Mozambican Grass Seed Consumption During the Middle Stone Age

Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1N4, Canada.
Science (Impact Factor: 33.61). 12/2009; 326(5960):1680-3. DOI: 10.1126/science.1173966
Source: PubMed


The role of starchy plants in early hominin diets and when the culinary processing of starches began have been difficult to track archaeologically. Seed collecting is conventionally perceived to have been an irrelevant activity among the Pleistocene foragers of southern Africa, on the grounds of both technological difficulty in the processing of grains and the belief that roots, fruits, and nuts, not cereals, were the basis for subsistence for the past 100,000 years and further back in time. A large assemblage of starch granules has been retrieved from the surfaces of Middle Stone Age stone tools from Mozambique, showing that early Homo sapiens relied on grass seeds starting at least 105,000 years ago, including those of sorghum grasses.

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    • "Based on the early maps from Santos Júnior (1950) and more recent data acquired through various projects, namely that of Mercader in northern Mozambique (Mercader et al., 2009), we were able to produce a series of maps for the Stone Age prehistory of Mozambique (Gonçalves et al., 2014, in press). The maps were also based on a critical evaluation of the sites and a review of some of the materials that are presently curated at the IICT (Instituto de Investigaç~ ao Científica e Tropical) in Lisbon, Portugal. "
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    ABSTRACT: Located between modern-day South Africa and Tanzania, both of which have well-known and extensive Stone Age records, Mozambique's Stone Age sequence remains largely unknown in the broader context of African Pleistocene prehistory. Such lack of data occurs despite the key geographical location of the country, in southern Africa at the southeastern tip of the Great Rift Valley. As such, Mozambique is an area of interest to evaluate the origins and dispersion of Homo sapiens within Africa, particularly in relation to Middle Stone Age contexts and associated early modern human ecology and cognition.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Quaternary International
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    • "The increased use of stone tools enabled access to richer carbohydrate sources through both retrieval and processing, for instance through digging up roots, which led to a wider spectrum of plant species utilized (Hillman and Wollstonecroft, 2014). A quickening of the direct interaction between hominins and plants is apparent at 100 kya (thousands of years ago), with grass seed consumption by early Homo sapiens in Mozambique (Mercader, 2009). Later evidence comes from Neanderthals up to 50 kya where plant material enshrined in the calculus matrix of teeth shows the consumption of plants later associated with domestication, such as Hordeum, Phoenix, and members of the Faboideae (Henry et al., 2011, 2014). "
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    ABSTRACT: The colonization of the human environment by plants, and the consequent evolution of domesticated forms is increasingly being viewed as a co-evolutionary plant–human process that occurred over a long time period, with evidence for the co-evolutionary relationship between plants and humans reaching ever deeper into the hominin past. This developing view is characterized by a change in emphasis on the drivers of evolution in the case of plants. Rather than individual species being passive recipients of artificial selection pressures and ultimately becoming domesticates, entire plant communities adapted to the human environment. This evolutionary scenario leads to systems level genetic expectations from models that can be explored through ancient DNA and Next Generation Sequencing approaches. Emerging evidence suggests that domesticated genomes fit well with these expectations, with periods of stable complex evolution characterized by large amounts of change associated with relatively small selective value, punctuated by periods in which changes in one-half of the plant–hominin relationship cause rapid, low-complexity adaptation in the other. A corollary of a single plant–hominin co-evolutionary process is that clues about the initiation of the domestication process may well lie deep within the hominin lineage.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2015 · Journal of Human Evolution
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    • "Ngalue Cave w42e105 ka generic MSA (Mercader et al., 2009) "
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    ABSTRACT: a b s t r a c t Together with the disciplines of palaeoanthropology and genetics, archaeological finds and studies on material dating to the Middle Stone Age of sub-Saharan Africa have changed the way scholars think about ancient Africans and the later stages of human evolution. In general, it shows that anatomically modern humans have evolved by w200 ka in the region, and that relatively high levels of symbolic behaviour, and behavioural and cognitive complexity were achieved long before the previous 40e50 ka benchmark. The main focus of the paper is on aspects of post-100 ka archaeological material and how it can assist in the reconstruction of hypotheses and models regarding human cognitive and behavioural evolution. Some of the explored topics include fire as engineering tool, the manufacture and use of technologies such as compound adhesives, composite tools, bow-and-arrow sets and snares, and Middle Stone Age housekeeping. Although not central to the paper, an updated list of most Middle Stone Age stone tool assemblages is presented in Appendix A as context for sites, regions and topics mentioned throughout the text. On a theoretical level, the ratchet analogy as blanket explanation for behavioural and cognitive evolution is critiqued. Instead, the rugged fitness landscape model is brought to mind and combined with a mountaineering analogy to better explain human cognitive and behavioural flexibility as reflected in the Middle Stone Age record of sub-Saharan Africa.
    Full-text · Article · Aug 2012 · Quaternary International
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