Researchers reveal hunter-gatherers' taste for spice

Aug 21, 2013

Our early ancestors had a taste for spicy food, new research led by the University of York has revealed.

Archaeologists at York, working with colleagues in Denmark, Germany and Spain, have found evidence of the use of spices in cuisine at the transition to agriculture. The researchers discovered traces of on the charred remains of pottery dating back nearly 7,000 years.

The silicate remains of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) along with animal and fish residues were discovered through microfossil analysis of carbonised food deposits from pots found at sites in Denmark and Germany. The pottery dated from the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture.

Previously scientists have analysed starches which survive well in carbonised and non-carbonised residues to test for the use of spices in prehistoric cooking. But the new research, which is reported in PLOS ONE, suggests that the recovery of phytoliths – deposits from plants—offers the additional possibility to identify leafy or woody seed material used as spices, not detectable using starch analysis. Phytoliths charred by cooking are more resilient to destruction.

Lead researcher Dr Hayley Saul, of the BioArCH research centre at at the University of York, said: "The traditional view is that early Neolithic and pre-Neolithic uses of plants, and the reasons for their cultivation, were primarily driven by rather than flavour. As garlic mustard has a strong flavour but little nutritional value, and the phytoliths are found in pots with terrestrial and residues, our findings are the first direct evidence for the spicing of food in European prehistoric cuisine.

"Our evidence suggests a much greater antiquity to the spicing of foods in this region than is evident from the macrofossil record, and challenges the view that plants were exploited by hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists solely for energy requirements, rather than taste."

Explore further: Seeing dinosaur feathers in a new light

More information: Saul H, Madella M, Fischer A, Glykou A, Hartz S, et al. (2013) Phytoliths in Pottery Reveal the Use of Spice in European Prehistoric Cuisine. PLoS ONE 8(8): e70583. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070583 dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0070583

Related Stories

Pottery reveals Ice Age hunter-gatherers' taste for fish

Apr 10, 2013

Hunter-gatherers living in glacial conditions produced pots for cooking fish, according to the findings of a pioneering new study led by the University of York which reports the earliest direct evidence for the use of ceramic ...

Spicing up food can make up for missing fat

Jul 16, 2013

Adding just a small amount of everyday herbs and spices to vegetables and reduced-calorie meals may make those foods more appetizing to consumers, which could ultimately help Americans cut down on dietary fat and choose more ...

Manure used by Europe's first farmers 8,000 years ago

Jul 16, 2013

(Phys.org) —A new study says Europe's first farmers used far more sophisticated practices than was previously thought. A research team led by the University of Oxford has found that Neolithic farmers manured ...

Recommended for you

Seeing dinosaur feathers in a new light

6 hours ago

Why were dinosaurs covered in a cloak of feathers long before the early bird species Archaeopteryx first attempted flight? Researchers from the University of Bonn and the University of Göttingen attempt ...

Mexico archaeologists explore Teotihuacan tunnel (Update)

22 hours ago

A yearslong exploration of a tunnel sealed almost 2,000 years ago at the ancient city of Teotihuacan yielded thousands of relics and the discovery of three chambers that could hold more important finds, Mexican ...

Peruvian dig reveals sacrificial mystery

Oct 29, 2014

Tulane University physical anthropologist John Verano has spent summers in Peru for the last 30 years, digging for ancient bones and solving their secrets. But his most recent work focuses on a unique archeological ...

Phaistos Disk may be prayer to mother goddess

Oct 27, 2014

Ancient writing systems and their meanings absorb scientists who dedicate years of work to deciphering and sorting through arguments to determine the true meaning and purpose of writings. The latest news ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.