In a November 2006 National Geographic News one can find groundbreaking information on the dietary habit of ancient human ancestors. Lasers were used to vaporize tiny particles of tooth enamel from a 1.
8 million-year-old P. robustus fossil. This is because, “…different types of edible plants leave unique chemical signatures in living tissue, including teeth” (Markey, par. 3).
In the same article, it was reported that the fossil remains taken from the Swartkans cave site in South Africa revealed that P. robustus, had a surprisingly varied and flexible menu that may inlcude fruits, seeds, roots, tubers, and even insects (Markey, par. 4-5).The above-cited study is still relevant today as part of an ongoing research on how humans evolve and at the same time to discover patterns in human consumption of food. Scientists are always on a lookout for ways to help solve problem of hunger in general and help Africa in particular.
Understanding how African ancestors behave will reveal insight into the present and hopefully solve problems of famine and how to survive the harsh African drought seasons.This paper will attempt to achieve a basic understanding of African diet and nutrition in ancient and medieval times. It will also include a simple survey of factors that influenced the behavior of the inhabitants of the Dark Continent to behave that way.Ancient AfricaThere is no debating the fact that, “Before domestication of plants and animals al humans lived as hunter-gatherers” (Akhtar, p.
51). This is also true in Africa where archaeological findings have confirmed the shift from hunting gathering to agriculture in key areas, namely, a) Egyptian Nile Valley; b) Highland Ethiopia; and c) West Africa (Akhtar, p. 54). And that as early as 19,000 B.
C. archaeologists have ascertained human use of wild cereals, wild barley, and teff in the said regions (Akhtar, p. 54).Van der Veen asserts that, “The earliest unequivocal evidence for crop cultivation in northern Africa dates to 3500 BP […] and to 2600-2500 BP in the north-central Sahara, much later than domestication of animals” (p. 5). Van der Veen then adds that in the regions near Libya, emmer wheat, barley, date, grape and figs were cultivated while in the regions near Mauritania by contrast only pearl millet was the crop being used by the inhabitants (p.
5).In the Cambridge World History of Food one can find that various African communities – especially those in the savanna-rain forest region of West Africa – experimenting with yam cultivation as early as 5,000 years ago (Kiple and Ornelas p. 1123).Kersting’s groundnuts (Kerstingiella geocarpa), cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) and even the use of oil from palm trees (Elaeis guineensis) were part of the cooking preparation of the people of central Ghana as early as 3,800 years ago (Kiple and Ornelas, p.
1332).In the same book information can be had that ancient Africa have the knowledge to domesticate livestock but it more as beasts of burden rather than as a source of food (see Kiple and Ornelas, p. 1332).Moreover, in the regions near the Nile Valley, 18,000 year old camps revealed that ancient diet consisted root foods from wetland plants, such as tubers, rhizomes, corms of sedges, rushes and cattails that were staple during fall and winter months. But when summer comes along the Nile’s main source of nourishment comes from wild dates, dom palm fruits. And when there is a flood, it brought in catfish a very good source of protein for the people of this region (Kiple and Ornelas, p.
1129)Gartier and van Neer also remarked that aside from fish, their nutrient requirement was supplemented with migratory waterfowl and small quantities of gazelle, hartebeests, and aurochs (see Cambridge World History of Food, p. 1129).Medieval AfricaAccording to Oliver and Atmore, Medieval South Africa has both hunters-gatherers as well as pastoralists herding longhorn cattle and fat-tailed sheep; that it was not until the 15th century when the “…cultivators gained ascendancy over the hunters and herders living in Bantu speaking lands (p. 212).In the beginning of this period, the staple diet for the Southern people was the milk of cows and ewes (Oliver & Atmore, p. 213).
And the same time Ethiopians learned how to cultivate particular varieties of millet, raise cattle and donkey in addition to becoming skilled farmers (Bisson, p. 282).ConclusionThe evolution of the diet of African did not develop in the same pace as the rest of the world. This is evident when examining the Medieval Age and still find African communities that are hunters and gatherers.Yet after thousands of years of foraging for root crops and hunting meat the Africans began to understand the benefit of domesticating animals and plants. At the onset the domesticated animals were prized as beasts of burden and therefore not seen as a major source of protein.
Still, the milk coming from cows and ewes were excellent sources of food during the Medieval Period.