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Any thoughts on: "NYT: New Evidence Found for Flour in Stone-Age Diet"?

by (15)
Updated about 20 hours ago
Created October 18, 2010 at 10:56 PM

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/10/18/science/AP-US-SCI-Stone-Age-Cooks.html?hp

[UPDATE: Merged with other duplicate question.]

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22913 · October 20, 2010 at 3:46 PM

in an effort to open discussion about this, ive moved it into its own question.

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19220 · October 20, 2010 at 3:12 PM

Interesting info :)

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22913 · October 20, 2010 at 2:53 PM

http://www.renaissancedyeing.com/latest-news_natural-dye-plants_colourful-sorghum/

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22913 · October 20, 2010 at 2:44 PM

http://huntgatherlove.com/content/fun-headlines-did-paleolithic-people-eat-grains

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20411 · October 20, 2010 at 2:03 PM

If its not grain based, then its not *as* unhealthy. But if it is still pure starch, then its unhealthy for me!

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22913 · October 20, 2010 at 12:03 PM

BLUE Cornflower Dog's Mercury Hollyhock Indigo Mesquite Woad BROWN Bird's Tongue Black Gum Canoe Birch Cotton Heather White Oak Juniper GOLD Black Oak Dyers's Chamomille Goldenrod Lily of the Valley Osage-Orange GRAY Bearberry Blackberry Bracken Red Maple Rowan Butternut GREEN Bearberry Beard grass Coltsfoot Lady's Mantle Nettle Onion Motherwort Scotch Broom Fumitory ORANGE Annatto Black Oak Henna Sumac Bloodroot PURPLE Black elder Dandelion Pomegranate Rose of China Tall Field Buttercup Yellow Bedstraw RED Alkanet Alpine Cranberry Madder Poinsetta Pokeweed Red Alder Rue Safflower Wild

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19220 · October 20, 2010 at 12:01 AM

What colour do you get from flour?

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19220 · October 19, 2010 at 11:59 PM

Why spend hours collecting and processing starchy plants to make them into flour and then use them as dyes? The starch is colourless anyway.

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4089 · October 19, 2010 at 9:17 PM

@Stephen-Aegis: interesting, and makes a lot of sense.

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4089 · October 19, 2010 at 9:16 PM

I expect that the seeds may just have been starvation foods. I've read a fair bit about North American Native wild food use, and there are a lot of wild plant foods that they'd resort to only when desperate. When you think of the hassle involved in harvesting and processing wild grains, I'd expect that the seeds in question, of they weren't being used for dyemaking, would have fallen into that category.

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4089 · October 19, 2010 at 9:14 PM

I'd love to try cattail, and there's a ton of it growing around here, but agricultural runoff is a huge worry. Stupid farmers.

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56606 · October 19, 2010 at 8:51 PM

mmm, sesame seed crusted seared tuna. That's a good use for seeds...seedsoning....haha

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3651 · October 19, 2010 at 8:37 PM

just noticing that since this was posted twice by first time posters, my tin foil hat alarm started to buzz. i started thinking this was part of the banana head onslaught.

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125 · October 19, 2010 at 7:28 PM

Mike, always good to discuss new findings. long time PH reader, first time posting. didn't know how to answer my friend about this. Dave, is the "bread" in this case unhealthy?

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20411 · October 19, 2010 at 7:24 PM

Melissa, for the win!

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20411 · October 19, 2010 at 7:21 PM

Doesn't matter how long "bread" was consumed - its not gonna make it any healthier.

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3651 · October 19, 2010 at 6:54 PM

funny this story is being posted by new members, just joining or baiting us?

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1215 · October 19, 2010 at 6:43 PM

This is how science works! Take a theory, look for evidence... if evidence doesn't fit your theory... change your evidence. ;)

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1215 · October 19, 2010 at 6:35 PM

Why is it shocking? Lots of hunter-gatherers still in existence around the world eat starchy tubers. And 30,000 ago years is still a tiny fraction of our evolutionary history.

