News / Africa

Meat Was Main Dish for Early Humans

A fragment of a child's skull discovered at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, shows the oldest known evidence of anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency. (Credit: Dominguez-Rodrigo M, Pickering TR, Diez-Martin F, Mabulla A, Musiba C)
A fragment of a child's skull discovered at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, shows the oldest known evidence of anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency. (Credit: Dominguez-Rodrigo M, Pickering TR, Diez-Martin F, Mabulla A, Musiba C)

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
Modern-day humans eat a lot of meat. Some nutritionists say perhaps too much. But fossils in Tanzania indicate that early humans considered meat a dietary staple much earlier than first thought. What’s more, meat may have played a major role in evolution.


At least one and a half million years ago, humans considered meat a main dish, not just occasional fare. That’s very big news to archeologists. The evidence is found in skull fossil fragments of a young child discovered in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge. What evidence is that? We’ll find out after we consider the mystery of meat.

Professor Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo of Madrid’s Complutense University has been searching for clues about early humans for 20 years. He’s been digging around the gorge since 2006, after analyzing fossils found by the famous British archeologist and anthropologist Mary Leakey.

“There was an increasing amount of evidence that early humans pretty much around two million years ago were eating meat. And archeologists over the past 50 years have been debating two main questions. One, was meat an important element in the diet of these hominids or was it just a complimentary element like you might see in modern chimpanzees, for instance? And question number two is --whether it was important or not – how did they acquire this meat. Did they hunt the animals they were eating? Did they scavenge the animals they were eating?”

Archeologists know from sites in Ethiopia that human ancestors ate meat as far back at two-point-six million years ago. But there are so few bone fragments from that time with primitive knife marks on them that it’s unclear how often meat was consumed.

Now, they can confirm that it was indeed a regular staple of the diet at least one-and-a-half million years ago. Dominguez-Rodrigo says it tells a lot about the social habits of early humans and much more.

“Getting meat in a Savannah ecosystem, in a Savannah environment, is not something simple for a primate. It is something that requires planning. Something that requires cooperation. Something that requires a complex social organization. We were not sure how these early humans behaved in that regard. It is important because this is happening pretty much at the same time period as we see that the brain starts developing, starts growing, compared to previous hominids. And brain growth has important nutritional requirements and some of them are the vitamins that are associated with meat eating,” said Dominguez-Rodrigo.

He’s talking about B vitamins and that’s where the skull fragments come in. Scientists know from studying the remains of humans over the centuries that dietary deficiencies leave traces in bone. The fragments belonging to a one or two year old child had bone lesions commonly associated with a lack of B vitamins. In other words, the lesions indicate the child was anemic from not eating enough meat.

“We don’t find these pathologies commonly in populations that live on hunting and gathering, because the diet of hunter / gatherers is actually more beneficial for human metabolism than the diet of producers. So our surprise was to find that this pathology typical of sedentary populations actually was found in a prehistoric hunter-gatherer individual that was 1.5-million years old,” he said.

Dominguez-Rodrigo realizes the findings will not make vegetarians very happy.

“I’m fully aware of that, yes, (laughs). We find vitamins, we find folic acid, we find vitamin B-12 now everywhere in the cereals that we eat in the morning and in many other foods that we take because a lot of that has been artificially produced. But in nature, if we were living on whatever we’re able to obtain by living in a Savannah in Africa B-12 can only be obtained in meat,” he said.

The archeologist describes meat as “a crucial element in becoming human.”

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid