Study Reveals Early Europeans Ate Seaweed

 Seagriculture EU 2024
Early Europeans

Researchers examined biomarkers extracted from dental calculus from 74 individuals. Both samples are from Isbister, Orkney.

Researchers say they have found “definitive” archaeological evidence that seaweeds and other local freshwater plants were eaten by Early Europeans in the Mesolithic, through the Neolithic transition to farming and into the Early Middle Ages, suggesting that these resources, now rarely eaten in Europe, only became marginal much more recently.

The study, published in Nature Communications, reveals that…by the 18th Century seaweed was considered as famine food, and although seaweed and freshwater aquatic plants continue to be economically important in parts of Asia, both nutritionally and medicinally, there has been little modern consumption in Europe.

The team, led by archaeologists from the universities of Glasgow and York, examined biomarkers extracted from dental calculus from 74 individuals from 28 archaeological sites across Europe, from north Scotland to southern Spain, which revealed “direct evidence for widespread consumption of seaweed and submerged aquatic and freshwater plants.”

Biomolecular evidence

Samples where biomolecular evidence survived revealed consumption of red, green, and brown seaweeds, and freshwater aquatic plants, with one sample from Orkney also containing evidence for a Brassic — sea kale. 

The researchers hope that their study will highlight the potential for including more seaweeds and other local freshwater plants in our diets today – helping Europeans to become healthier, and food more sustainable.

Karen Hardy, Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Glasgow and Principal Investigator of the Powerful Plants project, said, “Today, seaweed and freshwater aquatic plants are virtually absent from traditional western diets, and their marginalization as they gradually changed from food to famine resources and animal fodder, probably occurred over a long period of time.

“Our study also highlights the potential for rediscovery of alternative, local, sustainable food resources that may contribute to addressing the negative health and environmental effects of over-dependence on a small number of mass-produced agricultural products — that is a dominant feature of much of today’s western diet, and indeed the global long-distance food supply more generally.”

“It is very exciting to be able to show definitively that seaweeds and other local freshwater plants were eaten across a long period in our European past,” she said.

“Not only does this new evidence show that seaweed was being consumed in Europe during the Mesolithic Period, around 8,000 years ago, when marine resources were known to have been exploited, but that it continued into the Neolithic when it is usually assumed that the introduction of farming led to the abandonment of marine dietary resources,” added co-author on the paper, Dr. Stephen Buckley, from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York.

All rights reserved. Permission required to reprint articles in their entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact editorial@algaeplanet.com. Algae Planet accepts unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, and takes no responsibility for the validity of claims made in submitted editorial.

Seagriculture USA 2024
AlgaeMetrics

Subscribe

Breaking-News

  • April 22, 2024: New England Kelp Harvest Week, a project started by the Sugar Kelp Collective in 2021, runs from April 20-30 this year. The group of kelp farmers and activists works with restaurants, bakeries, and fish markets to create special dishes and menus that use the sea vegetable, which grows in winter and is harvested in the spring. Across Connecticut, this provides an ideal opportunity for people to explore dishes and cocktails made with kelp. READ MORE...
  • April 19, 2024: Hospitalized COVID-19 patients who took spirulina had a lower risk of death than those who did not, according to results of a randomized controlled trial recently published in Frontiers in Immunology. READ MORE...
  • April 17, 2024: A research team exploring the untapped potential of seaweed farming for carbon sequestration is positioning Taiwan to play a role in offsetting global carbon emissions. READ MORE...
  • April 15, 2024: Somater, a French manufacturer of plastic and polymer primary packaging for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food, and industry, has partnered with French start-up Eranova to create a 100% bio-based line of packaging from green algae collected on the banks of a brackish water lagoon near Marseille, in the south of France. READ MORE...

Algae Europe 2024

A Beginner’s Guide