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22913 · October 19, 2010 at 5:05 PM

Some of those " grains" were used for dyes not food

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608 · October 19, 2010 at 3:22 PM

I really wouldn't trust much of anything coming out of the mainstream media, especially considering the fact that most come up with theories first (usually government fed), then find data/experts to justify their claims.

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19220 · October 19, 2010 at 3:03 PM

It is surprising to people who believe that starch did not exist in Europe during the paleolithic :)

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20411 · October 19, 2010 at 2:13 PM

Well, I suspect that many here migrated from low-carb to Paleo - or at least I did - so, yes perhaps we tend to poo-poo carbs. Sorry 'bout that. As a T2 diabetic, I have to - its pennance for my past sins... If Mark Sisson's 150g/day works for you - fantastic! I wish I could do that too. But I can't - at least not now. I totally respect that higher carbs is more appropriate for some. But diabetics, metabolically damaged and very obese people are not going to do as well at higher levels. IMHO. Just sayin' (Even Sisson says diabetics need to keep it pretty low)

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6082 · October 19, 2010 at 2:04 PM

Good point, corrected!

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9647 · October 19, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Either way it's a mess.

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9647 · October 19, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Read what I wrote in my brackets in my quote. The second and third sentences alone would imply what you think they imply. But the fact that those sentences follow the first sentence and that the second sentence starts with the word "however" show otherwise.

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19220 · October 19, 2010 at 12:45 PM

"the need for a high percentage of nonprotein macronutrients" This means fat or carbs. You can't live on just protein.

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3651 · October 19, 2010 at 12:05 PM

i think i will start gathering grass seed from the back yard and crushing it with crude rock implements. i wonder if i will be able to stay under 100 carbs on such a regimen?

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20787 · October 19, 2010 at 4:33 AM

Carl, LMAO! In some ways, I agree. Not eating grains and flours had really made my life easier and I don't plan to become a big carb eater no matter what the paleos did once eat. However, I am still curious from an intellectual perspective and I am not closed to tweaking my diet as new info comes out.

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588 · October 19, 2010 at 3:36 AM

Fabulous response Melissa, thank you! I actually love how sensationalist the article is; shows Paleo is really entering the main-stream!

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56606 · October 19, 2010 at 1:08 AM

You don't eat the fluffy part lol. They taste like nothing really. Like acorns. Or sawdust. Don't bother unless you are starving in the woods.

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13635 · October 19, 2010 at 12:50 AM

To tell the truth, at this point I would not care what anyone discovers about the paleolithic diet. It was relatively easy for me to lose 50 lbs so far and I'm not going back to flour/grains/etc ever again.

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80 · October 19, 2010 at 12:15 AM

What does cattail taste like? I can't even imagine eating it! Doesn't that fluffy stuff get caught in your throat? lol

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24523 · October 19, 2010 at 12:03 AM

or an ice cream brain-freeze!

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4089 · October 18, 2010 at 11:59 PM

Grok having a monster sugar rush after scarfing down a box of Twinkies would be an entertaining sight...

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4089 · October 18, 2010 at 11:58 PM

You forgot the quotation marks around "expert".

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6082 · October 18, 2010 at 11:35 PM

Melissa, is there anything you have not eaten? Woman vs. food

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15976 · October 18, 2010 at 11:08 PM

great link, though! i read the NYT regularly but i totally missed that one.

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4089 · October 19, 2010 at 7:34 PM

It's really a manufactured controversy. No anthropologically sophisticated Paleo is going to claim that humans never ate grains; the anthropological evidence to the effect that we'll eat anything, especially when desperate, even foods like grains which are a bitch to harvest and process in their wild form and which have suboptimally high levels of certain antinutrients, is pretty incontrovertible. So this really is completely unsurprising.

The only surprising thing, really, is the inaccuracy and spin of the reporting.

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56606 · October 18, 2010 at 11:18 PM

This doesn't really change things for me. It's not even really news: we even have genetic adaptations to starch that occurred a very long time ago and this same evidence has been presented before. It isn't like this is barley or something. It's cattail and fern, which I've eaten myself. Either way, the study leaves much to the err...imagination. "Poor state of preservation" is used by the paper several times.

