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What Stone Age humans ate over 10,000 years ago revealed in new study

Ancient chewing gum has shed light on the diet and eating habits of people living on the west coast of Scandinavia during the Stone Age 10,000 years ago. 

A comprehensive study of DNA extracted from the gum reveals a varied diet that included deer, trout, and hazelnuts. 

Huseby Klev

The research was centered around Huseby Klev, an island north of modern-day Göteborg.

The scientists have discovered fascinating details from a time when humans were transitioning from nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled agricultural societies. 

About 9,700 years ago, this site was a bustling camp where people fished, hunted, and gathered food.

Among these activities, teenagers chewed resin to produce glue, a task complicated by their dietary habits.

Unraveling the stone age diet

The chewed resin from Huseby Klev, discovered during an excavation 30 years ago, has been the focus of an international research team. 

“There is a richness of DNA sequences in the chewed mastic from Huseby-Klev, and in it we find both the bacteria that we know are related to periodontitis, and DNA from plants and animals that they had chewed before,” said Dr. Emrah Kırdök of Mersin University.

The research, initiated when Dr. Kırdök was a postdoc at Stockholm University, has evolved significantly. The complexity of identifying different species from the DNA mix presented a challenge. 

Dr. Andrés Aravena from Istanbul University spent extensive hours analyzing the data with Dr. Kırdök.

“We had to apply several computational heavy analytical tools to single out the different species and organisms. All the tools we needed were not ready to be applied to ancient DNA; but much of our time was spent on adjusting them so that we could apply them,” said Dr. Aravena.

Life in the Stone Age

The study, led by Professor Anders Götherström of the Centre for Palaeogenetics, offers an intimate snapshot of life during the Stone Age. 

The research not only provides concrete evidence of the diet of these ancient Scandinavians but also uncovers some of the health challenges they faced.

The team found that due to a bad case of periodontitis (severe gum infection that can lead to tooth loss and bone loss), one of the teenagers had problems eating the chewy deer-meat, as well as preparing the resin by chewing it.

“This provides a snapshot of the life of a small group of hunter-gatherers on the Scandinavian west coast,” said Professor Götherström.

“I think it is amazing, there are other well established methods to work out what nutrition and diet relates to the Stone Age, but here we know that these teenagers were eating deer, trout, and hazelnuts 9,700 years ago on the west coast of Scandinavia, while at least one of them had severe problems with his teeth.”

Early humans as hunter-gatherers

Hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age led a nomadic lifestyle, constantly moving in search of food and resources.

They hunted wild animals and foraged for plants, fruits, and nuts.

Innovations of Stone Age humans

This period saw the development of early tools and weapons, like spears and bows, which were essential for hunting.

Moreover, they learned to harness fire, a pivotal skill that provided warmth, protection, and a means to cook food, enhancing its nutritional value.

Stone Age hunter-gatherers lived in small, tight-knit groups. Cooperation and sharing were crucial for survival, leading to strong communal bonds.

They communicated through developing languages and expressed themselves artistically, as seen in cave paintings and carvings.

These artworks offer insights into their beliefs, experiences, and the animals they encountered.

Stone Age human heritage

The legacy of Stone Age hunter-gatherers is profound. Their adaptive strategies laid the groundwork for agricultural developments.

Their tools and techniques evolved, setting the stage for future innovations.

Most importantly, they established the foundations of human social structures and cultural expressions that resonate even in modern societies.

In summary, the hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age, with their resilient and innovative ways, played a pivotal role in human evolution.

Stone Age humans survived the challenges of their time, while setting in motion the wheels of progress that have shaped human history. Understanding their lives offers invaluable insights into the journey of humankind.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.


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