Tag Archives: diet

The role of wild grasses in subsistence and sedentism: new evidence from the northern Fertile Crescent

The role of wild grasses in subsistence and sedentism: new evidence from the northern Fertile Crescent
Manon Savard, Mark Nesbitt and Martin K. Jones

Sedentism is usually regarded as a pre-condition for the development of crop husbandry in Southwest Asia and,  consequently, sedentary pre-agrarian sites are an important focus of research on the origins of agriculture. It is often assumed that wild grasses were as important for hunter-gatherers as domesticated cereals were for early farmers, and that wild grass exploitation may therefore have had a critical role in enabling sedentism. Results from the analysis of  archaeobotanical assemblages from Hallan C¸ emi, Demirko¨ y, Qermez Dere and M’lefaat, and comparison with those of other sedentary pre-agrarian sites in Southwest Asia, challenge the role often attributed to the exploitation of grasses at this time. Archaeobotanical and ethnographical evidence instead suggests that hunter-gatherers took an opportunistic approach to the resources available and their subsistence strategies were not necessarily centred on grasses and ‘wild cereals’.


An interesting insight into the diets of pre Neolithic communities from the Levant/Southern Turkey. It shows that sedentism was being achieved without a grain based dite at these sites:

At Hallan Cemi, where there is bioarchaeological evidence for year-round occupation, sedentism was possible without the exploitation of grasses as an important subsistence strategy. At M’lefaat, where there is also strong bioarchaeological evidence for year-round occupation, other food plants are as important as grasses in terms of proportions and ubiquity.


Palaeodiets of Humans and Fauna at the Spanish Mesolithic Site of El Collado

Palaeodiets of Humans and Fauna at the Spanish Mesolithic Site of El Collado

The first human stable isotope results from the Spanish Levant, from the Mesolithic (ca. 7500 BP, Mesolithic IIIA phase) site of El Collado (near Oliva, Valencia) provide evidence for the consumption of marine protein by humans, estimated at approximately 25% of the dietary protein for some individuals. Isotopic analysis of human remains from other coastal Mesolithic sites in Europe, particularly along the Atlantic coast, also shows significant consumption of marine foods, but the amount of marine food consumed by the El Collado humans was much less than at those sites. This may be because of a different dietary adaptation or because the Mediterranean is much less productive than the Atlantic.


Figure 1. Spanish sites with Mesolithic human remains. 1, Abric del Cingle Vermell (Catalonia); 2, Cueva de Los Azules I (Asturias); 3, Cueva de Balmori (Asturias); 4, Poza l’Egua (Asturias); 5, Cueva de Nerja (Malaga); 6, El Collado (Valencia); 7, Cueva de Colomba (Asturias); 8, Cueva de los Canes (Asturias); 9, Abrigo de Aizpea (Navarre); 10, Cuartamentero (Asturias); 11, Colombres (Asturias); 12, Molino de Gasparı´n (Asturias); 13, Cueva de Mazaculos II (Asturias); A, Asturias, with a series of closely located sites. On the basis of the lithic material, Aparicio (1992, 89) placed the Mesolithic occupation of El Collado between 10,000 and 6500 BC, with the phase of most intense utilization around 7500–6500 BC. Subsequently, two radiocarbon determinations made on human bone from burial 12 yielded the ages of BP and BP (Aparicio 7,570160 7,640120 1992; Pe´rez-Pe´rez et al. 1995), which calibrate to 6630–6250 BC (Stuiver and Reimer 1993; Stuiver, Reimer, and Reimer.

It seems that everyones ancestors ate a lot of seafood if they lived on the coast.

A way to settle when the domestication of cattle/cereals occurred?

Reconstruction of African human diet using bone collagen carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios

Behavioural modifications associated with the exploitation of new food resources have been linked to major steps in hominid evolution and in subsequent human cultural development1,2. Testing of specific hypotheses concerning the influence of dietary change on these processes would be facilitated by quantitative estimates of early hominid and human diets. Although most methods of obtaining such evidence provide only qualitative information2, the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of animal tissues, and in particular, bone collagen, can be used to quantify the consumption of foods having different isotopic compositions3−5. As reported here, analysis of the collagen of historic and prehistoric African human populations from Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa that have reasonably well-known diets shows that stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in bone collagen can distinguish marine foragers from populations consuming terrestrial resources, pastoralists from farmers, farmers consuming grains from those consuming non-grain crops, and camel pastoralists from capri-bovine pastoralists.

