The newfound discovery of the oldest flour in the world suggests cavemen who were thought to live almost entirely on meat may have had a more balanced diet than was thought.
Researchers generally assumed that in Europe during the Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age, human diets consisted almost totally of animal meat and fat, only rarely involving veggies.
Now scientists using optical and electron microscopy have found in 30,000-year-old stones with flour on them at archaeological sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic.
The pattern of wear and tear on the stones suggests they were used for grinding roots and grains in a manner similar to a pestle. The residues on the grindstones seem to come mostly from cattails and fern plants, which are rich in starch.
These starch grains suggest food processing of plants and possibly flour production was common and widespread across Europe at least 30,000 years ago. These carbs might especially have come in handy when prey was short, the investigators noted.
Since harvesting and processing of these kinds of roots into flour has often been the work of women in ancient history, a greater emphasis of plants in the Paleolithic diet also could have boosted the status of women back then, researcher Anna Revedin, an archaeologist at the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Early History in Florence, told LiveScience.
Also, since this flour has to be cooked to be digested properly, these findings might also shed light on cooking practices. In experiments, the researchers found this flour could be mixed with water and cooked on hot stones to make flatbreads or cakes. The flour might also have been used in soups of some kind, they speculated.
The scientists detailed their findings online Oct. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.