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Sushi, seaweed salad and miso soup: Seaweed is an integral part of Asian cuisine. In Europe, algae are trending as a superfood. But anyone who believes that they are currently being reinvented in Europe is wrong. Our ancestors were way ahead of the trend. However, so far there has been little evidence of this. The detection of traces of algae in the dental plaque of Stone Age Europeans is all the more surprising.
Until now, it was assumed that algae disappeared from the diet in the Neolithic period. Agriculture became more important. Meat and dairy products are said to have replaced algae. But new research results from the specialist journal nature communications now refute this assumption.
It all started with a surprising find
Archaeologists discovered traces of algae in dental plaque for the first time at a Neolithic burial site on the Orkney Islands in Scotland. In doing so, they provided the first specific evidence for the consumption of seaweed.
This surprising discovery prompted the researchers to expand their investigations to the rest of Europe. They collected dental plaque samples from countries such as Spain, Portugal and Lithuania.
Of the 74 people examined, 26 had traces of seaweed or freshwater plants in their dental plaque. Those buried closer to shore were more likely to show signs of seaweed consumption. Those from the interior were more likely to eat freshwater plants.
An international research group examined dental plaque from 28 archaeological sites in Europe. Organic compounds embedded in the tartar make it possible to detect food components directly. This is how the researchers come to the conclusion: People in Europe ate algae for thousands of years – from over 8,000 years ago to the early Middle Ages.
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