I was looking around to see if isotopes could tell whether people were consuming dairy products in their diets. This seems promising. I know it’s been used on Mesolithic Europeans like Trent Woman, I wonder if anyone has ever thought to try it on the Nabta Playa human remains? Or the remains in early Neolithic Turkey to get at the dates grains and dairy started to be consumed. Just a thought. Maybe I should email it to Fred Wendorf.

Did nutrition cause the Flynn effect on IQ?

What has caused the Flynn effect? Secular increases in the Development Quotients of infants

Richard Lynn

aUniversity of Ulster, Coleraine, Northern Ireland, BT52 1SA, UK

Received 23 March 2008;  revised 17 July 2008;  accepted 17 July 2008.  Available online 21 September 2008.
Results of five studies show that during the second half of the twentieth century there were increases in the Development Quotients (DQs) of infants in the first two years of life. These gains were obtained for the Bayley Scales in the United States and Australia, and for the Griffiths Test in Britain. The average of 19 data points is a DQ gain of approximately 3.7 DQ points per decade. Similar gains of approximately 3.9 IQ points per decade have been present among pre-school children aged 4–6 years. These gains are about the same as the IQ gains of school age students and adults on the Wechsler and Binet tests. This suggests that the same factor has been responsible for all these secular gains. This rules out improvements in education, greater test sophistication, etc. and most of the other factors that have been proposed to explain the Flynn effect. It is proposed that the most probable factor has been improvements in pre-natal and early post-natal nutrition

More from professor Lynn; a bit of an ass at times, but not stupid. This suggests that most of the IQ gains made through the 20th century a mainly attributable to better nutrition (we are about 30 points smarter than we used to be in the Victorian era).

This would also be another kick in the teeth for the ‘environment only’ supporters who believe we are all born the same, but our IQ’s vary solely from environmental factors. Generally malnutrition isn’t common even among the poorest groups in the West, so this makes most IQ differences you see between individuals due to genetics. The current estimate of heritability is 70% ish, with most of the 30% being nutrition and infantile stimulation. I’d like to see a study of vegetarian/vegan children to see if they compare well to omnivores.

Neanderthal cannibalism

Some Neanderthals Practiced Cannibalism Shows Find From French Cave

The best evidence yet that some members of a now-extinct species of human, the Neanderthals, practiced cannibalism has emerged at a cave site in France’s Ardèche region. A team of French and U.S. archeologists has discovered a set of bones that points to a grisly scenario in which some Neanderthals were butchered, eaten, and disposed of similarly to local game. The team reports their find in the 1 October issue of Science.

These bones should lay to rest a long-standing debate over whether some Neanderthals, who lived 35-125 thousand years ago, ate their fellow species members. Neanderthal bones from several other sites in Europe carry marks that some archeologists have interpreted as signs of butchery. However critics have countered that the marks may be caused by other types of activities, such as gnawing by carnivores, cleaning the bones in preparation for burial, or even from mishandling by modern-day researchers.

Now, the 100,000-120,000 year-old bones discovered at the cave site of Moula-Guercy near the west bank of the Rhone river portray a convincing picture in which a group of Neanderthals systematically defleshed the bones of at least six other individuals and then broke the bones apart with a hammerstone and anvil to remove the marrow and brains. “The work at the Moula-Guercy cave allows us for the first time to demonstrate the existence of the practice of cannibalism by European Neanderthals,” said Alban Defleur, of Université de la Méditerranée at Marseilles and CNRS, who discovered and analyzed the bones together with Tim White, of the University of California at Berkeley, Patricia Valensi, of Laboratoire de Préhistoire du Lazaret, Ludovic Slimak, of CNRS and l’Université de Provence, and Évelyne Crégut-Bonnoure, of Museé Requien.

Whether these individuals were eaten for survival when other food was scarce or as part of a social ritual isn’t yet clear, but the abundance of natural resources available at the site makes the survival scenario seem unlikely, according to Defleur. The archeologists have also found no evidence that the bones were cut and broken as part of a mortuary ritual. To the contrary, they found the Neanderthal bones intermingled with deer bones that were also scored with similar cut-marks and broken into pieces. Both types of bones appear to have been littered across the cave floor rather than buried.

These bones are therefore much different from the Neanderthal remains from the Croatian site of Krapina. These remains created quite a stir when archeologists excavated them in the 1890s and proposed that the find was evidence of cannibalism. However, doubts about this conclusion persisted because of the primitive techniques used to recover the bones. The newly-unearthed bones from Moula-Guercy remove any such doubts. The researchers carefully mapped the bones’ positions in the ground and set the scene of the gruesome feast by taking detailed notes of the associated stone tools, animal remains, and even the sediment layers in which the bones were embedded.

