Researchers report early evidence of flour production by ancient humans. Recent interest in ancient diets has led to the collection of extensive data about the variety of plants eaten by early humans and ancient food processing capabilities. Marta Mariotti Lippi of the University of Florence and colleagues analyzed the residues from an ancient grinding tool to gain further insight into food processing practices of the Early Gravettian culture of ancient Europe. The tool was found in Grotta Paglicci in Southern Italy in 1989 and dates to more than 32,000 years ago. Residue samples from the tool contained a variety of starch grains, and the distribution of the starch grains on the tool surface supported the use of the tool for grinding grain into flour. The presence of swollen, gelatinized starch grains in the residues suggests that the plants were thermally treated before grinding. Such a treatment might have been necessary to accelerate plant drying during the Middle-Upper Paleolithic, when the climate was colder than at present. The most common starch grains in the residues appeared to come from oats, representing the oldest evidence to date of the processing of oats for human consumption. The findings suggest that the inhabitants of Grotta Paglicci may have been the earliest people to use a multi-step process in preparing plants for consumption.
Interior of Grotta Paglicci, Italy, with wall paintings. Image courtesy of Stefano Ricci.
Grinding stone from Grotta Paglicci, Italy. Image courtesy of Stefano Ricci.
Swollen, gelatinized starch grain from the Paglicci grinding stone. Image courtesy of Marta Mariotti Lippi.
The research* has been published in detail in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Multistep food plant processing at Grotta Paglicci (Southern Italy) around 32,600 cal B.P.,” by Marta Mariotti Lippi, Bruno Foggi, Biancamaria Aranguren, Annamaria Ronchitelli, and Anna Revedin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 7 September 2015.
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