New discovery of ancient diet in China pre-dates rice

Posted by er134 at May 17, 2013 12:09 PM |
University of Leicester archaeologist uses new analysis techniques to shatter conventional ideas of how agriculture emerged
 New discovery of ancient diet in China pre-dates rice

Xincun site under excavation Credit: Dr Jun Wei

Archaeologists have made a discovery in southern subtropical China which could revolutionise thinking about how ancient humans lived in the region.

They have uncovered evidence for the first time that people living in Xincun 5,000 years ago may have practised agriculture –before the arrival of domesticated rice in the region.

By using a new method known as ancient starch analysis to analyse ancient human diet, the researchers discovered evidence of different species of starch producing palms, which would have been ground and dried as flour and eaten.

The research was the result of a two-year collaboration between Dr Huw Barton, from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, and Dr Xiaoyan Yang, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing.

Funded by a Royal Society UK-China NSFC International Joint Project, and other grants held by Yang in China, the research is published in PLOS ONE.

Dr Barton said:

“Our research shows us that there was something much more interesting going on in the subtropical south of China 5,000 years ago than we had first thought.
The survival of organic material is really dependent on the particular chemical properties of the soil, so you never know what you will get until you sample. At Xincun we really hit the jackpot. Starch was well-preserved and there was plenty of it.”