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Nouvelle stone age cuisine

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Nature news reports food habits from the neolothic age:

A bubbling broth of oysters and fresh cod, seasoned with a little garlic-mustard seed, sounds like a mouth-watering meal worthy of any modern kitchen. But this repast was being enjoyed in Northern Europe some 6,000 years ago, according to research that offers the earliest direct evidence that Neolithic people in the region added spices to their food.

Prehistoric chefs probably enjoyed flavours no less than we do, so they might be expected to have used seasoning. Previously, however, there was no conclusive evidence of the practice at what was a revolutionary time for European cuisine, just as people were beginning to adopt farming. The finding shows that “hunter-gatherers at the transition to agriculture had a sophisticated attitude to cooking”, says Hayley Saul, a bioarchaeologist at the University of York, UK, who led the study, which is published today in PLoS ONE.

[Saul and her colleagues] looked for phytoliths — microscopic fragments of silica that build up in and between a plant’s cells, and that remain behind when the plant dies and decays.

Saul’s team scraped out charred deposits from inside cooking pots found at three sites around the Danish Straits in northern Germany and Denmark, and found phytoliths ranging from about 5 to 11 micrometres across (see micrograph at left). Checking the samples against an extensive database of well-characterized phytoliths showed that they closely matched silica fragments from the seeds of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). “This is the earliest evidence I know of for flavourings in European Neolithic cuisine,” says Andrew Fairbairn, an archaeologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who studies the origins of agriculture in Turkey.

“The nice thing about this is that they’re from the inside of pots,” says Schulting. That shows unequivocally that the seeds were cooked with other foods. Most of the pots also contained lipid residues from marine animals, and a 6,000-year-old midden close to one of the sites is littered with oyster shells and fish bones.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

August 22, 2013 at 4:37 am

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