Here is a picture from a trip we took a few years ago to Brassempouy, the famous excavation site from the Upper Palaeolithic in Aquitaine, France. One of the oldest known human artifacts, a tiny female head carved out of ivory called la dame de Brassem-pouy, was found here. It is dated to 22,000 years ago.
A young archeologist who was attempting to re-create the stone-age settlement was working down below the museum when our party of four visited, and he gave us a private tour. His two small children were playing in the dirt, lending a bit of authenticity to a scene reminiscent of ancient family life. He taught us how to make fire with sticks and moss and demonstrated how to hunt with an atlatl and dart. We got to hold a stone ax made by Neanderthals and compare it to one made by the former inhabitants of Brassempouy.
He also showed us his garden, a re-creation of one that would have been cultivated there by the early inhabitants at the time that humans were just starting to transition from a hunter/gatherer lifestyle to agriculture. He invited us to pick and sample the crops that he had succeeded in growing. There were only four or five plants; I remember millet, square peas, barley (I think), and these little tomato-like fruits with a papery husk that looked like red gooseberries. I am holding the little fruit between my thumb and forefinger in the picture to the right. They were not sweet, but he told us that there is evidence that they mixed them with honey to make a kind of jam in order to preserve the fruit.
Johanna Söderlund, from Sweden, has an interesting article about fruit on her terrific new blog in English: http://foodandhealthblog.wordpress.com/2008/04/11/can-fruit-be-considered-primeval-food/.She shows pictures of the wild versions of bananas, watermelon, and tomatoes as proof that fruit, as we know it, was not an important part of the diet of our ancient ancestors.
She says, “…in many ways, the cultivated contemporary fruits have more in common with candy than with the wild fruits which where available to us during most part of our evolution!”
In my lifetime, I have seen pineapples change from being so sour as to be practically inedible (except when eaten in Hawaii) to the deep gold, sugary-sweet variety now shipped around the world. Sweet red peppers are another new fruit that didn’t exist until very recently. Some plant foods have gone the other way, especially soft ones that have been engineered to make them easier to harvest and ship rather than tastier. I’m sure that there is nothing in the produce department at my grocery that a dame de Brassempouy would even recognize.
(c) 2008, Judy Barnes Baker