Study finds that ancient humans were apex predators for two million years

Paleolithic cuisine was nothing but lean and green, according to a study of the diets of our Pleistocene ancestors.

For a good 2 million years, A wise man Their ancestors left power and ate meat in abundance, which put them at the top of the food chain.

It’s not a balanced diet of berries, grains, and steak that we might imagine when we think of ‘paleo’ food.

But according to a study last year by anthropologists from Israel’s Tel Aviv University and the University of Minho in Portugal, hunters and gatherers have given us the wrong impression of what we once ate.

“This comparison is futile, however, because two million years ago hunter-gatherer societies were able to hunt and consume elephants and other large animals – while hunters today cannot obtain such a reward,” said researcher Miki Ben-Dor of Tel Aviv University. Israeli explained in 2021.

A look through hundreds of previous studies β€” on everything from modern human anatomy and physiology to isotope measurements within the bones and teeth of ancient humans β€” suggests that we were essentially prime predators until roughly 12,000 years ago.

Reconstructing the grocery list of hominins who lived up to 2.5 million years ago is made more difficult by the fact that the plant does not easily preserve animal bones, teeth and shells.

Other studies have used chemical analysis of bone and tooth enamel to find topical examples of diets rich in plant matter. But extrapolating this to humanity as a whole is not easy.

We can find ample evidence of hunting in the fossil record, but to determine what we collected, anthropologists have traditionally turned to modern ethnography based on the assumption that little has changed.

According to Ben Dor and his colleagues, this is a fatal mistake.

β€œThe whole ecosystem has changed, and the conditions cannot be compared,” said Ben Dor.

The Pleistocene was a defining time in Earth’s history for us humans. Eventually we would make our way to the far corners of the globe, bypassing every other human on our branch of the family tree.

The graph shows where A wise man It sat on the spectrum of carnivores to herbivores during the Ice Age and Upper Ice Age (UP). (Dr. Mickey Ben Dor)

The last ice age dominated most of what is today in Europe and North America, and it was regularly buried under thick glaciers.

With so much water trapped as ice, ecosystems around the world were very different from what we see today. Large beasts roamed the landscape, including mammoths, mastodons, and giant sloths – in far greater numbers than we see today.

Of course it’s no secret that A wise man They used their superhuman ingenuity and stamina to hunt down these massive meal tickets. But it was not easy to see how frequently these herbivores were preyed upon.

Rather than relying solely on the fossil record, or making poor comparisons with pre-agricultural cultures, researchers turned to the evidence embedded in our bodies and compared it to our close cousins.

“We decided to use other methods to reconstruct the human diet in the Stone Age: to examine preserved memory in our bodies, metabolism, genes, and physical construction,” said Ben-Dor.

“Human behavior changes quickly, but evolution is slow. The body remembers.”

For example, compared to other primates, our bodies need more energy per unit of body mass. Especially when it comes to our energy-hungry brains. Our social time, as when it comes to raising children, also limits the amount of time we can spend looking for food.

We have higher fat reserves, and can be tapped into by quickly converting fats into ketones when needed. Unlike other carnivores, where fat cells are few but large, our cells are small and numerous, resonating with a predator.

Our digestive systems are also suspiciously similar to those of animals at the top of the food chain. An unusually strong stomach acid is just the thing we might need to break down proteins and kill the harmful bacteria you’d expect to find in a week-old mammoth.

Even our genome indicates a greater dependence on a diet rich in meat than a diet rich in sugar.

“For example, geneticists have concluded that regions of the human genome have been closed off to enable a high-fat diet, while in chimpanzees, regions of the genome have been unlocked to enable a high-sugar diet,” Ben-Dor said.

The team’s argument is extensive, touching on evidence in tool use, trace element marks and nitrogen isotopes in Paleolithic remains, and dental erosion.

It all tells a story where the nutritional level of our species – homo A niche in the Food Network – has become hugely carnivorous for us and our cousins, standing manapproximately 2.5 million years ago, and remained that way until the Upper Paleolithic about 11,700 years ago.

From there, studies of modern hunter-gatherer societies became a little more useful as the decline in large animal numbers and the fragmentation of cultures around the world increased plant consumption, culminating in the Neolithic revolution in agriculture and agriculture.

None of this means we should eat more meat. Our evolutionary past is not a guideline about human health, and as researchers have emphasized, our world is no longer what it used to be.

But knowing where our ancestors sat in the food web has a huge impact on understanding everything from our health and physiology, to our impact on the environment in times past.

This research was published in American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

An earlier version of this article was first published in April 2021.

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