Also "grains" is really really inaccurate. It was starch that they were grinding mainly. Cattail roots are not a grain. Of the nine plants mentioned in the paper, only one could count as a grain (they list it as a seed). The rest are roots and rhizomes.

The bone isotope studies are way more convincing and show that the diet of upper paleolithic humans was high in protein. Have some cattail pancakes with your steak if it makes you feel better though. I was eating some chestnuts today and they are very similar nutritionally.

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22913 · October 20, 2010 at 2:44 PM

http://huntgatherlove.com/content/fun-headlines-did-paleolithic-people-eat-grains

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4089 · October 19, 2010 at 9:14 PM

I'd love to try cattail, and there's a ton of it growing around here, but agricultural runoff is a huge worry. Stupid farmers.

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20411 · October 19, 2010 at 7:24 PM

Melissa, for the win!

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608 · October 19, 2010 at 3:22 PM

I really wouldn't trust much of anything coming out of the mainstream media, especially considering the fact that most come up with theories first (usually government fed), then find data/experts to justify their claims.

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588 · October 19, 2010 at 3:36 AM

Fabulous response Melissa, thank you! I actually love how sensationalist the article is; shows Paleo is really entering the main-stream!

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56606 · October 19, 2010 at 1:08 AM

You don't eat the fluffy part lol. They taste like nothing really. Like acorns. Or sawdust. Don't bother unless you are starving in the woods.

462a1b3d2bf9c8ad7340058eaf9ee881
80 · October 19, 2010 at 12:15 AM

What does cattail taste like? I can't even imagine eating it! Doesn't that fluffy stuff get caught in your throat? lol

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6082 · October 18, 2010 at 11:35 PM

Melissa, is there anything you have not eaten? Woman vs. food

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3651 · October 19, 2010 at 12:27 AM

Pretty misleading the way its written tho.

Flour in the title = fern flour and cat tail flour.

"New findings indicate grains" but none of findings described are grains.

The crux of the argument that they must have eaten grains is the researchers saying... 'But "a large number of plant families are likely to have been involved in the diet," the researchers said.'

That's what we call an assumption.

Hmmm, grain proponents will of course be using this horrible article for debunking paleo. :(

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650 · October 18, 2010 at 11:33 PM

Why is this surprising? We were hunter-gatherers. If starch is available, why wouldn't it have been consumed when meat was not forthcoming? Most plant matter containing starch needs to be prepared (i.e., broken cell-walls) before eating, and grinding up a plant and/or making a flour helps accomplish just that. It's not as if they were cultivating grain and eating massive amounts of wheat flour and sugar.

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4089 · October 19, 2010 at 9:16 PM

I expect that the seeds may just have been starvation foods. I've read a fair bit about North American Native wild food use, and there are a lot of wild plant foods that they'd resort to only when desperate. When you think of the hassle involved in harvesting and processing wild grains, I'd expect that the seeds in question, of they weren't being used for dyemaking, would have fallen into that category.

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19220 · October 19, 2010 at 3:03 PM

It is surprising to people who believe that starch did not exist in Europe during the paleolithic :)

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608 · October 19, 2010 at 3:04 PM

I see it in the same light as the fact that our paleolithic ancestors ate honey and fruit.

It was either infrequent, seasonal, or extremely labor intensive.

My ancestors came across a beehive once every couple of months, used copious amounts of energy to climb up the tree and sprinted as fast as they could to avoid stings. This is NOT the same as my going to the store and getting a little honeybear, and no excuse to eat it every day.

My ancestors ate fruit, which they foraged or climbed trees for. They probably burned off all the carbs from the fruit by the time they were done foraging. Further, this was seasonal and the fruit was not the super sweet product it is today.

As far as the wheat is concerned, I am sure it was as labor intensive, if not more than fruit, as aside from the foraging, they also had to process it. This is not the same as us eating bread.

