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Press release No. 383/2014, 2014-11-19 | zur deutschen Fassung | print version | Search

Africa: Early dietary diversity

Evidence of domestic cereals in Sudan as early as 7,000 years ago


Humans in Africa already exploited domestic cereals 7,000 years ago and thus several centuries earlier than previously known. A research team from Barcelona, Treviso, London and Kiel was successful in verifying ancient barley and wheat residues in grave goods and on teeth from two Neolithic cemeteries in Central Sudan and Nubia. The results of the analyses were recently published (online) in the journal PLoS ONE.

Dr. Welmoed Out of the Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes” in Kiel was involved in the investigation. “With our results we can verify that people along the Nile did not only exploit gathered wild plants and animals but even crops of barley and wheat.” These were first cultivated in the Middle East about 10,500 years ago and spread out from there to Central and South Asia as well as to Europe and North Africa – the latter faster than expected. “The diversity of the diet was much greater than previously assumed,” states Out and adds: “Moreover, the fact that grains were placed in the graves of the deceased implies that they had a special, symbolic meaning.”

The research team, coordinated by Welmoed Out and the environmental archaeologist Marco Madella from Barcelona, implemented, among other things, a special high-quality light microscope as well as radiocarbon analyses for age determination. Hereby, they were supported by the fact that mineral plant particles, so-called phytoliths, survive very long, even when other plant remains are no longer discernible. In addition, the millennia-old teeth, in particular adherent calculus, provide evidence on the diet of these prehistoric humans due to the starch granules and phytoliths contained therein.

The Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes (GSHDL) was established in 2007 within the framework of the federal and state supported Excellence Initiative. In this context, scholars in the humanities and the natural sciences are involved in research projects on the complex relationship between society, culture and the environment. Prehistoric societies are particularly investigated as exemplary examples. Until now, ca. 35 doctoral candidates of the Kiel Graduate School have successfully completed their dissertations and 70 further candidates are currently working on their PhDs. 18 institutes of Kiel University, the Archaeological State Museum at Gottorf Castle as well as the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education participate in the GSHDL. The sustainable development of the Graduate School is facilitated by the Johanna-Mestorf Academy, a central institution of Kiel University, which combines interdisciplinary research and teaching in the areas of social and environmental change and landscape archaeology.

Original publication: Madella M, García-Granero JJ, Out WA, Ryan P, Usai D (2014) Microbotanical Evidence of Domestic Cereals in Africa 7000 Years Ago. PLoS ONE 9(10): e110177. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110177

Link to the original publication in PLoS ONE:
www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0110177


Contact:
Jirka Niklas Menke, Communications and Project Manager
Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, Kiel University
Tel. 0431 / 880-5924
Fax 0431 / 880-5498
E-Mail jmenke@gshdl.uni-kiel.de

Photos/material is available for download:
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One of the graves at the Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan), containing a skeleton and plant material deposited behind the skull (white structure at the left picture margin).
Copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

Image to download:
www.uni-kiel.de/download/pm/2014/2014-383-1.jpg

Click to enlarge

Plant particles found during the excavation of this Neolithic cemetery in Nubia (Sudan) turned out to be traces of domestic cereals when analyzed in a lab.
Copyright: D. Usai/ S. Salvatori

Image to download:
www.uni-kiel.de/download/pm/2014/2014-383-2.jpg


Contact:
Jirka Niklas Menke, Communications and Project Manager
Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, Kiel University
Tel. 0431 / 880-5924
Fax 0431 / 880-5498
E-Mail: jmenke@gshdl.uni-kiel.de