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780,000 year old remains of edible fruits and seeds discovered in the northern Jordan Valley. CREDIT - Yaakov Langsam

780,000 year old remains of edible fruits and seeds discovered in the northern Jordan Valley. CREDIT – Yaakov Langsam

Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University archaeologists have uncovered what humans ate 780,000 years ago from the waterlogged Gesher Benot Ya’aqo site in the northern Jordan Valley in Israel. The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, under a publication titled, “The plant component of an Acheulian diet at Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov, Israel.”

Some of the items aren’t surprising, such as veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds but others are surprising like water chestnuts and acorns. The image to your left shows a tiny grape pip (scale 1mm), left on the ground some and is one of more than 9,000 remains of edible plants discovered in an old Stone Age site on the shoreline of Lake Hula. These early humans ate a wide variety of plant foods. It is interesting how much calories came from plant sources, which de-emphasize the importance of animal protein on early human diets.

This first time where paleobotany indicates how diverse plant assortments and subsistence opportunities that were available to the early humans helped or played a role in transition from an African-based to a Eurasian diet. The researchers also found evidence that these early humans cooked their food to make it safe to eat, and more palatable. Senior author Naama Goren-Inbar said in a press release,

“The use of fire is very important because a lot of the plants are toxic or inedible. Using fire, like roasting nuts and roots for example, allows the use of various parts of the plant and increases the diversity of the plant component of the Acheulian diet, alongside aquatic and terrestrial fauna.”

The use of fire and the availability of a diverse range of flora highlight the adaptability of early humans to new environment needed to colonize the earth beyond Africa.

So just how vegetarian is the Paleo Diet?