The invention of cooking has long been recognized as a critical step in human development. Ancient cooking would have initially involved the use of fires or pits and the invention of ceramic cooking vessels led to an expansion of food preparation techniques. Cooking would have allowed the consumption of previously unpalatable or even toxic foodstuffs and would also have increased the availability of new energy sources. Remarkably, until now, evidence of cooking plants in early prehistoric cooking vessels has been lacking.
Significantly, over half of the vessels studied were found to have been used for processing plants based on the identification of diagnostic plant oil and wax compounds. Detailed investigations showed a broad range of plants were processed, including grains, the leafy parts of terrestrial plants, and most unusually, aquatic plants.
The plant chemical signatures from the pottery show that the processing of plants was practiced for over 4,000 years, indicating the importance of plants to the ancient people of the prehistoric Sahara.
"These findings emphasize the sophistication of these early hunter-gatherers in their utilisation of a broad range of plant types, and the ability to boil them for long periods of time in newly invented ceramic vessels would have significantly increased the range of plants prehistoric people could eat," said Dr. Julie Dunne, a post-doctoral research associate in Bristol's School of Chemistry and lead author of the findings.
University of Bristol
Out of the Past
Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology as Historical Process
Artwork: Prehistoric Pottery Kit