Their report was published in the prestigious journal Nature. When a dry period caused sections of the Sea of Galilee to show through the water, the team rushed to excavate Ohalo II, a known ancient human settlement. On the floor of one hut, they found a large, flat, basaltic stone, whose uneven surface yielded starch grains of grass seeds, mostly from wild barley and possibly also from wheat.
This evidence pushes back the date for the processing of close wild relatives of domesticated wheat and barley-a key step in cultural development.
“Thousands of years before people were cultivating cereals, they were processing wild barley. Starch grain analysis establishes a clear link between an intensive exploitation of wild cereals and the subsequent development of plant cultivation and domestication in the region,” explains Dolores Piperno of Washington's Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Archaebiology Program at the National Museum of Natural History. The dig was carried out by the University of Haifa's Dr. Dani Nadel and Harvard University archaeologist Dr. Ehud Weiss, who also analyzed numerous remains of seeds and fruits found there.
Evidence associated with an oven-like hearth also found at the site suggests that dough may have been baked in much the same way that modern nomadic tribes in the region still prepare seed cakes. Grinding and baking cereal grains was an important nutritional advancement, making carbohydrates more readily available for uptake into the bloodstream.
“It will be exciting to continue to analyze some of these older artifacts, to see if we can find evidence that they were used to process plants,” said Piperno. “We're trying to find answers to two big questions: When were the first wild grains systematically collected as food and when did people begin to process seeds and underground plant organs to turn them into more digestible and nutritious dietary elements?”
Excerpted from an article by Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, Jerusalem Post
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