The 78 Neanderthal bones at Moula Guercy come from at least six individuals: two adults, two 15 or 16 year-olds, and two six or seven year-olds. All the skulls and limb bones were broken apart; only the hand and foot bones remained intact. Cuts across the foot, ankle, and elbow joints show that in at least one individual each, the Achilles tendon, toe-flexor tendons, and the tendon of the biceps muscle were cut. In two of the younger individuals, the temporalis muscle (used to clench the jaw) was cut from the skull. Other cuts show that the thigh muscles were removed, and in at least one case the tongue was cut out.

The types of cuts and fractures on the directly associated deer bones indicate that the animals were butchered in the same way, a similarity that strongly suggests that the Neanderthals at Moula-Guercy practiced cannibalism. “If we conclude that the animal remains are the leftovers from a meal, we’re obliged to expand that conclusion to include humans,” said Defleur.

This isn’t particularly surprising. Cannibalism seems to be pretty common in all cultures in times of dire starvation. Although, it is unclear if they had been killed to eat, or whether they were just eating the dead. We’ll probably never know.

The scientific article it came from.

Human cannibalism in the Early Pleistocene of Europe (Gran Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain)
Abstract:Human remains belonging to at least six individuals were found in an exploratory excavation made at the site of Gran Dolina (Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain). These remains were recovered from the Aurora Stratum of Unit TD6. This stratum has a thickness of approximately 30 cm. The area of the exploratory excavation is about 7 m2. According to palaeomagnetic analyses, Unit TD6 shows reversed polarity, which is considered to belong to the Matuyama chron. This unit is immediately below TD7, where the Matuyama–Brunhes boundary has been detected, indicating an age of around 780,000 years BP.

There is no specific distribution, treatment, or arrangement of the human remains, which were found randomly mixed with abundant faunal remains and stone tools. Most of the faunal and human fossil bones from the Aurora Stratum have human induced damage. Stone tool cutmarks are frequent, and peeling (a type of fracture similar to bending a fresh twig between the hands) provides a specific breakage pattern together with percussion marks and chopmarks. Both nonhuman and human remains show similar intensive exploitation. Slight differences, however, have been observed between fauna and humans (e.g., peeling frequent in humans, rare in fauna), that appear related to different musculature, weight, and bone structure. The characteristics of this fossil assemblage suggest that it is solely the result of consumptive activities as there is no evidence of ritual or other intention. The possibility of distinguishing between dietary vs. survival cannibalism is discussed here.

Neanderthals were mainly carnivores.

Neanderthal diet at Vindija and Neanderthal predation: The evidence from stable isotopes

Archeological analysis of faunal remains and of lithic and bone tools has suggested that hunting of medium to large mammals was a major element of Neanderthal subsistence. Plant foods are almost invisible in the archeological record, and it is impossible to estimate accurately their dietary importance. However, stable isotope (δ13C and δ15N) analysis of mammal bone collagen provides a direct measure of diet and has been applied to two Neanderthals and various faunal species from Vindija Cave, Croatia. The isotope evidence overwhelmingly points to the Neanderthals behaving as top-level carnivores, obtaining almost all of their dietary protein from animal sources. Earlier Neanderthals in France and Belgium have yielded similar results, and a pattern of European Neanderthal adaptation as carnivores is emerging. These data reinforce current taphonomic assessments of associated faunal elements and make it unlikely that the Neanderthals were acquiring animal protein principally through scavenging. Instead, these findings portray them as effective predators.

Summary and Conclusions
Isotope analyses of two Neanderthals and associated fauna from Vindija Cave, Croatia, have indicated that the bulk of their dietary protein came from animal sources. Comparison with faunal remains from this and other sites of similar age indicates that the Vindija Neanderthal isotope values were similar to those of other carnivores. These results are very close to the results for earlier Late Pleistocene Neanderthals from France and Belgium.

Therefore, the emerging picture of the European Neanderthal diet indicates that although physiologically they were presumably omnivores, they behaved as carnivores, with animal protein being the main source of dietary protein. This finding is in agreement with the indirect archeological evidence and strongly points to the Neanderthals having been active predators.

