Astonishing: traces of the first porridge in a 10,000-year-old pottery

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Cooking food in pottery has been a revolution for humanity. It seems to have occurred at the hinge of the Mesolithic and Neolithic, according to archaeological finds in Libya.

About 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, the Sahara did not look like the desert we know today. It was even half-extended and flanked by a savannah. We know this because of rock paintings, which confirmed what geology and palaeontology already indicated. There was then a “green” Sahara with rivers and lakes full of fish, and men lived there, surrounded by elephants and hippopotamuses.

By excavating the archaeological sites of Takarkori and Uan Afuda dating from that time in the Libyan desert, a group of archaeologists exhumed a hundred pieces of pottery aged about 10,000 years. In itself, this is not very remarkable because we know older pottery that attest to the mastery of this technique there is at least 16,000 years in East Asia and at least 12,000 years in North Africa. But as the researchers explain in the article published in  Nature Plants , it is the organic residues discovered on the surface of these potteries that are interesting.

Pottery for cooking porridge 10,000 years ago

These residues allow us to push back in the past the date when humans began to cook and cook plants. This novelty was far from being anecdotal. Warming dishes expands the range of food sources by allowing the use of otherwise inedible foods. Cooking is also used to prepare vegetable or meat reserves to compensate for periods of scarcity.

Studies have shown that hunter-gatherers of the day fed on seeds, leafy plants and even aquatic plants. It also seems that they knew how to prepare some kind of porridge. Recall that this is a dish made of coarsely crushed cereals or processed into semolina or flour, prepared by boiling, usually in water or, sometimes, milk. Porridges are one of the oldest forms of consumption of cereals, pre-dating bread consumption, which appeared around 4,000 years ago.

A few thousand years later, men in this region of the world will discover agriculture and domestication . The pottery will also be used for milk-based preparations, such as yogurts.

Dr. Kimberly Seltzer

Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley Research Assistant, MIT

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