The fact that our ancestors SOMETIMES supplemented their diet with fruit, honey, and wheat does not mean that these are the optimal things for us to eat or that the current manifestations of these products really resemble what they consumed. We also need to take into account what it took in order for them to gain access to these foods.

There is also the point that our ancestors never grew up on a corn flakes, white bread, snickers bars, Hawaiian Punch, and Little Debbie snacks. Their metabolisms were not deranged. Ours probably are. They could do with extra calories and fructose and wheat once in a while due to the fact that food was usually scarce. This is not our case.

So, I say it doesn't really matter. Meat and vegetables (with some nuts and fruits sprinkled in there) really are the best for us. We should follow the rules, not the exceptions to the rules.

(Plus, if you mimic your ancestors and go binge on honey once a year, might as well make it something delicious like Nutella. But I digress :)

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9647 · October 19, 2010 at 5:35 AM

Thought everyone would find this amusing, from the "Discussion and Conclusions" section of the paper:

European Paleolithic populations are generally considered to have been predominantly carnivorous, because the evidence for plant subsistence is limited. However, ethnographic analogy and nutritional studies stress the need for a high percentage of nonprotein macronutrients (which can include plant foods) to integrate the diet. We are now able to add evidence for plant food processing, on the basis of the recovery of flour residues on coarse (heavy-duty) tools across Europe up to 30,000 y ago [...]

From our perspective this is hilariously circular: " 'nutritional studies' have shown that we need a 'high percentage' of carbohydrate [I assume the authors know that animals also provide fat]. So it's a good thing that this study has confirmed what we already know." Good work.

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1215 · October 19, 2010 at 6:43 PM

This is how science works! Take a theory, look for evidence... if evidence doesn't fit your theory... change your evidence. ;)

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9647 · October 19, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Either way it's a mess.

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9647 · October 19, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Read what I wrote in my brackets in my quote. The second and third sentences alone would imply what you think they imply. But the fact that those sentences follow the first sentence and that the second sentence starts with the word "however" show otherwise.

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19220 · October 19, 2010 at 12:45 PM

"the need for a high percentage of nonprotein macronutrients" This means fat or carbs. You can't live on just protein.

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4089 · October 18, 2010 at 11:56 PM

If memory serves, the earliest evidence of grain use goes back 84,000 years or so; somebody found some grinding stones with millet residue.

Given the difficulties in using grains without agriculture, I doubt that regardless of when it started grain use would have been a major part of anybody's diet until they actually started farming the stuff, at which point all our troubles began.

Also, modern grains are very different from their wild precursors, having undergone several millenia of artificial selection. So nutritionally, this doesn't exactly support scarfing down the cupcakes.

Overall, I'm unsurprised by this article; it doesn't tell us anything new.

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22913 · October 20, 2010 at 3:46 PM

in an effort to open discussion about this, ive moved it into its own question.

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19220 · October 20, 2010 at 3:12 PM

Interesting info :)

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22913 · October 20, 2010 at 2:53 PM

http://www.renaissancedyeing.com/latest-news_natural-dye-plants_colourful-sorghum/

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22913 · October 20, 2010 at 12:03 PM

BLUE Cornflower Dog's Mercury Hollyhock Indigo Mesquite Woad BROWN Bird's Tongue Black Gum Canoe Birch Cotton Heather White Oak Juniper GOLD Black Oak Dyers's Chamomille Goldenrod Lily of the Valley Osage-Orange GRAY Bearberry Blackberry Bracken Red Maple Rowan Butternut GREEN Bearberry Beard grass Coltsfoot Lady's Mantle Nettle Onion Motherwort Scotch Broom Fumitory ORANGE Annatto Black Oak Henna Sumac Bloodroot PURPLE Black elder Dandelion Pomegranate Rose of China Tall Field Buttercup Yellow Bedstraw RED Alkanet Alpine Cranberry Madder Poinsetta Pokeweed Red Alder Rue Safflower Wild

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19220 · October 20, 2010 at 12:01 AM

What colour do you get from flour?

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19220 · October 19, 2010 at 11:59 PM

Why spend hours collecting and processing starchy plants to make them into flour and then use them as dyes? The starch is colourless anyway.

