Humans Ate Grains Earlier Than Thought

Study: Agriculture may have begun 10,000 years sooner

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TUESDAY, June 22, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- New research suggests that humans first began harvesting seeds of small grasses -- an initial step towards agriculture -- far earlier than previously believed.

Scientists examining a collection of plant remains from a 23,000-year-old archeological site in Israel found evidence that wild grasses were part of the Paleolithic human diet some 10,000 years earlier than indicated by prior research.

Harvard University researchers say they found evidence of cereals such as wild wheat and barley, as well as a variety of small-grained wild grasses. The evidence that these Paleolithic humans collected cereal seeds to eat indicates they were taking the first steps to domesticating cereal plants, the scientists concluded.

The study appears in the June 21-25 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nearly all previous research on the Paleolithic human diet has focused on animal remains, mainly because of a lack of plant remains.

Initially, Paleolithic humans ate primarily small- to medium-sized hoofed animals. They didn't appear to start eating small mammals, fish, and other types of food until a later period. Scientists speculate that these early humans broadened their diet due to declining resources, and this study provides evidence that plants were part of that dietary expansion.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers healthy eating tips.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences news release, June 21, 2004

- Robert Preidt

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