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‘Stone Age’ flour demolishes another evolutionary preconception

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Published: 4 November 2010 (GMT+10)

Photos from stock.xchng

Stone mortar and pestle and flour

The long-taught evolutionary adage that early humans were near total carnivores has been dramatically overturned.

The Nature News headline announced, “Stone Age flour found across Europe”.1 And New Scientist advised readers to “Forget the idea that hunter-gatherers lived on low-carb meat diets” as “Palaeolithic mammoth burgers were eaten with a bun.”2

This re-thinking of the ‘primitive’ meat-eater stereotype has been necessitated by new evidence published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.3 Researchers carefully analyzed sandstone tools from a range of archaeological sites across Europe. They found patterns of wear on the stone tools that suggested they were used for grinding, like a mortar and pestle. But crucially, the researchers discovered that the stones were also coated with traces of plant material—specifically, several kinds of microscopic starch grains.

The fact that these ‘flour residues’ (as Nature News emphatically described the starch remains) were found on grinding stones across Europe (i.e. Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic) points to widespread processing and consumption of flour—a complex process involving harvesting, grinding and cooking.

So why has it taken so long to find this evidence of flour-making, overturning the long-held ‘Stone Age carnivore’ idea of man?

There are a number of reasons.

First, as University of Siena archaeologist Laura Longo, one of the authors of the PNAS paper, observed, the meat-centric view of early humans is partly due to “the fact that meat-eating leaves a more indelible mark in the archaeological record than omnivory”.1 By that she means that things like animal bones bearing cut marks, and stone blades used for hunting, are more likely to endure than plant relics.

It seems that no-one expected to find evidence that early humans did not live solely on wild meat, hence they did not look for it.

Second, as lead researcher Anna Revedin pointed out in relation to previous analysis of stone artifacts from archaeological dig sites, “This is the first time anybody has tried to find vegetable material on them”.2 (Emphasis added.) Why the first time? It seems that no-one expected to find evidence that early humans did not live solely on wild meat, hence they did not look for it.

This brings us to a third reason for the apparent absence of evidence of Palaeolithic omnivory. Even if someone had thought to look for it on stone tools excavated by archaeologists, they would have had trouble finding it, according to Revedin. That’s because “previous plant evidence was washed away by overzealous archaeologists as they cleaned the tools at dig sites”!2

In other words, not expecting there to be any evidence of important plant traces on the stone artifacts, they prepared the tools for analysis as if there weren’t—and thus removing such evidence as might have subsequently been found by someone wanting to re-examine later the relics from the site.

Preconceived view of the evidence

In addition to the obvious lesson that absence of evidence (in this case, re plant-eating) is not evidence of absence, this is yet another example that a person’s preconceptions will affect their view of the evidence. The preconceived view that ‘Stone Age’ man lived primarily on wild meat clearly biased researchers against thinking there might be evidence to the contrary. However, confronted with evidence of “flour residues” on grindstones, that preconception has now been dramatically overturned.

Similarly the formerly widely held preconception that modern hunter-gatherer cultures are a legacy of the ‘Stone Age’ affected anthropologists’ view, and study, of those peoples. But that preconception was overturned by evidence that one such people group had formerly practiced agriculture, leading researchers to warn that “contemporary hunter-gatherer groups cannot be automatically assumed to represent the pre-agricultural lifestyle of human populations, descended unchanged from the Stone Age.”4,5

However, despite the demolition of these evolutionary preconceptions, unfortunately the preconceived view that evolution explains man’s origins isn’t questioned. Thus the grindstones referred to in these recent reports are still viewed in an evolutionary framework, i.e. as being 30,000 years old, and therefore “20,000 years before the dawn of agriculture”.1,6

Ultimately there can only be one ‘preconceived view of the evidence’ that can be correct—one that is based on a true history of man’s origins. The Bible’s account of history is true—a history that makes it clear that evolutionary ideas of a pre-agriculture ‘Stone Age’ are without foundation.7,8 Early man not only practiced agriculture but also made “all kinds of tools of bronze and iron” (Genesis 4:22), though later circumstances saw some people lose that capacity.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that sometimes stone is preferred over steel for certain purposes—even today, in relation to grinding grains for bread-making.9 But who would call that ‘Stone Age’ flour?

Related Articles

Further Reading

References

  1. Callaway, E., Stone Age flour found across Europe, Nature News, www.nature.com/news/2010/101018/full/news.2010.549.html, 18 October 2010. Return to text.
  2. Van Gilder Cooke, S., Stone Age humans liked their burgers in a bun, New Scientist 208(2783): 18, 23 October 2010, http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19597-stone-age-humans-liked-their-burgers-in-a-bun.html. Return to text.
  3. Revedin, A., and 9 others, Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print October 18, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1006993107. Return to text.
  4. Oota, H., Pakendorf, B., Weiss G., von Haeseler A., Pookajorn S., et al., Recent origin and cultural reversion of a hunter-gatherer group, Public Library of Science—Biology 3(3):e71, 2005. Return to text.
  5. For more on this see: Catchpoole, D., The people that forgot time (and much else, too), Creation 30(3):34–37, 2008; http://creation.com/the-people-that-forgot-time-and-much-else-too. Return to text.
  6. Although the researchers accept that the starch grains found on the grindstones indicate “early humans ate ground flour” (Ref. 1) they do not admit the possibility of agriculture at that time. The researchers say the source of the starch grains were the root of a species of cattail and the grains of a grass called Brachypodium. Return to text.
  7. Niemand, R., The Stone ‘Age’—a figment of the imagination?, Creation 27(4):13, 2005, http://creation.com/the-stone-agea-figment-of-the-imagination. Return to text.
  8. Catchpoole, D., Cave men—in the Bible, Creation 31(3):52–53, 2009; http://creation.com/bible-cave-men. Return to text.
  9. Xaxx, J., The advantages of grinding stone flour mills, http://www.ehow.co.uk/list_7383712_advantages-grinding-stone-flour-mills.html, acc. 27 October 2010. Return to text.

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