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4089 · October 19, 2010 at 9:17 PM

@Stephen-Aegis: interesting, and makes a lot of sense.

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22913 · October 19, 2010 at 5:05 PM

Some of those " grains" were used for dyes not food

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19220 · October 19, 2010 at 10:28 PM

I realise this is a normal bit of missreporting by journalists. But I don't see a big problem with the research iteslf. The problem appears to be journalists confusing plant starch grains (starch granules) and cereal grains (wheat). I think the study authors could be Italian so maybe the English wording can be forgiven.

This article at least has some quotes from the authors. Nothing shocking or that new here, they ate a variety of plants to complement the meat in their diet. I don't see the researchers claiming they ate a starch based diet. Not so different from modern hunter-gatherers then.

The early date of grinding for plant processing is interesting but as new archeological techniques are developed i'm sure we will see more findings like this. New techniques will detect harder to find plant remains.

A quote from the author:

The idea of "man the hunter" dominates popular preconceptions of early humans. But that's grossly oversimplified, says lead author Anna Revedin of the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Early History in Florence. Although meat was a crucial part of the early human diet, she says, plants were necessary fare as well. Plant remains don't last as long as bones, however, and even though some studies have found evidence of potential grinding tools in prehistoric sites, the stones may have been used just to crush red ochre for cave or face painting.

A quote from the co-author:

The grains came mostly from roots, stems, and leaves of cattail and fern plants, not the typical wheat and barley of modern farmers. After grinding, the early chefs most likely added water and cooked up a flatbread or soup, says co-author Laura Longo of the University of Siena in Italy.

Quotes from other experts:

It's an important finding, and in general the study is solid, says Lisa Kealhofer, an anthropologist at Santa Clara University in California. But she cautions that the word "flour" is a bit of misnomer, because the starch grains weren't what 21st century people normally associate with bread making.

For Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard University who specializes in the Stone Age, the idea that modern humans ground plants more than 30,000 years ago isn't a shock. He says he wouldn't be astonished if our closest cousins also did more than eat their greens raw.

Steven Kuhn, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, says he's more impressed with the location of the artifacts than the age. That humans were gathering and grinding plants as far north as Europe, when plants were more common in the warmer south, is a bit surprising.

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1215 · October 19, 2010 at 6:33 PM

Already being discussed here:

http://paleohacks.com/questions/12489/any-thoughts-on-nyt-new-evidence-found-for-flour-in-stone-age-diet#axzz12pZr2Xqz

Several points:

  1. No grains were used in creating this 'flour'.
  2. 20,000 years or 30,000 years of 'agriculture' is still a tiny fraction of the millions of years our species has been evolving eating what we could hunt and gather.
  3. Many hunter-gatherers like eating starchy tubers. I don't think it's non-paleo.

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2581 · October 19, 2010 at 3:17 PM

I think it's interesting. I know they're talking about roots, but to play devil's advocate, aren't grains simply domesticated forms of wild grass seeds? I see tall wild grass growing everywhere, I'm sure it grows all over the planet. First it may have started as eating a few grass seeds, then later they ground it into a flour and kneaded it into a dough.

I'm not sure it's rational to look at history and think, oh one day 12,000 years ago on a fateful morning New Year's Day 10,000 BC, Grok Jr. had an idea to plant a wheat farm and the rest is history. There has to be something further back related to grains and their use as food by humans.

Grains still may not be paleo, but that doesn't mean they had no place in the Paleolithic. Even if it seems like a footnote compared to the main staples of the human diet then.

The main question to answer with grains is not "Were grains ever eaten in Paleolithic times?" but "Are we adapted to their use as food? Are they healthy for us? What are the consequences or benefits of eating them?".

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56606 · October 19, 2010 at 8:51 PM

mmm, sesame seed crusted seared tuna. That's a good use for seeds...seedsoning....haha

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6082 · October 18, 2010 at 11:39 PM

"Many researchers had assumed people living in Europe thousands of years ago ate mainly meat because of bones left behind, and little evidence of plant food."

