent.
With the Paleo trend still courting controversy, Horizon investigates how early humans really ate – and whether cooking made us who we are today.