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J Hum Evol. 2019 Jun;131:210-227. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2019.03.015. Epub 2019 Apr 24.

Cooked starchy food in hearths ca. 120 kya and 65 kya (MIS 5e and MIS 4) from Klasies River Cave, South Africa.

Author information

1
McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Electronic address: cdal3@cam.ac.uk.
2
Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment, Institute for Archaeological Sciences, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany; School of Anthropology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.
3
Laboratories for Applied Organic Petrology, Institute for Archaeological Sciences, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany.
4
School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; SFF Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour (SapienCE), University of Bergen, Post Box 7805, 5020, Norway.
5
McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Abstract

Plant carbohydrates currently constitute 55-80% of the modern human diet (FAO and WHO, 1997) and some of today's key global health issues are associated with excessive carbohydrate consumption. However, starch carbohydrate is still a poorly understood element of modern human diet and our past starch diet may provide insights for future research. Despite an archaeological narrative that links our early hominin ancestors to a diet that is rich in roots and tubers, there is little deep time archaeological evidence of human plant starch consumption. Geneticists hypothesise that the duplication of starch digestion genes in early Homo sapiens (∼300 kya), is an adaptive response to an increased starch diet. Here we offer the earliest evidence of identified fragments of charred starch plant tissue (parenchyma) from cave and rock shelter hearths dated to Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e and MIS 4, from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) site of Klasies River main site, South Africa (34.06°S, 24.24°E).

KEYWORDS:

Klasies; Micro-context; Palaeolithic; Starch diet; Tuber-parenchyma

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