Oldest evidence for processing of wild cereals: starch grains from barley, wheat, on grinding stone

ute particles from the face of a grinding stone. Then, the entire stone is placed in a sonicator, a water bath in which sound waves vibrate the artifact until smaller particles float free. Each microscopic starch grain is compared to starch grains from hundreds of species maintained in a modern reference collection of plants. "We had used starch grain analysis to study the development of agriculture in the tropics, where plant materials are poorly preserved, "explained Piperno. Significant and consistent differences in shape, size, and other features make it possible to distinguish starch grains from different plant species.

Evidence associated with an oven-like hearth also found at the site suggests that dough may have been baked in much the same way that modern nomadic tribes in the region still prepare seed cakes. Grinding and baking cereal grains was an important nutritional advancement, making carbohydrates more readily available for uptake into the bloodstream.

Grinding stones like the one found at Ohalo II have been excavated from other Old World sites dated to 13,000 45,000 years before present, but there has never been conclusive evidence to show that they were used to grind cereal grains or other types of plants, and not pigments. "It will be exciting to continue to analyze some of these older artifacts, to see if we can find evidence that they were used to process plants. We're trying to find answers to two big questions: When were the first wild grains systematically collected as food and when did people begin to process seeds and underground plant organs to turn them into more digestible and nutritious dietary elements"


Contact: Dr. Dolores Piperno
202-786-2094 x8101
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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