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Science

Extinct Species of Early Human Survived On Grass Bulbs, Not Meat 318

Posted by samzenpus
from the eat-em-if-you-got-em dept.
Philip Ross writes "Fresh analysis of an extinct relative of humans suggests our ancient ancestors dined primarily on tiger nuts, which are edible grass bulbs, settling a discrepancy over what made up prehistoric diets. According to a new study published in the journal PLOS One, the strong-jawed ancient hominin known as Paranthropus boisei, nicknamed 'Nutcracker Man,' which roamed East Africa between 2.4 million and 1.4 million years ago, survived on a diet scientists previously thought implausible."
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Extinct Species of Early Human Survived On Grass Bulbs, Not Meat

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:32AM (#45931727)
    But aren't tiger nuts an animal .... product?
  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:33AM (#45931731) Homepage

    Come on... it's funny and you know it.

    But okay. Humanoids who didn't eat meat, didn't make the evolutionary cut.

    Take THAT "vegetarians."

    • by TemperedAlchemist (2045966) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:43AM (#45931773)

      The paleo movement is frustrating for anthropologists. Humans ate pretty much whatever they could get their grubby little hands on: meat, nuts, edible leaves, roots, fruit, etc. We did eat quite a bit of plants, though. Mostly because they didn't run away.

      Vegans who insist we're herbivores are equally frustrating, however.

      • by elfprince13 (1521333) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:50AM (#45931803) Homepage
        Indeed. Humans are the best long distance runners on the planet, and we evolved that way so that we could chase our prey until they died of exhaustion.
        • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @11:03AM (#45931881)

          Indeed. Humans are the best long distance runners on the planet, and we evolved that way so that we could chase our prey until they died of exhaustion.

          I thought we evolved that way so that Reebok could sell us new shoes. Huh.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Shoes aren't good for running. The best long distance runners run barefoot.

        • by JanneM (7445) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @11:26AM (#45932005) Homepage

          Humans are the best long distance runners on the planet, and we evolved that way so that we could chase our prey until they died of exhaustion.

          You wouldn't believe the stamina of an onion on the chase. No wonder our forefathers could run so well.

        • by kamapuaa (555446)

          Wow, by any chance did you read "Born to Run"??? Because long distance runners are the ones saying persistence hunting is a thing. Most scientists aren't.

          Persistence hunting is impossible in anything but big open fields, and precludes the idea of humans working together in camps (nobody's dragging an antelope back 20 miles). Humans get foot injuries easily.

          • by hawkinspeter (831501) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @02:17PM (#45932875)
            However, humans do seem to be adapted for something like persistence hunting. Our ability to run long distances in the hot African midday sun would soon cause an antelope to drop dead of heat exhaustion probably way before they got to be 20 miles away. Our lack of thick hair and sweating ability do point towards a remarkable ability to withstand heat. Also, animals running tend to loop in a large circle rather than travelling a long distance.

            And, I'm not a runner (although I do a load of cycling which is also endurance based).
            • by Zorpheus (857617)
              I think this could also be a by-product. Having low amounts of body hair greatly reduces problems with parasites. It gives us most flexibility for the temperatures that we can collect fruits in.
              Reducing the hair and especially increasing the number of sweet glands are probably quite simple modifications. And we had over a million years to become what we are, so only minimal selective pressure is needed.
              • You could be right, but conversely if losing body hair is so beneficial to humans, you'd have thought there'd be more bald animals that use the same advantage. The other good reason for losing hair is if we spent large amounts of time in water - fishing most likely. There's the whole Aquatic Ape theory, but it's not given much credence.

                Also, hmmm sweet glands!
          • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @03:18PM (#45933227)

            Persistence hunting is impossible in anything but big open fields

            Like, say, the open savanna where homo sapiens evolved?

            (nobody's dragging an antelope back 20 miles)

            If your hunting party has any strategy, you won't chase it those 20 miles in a straight line.

            Humans get foot injuries easily.

            Humans who have worn shoes all their lives get foot injuries easily.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by lgw (121541)

              It takes a remarkable amount of calories to run each mile. Lean meat has very few calories. You're quite unlikely to come out ahead with this strategy. Finding an already sick or injured animal (or a very young one) without much "run" left in it is a much better plan. Ambush and a short chase is a much better plan. There's a reason no actual predators use the "run until the prey dies of exhaustion" strategy.

              Never be both a beater and a shooter, as the saying goes. Amusing, but true.

              • Surprisingly fewer calories to run than to walk, and that's why you eat the fatty bits first. There's a reason that Prometheus covered the bones in fat...
              • by jedidiah (1196)

                > It takes a remarkable amount of calories to run each mile. Lean meat has very few calories.

