Tree sap could be a completely overlooked and forgotten part of the ancient Irish diet. Anthony Woods proposes a revolutionary new theory as to the origins of agriculture.
The essence of agriculture is the reliable year-round supply of food. It is considered one of the most important developments that led to the rise of human civilisation.
Prior to the development of agriculture, man was a nomadic ‘hunter-gatherer.’ People went where the food was. They survived by hunting prey and gathering foods such as nuts and berries.
However, there is an overlooked idea that needs to be recognised: What if the first agricultural product was tree sap?
This theory is not something contained in any of the world’s history books. It has been assumed that agriculture started with the domestication of animals and the planting of cereals. However, now it seems that part of the agricultural progress came much, much later.
Prior to the development of agriculture, man enjoyed the fruits of trees in the summer, the nuts in the winter. And, tree sap was available all year round in evergreen trees, like the ones we have in Ireland. The critical importance of tree sap to the evolution of man has not been considered by academics.
Tree Sap and Nutrition
Tree sap is highly antibacterial and contains large quantities of glucose. Glucose is the only thing that the brain eats. This is of extreme importance to understanding how the modern human ‘super-brain’ evolved.
Once man’s brain had a regular supply of glucose, it could evolve and thrive in challenging environments. Armed with glucose-rich sap and protected from the extremes by forests, early man was primed for evolution.
Forests are much warmer in winter than exposed areas. They provided early man with the perfect environment to evolve and thrive. For example, forests contain freshwater streams, and an abundance of wood to make early shelters. Early man thrived at the border of the forest, streams and the sea. But there were still daily survival challenges. And it is these difficulties and cold air which forced man’s brain to expand and become more efficient.
Animal brains grow larger and are more alert in colder areas due to the increased survival challenges. Put simply, an animal’s brain grows larger relative to their body size when they must think more. And, it shrinks when they don’t. This process is called neuroplasticity. In essence, the harder one has to think, the bigger the brain grows. This is as true for man today as it is for the animal kingdom.
I am certain that the evolution of early man’s brain was triggered with a regular intake of glucose from tree sap. And, the more he thought, the more his brain grew. As soon as he began to develop a primitive language and think about the mysteries of nature – particularly astronomy – man’s brain went into overdrive.
The connection between an organism’s genetics and its environment is the very bedrock of evolutionary biology. Ice-Age Ireland was the perfect laboratory to drive human evolution. It had deadly predators (wolves, bears etc), a receding landmass due to the Ice Age, and long periods of genetic isolation. This was coupled with a year-round supply of glucose – the ultimate brain food. This created the ideal conditions for early man to evolve and develop a more efficient brain that was suitable for its environment.
Tree Sap Harvesting
Tree sap is the key to human evolution. Just one maple tree can provide 300 litres of sap per year. In fact, virtually every tree in a forest can provide sap – some provide sap seasonally and others all year round.
Tree sap is harvested by making a small hole in the tree from which the sap escapes. Afterwards, the hole is plugged and reopened upon demand. This simple system would have provided a regular ‘sugar rush.’ It was the fuel so badly needed for the human brain to evolve and fully develop the prefrontal cortex. This is the enlarged part of the human brain that distinguishes modern man from his earlier ancestors.
In addition to providing sap, some trees also provide resin. This contains glucose and strong antibacterial properties. Tree resin is also flammable and can be used as fuel for a torch or to accelerate fires. Without leaving the forest, early man had access to brain food and fire. Resin can also be used as a pitch to make animal skins waterproof. The pitch derived from tree resin is a remarkable waterproofer and was used to seal early boats.
It’s well known that in early Ireland the first boats were river currachs. These are circular baskets covered by an animal hide. They were sealed with a resin pitch to make them completely waterproof. Once dry, tree resin is rock hard, and an early waterproof boat would have been a very reliable mode of transport. The earliest boats were used on lakes, then rivers and eventually in the open sea. The ancient druids created the myth that the first man was made from the alder tree. Now we know why!
That was the past, but what will we be eating in 10 years time?