Evidence for Human Grain Consumption 100,000 Years Ago

ScienceDaily December 17 reported findings of a Canadian archeological team who found evidence of systematic grain consumption by ancient humans in Africa:

The consumption of wild cereals among prehistoric hunters and gatherers appears to be far more ancient than previously thought, according to a University of Calgary archaeologist who has found the oldest example of extensive reliance on cereal and root staples in the diet of early Homo sapiens more than 100,000 years ago.


Neolithic technology

In case you’re new to the paleo diet, grains are considered verboten by most adherents.  (Paleo diet is also known as the Stone Age diet, caveman diet, and Paleolithic diet.)  The cereal grain mentioned in the ScienceDaily article is wild sorghum.

Many in the paleosphere believe that such ancient humans didn’t have the technical skills to transform wild grains into something edible on a regular basis.  I haven’t read the source material, nor do I have an opinion on whether the archeologists are correct.  I’m just sayin’…

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Mercader, Julio,  et al.  Mozambican grass seed consumption during the Middle Stone Age. Science, December 18, 2009.

8 responses to “Evidence for Human Grain Consumption 100,000 Years Ago

  1. Sorghum is gluten free, right? Much less toxic, right? Thanks for the link!

  2. Sorghum residue in one cave, found 70,000 years previous to any other evidence of regular seed processing and among many other plant residues, could be a trace of a thriving culture of grass-eaters; it could be a temporary response to a drought or a crash in prey population; or it could be the final meals of a family that starved to death.

    “Early homo sapiens relied on grass seeds” is, in my opinion, a transparently silly assertion to make from such limited evidence. The first evidence we have of regular seed harvesting and consumption by any group of humans is from Ohalo II in Israel, 19,400 years ago. It took over 8,000 more years before deliberate agriculture was practiced anywhere, and many more thousands of years before it spread beyond a small region of the Middle East.

    Most importantly, as Dr. Cordain points out in his response, there’s no evidence of all the other technologies necessary to make sorghum edible to humans.

    In contrast, the evidence for meat consumption, from the earliest known stone tools from ~2.5MYA through the present, is extremely robust, with a profusion of sites to choose from. So while it’s an interesting data point, a sample size of one is not enough to determine whether sorghum processing is typical, aberrant, or crisis behavior for humans 90Kya. (The absence of evidence up to this time biases it, at least for me, towards aberrant/crisis.)


    • J.Stanton, I can’t argue with you there.

    • nice points… I’m curious, was unsoaked, unheated sorghum a daily yummy condiment or an occasional experimental treat, just grams below the LD (lethal dose) that didn’t dramatically affect rickets, infertility or gastric distress? Maybe it didn’t matter at all until the terrain were devoid of paleolithic big game prey, marine littoral changes and the diet switched up to non-nutrient dense sources…????!

  3. I was intrigued to see that traces of a legume – pigeon peas – was also found on the stone tools.

    Pigeon peas and sorghum continue to be part of the continuing diets of Sub-Saharans to this day and are very often cultivated together in parts of India.
    I continue to accept the Omnivore Hypothesis of Comparative Anatomists, and am not compelled by the arguments either of Vegans or Carnivore Paleoists.

  4. I concur actually — I think early hominids were REALLY clever… but I am curious how many eons before they figured out seeds/grains/nuts had to be soaked and cooked to remove the water-soluble and heat labile lectins, phytates and other plant toxic agents which can harm mammalian health when ingested raw…????

    personally I think the Neanderthals had early use of legumes and small seed grains also in northern Euro/Asia (read John Hawks)… but they didn’t live to tell about it because they were more celiac-HL-DQ2/8 and northern Euro terrain grew more gluten/WGA grasses (barley, rye, wheat) comparatively than Africa (sorghum, amaranth, quinoa)…




    • Hi, Dr. BG.
      I like your idea about early hominids being really clever. I wonder how much more clever we’d be today if not for time spent FaceBooking and vegetating in front of the TV (my Dad called it the boob tube; others “the idiot box”).


  5. The clever ones today are the inventors of Facebook, Twitter etc.

    The clever ones then were doing sympathetic hunting magic by cave painting bison, deer etc.

    I wonder how they did I Q tests?