A kind of flatbread, lentils, peas, pistachios and mustard: The cuisine of the Neanderthals and that of modern humans as early as the Palaeolithic Age was apparently more sophisticated than previously thought. This is shown by finds of plant food remains in Iraq and in Greece, which are between 75,000 and around 12,000 years old. They are the oldest evidence of their kind for the preparation of food in Southwest Asia and in Europe, writes a research team led by archaeologist Ceren Kabukcu from the University of Liverpool in the journal antique.
“Our finds are the first real evidence of complex Cook – and thus a food culture – in Neanderthals and also in early modern humans, long before agriculture and restaurants,” said co-author Chris Hunt of Liverpool John Moores University. Seasoning and heating Using various microscopy techniques, the team analyzed charred remains of hunter-gatherers’ plant foods, which also provided clues to the respective preparation methods.
Conclusions on the culinary art of the Palaeolithic homo sapiens allow the approximately 12,000-year-old finds from the Franchthi Cave in Greece. Researchers discovered various charred seeds and even the remains of food resembling flat bread. The seed shells found are characteristic of lentils, vetches and other legumes. They were even able to pinpoint one species: the lentil vetch (Vicia ervilia). It contains bitter substances and must be processed before eating.
From the smooth edges of some seed fragments, the researchers conclude that they were pounded or coarsely ground. Other structures suggest soaking whole dry seeds or using fresh seeds with high moisture content. The researchers emphasize that the Franchthi finds are the oldest such plant remains in Europe.
In the Shanidar Cave which is in the Autonomous Region Kurdistan Located in northern Iraq, Homo sapiens were already preparing food 35,000 to 42,000 years ago. From that time, the researchers found, among other things, crushed and fused remains of vetchling and peas. Wild mustard and pistachios were probably also included, they write.
had previously Neanderthals lived in the cave and prepared legumes and grasses as early as 70,000 to 75,000 years ago, as evidenced by charred and crushed plant remains. Previous studies of the tartar of Neanderthals from Shanidar Cave had already shown that their diet was varied and they heated wild grains. So far, however, there has been no clear idea of what their food looked like.
Prehistoric people apparently intentionally left bitter substances in their food
The soaking of wild legumes followed by pounding or coarse grinding, as suggested by the Franchthi and Shanidar finds, reduced bitter-tasting compounds in the seed coats, the researchers write. As a result, the food became tastier and contained fewer harmful substances. However, the seed coats were not completely removed. Using fragments of seed coats, the researchers conclude that low levels of plant chemicals such as tannins and alkaloids may have been intentionally retained in food preparation. This points to the development of culinary cultures in which flavors were important from a very early date, Kabukcu said.
The researchers can only speculate about the exact way the food was heated. According to Kabukcu, the samples showed that the seeds had a high moisture content when they were exposed to heat, so that was during or after soaking. “We saw small hearths in the archaeological deposits in Shanidar Cave and think it’s possible they cooked some items on hot stones,” the archaeologist said. “Since Neanderthals didn’t have pots, we assume they soaked their seeds in a suitably folded animal skin,” Hunt told dem Guardians.
The results show that food choices and cooking methods predate the earliest evidence of plant cultivation by tens of thousands of years. Agriculture only became possible later due to a better climate.