Ancient Cooking Done by Hunter-Gatherers Included Rhizomes

Hunter-gatherers were amongst the earliest hominids of Africa. They have evidence of their existence and activities that date back two million years. Something that distinguishes them from humans we know today is that the ancient hunter-gatherers actively killed animals for food. Instead of scavenging for meat that other predators had left behind, they would come up with ways to set aside vegetation to consume at a later date.

 bluegrass rhizomes
Ancient Cooking Done by Hunter-Gatherers Included Rhizomes

New Evidence of Ancient Humans

Recently, researchers were able to uncover some of the earliest direct evidence from these ancient humans and their cooking habits. According to this research, hunter-gatherers used to cook rhizomes, which are starch-filled stems.

Lyn Wadley, an archaeologist at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa found some burnt remains of rhizomes in Border Cave, South Africa along with her colleagues. This is one of the ancient cooking fire sites in Africa.

Rhizomes are plants that come from the Hypoxis species. They are estimated to be as much as 170,000 years old.

What Made Them Last So Long?

Ancient Rhizomes plants
Ancient Cooking Done by Hunter-Gatherers Included Rhizomes

The study conducted by Lyn Wadley and her colleagues was published in the Science journal. Christine Sievers, a co-author of the study, mentioned that it’s extraordinary that the plant — which is quite fragile — was able to survive for such a long period of time. She also predicts that the burning helped to preserve the plant.

Rhizomes are known to be rich in carbohydrates, and their stems branch off underground. Cooking the ancient rhizomes can make them softer and easier to digest. It also increases glucose availability.

Some rhizomes are still consumed today. These include the locus root. Hypoxis plants, like the rhizomes, are likely to have provided a reliable and familiar food source for some of the world’s earliest humans. Our predecessors consumed them both in Africa and in other parts of the world.