A team of scientists in Italy have discovered traces of oatmeal on an ancient grinding stone that was unearthed from a site in Apulia region, suggesting that early human ancestors may have also depended on the nourishment of the high-fiber meal.

The early stone tool, which dates back to the late Paleolithic period known as the Gravettian era, was first discovered during the 1950s, but it was not until researchers from the University of Florence started analyzing of the ancient grinding stone that the fragments of oats were found on it.

Florence researcher Marta Mariotti Lippi and her colleagues found that people living during the Gravettian era typically exposed grains to heat in order to grind them using the stone tool and prepare them for eventual processing. This allowed them to produce oat powder that was then used to create oatmeal and bread.

"There are many other grinding tools, but this is the oldest," Lippi said.

The Grotta Paglicci, located in Italy's Apulia region, served as a habitat for Paleolithic hunter-gatherers between 34,000 to 32,000 years in the past. Scientific surveys conducted in the area have led to the discovery of ancient mural paintings depicting animals and etchings on unearthed samples of bones.

As for the ancient grinding stone itself, Lippi and her team announced that they plan to conduct further studies on the oatmeal traces on to determine which specific foods members of prehistoric cultures typically dined on.

"When we study grinding tools, we know that we do not find the most common plants, but the last ones processed," Lippi said.

Archaeologist Matt Pope at the University College London (UCL) explained that there is link between diet, cultural sophistication and various plant food processing methods that is yet to be explored by scientists.

Pope, who is not involved in the recent University of Florence study, said that while researchers have discovered evidence of root and cattail processing, the new research provides proof of grain processing using a grain variant that is familiar to many scientists.

The findings of the University of Florence study are featured in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Photo: Daniella Segura | Flickr 

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