This doesn’t mention that modern humans at that time also ate something like 70% flesh calorie diets, as do modern hunter gatherers, so this doesn’t make the Neanderthals (at about 90%) vastly different to ancient humans. However, this carnivorous life would have had some effects on the Neanderthal metabolism. This diet of nearly solid red meat would have been very gout inducing, so Neanderthals may have had a more efficient method of removing excess uric acid from their blood. Interestingly, in many carnivores uric acid is the antioxidant of choice. In modern humans low uric acid levels have been implicated in neuro-degenerative illnesses like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

This would also have meant Neanderthals would probably have a very poor tolerance to sugar, and a carbohydrate based diet (such as was adopted in the Neolithic) would have caused serious health problem as well as infertility. Even swapping over to the early modern human diet of about 30% carbs could have caused serious health problems to a mainly carnivorous human (diabetes, infertility, obesity).

I’m guessing Neanderthal teeth weren’t particularly well designed to cope with grinding tough plant fibres if all they ate was meat, and the tooth enamel probably wouldn’t be as resistant to fruit acids and sugars.

A hunters metabolism

Reading some of my research just hammers it home how recent an addition to the diet grains are, specifically for people who are not from the middle East, or from populations that have been hunter gatherers until Europeans turned up. Yet still, you see them pushed as the base of the food pyramid, in spite of all the evidence that that bulk carbs cause real health problems. I continually see ‘saturated fat and meat causes heart attacks’, which is a terrible half truth. The real truth is that partially hydrogenated fats (the got lumped in with saturated in the early studies) cause heart attacks, but saturated fats don’t, unless they are from corn fed meat.This is an important distinction, because corn fed meat contains a lot of omega six oils, and an imbalance in the O6 an O3 oils has been shown to cause heart problems. The O6 inhibits the metabolism of O3 oils (as does high blood insulin levels), and leads to problems like inflammation of the blood vessels, a major cause of cholesterol deposition in arteries. Incidentally, the same problem applies to vegetarian sources of O3 oils, and they also don’t contain the must crucial form of O3 oils, the kind the find in fish and hunted meat. Hunted meat has a very healthy fat content, and should never be equated to corn fed meat in dietary studies, it’s lipid profile isn’t unlike fish.There’s a bunch of studies that show low carb diets improve your cholesterol levels, but they never get much publicity, some very heavy hitters (medically) have come down supporting low carb diets as good for the health of a lot of people.


You know, I’ve never seen a study claim that fish or shellfish are unhealthy, barring mercury contamination. Yet Vegetarians still insist they live longer for not eating it. This is a lie, as several lifestyle adjusted studies show people who eat a lot of fish live longest of all. No studies ever show hunter gatherers as having a high rate of cancer or heart disease, and several groups eat non stop meat

I’m sure vegetarians have some bizarre image of humans throughout our evolution eating only nuts, grains, fruits and starchy roots. We ate no grain for a large part of our evolution, as grains require a lot of processing before we can eat them, and I don’t think homo erectus was known for owning querns. There’s a lot of evidence we ate… a lot of meat, fish, nuts, seeds, small fruits like berries, green vegetables, and some starchy roots. The meat/fish consumption of UK hunter gatherers was as much as 70% of their calories in the stone age. (Trent woman). Sugar and grain were not in evidence, and most hunter gatherer groups known in modern times ate naff all in the way of grains. Bulk carbs and big sugary fruits are a product of our very recent foray into agriculture, and a lot of us don’t handle a farmers diet well. About 40% of us, in the UK. My own metabolic quirks, like a ruthlessly high requirement for animal purines, and insulin resistance, are markers for a hunting ancestry not farming, very Mesolithic. Anyone who’s ever done a survival course in the woods will tell you, carbs are a rarity. There’s plenty of bunnies and green veg though.

This might be a more practical move by politicians, as the planet is over populated right now, and you couldn’t feed everyone the optimum diet if you wanted to. I also suspect the medical authorities that advise the American population would get sued blind if they reversed their guidelines. they’ve also built their reputations on ‘fat is bad’. PETA was have a fit, as would all those other vegetarian groups. All those companies that make low-fat food and the diet industry would go bankrupt, and the pharmaceutical companies make billions off diseases caused by our diet. I’m never really one for conspiracy theories, but this one has probably got some truth to it.

The healthiest carnivores around.

