Every year, people decide to follow the “Paleo lifestyle” and give up a wide variety of foods. Perhaps the most significant elimination is grain. This means no more bread or pasta. The reasoning is that Paleolithic humans didn’t have an established agricultural system to grow, harvest, and prepare grain, but a new discovery shakes up that assumption. Were humans from the ancient past actually gobbling up bread?
While exploring a Natufian hunter-gatherer site in northeastern Jordan, scientists discovered something interesting in the remains of two basalt-stone fireplaces. The Natufians lived in the Eastern Mediterranean between 12,500 and 9,500 B.C. Unlike many people groups of that time, they lived a pretty settled existence even though they did not develop agriculture. Their settlement included fireplaces, inside which archaeologists discovered the burned remains of bread.
To analyze the remains, a team at the University of Copenhagen first used radiocarbon dating. The bread is over 14,000 years old, making it much older than a 9,500-year old sample in Turkey, which was previously the oldest example of bread. To learn more about how Natufians made this food, scientists used SEM, a scanning electron microscope. This produced amazingly-detailed, high-resolution images showing that the bread was made from finely-ground flour as well as wild barley, wheat, oats, and tubers. The researchers were surprised a culture that ancient used flour so fine. There’s more to learn, as only 24 out of 600 food fragments have been analyzed.
It would appear that bread predates agriculture, which experts believe took place during the Neolithic era. While humans weren’t farming, they figured out to grind grains, mix in water, and bake it. What does this mean for the Paleo lifestyle? It’s already controversial and there are several foods (including honey) that some will eat, but others consider off-limits. It’s unlikely bread will officially join the list of “okay” foods, since the Paleo diet has become less about what ancient humans actually ate and more about its reported health benefits.