Paleolithic men finally had a diet composed of relatively little meat, but many varieties of plants. This is a conclusion drawn from the study of more than 9,000 plant fossils unearthed in the Jordan Valley, Israel.
In the ancient human diet, a major role was often assigned to meat largely because the bones of wild animals are likely to be better preserved than plant remains. In the Jordan Valley, on the site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, occupied 780,000 years ago, more than 9,000 remains of edible plants have been unearthed by a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem . They publish the results of their analyzes in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
This study tells us that no less than 55 different species of edible plants have been unearthed, whether fruits, nuts, tubers, leaves or even seeds. » We had the opportunity to discover a large number of remains of fruits, nuts and seeds in the trees, shrubs and the lake, alongside the remains of animals and man-made tools explains Professor Naama Goren-Inbar. » The diet of humans today is much more restricted than that of early hunter-gatherers “, he adds.
Among these species, a dozen no longer exist today, such as certain water nuts. Traces of combustion show that fire was favored to consume these plants. » The use of fire, for roasting nuts or roots for example, makes it possible to use the different parts of the plant “, explains Professor Naama Goren-Inbar.
The particular and humid conditions of the place allowed the conservation of these vegetable food remains and also made it possible to distinguish the seasonal variations of the food. Summer and spring offered a greater choice with around 32 different plant species. However, the resources were surprisingly many during the winter and fall, admit the researchers, with an omnipresence of green vegetables.
» It is unlikely that humans of the time could have survived on a strict vegetarian diet, but only a small portion of animal protein and fats were needed to supplement their largely plant-based diet. “, explains Amanda Henry, anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute, in Germany, to the magazine New Scientist. The strong presence of meat in the diet of our ancestors has therefore been rather overestimated.