Today, snails are a delicacy in many parts of the world. The mollusks are often found in Spanish dishes such as paella. They are a rich source of vitamins A, B3, B6 and B12. Researchers have found that snails were part of the ancient human food, too. Paleolithic humans in Spain started eating snails about 30,000 years ago. That’s the earliest evidence of snail-eating ever found.
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Snails were a key source of vitamins and nutrients
Findings of the latest study suggest that Homo sapiens, ancestors of the modern humans, living in the Benidorm area of Spain were the first group to add snails in their diet, some 30,000 years ago. That means they began eating the escargot 10,000 years before their Mediterranean neighbors. Ancient humans living along the Mediterranean coast of France, Italy, Greece, the Middle-East and northern Africa had started eating snails about 20,000 years ago.
Archaeologists found hundreds of burnt snail shells near fireplaces along with stone tools and other animal remains in Cova de la Barriada. Javier Fernández-López de Pablo, an archaeologist at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleontology and Evolution and lead author of the study, said that snails probably didn’t make up a significant part of ancient people’s diet calorically, but they were sources of key vitamins and nutrients.
Ancient humans harvested only adult snails
The stone tools found at the site were used for cooking between 32,000 to 26,000 years ago. The animal bones were intentionally fractured by ancient people to extract the marrow, said Fernández. He said it was clearly the oldest record of snail consumption. Findings of the study appeared in the journal PLOS One. The burnt snail shells were all from the same species Iberus alonensis.
Researchers excavated 112 samples of snail shells along with charcoals of juniper and pine. All of them were of the same size, indicating people harvested them when they were fully grown. Carefully picking only adult snails was their way of conserving the species and develop a “sustainable” farming practice. Microscopic analysis revealed that the snail shells’ levels of aragonite are similar to those after roasting the shells.