Cooked leafy vegetables make a substantial proportion of our food today but if we look at their origin, leafy greens were first dished up some 3,500 years ago in west Africa, archaeologists and archaeo-botanists have unearthed.
The teams from Germany’s Goethe University and University of Bristol in the UK examined more than 450 pre-historic pots and 66 of them contained traces of lipids, that is, substances insoluble in water.
On behalf of the Nok research team at Goethe University, chemists from the University of Bristol extracted lipid profiles with the aim of revealing which plants had been used.
By combining their expertise, archaeology and archaeobotany researchers at Goethe University and chemical scientists from the University of Bristol corroborated that the origins of such west African dishes date back 3,500 years.
“Carbonised plant remains such as seeds and nutshells preserved in archaeological sediments reflect only part of what people ate back then,” said Katharina Neumann.
Using carbonised plant remains from central Nigeria, it was possible to prove that the Nok people grew pearl millet.
“These unusual and highly complex plant lipid profiles are the most varied seen (globally) in archaeological pottery to date,” said Julie Dunne from University of Bristol’s Organic Geochemistry unit.