This goes directly against what many vegan "experts" have been telling me! :p

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6082 · October 19, 2010 at 2:04 PM

Good point, corrected!

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4089 · October 18, 2010 at 11:58 PM

You forgot the quotation marks around "expert".

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15976 · October 18, 2010 at 11:08 PM

well, i am shocked i have to say. 30,000 years ago and eating some kind of ground starch is not what i have come to think of as a piece of history. We learn more every day though.

I guess on one hand i would caution to learn more precisely about what was being ground with the discovered morter and pestles. There may be some evidence of a grain but it may be that the tools were used for something else primarily, like mentioned briefly in the article (fern starch, etc).

Also, along the Kurt Harris lines, let us focus on the the paleolithic milieu, ie metabolism of those healthier people and how they maintained them and what we can do today to bring about a similar experience. Rather than simply eating what our evidence suggests they ate.

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1215 · October 19, 2010 at 6:35 PM

Why is it shocking? Lots of hunter-gatherers still in existence around the world eat starchy tubers. And 30,000 ago years is still a tiny fraction of our evolutionary history.

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15976 · October 18, 2010 at 11:08 PM

great link, though! i read the NYT regularly but i totally missed that one.

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146 · October 19, 2010 at 7:30 PM

Thread was around 30 hours ago....

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20787 · October 19, 2010 at 4:30 AM

So they ate vegetables. Big whoop! However, of some interest is that they already had rudimentary processing skills. THey were processing their veggies, perhaps for long term storage or increased digestability or maybe even for flavor or variety. I think that's kinda interesting! -Eva

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24523 · October 18, 2010 at 11:08 PM

Interesting! But also revealing. The fact flour residues are this new or rare means they probably weren't major staples of the diet. I wonder though...animal bones are quite a bit more durable than the remains of yesterdays sandwhich, so maybe fossil records aren't the be-all and end-all?

HOWEVER...I do think paleos often poo-poo carbs at low/moderate doses for no great reason. When evidence for carb intake pops up, it gets shot down. If overweight Americans like having carby snacks, paleo man might have liked them too (if he/she could cook some up)

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20411 · October 19, 2010 at 2:13 PM

Well, I suspect that many here migrated from low-carb to Paleo - or at least I did - so, yes perhaps we tend to poo-poo carbs. Sorry 'bout that. As a T2 diabetic, I have to - its pennance for my past sins... If Mark Sisson's 150g/day works for you - fantastic! I wish I could do that too. But I can't - at least not now. I totally respect that higher carbs is more appropriate for some. But diabetics, metabolically damaged and very obese people are not going to do as well at higher levels. IMHO. Just sayin' (Even Sisson says diabetics need to keep it pretty low)

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24523 · October 19, 2010 at 12:03 AM

or an ice cream brain-freeze!

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4089 · October 18, 2010 at 11:59 PM

Grok having a monster sugar rush after scarfing down a box of Twinkies would be an entertaining sight...

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15976 · October 19, 2010 at 7:07 PM

From the other thread that sums it up well:

Why is this surprising? We were hunter-gatherers. If starch is available, why wouldn't it have been consumed when meat was not forthcoming? Most plant matter containing starch needs to be prepared (i.e., broken cell-walls) before eating, and grinding up a plant and/or making a flour helps accomplish just that. It's not as if they were cultivating grain and eating massive amounts of wheat flour and sugar. It isn't like this is barley or something. It's cattail and fern, which I've eaten myself. Either way, the study leaves much to the err...imagination. "Poor state of preservation" is used by the paper several times. Also "grains" is really really inaccurate. It was starch that they were grinding mainly. Cattail roots are not a grain. Of the nine plants mentioned in the paper, only one could count as a grain (they list it as a seed). The rest are roots and rhizomes. The bone isotope studies are way more convincing and show that the diet of upper paleolithic humans was high in protein. Have some cattail pancakes with your steak if it makes you feel better though. I was eating some chestnuts today and they are very similar nutritionally.

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