Have You Thanked Your Compost Pile for Modern Civilization, Lately?

Any gardener who keeps a compost pile knows that they should give a silent nod of thanks to that glorious rotting pile of refuse that will become the building blocks of next year’s flowers and vegetables.

It’s a given. In its own decomposing way, a compost pile is a magical piece of gardening landscape that we love to have.

But did you know that you may very well owe more than good dirt to your compost pile? You may very well owe it your car, house and Starbucks Double Macchiato Caramel Latte as well.

No, no… Starbucks has not started making their coffee with a “secret ingredient”, nor has the government enacted a compost to dollars exchange rate. (But with the way the US dollar has been lately, they may be looking at manure)

The fact is that civilization itself may have been born from the warm, decomposing depths of a compost pile.

First, let’s get our time traveling suits on. What! You don’t have one? Here, borrow one of mine. But next time, make sure you have your own. $19.98 at your local Mal-Wart and they come in a variety of fetching colors.

Now, let’s go back in time about 10,000 years ago. What we see is a woman.

While that Neolithic woman may look like your Great Uncle Roy, from your mother’s distant cousin’s side, she is actually your great186 grandmother.

Cave WomanShe’s standing in front of the early predecessor to the compost pile, which we would probably call a refuse pile. It’s where this woman and her clan dumps things when clearing out the cave. The contents of this pile is mostly going to be human waste and food scraps.

Food scraps would consist of rotted meat and inedible vegetable matter. Human waste would consist of… um… wee-wee and poo-poo (refer to a nearby three-year old for translation).

Sound like a cocktail for civilization yet? I know, you would really hope that human civilization would come from more than shit and trash, but that is just the way of the world.

So, there we see our Stone-age granny looking at a strange phenomenon. Out of the pile of garbage she sees a bit of green that looks vaguely like the plants she gathered and harvested right before the return of Cold Gods forced her family to follow the herds and generally made her life a living hell for a few months. But she has returned to their summer encampment, and the mighty Pile Gods have apparently seen fit to bless her.

Now, this early woman is no dummy (she may be only slightly smarter than a monkey, but she is certainly no dummy). She’s not about to screw with any god, even if his domain smells like the south end of a north facing sheep.

She leaves that small green sprout there just to see what the Gods of the Discarded and Other Unmentionables has given her. Oh, yeah. She also notices a small bit attached to a leaf that looks like part of that same plant. A part that was tough and hard to chew that got put in the pile.

Sure enough, come the cooling down time, that little sprout has grown enormous and produces those same edibles she had found in the wild last year. She remembers that little bit that was hanging off the plant leaf when it was small. She carefully gathers those from the new plants and places them in The Pile. The Cold Gods are returning and she and her clan must leave soon to follow the herds.

But who knows, the Pile Gods smiled on her once. Maybe it will work again.

And that is the start of agriculture, which led to animal domestication *skip a few steps* which led to the industrial revolution *skip a few more steps* which led to Starbucks Double Macchiato Caramel Latte.

Yep, next time you are out in your garden, make sure you give a little nod to the Pile Gods too. You owe them a bit more than a pretty garden.

Information for this post was gathered from Food In History by Reay Tannahill.

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