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The First Humans Developed Food-Processing Technology

In a previous article I wrote about a recent archeological discovery that proved humans living along the shore of the Sea of Galilee cultivated wild cereals as early as 23,000 years ago.1 I explained that given the rapid and dramatic climate fluctuations during the last ice age (12,000–120,000 years ago), this crop cultivation evidence showed that the earliest humans were no less inventive and industrious than we are. What held them back was climate instability, not a lack of motivation or intellect. The discovery also answered skeptics’ challenges about the credibility of statements in Genesis 4 concerning the technological achievements of the earliest humans.

Now, another archeological discovery, in a location more than 1,000 miles distant from the former, establishes an even earlier date for human agricultural industry. In the Grotta Paglicci cave, an archaeological site located in southern Italy, a team of five anthropologists and archeologists recovered a grinding tool that was used for processing oat flour.2 Wear-trace analysis of the quantitative distribution of starch grains on the surface of the grinding tool confirmed its use as a pestle grinder.

In studying individual oat grains recovered from the grinding tool, the team observed that the grains were gelatinized and either swollen or partially swollen, indicating “physico-chemical changes that normally occur after thermal treatments.”3 That is, the humans using the tool “thermally pretreated” the grains, meaning they engaged in some kind of roasting of the oat grains before they ground them.

What makes this archeological discovery especially significant is that the research team obtained an accurate carbon-14 date for the grinding tool. The tool was recovered from sublayer 23A in the cave for which another research team established a calibrated carbon-14 date of 32,614 ± 429 years ago.4

This discovery establishes that humans living more than 32,000 years ago, in spite of rapid and dramatic climate changes, were processing the seeds of plants to obtain flour and “developed targeted technologies for complex processing of the plant portions before grinding.”5 This flour record currently ranks as the most ancient evidence for complex food processing and establishes that the organizational capacity for processing food plants was operational long before the Neolithic Revolution (circa 12,000 years ago). This discovery further substantiates the Bible’s accounts of the early history of humanity.

  1. Ainit Snir et al., “The Origin of Cultivation and Proto-Weeds, Long before Neolithic Farming,” PloS One 10 (July 2015), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131422.
  2. Marta Mariotti Lippi et al., “Multistep Food Plant Processing at Grotta Paglicci (Southern Italy) around 32,600 Cal B.P.,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA (September 2015), doi:10.1073/pnas.1505213112.
  3. Ibid., 4.
  4. Ibid., 1.
  5. Ibid.