Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Earliest Use of Mushrooms as Food?

For a few weeks now, I've been meaning to post about this  news article from the Archaeology News Network. This article showcases a recent archaeological discovery that demonstrates the antiquity of the use of mushrooms as a food for homo sapiens, and it's an excellent demonstration of why I believe that archaeology is greatly changing and expanding the history of material culture.

The remains in question are those of humans of the Magdalenian culture of the upper Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) period of prehistory, i.e., sometime between 18,000 and 12,000 BCE. They were found in the El Mirón cave in Cantabria in northern Spain.  A team of German archaologists obtained some of the dental calculus (i.e., plaque) found on the teeth of the remains and discovered evidence of microremains from "plant, fungal, animal and mineral sources that these people had eaten a wide variety of different types of food.  Among the possible food sources suggested by this evidence were bolete mushrooms, according to the abstract of the archaeologists' formal publication in ScienceDirect.  Their article is available for purchase (cost:  $35.95 USD) here. I may read it eventually, though at this point $36.00 is more than I'm prepared to spend to obtain one article.

I continue to be in awe over how new technologies can make it possible to glean information about diet and clothing from remains that would once have been dismissed as mere bones.   This is one of the scientific trends of the last few decades that I see as overwhelmingly positive, and I hope that it continues. 


  1. Dental plaque eh? Who would have thought?

  2. Yes, it's amazing how archaeologists today can learn more and more from ever smaller fragments of grave goods and corpses.

    Strictly speaking, dental calculus is what happens when plaque hardens into a hard, cement-like substance. Wikipedia explains the process concisely here: