Humanities and Arts

Sedge Foodplants Growing in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa, and Cyperus Esculentus Tubers (Patrysuintjies) as a C4 Superfood

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Since it was established that the early hominins of the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa ate 13C-enriched foods that may have included sedges with C4 photosynthetic pathways, much work has focused on the reconstruction of hominin dietary ecologies in both southern and eastern Africa. Through the years emphasis was placed on Cyperus papyrus as a possible source, even inspiring an ‘aquatic diet’ hypothesis for all hominins. Baboon feeding habits and sedge regimes observed in South Africa’s ‘Lowveld’ have provided a proxy for the dietary ecology of the southern ‘Highveld’ hominins, and from the Cradle of Humankind sedges, amongst other plants, have been collected for nutritional studies. To date, however, there has been no attempt to compile an inventory of the sedge species currently growing in the demarcated area of the Cradle of Humankind. Here I list 29 Cyperaceae taxa currently recorded as growing in the Cradle of Humankind. I show that, contrary to previous inference, most of them have C4 photosynthetic pathways and do not need aquatic ecologies or permanent wetland settings. I discuss and provide photographic records for the six species identified as current baboon and human foodplants, and highlight Cyperus esculentus as a possible nutritious and prolific C4-sedge-USO food source for southern African hominins based on its energy, protein and fat/lipid profile.