© 2018 by the authors. This article reviews evidence of how starch granules associated with archaeological artefacts provide an insight into the use of plants by our ancestors for food, medicines and cultural activities. The properties of starch relevant to archaeological contexts, methods for examining ancient starch and the types of environmental conditions that would promote survival of starch granules over hundreds of thousands of years as part of the archaeological record, are considered. Starch granules identified in dental calculus are clear indicators of the individual having consumed starchy food as part of the diet. However, surviving starch granules may be only a tiny fraction of those consumed over a lifetime and not necessarily representative of foods that were in the diet. A hypothesis, based on a combination of archaeological, physiological and genetic evidence, that plant foods containing high quantities of digestible starch were essential for the evolution of the modern human phenotype, is discussed.
- Dental calculus
- Human evolution