People who live in the Mediterranean Sea may have tried South Asian and East Asian cuisine up to thousands of years earlier than previously thought.
Philipp Stockhammer from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and his colleagues examined microscopic food particles in the teeth of 16 people from the Levant, a region east of the Mediterranean. People lived in the 17thth and 11th Centuries BC in the cities of Megiddo and Tel Erani.
The team found that these people, who came from different social classes, ate foods from South Asia or East Asia, including sesame seeds, soybeans, turmeric and bananas. This shifts the timeline for those foods found in this region by centuries or, in the case of soybeans, millennia.
“We always thought that this early globalization was limited to gemstones and metals. Now we see that this early globalization went hand in hand with the globalization of food, ”says Stockhammer.
His team determined which foods were eaten by analyzing tartar, a form of hardened plaque that archaeologists usually remove – but don’t examine – from excavated skeletons in order to clean them.
“I hope this will raise awareness of tartar build-up in the future and show how much potential there is. If you clean it up, you’re basically destroying this unique treasure chest that you can open, ”says Stockhammer.
“There is still a lot that we do not know about the history of food in Africa, Australia and America,” says Andrew Clarke of the University of Nottingham, UK. “I think there are some pretty exciting ways to apply these techniques to other regions.”