Remains of edible fruits and seeds approximately 780,000 years old were discovered in the northern Jordan Valley. Remains of edible fruits and seeds approximately 780,000 years old were discovered in the northern Jordan Valley. Remains of edible fruits and seeds approximately 780,000 years old were discovered in the northern Jordan Valley. (Photo: Yaakov Langsam)

Cavemen were more vegetarian than we thought

Scientists discover that prehistoric man knew how to make a meal with nutritious food in plants, not just animals.

When you hear the word "paleo," what comes to mind?

For most of us, it's things like protein, meat, fish, hunting and cavemen. But recently, scientists have introduced another discovery to the traditionally carnivorous prehistoric lexicon: early hominids, or what we consider the human family's earliest ancestors, also knew their way around a vegetable or two.

During recent archaeological excavations in Israel's Hula Valley, scientists from Hebrew University and Bar Ilan University found evidence of tiny ancient botanicals – specifically, 55 species of edible plants, including seeds, fruits, nuts, leaves, stems, roots and tubers.

"Our results change previous notions of [the] paleo diet and shed light on hominin abilities to adjust to new environments and exploit different flora, facilitating population diffusion, survival, and colonization beyond Africa," the researchers wrote in their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Dec. 5.

Moshe and fruit and nutsNuts, seeds and edible plants from the Mediterranean region were a key part of the paleo diet, researchers found. (Photo: Erez Kaganovitz)

Among the findings was a tiny (about 1 millimeter) grape pip, thought to have been left on the ground some 780,000 years ago, discovered in an old Stone Age site in Israel on the shoreline of Lake Hula, dating back to the Acheulian culture. The plants indicate a rich vegetarian diet enjoyed by our human ancestors that supplemented their protein-rich hunting-and-gathering lifestyle.

"This region is known for the wealth of plants, but what surprised us were the sources of plant food coming from the lake. We found more than 10 species that existed here in prehistoric times but no longer today, such as two types of water nuts, from which seven were edible," Dr. Yoel Melamed, of the Faculty of Life Sciences at Bar Ilan University, said in a statement.

So if your interest in the paleo diet is now piqued, here's a basic tip to get you started: If a caveman could eat it, so can you. (Hint: They didn't eat pasta and candy bars. Sorry.)

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