Archaeologists have discovered the charred remains of carbohydrate-rich, plant-based foods at an archaeological site in Border Cave between South Africa and Swaziland. This indicates to the possibility that early humans were cooking foods other than meat 170,000 years ago.
Dr Lyn Wadley and Dr Christine Sievers, the two scientists from the Wits University’s Evolutionary Studies Institute in Johannesburg believes the charred cylinders of rhizomes are from a thick underground plant stem known as Hypoxis and represents the earliest evidence of humans using tools to extract plants from the ground.
When comparing what we know about animal-based diets of early humans, there is very little information available on what plant-based meals early humans consumed. This is because hunting tools and animal remains are preserved far better in archaeological sites when compared to plant based materials.
according to Dr Wadley “Cooking the fibre-rich rhizomes would have made them easier to peel and to digest so more of them could be consumed and the nutritional benefits would be greater.”
Dr Wadley then went on to explain how the process of gathering, preparing, and consuming the carbohydrate-rich plant played a role in social gatherings of early humans. “The fact that they were brought back to the cave rather than cooked in the field suggests that food was shared at the home base. This suggests that the rhizomes were roasted in ashes and that, in the process, some were lost. While the evidence for cooking is circumstantial, it is nonetheless compelling.”