                Both of these claims are simply incorrect.

                • The only incorrect thing here is your claim.
                  First, running is one of the more strenuous sports. Second, lean meat has indeed few calories (~110 kcal for 100g). That amount is barely enough for a single mile. Besides, ever heard of "rabbit starvation"?

              • Erm, actual predators do that. Ever heared about a "wolf"?
                Human muscels work different then most animals muscels do. Anymals usually use the whole muscle, all fibres, for actions. Humans only roughly 40%. The fibres used in human muscles change, the tired ones stop working, fresh ones spring in.
                Bottom line that means less heat is produced, less callories are burned.
                Fort he animal it means, espeacially if it can not cool via sweating or similar means, it will collapse due to OVERHEAT not due to exhaustion.
                So

              • You would be surprised how few callories even the most serious sport/excerise takes.
                Main reason why people are fat: oh, with a bit of sports it is no problem to eat 2000 extra kcal (not mentioning ofc, that those people usually don't do any sports at all).

                • by Kjella (173770)

                  You would be surprised how few callories even the most serious sport/excerise takes.

                  I think everyone who's ever tried to lose weight via exercise is aware how hard it is. You get endurance and strength but burning surplus calories is really slow. Roughly 2000 kcal and you're keeping your weight, add 1000 kcal and it'll take me two hours of exercise to get rid of it. And if you have the food, we can consume a lot of calories. Here's an example of 72oz steak eaten in less than 3 minutes [gawker.com]. Extreme endurance athletes often consume 10.000 calories a day.

              • by hazem (472289)

                Why would you assume they ate only the lean meat? Everything I've read about modern hunter-gatherers and cultures that ate mostly animals (such as the Inuit) is that they focused on the fats and fatty tissues and that the lean meats were often left for their dogs.

                In the Western diet, we tend to focus on the lean meats and throw out the fats (the most energy-rich part of the animal) but that doesn't necessarily apply to humans living in the wild.

          • by rssrss (686344)

            No. But the album is great. Some of Bruce's best work.

          • by Mashiki (184564)

            Well we all know that scientists are infalible right? After all we had many 100 years ago that believed eugenics was the solution to protect mankind. And today we've got others in wingnut territory.

            And with that, if you believe that persistence hunting is impossible in anything but big open fields, I'm sure that after getting their first few foot injuries various individuals will have figured out that wrapping animal skins around their feet would help stop the problem. This is most easily recognized with

          • What has the "open field" to do with that? Neither the deer hunted, nort he man hunting, cares if it is in an open field or in a wood.

        • Ehh, hunting your food doesn't always work out well for us humans, as this recent news story illustrates...

          http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/thecounties/article/2000101890/three-morans-mauled-by-lioness-they-set-out-to-kill [standardmedia.co.ke]

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by KingOfBLASH (620432)

        You should do some more research into the Paleo diet before posting such nonsense.

        Most of it is about avoiding foods that your ancestors 100 years ago, and perhaps 10,000 years ago would not define as food (depending on how strict you are).

        Highly processed foods (e.g. twinkies) very rarely end up being healthy for you, and often contain ingredients your body has not evolved to digest. Case in point: high fructose corn syrup. The pathway for your body to get rid of it involves directly converting it into f

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          "Not evolved to digest". Appeal to nature fallacy! [wikipedia.org]

          Also please stop using computers. Man's eyes were not evolved to read computer screens and mankind's fingers were not evolved to used keyboards.

          • Well like it or not the pathways your body uses to process and digest food ARE the results of natural evolution.

            And as I evolved to be a hunter, probably sitting on my ass in front of a computer every day has resulted in my being over weight (even if I go to the gym for an hour, I just can't undue the damage of not being active).

            Humans need to have a better feel for what their bodies are designed for. Little things like standing up while in front of a computer can help you be healthier and feed better.

            It's

            • by mcgrew (92797) * on Sunday January 12, 2014 @12:53PM (#45932385) Homepage Journal

              I sit in front of my computer all day, too, but I've never had a weight problem. If anything, I have a problem keeping it on. Of course, I drink water all day rather than soda, and when I eat at a restaurant I usually take half the meal home because it's just way too much food.

              As to the anonymous idiot you responded to who said "Man's eyes were not evolved to read computer screens and mankind's fingers were not evolved to used keyboards," what a moron. Computer screens and keyboards were designed to work with the fingers and eyes we evolved. HFCS wasn't.

