The remains of dirty North African pots dating back 10,200 years have just yielded the first known direct evidence for cooked vegetables, grains and other plant products.
The prehistoric cooked food remains are so old that they predate plant domestication and agriculture in the region by at least 4,000 years, according to a new study in the journal Nature Plants.
Animal fats known as lipids were also found on the ancient ceramic vessels.
The evidence indicates the foods included "grains cooked to make porridge-type dishes that are very common in Africa even today," and boiled "leafy plants, sedges or aquatic plants" that were likely mixed with meat and/or animal fats, lead author Julie Dunne, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Bristol School of Chemistry, told Seeker.
"This suggests possibly stew-type dishes comprising animal fats and grains or leafy vegetables," Dunne added.
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She and her team made the determinations after studying the unglazed pottery, which was found at two sites in the Libyan Sahara: Takarkori and Uan Afuda. At the time of pottery's use, the sites were part of a green savannah characterized by coarse grasses and scattered tree growth.
Chemical signatures taken from the pottery show that a wide variety of plant products were being cooked back in the day. These included parts of fig trees, cattails, cypress, burr or carrot seed grass, cassia and desert date. Also found at the site were millet, foxtail grass and barnyard grass and its fruits. Fruits from Echinochloa, Panicum and Setaria were additionally discovered.
Dunne said that "many of these plants are still consumed today."