People in the Mediterranean ate foods from Asia 3700 years ago


By Krista Charles

Bananas in a floating market in Thailand

Zoltan Bagosi / Alamy

People living in the Mediterranean may have tried South Asian and East Asian dishes up to thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

Philipp Stockhammer at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany, and his colleagues examined microscopic food debris present in the teeth of 16 people from the Levant, a region east of the Mediterranean. The people lived in 17th and 11th centuries BC in the cities in Megiddo and Tel Erani.

The team found that these people – who came from a number of social classes – ate food from South Asia or East Asia, including sesame, soybeans, turmeric and banana. This pushes the timeline of these foods appearing in this region, through the centuries or, in the case of soybeans, millennia.


“We had always thought that this early globalization was limited to precious stones and metals. Now we see that this early globalization went hand in hand with the globalization of food, ”says Stockhammer.

His team determined what foods were eaten by analyzing braces, a type of hardened plaque that archaeologists usually remove – but do not examine – from excavated skeletons to clean them.

“I hope this will trigger awareness of tartar in the future and show how much potential there is. If you clean it, you are basically destroying this unique treasure chest that you can open, ”says Stockhammer.

“There’s still a lot we do not know about food stories in Africa, Australia and America as well,” says Andrew Clarke at the University of Nottingham, UK. “So I think there are quite exciting opportunities to apply these techniques to other regions.”

Journal reference: PNAS, DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.2014956117

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