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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
8-May-2013

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In ancient China, sago palms were major plant food prior to rice cultivation

Starch granules on Neolithic tools resemble those of sago palms, bananas, tubers

IMAGE: This image shows modern starch grains from sago palms and ancient phytolith and starch grains recovered from Neolithic tools.

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Before rice cultivation became prevalent, ancient populations on the southern coast of China likely relied on sago palms as staple plant foods, according to research published May 8 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Xiaoyan Yang and colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China.

Little is known about prehistoric diets of those who lived in southern subtropical China, as the acidic soils and humid climate of the region cause poor preservation of plant remains. Though literature and archaeological discoveries have suggested that roots and tubers were the staple foods in this region, no direct evidence has so far been found. In this study, researchers analyzed starch granules recovered from Neolithic stone tools used approximately 3,350-2,470 BC, and found these to resemble starches typically found in sago-type palms. They found that people at this time also likely relied on bananas, acorns and freshwater roots and tubers as important plant foods prior to the cultivation of rice.

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Citation: Yang X, Barton HJ, Wan Z, Li Q, Ma Z, et al. (2013) Sago-type Palms Were an Important Plant Food Prior to Rice in Southern Subtropical China. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63148. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063148

Financial Disclosure: Funding for this research was provided in part by the Royal Society (UK)-China NSFC International Joint Projects (Grant No. 41011130159), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 41072140), and the CAS Strategic Priority Research Program (Grant No. XDA05130603). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement: The authors have decared that no competing interests exist.

PLEASE LINK TO THE SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT (URL goes live after the embargo ends): http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0063148

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