Early humans were baking bread and cooking meat in what is now the Arabian desert thousands of years ago, reveals new research.
State-of-the-art analysis of ancient grinding tools reveals plant, pigment and bone processing was taking place in Northern Saudi Arabia during the Neolithic period.
Recent studies have shown that the now-arid region was once much wetter and greener, providing Neolithic human populations with access to both water and game.
But the present aridity of the region preserves little organic matter, making a reconstruction of the Neolithic lifestyle difficult.
Now researchers, including scientists from University College London, have conducted use-wear analysis of grinding tools recovered from Jebel Oraf in the Nefud desert of Saudi Arabia.
Their findings, published in the journal PLOS One, revealed new insights into this little-understood chapter of the human story.
The analysis shows that grinding tools were used for the processing of bone, pigment and plants, and were sometimes re-used for different purposes during their life span, before finally being smashed up and placed on hearths.
The research team used high-powered microscopes to compare use-wear patterns on the archaeological tools with those on experimental tools.
In experiments, the grinding of grains, other plants, bone or pigment produces distinctive macro- and micro-traces on the tools’ used surface, including fractures, edge rounding of individual grains, leveled areas, striations, and different types of polish.
The distinctive traces were also identified on the Neolithic grinding tools, allowing the scientists to determine which materials were being processed.
Although remains have previously revealed that meat was cooked and consumed at Jebel Oraf, the new wear patterns indicate that meat and bones were first processed on grindstones, revealing the possibility that bones were broken to access bone marrow.
Grinding tools were also used to process plants.
While there is no evidence for domesticated grains in northern Arabia in that period, the research team that wild plants were ground and perhaps baked into simple breads.
Co-lead author Dr. Maria Guagnin, of the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology in Germany, said: “The hearths where we found the grinding tools were extremely short-lived, and people may have been very mobile – breads would have made a good and easily transportable food for them.”
The research team also found evidence of pigment processing, which they believe may be linked to Neolithic paintings.
Their findings reveal that pigment was ground and processed on a much larger scale than previously believed, suggesting there may have been more painted Neolithic rock art than the few surviving panels suggest.
Co lead author Dr. Giulio Lucarini, of the National Research Council of Italy, said: “It is clear grinding tools were important for the Neolithic occupants of Jebel Oraf.”
He added: “Many were heavily used, and some even had holes in them that suggest they were transported.
“That means people carried heavy grinding tools with them and their functionality must have been an important element in daily life.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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