Early European diet relied heavily on seaweed, study finds
Scientists analyzed plaque on the teeth of Europeans who lived from 8,000 to 2,000 years ago. Results show diet was heavily reliant on seaweed
Seaweed isn’t a staple in most European cuisine, but a recent study by the University of York provides “definitive” evidence that the early European diet relied heavily on marine plants for thousands of years.
The study was published to Nature Communications and discussed how it was previously believed that early Europeans didn’t consume seaweed, but used it instead as food wrappers, fertilizers and fuel.
Scientists extracted plaque from 74 early Europeans’ teeth found at 28 sites located from northern Scotland to southern Spain. Most of the sites were roughly 2,000 years old, but several were over 8,000 years old, per CNN. Of these, 26 samples indicated consumption of seaweed, freshwater algae and aquatic plants.
Co-author of the study and professor of prehistoric archaeology at the University of Glasgow Karen Hardy explained how dental plaque contributed to this discovery in an email to CNN.
She said, “Dental plaque … is very common and once it develops it can only be removed by scraping. This is what dentists do as part of the cleaning process, today.”
“But in the past, it simply accumulated, particularly in the small gap between the tooth and the gum. It is common on most archaeological skeletal material throughout the past,” Hardy added. “It acts as a trap for material that came into and passed through the mouth. Since it is found in the mouth, all the material found within it, unequivocally linked to ingestion.”
The publication included that by the 18th century, Europeans generally viewed seaweed as peasant food which should only be eaten as a last resort.
While the examined plaque provides evidence of early Europeans eating seaweed, roots and tubers from water lilies and pondweed, they still are not considered part of the old European diet.
Further, it was generally accepted that when farming was introduced to early European society, the marine diet was abandoned. However, this new evidence shows the persistence of seaweed consumption up until A.D. 1000, per Science Daily.
The study also includes evidence that sea kale was used as a scurvy remedy for sailors since it’s so rich in vitamin C.