20 December 2013

The oldest of anything is only what has been discovered in the oldest setting – and so it is with human use of grains as a food or drink. The consensus view at the moment is that the first definite use of grains in the human diet comes from a Palaeolithic site in what is now Israel, dating back to around 23,000 years ago. This was at the height of the Late Glacial Maximum, prior to the advent of farming as a way of life. Now, an archaeologist has found evidence of the use of sorghum grain seeds on stone tools in a remote cave floor deposit in Mozambique, dated as long ago as 80,000 years – see…

The facts are derived from an article in Nature journal in 2009 where some 70 stone tools were found in a cave deposit, amongst animal bones. Some 80 per cent of the stone tools, including what are known as scrapers and grinders, were found to contain traces of starch granules, mainly from wild sorghum. None of the seeds display evidence of being cooked, or of grinding, and this has led to a strong dose of scepticism. Normally, sorghum grass is used as a flour to make a kind of bread, or turned into a porridge. It is also used to make a kind of beer. This is much as wheat and barley were used by early farmers across Europe and western Asia. A shared tradition therefore seems a reasonable conclusion – but how far back in time does it go?

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