According to recent research, peas provided more protein than meat for the occupants of the earliest human mega sites. The rural towns of the ancient Trypillia culture, which are situated in what is now Moldova and Ukraine, were established over 6,000 years ago and had a population of about 15,000, making them the largest known prehistoric settlements worldwide.
Trypillia sites spanning approximately 320 hectares (790 acres) started to emerge in the forest-steppe region to the northwest of the Black Sea starting around 4100 BCE. The study authors examined stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes from over 480 human and animal bones, as well as charred crops and soil, gathered from 40 different sites, to comprehend how these enormous communities survived.
This allowed the researchers to learn about the cultivation of crops and livestock as well as reconstruct the diet of the Trypillian people. The authors state that “the food web models indicate a low proportion of meat in human diet (approximately 10%)”. “The diet, which was mostly composed of crops and included up to 46% pulses in addition to cereals, was well-balanced in terms of calories and essential amino acids.”
While meat consumption “may have played an important role for social cohesion during feasts,” peas provided the majority of the site’s occupants with their main source of fuel, according to the researchers. Ancient pea samples were heavily fertilized with animal manure, as evidenced by the high levels of nitrogen found in them. This ensured enough yields to feed the entire population.
The authors hypothesize that cattle were likely kept in fenced pastures near the settlement itself, making it simple to collect the enormous amounts of dung required for the production of pulses, based on the isotope measurements in the animal bones.
“We found that a significant amount of the sheep and cattle were housed on fenced pastures,” said Dr. Frank Schlütz, the study’s lead author, in a statement. Furthermore, people heavily fertilized the peas in particular using the animal dung that was produced there.
The researchers claim that the pea-powered cities did away with the necessity for meat production, which usually requires a lot of resources. They say the whole purpose of raising cattle was to supply the peas with manure.
The researchers conclude that the growth of the Trypillia mega-sites did not lead to the overuse of natural resources because of created a mega-economy based on pasture and pulses and careful management of nutrients like nitrogen. The Trypillia settlements were abandoned approximately 5,000 years ago despite this.
However, according to study author Dr. Robert Hofmann, socio-political conflict was most likely the catalyst for these megasites’ decline rather than an environmental or economic collapse. He clarified, “As we know from prior research, social tensions developed as a result of growing social inequality.
Consequently, “people chose to live in smaller settlements once more and turned their backs on large settlements.”