Friday, December 14, 2012

Cocktail Chatter: Matt Killian (Anthropologist Finds Evidence of Hominin Meat Eating 1.5 Million Years Ago: Eating Meat May Have 'Made Us Human’)

Anthropologist Finds Evidence of Hominin Meat Eating 1.5 Million Years Ago: Eating Meat May Have 'Made Us Human’
via Science Daily

Anthropologists recently discovered a skull fragment in Tanzania that reveals that our ancient ancestors were eating meat more than 1.5 million years ago. This provides a new point of view of human psychology and brain development in ancient times. Other evidence includes stone butcher like tool engravings on ungulate fossils. "Meat eating has always been considered one of the things that made us human, with the protein contributing to the growth of our brains,” said Charles Musiba, Ph.D.,  a professor at the University of Denver who helped make the discovery. "Our work shows that 1.5 million years ago we were not opportunistic meat eaters, we were actively hunting and eating meat,” he also said. A common thought among scientists is that we truly became humans when we began eating meat and becoming ‘carnivorous-omnivorous creatures.’ Before this, developing hominins were omnivores leaning more toward herbivores. The two-inch skull fragment was dug up in northern Tanzania, specifically Olduvai Gorge, at a site that is considered ‘the cradle of mankind,’ because it has been a constant ground where anthropologists have found many clues of evolution. The fragment was said to belong to a two year old child, and it showed signs of a disease associated with anemia, porotic hyperostosis. Scientists concluded that the child’s diet was insufficient in certain nutrients that are linked to meat eating. This lack of meat may also have altered the mother’s breast milk, which would also cause nutrient deficiencies. "The presence of anemia-induced porotic hyperostosis…indicates indirectly that by at least the early Pleistocene meat had become so essential to proper hominin functioning that its paucity or lack led to deleterious pathological conditions," the study said. "Because fossils of very young hominin children are so rare in the early Pleistocene fossil record of East Africa, the occurrence of porotic hyperostosis in one…suggests we have only scratched the surface in our understanding of nutrition and health in ancestral populations of the deep past.” Scientists believe that the lack of meat eating may not have been by choice, but due to a scarcity in animal foods. The child had been lacking in specific vitamins B12 and B9, which leads researchers to believe meat eating dwindled. This research also leads anthropologists more in depth to the coming about of homo sapiens. Musiba said that the transition from herbivores and scavengers to omnivores and carnivores gave the hominins the protein that is need to give them an “evolutionary boost.” "Meat eating is associated with brain development,” Musiba said. "The brain is a large organ and requires a lot of energy. We are beginning to think more about the relationship between brain expansion and a high protein diet.”

Cocktail Chatter - Matt Killian

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