One of those things vegetarians don’t like you to mention is the Saami, Laplanders who traditionally herded reindeer and ate almost nothing but meat. They have bog standard rates of heart attacks and strokes, and a much lower rate of cancer overall than their neighbours. In spite of being exposed to a lot of radiation from Chernobyl. So much for meat being generally carcinogenic. It has to be pointed out none of they meat the eat is farmed, it’s all natural. They do have a higher incidence of bowel cancer, due to the way the preserve the meat (smoking it). But overall, they come out on top. They have a very low incidence of obesity too. They are only getting fat when they swap to ‘modern’ diets.I’ve read another study in the dim and distant past that found men that ate meat slightly more likely to have heart attacks, but a lot less likely to have cancer. This one agrees with it. The nurses study came to the same conclusion too.”Recent studies have not found a lower risk of heart disease, but have consistently shown an overall reduced cancer risk.”
Also, I found an article that calculates the proportion calories from animal flesh in a hunter gatherers diet. It’s not, as veggies claim, negligible at 10%, it over 65%.  

The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic
L Cordain1, S B Eaton2, J Brand Miller3, N Mann4 and K Hill5
1Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA2Departments of Radiology and Anthropology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA3Human Nutrition Unit, Department of Biochemistry, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
4Department of Food Science, RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
5Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Correspondence to: L Cordain, Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO. 80523, USA. E-mail: cordain@cahs.colostate.edu
Objective: Field studies of twentieth century hunter-gathers (HG) showed them to be generally free of the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Consequently, the characterization of HG diets may have important implications in designing therapeutic diets that reduce the risk for CVD in Westernized societies. Based upon limited ethnographic data (n=58 HG societies) and a single quantitative dietary study, it has been commonly inferred that gathered plant foods provided the dominant energy source in HG diets.Method and Results: In this review we have analyzed the 13 known quantitative dietary studies of HG and demonstrate that animal food actually provided the dominant (65%) energy source, while gathered plant foods comprised the remainder (35%). This data is consistent with a more recent, comprehensive review of the entire ethnographic data (n=229 HG societies) that showed the mean subsistence dependence upon gathered plant foods was 32%, whereas it was 68% for animal foods. Other evidence, including isotopic analyses of Paleolithic hominid collagen tissue, reductions in hominid gut size, low activity levels of certain enzymes, and optimal foraging data all point toward a long history of meat-based diets in our species. Because increasing meat consumption in Western diets is frequently associated with increased risk for CVD mortality, it is seemingly paradoxical that HG societies, who consume the majority of their energy from animal food, have been shown to be relatively free of the signs and symptoms of CVD.Conclusion: The high reliance upon animal-based foods would not have necessarily elicited unfavorable blood lipid profiles because of the hypolipidemic effects of high dietary protein (19-35% energy) and the relatively low level of dietary carbohydrate (22-40% energy). Although fat intake (28-58% energy) would have been similar to or higher than that found in Western diets, it is likely that important qualitative differences in fat intake, including relatively high levels of MUFA and PUFA and a lower -6/-3 fatty acid ratio, would have served to inhibit the development of CVD. Other dietary characteristics including high intakes of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and phytochemicals along with a low salt intake may have operated synergistically with lifestyle characteristics (more exercise, less stress and no smoking) to further deter the development of CVD.

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2002) 56, Suppl 1, S42-S52. DOI: 10.1038/sj/ejcn/1601353

Meat eating is an old human habit.

Humans evolved beyond their vegetarian roots and became meat-eaters at the dawn of the genus Homo, around 2.5 million years ago, according to a study of our ancestors’ teeth.In 1999, researchers found cut marks on animal bones dated at around 2.5 million years old. But no one could be sure that they were made by meat-eating hominids, because none appeared to have suitable teeth.Now an analysis by Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas has revealed that the first members of Homo had much sharper teeth than their most likely immediate ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, the species that produced the famous fossil Lucy.

Eating meat requires teeth adapted more to cutting than to grinding. The ability to cut is determined by the slope of the cusps, or crests. “Steeper crests mean the ability to consume tougher foods,” Ungar says. He has found that the crests of teeth from early Homo skeletons are steeper than those of gorillas, which consume foods as tough as leaves and stems, but not meat.

Ripe fruit
But the crests of teeth from A. afarensis are not only shallower than those of early Homo, they are also shallower than those of chimpanzees, which consume mostly soft foods such as ripe fruit, and almost no meat.

“Ungar shows that early Homo had teeth adapted to tougher food than A. afarensis or [chimpanzees]. The obvious candidate is meat,” says anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University.

Ungar used a laser to scan each tooth and mapped the surface as though it were a landscape, using a geographic information system, he told a symposium on diet and evolution at the University of Arkansas in August.

He had to find a way to compare teeth already worn by use, because unworn teeth are extremely rare in fossils. In a previous study on the teeth of gorillas and chimps, he validated the technique by showing that the differences between species’ teeth remain constant however much they are worn down.
(Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 100, p 3874).
David Holzman.