Micro-remains of plants reveal plant-based diet details from 8500 years ago

Analysis of micro-remains of plants contained within the tartar of the teeth led to recognition of plant-based diet of human populations living in Iraq 8500 years ago.

Laboratory analysis (by Linda Scott Cummings)

The teeth that served as basis for the international study were obtained from the remains of the population found in the burials of the Nemrik 9 site in northern Iraq, in the region of upper Tigris and northern Mesopotamia. The site and the remains are dated to 6500 BC, to the Early Neolithic. The study involved analysis of plant micro-remains within the tartar of the teeth. Experts sampled teeth from 11 individuals that were excavated at the site in the 1980s. The microscopic remains consist mostly of phytoliths – highly mineralised, silica structures found in plant tissues.

Micro-remains of plants extracted from the tartar seen under microscope (by Linda Scott Cummings)

The researchers, Arkadiusz Sołtysiak and Linda Scott Cummings, were able to determine that the Early Neolithic people ate mostly wheat and barley, but not in a highly processed form as in later eras, which is reflected in low dental surface wear. Thus, meat must have played a major role in their diet. Tooth caries was also not an issue for them, as its level was quite low within the population, possibly due to limited access to sugars. Once sample contained a piece of wood still stuck in the tartar, possibly indicating prehistoric attempts at dental hygiene.

(after Arkadiusz Sołtysiak, Linda Scott Cummings & Nauka w Polsce)

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