          • "Not evolved to digest" is subtly different from an appeal to nature. Evolution tends to take lots of generations for an adaptation to be distributed throughout a population, so our bodies might not be well adapted for eating some foods. Cow milk is a classic example where most people can digest lactose, but about a third of adults have trouble with it.
        • by istartedi (132515)

          The Paleo diet might be efficient for the species to survive. Individuals in a modern context? Not so much. You're talking about a species of hunter-gatherers who lived in small bands. A good strategy might be having the women pop out a baby every other year, men who die at 40, and a handful of post-menopausal women live to 50 to care for the extra children. That's probably not what you're expecting with the Paleo Diet.

          If longevity is your goal, I think you're better off studying the habits of people w

        • Highly processed foods (e.g. twinkies) very rarely end up being healthy for you

          Once upon a time we called avoiding eating foods like that eating healthy, not whatever fad diet is in vogue this year.

          Case in point: high fructose corn syrup. The pathway for your body to get rid of it involves directly converting it into fat in your liver.

          HFCS is treated basically the same as sugar, just don't overdo it.

          there is some evidence that it's not processed by your body as efficiently as meats and veggies.

          And there's lots of evidence that any more than moderate amounts of meat are pretty bad for you, but 'no bacon' doesn't sell fad diets very well.

        • The leaver does not store fat.
          It stores sugar.

    • If they were ancestors of modern humans, I'd say that they "made the evolutionary cut" quite nicely. We may not be "the fittest", but we are still around.

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:42AM (#45931763)
    seem to me they didn't survive well enough
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mordors9 (665662)
      It seems like part of the (vegan) scientific community is desperate to show early man were herbivores, to tell us we must return to your roots...
  • Not an ancestor (Score:5, Informative)

    by Somebody Is Using My (985418) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @10:58AM (#45931845) Homepage

    A somewhat minor nitpick, but...

    It is generally thought that Paranthropus bosei is an /offshoot/ of the line that ultimately led to modern man, not a direct ancestor. We share ancestors, but do not descend from his line. The two lines diverged about 3 million years ago to follow their own evolutionary paths - homo towards an omnivorous diet and world domination, panthropus to munching on nuts and extinction.

    He was a relative, not an ancestor.

    • Re:Not an ancestor (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @12:23PM (#45932257)

      A somewhat minor nitpick, but...

      It is generally thought that Paranthropus bosei is an /offshoot/ of the line that ultimately led to modern man, not a direct ancestor. We share ancestors, but do not descend from his line. The two lines diverged about 3 million years ago to follow their own evolutionary paths - homo towards an omnivorous diet and world domination, panthropus to munching on nuts and extinction.

      He was a relative, not an ancestor.

      Plus it is pretty iffy to base too many conclusions on a handful of skeletons (or in the case of such old homonids it's usually skeletal fragments). If archaeologists of the future only had five 20th century human skeletons available that were all found in the general area that used to be New York they might conclude that most humans of the 20th century were over weight and lived off a meat rich diet. If those five skeletons came from the horn of Africa they would conclude that during the 20th century the human race suffered from frequent famines. If the five skeletons came from the graveyard of a vegan colony they'd conclude humans of the 20th century were predominantly vegan. If the discoveries in Dmanisi, Georgia [rt.com] have taught us anything it is that one should not base too many sweeping conclusions on a handful of samples.
      http://rt.com/news/skull-homo-georgia-species-373/ [rt.com]

      • by nschubach (922175)

        I have to wonder as well if the diet contributed to the survivability of the bone in the fossilization process.

      • Re:Not an ancestor (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kjella (173770) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @01:42PM (#45932677) Homepage

        You only need to go back 200 years before we had anything like modern refrigeration and the food had to be very fresh and very local. Most people were subsistance farmers, meaning they primarily ate what they produced. If you had game, you ate game and if you didn't, you didn't. If you had a river or lake nearby with fish you ate fish, if not you didn't. If barley grew better than wheat, you ate barley. Your diet was defined by your surroundings.

    • munching on nuts and extinction.

      "Awe, nuts! Again!?"

      And so it was until one fateful day: Fed up with nuts they decided to try extinction...
      They were gluttons for punishment.

  • by jafiwam (310805) on Sunday January 12, 2014 @11:06AM (#45931893) Homepage Journal

    We will be said to have dined primarily on high fructose corn syrup.

    Somehow I think there's going to be some big holes in what they actually do "know" about what those folks ate.

    • by dbarron (286)

      Well, given the diet of the young in the last 20 or 30 years...I think HFCS is the correct analysis. The future beings will assume we were like hummingbirds.

    • by k31bang (672440)

      Isn't corn a type of grass? So they'll say we survived on grass.

  • Eat Meat! (Score:2, Funny)

    by csumpi (2258986)
    Eat Meat or Die!

    Now scientifically proven.

    .
  • ...that they weren't crushed by the dinosaurs [icr.org]?

  • by PPH (736903)

    I think the key word here is "extinct".

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