Our ancestors were roasting and eating plant starches, such as those from tubers and rhizomes, as early as 120,000 years ago, new research has found.
"Starch diet isn't something that happens when we started farming, but rather, is as old as humans themselves," said lead author Cynthia Larbey from the University of Cambridge.
Farming in Africa only started in the last 10,000 years of human existence.
The research, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, is based on discoveries made at the Klasies River Cave in South Africa where charred food remains from hearths were found.
The study shows that "early human beings followed a balanced diet and that they were ecological geniuses, able to exploit their environments intelligently for suitable foods and perhaps medicines", said Sarah Wurz, Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The results showed that by combining cooked roots and tubers as a staple with protein and fats from shellfish, fish, small and large fauna, these communities were able to optimally adapt to their environment, indicating great ecological intelligence as early as 120,000 years ago.
"Evidence from Klasies River, where several human skull fragments and two maxillary fragments dating 120,000 years ago occur, show that humans living in that time period looked like modern humans of today. However, they were somewhat more robust," Wurz added.
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