Updated: Apr 30, 2019
When you eat a product made from dough, like an authentic Neapolitan pizza from Pizza Alfresco, you're eating a dish that has sustained humans for thousands of years, made from a product which dramatically changed the direction of human evolution. Grains!
Humans have had grains as a staple in their diet for millennia. Archaeologists have found traces of grains in cave settlements right across Europe, Asia and Africa, dating as far back as 75,000 years.
Up until this time, people were ‘hunter-gatherers’; the period which takes up an estimated 90% of human history. The hunter-gatherers moved in small tribal groups around their land according to the seasons to find the most accessible food sources of animals, fish, birds and edible flora. They lived in caves and temporary settlements, moving every few months to the next encampment. It was a hard, short life.
One of the many foods consumed were the seeds from the tops of wild grasses. These grains were hardy, versatile, filling, seasonally available and easy to pick. It’s thought women in the tribes would collect the wild grasses, scrape the grains from the stalk, and shake them in large woven baskets in a process called ‘winnowing’ to separate the grains from the chaff. These grains would then to be used in various food dishes.
At some point during the Mesolithic era, most likely in the northern highlands of Anatolia (Turkey) around 10,000BC or in the Jordan valley, people discovered certain grain types could be domesticated and cultivated. By planting a portion of the same types of seeds in favourable spots, in time there would be more. While its common knowledge now, this was an unprecedented invention for its time.
Even better, once the grains were harvested, they could be stored for a long time in the right conditions, and it’s this amazing discovery that changed humanity and brought a new era - the emergence of the agricultural society.
Learning to cultivate, harvest and store grains meant a reliable food source. With grain cultivation came the domestication of animals for meat. As the technology and knowledge spread across the planet over the next few thousand years, people no longer had to migrate across their lands for food; large groups of people could stay in one spot. Encampments great into settlements, which grew into villages, which grew into towns, which eventually grew into cities.