Original Article

Vegetation History and Archaeobotany

, Volume 17, Supplement 1, pp 19-27

First online:

Advances in plant food processing in the Near Eastern Epipalaeolithic and implications for improved edibility and nutrient bioaccessibility: an experimental assessment of Bolboschoenus maritimus (L.) Palla (sea club-rush)

  • Michèle M. WollstonecroftAffiliated withThe Institute of Archaeology, University College London Email author 
  • , Peter R. EllisAffiliated withBiopolymers Group, Department of Biochemistry, Nutritional Sciences Division, King’s College London
  • , Gordon C. HillmanAffiliated withThe Institute of Archaeology, University College London
  • , Dorian Q. FullerAffiliated withThe Institute of Archaeology, University College London

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This paper examines how plant food processing techniques developed by hunter-gatherers during the Near Eastern Epipalaeolithic (ca. 23970–11990 cal b.p.) may have influenced species selection, eating habits and access to critical nutrients. A case study is presented that investigates how pulverising and thermal treatments affect the tubers of Bolboschoenus maritimus (L.) Palla (sea club-rush), a plant that is frequently recovered from ancient sites in the Levant and Anatolia. A range of microscopy techniques was employed to observe the changes in tuber microstructure caused by individual processing techniques. The results show that pulverising is a necessary step in transforming these tubers into edible products because it disrupts the cell walls, facilitating tissue softening and access to intracellular nutrients. Heating, while necessary to cook the intracellular starch, does not promote tissue softening in the tubers of this species. The results demonstrate how the biologically inherited functional properties of a species interact with specific food processing techniques to promote or hinder its edibility and nutrient bioaccessibility.


Bioavailability Epipalaeolithic Food processing Hunter-gatherer Late Pleistocene Near East