Daily Mail: The Stone Age baker: Cavemen 'ate bread, not just meat'.
Gnawing on a hunk of meat as he sits by the fire, Stone Age man has always been viewed as the classic carnivore.
But new research suggests that a caveman's diet may have been far more balanced and that he ate bread at least 30,000 years ago.
The prehistoric hunters did not only rely on animals for their diet and also dined on processed plant-based foods, according to a new study.
Powerful microscopes discovered traces of starch grains on grinding stones recovered from archaeological sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Grains were thought to have been largely ignored by Stone Age humans, at least in part because they were difficult to process.
But the stones' wear patterns suggest they were used for grinding roots and grains in a manner similar to a pestle 18,000 years before that, according to Dr Anna Revedin and colleagues.
Grain residues on the stones seem to originate from mostly cattail and fern plants which are rich in starch - a dense source of carbohydrates and energy.
Researchers generally assume Palaeolithic European human diets consisted almost entirely of animal protein and fat, with rare plant consumption.
Dr Revedin, of the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Early History in Florence, said: 'The discovery of grain and plant residues on grinding stones at the three sites suggests plant-based food processing, and possibly flour production, was common and widespread across Europe at least 30,000 years ago.'
Establishing these primitive people were processing plants rather intensively reinforces recent research that their diets were as a whole much more diverse than is generally believed.
'It’s like a flatbread, like a pancake with just water and flour,” said Laura Longo, a researcher on the team, from the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Early History.
'You make a kind of pita and cook it on the hot stone,' she said, describing how the team replicated the cooking process. The end product was 'crispy like a cracker but not very tasty,' she added.
Grinding plant matter into flour is time consuming - as is making the tools to do it - to produce high energy food rich in carbohydrates that was easily storable and transportable.
The inclusion of cereals in our diet is considered an important step in human evolution because of the technical complexity and the culinary manipulation that are required to turn grains into staples.
The researchers said: 'European Paleolithic populations are generally considered to have been predominantly carnivorous, because the evidence for plant subsistence is limited.
'We are now able to add evidence for plant food processing, on the basis of the recovery of flour residues on coarse heavy-duty tools across Europe up to 30,000 years ago.
'The flour would have undergone a multistep processing involving root peeling, drying and finally grinding using specific tools. After this, the flour needed to be cooked to obtain a suitable and digestible food.
'Studies of current human diets suggest cooking is essential because raw food, as such, cannot supply sufficient calories.'
The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.