Interior of Grotta Paglicci, Italy, with wall paintings.

Interior of Grotta Paglicci, Italy, with wall paintings.

Stefano Ricci

The world’s oldest oatmeal?

Did hunter-gatherers eat oatmeal 25,000 years before the spread of farming? That’s the implication of a new study from this cave in southeastern Italy called Grotta Paglicci, which was occupied by Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers about 32,000 years ago. Researchers have found significant traces of oat grains on a stone pestle found in the cave, they report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In many other ways, this was a typical cave of the time, complete with wall paintings of horses, human burials, and Stone Age tools. Yet the evidence from oat starch grains left on the pestle shows clearly that its inhabitants made precocious use of plants, a conclusion bolstered by traces of wear on the stone consistent with grinding. Moreover, analysis of the oat grains suggests that they were exposed to heat before being ground up, presumably to dry them much as grains are dried before being processed today. The researchers add that although there is no “direct evidence” that the grains were subsequently mixed with water and cooked, such a process can be “plausibly hypothesized”—meaning that our ancestors probably ate oatmeal long before the advent of agriculture. 

  	Grinding stone from Grotta Paglicci, Italy.

Grinding stone from Grotta Paglicci, Italy.

Stefano Ricci

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