Cooked starchy rhizomes in Africa 170 thousand years ago

Science. 2020 Jan 3;367(6473):87-91. doi: 10.1126/science.aaz5926.


Plant carbohydrates were undoubtedly consumed in antiquity, yet starchy geophytes were seldom preserved archaeologically. We report evidence for geophyte exploitation by early humans from at least 170,000 years ago. Charred rhizomes from Border Cave, South Africa, were identified to the genus Hypoxis L. by comparing the morphology and anatomy of ancient and modern rhizomes. Hypoxis angustifolia Lam., the likely taxon, proliferates in relatively well-watered areas of sub-Saharan Africa and in Yemen, Arabia. In those areas and possibly farther north during moist periods, Hypoxis rhizomes would have provided reliable and familiar carbohydrate sources for mobile groups.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Caves
  • Cooking / history*
  • Diet, Paleolithic / history*
  • Diet, Vegetarian / history*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Hypoxis*
  • Rhizome*
  • Starch / history*


  • Starch