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(Daily Mail)   National Academy of Sciences determine early humans ate more like a cow than a Great Ape. Research carried out in local Walmarts   ( dailymail.co.uk) divider line
    More: Interesting, early humans, National Academy of Sciences, australopithecus afarensis, great apes, tooth enamels, savannas, foraging, climate variability  
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4898 clicks; posted to Main » on 13 Nov 2012 at 3:06 PM (5 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2012-11-13 06:52:22 PM  
2 votes:

dittybopper: Not early humans, because not genus Homo.

Australopithecus wasn't human. More like an upright gorilla/chimp ancestor of man.

More like "bonobo-esque critter who'd evolved to the point of obligate bipedal locomotion", at least for the gracile australopithecines, but there you go. :D

And as a note:

a) I really, really wish there was a better source than the Daily Fail (partly because the Daily Fail is a Murdoch-owned tabloid rag, and partly because in matters of science it is a veritable Midas of Shiat).

b) The whole situation re australopithecines and "what did australopithecines eat" is complicated by the fact that there are at least two and possibly up to four separate lineages of australopithecine critters that lived as different of lifestyles as do chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas today. (One lineage is the "gracile australopithecines" which are our ancestors, another lineage are what were formerly the "robust australopithecines" (now placed in the genus Paranthropus and the members of which were more like bipedal gorillas and which would make great Sasquatch/Yeti expies), and it's thought that really early australopithecines might be in at least one if not two lineages.)

c) The particular australopithecine they focus on (A. bahrelghazali) is one of the oldest australopithecine fossils found, but is in an isolated area where no other hominin fossils have been found (outside of us and other modern hominin apes like gorillas and chimpanzees, anyways), and may well have been closer to Paranthropus et al than to us (paranthropine australopithecines are in general a hell of a lot more stocky and were much better adapted to eating grasses and tough roots and seeds than the gracile australopithecines were--probably much like gorillas, they not only were vegetarians but had the necessary adaptations for a grazing lifestyle similar to gorillas). There pretty much aren't a whole lot of other hominin fossils around to tell us where A. bahrelghazali fits in, and what we have is pretty much a bit of lower jawbone. Just because of its location, it's entirely possible that it's not all that related to other australopithecines--maybe about as much relation as mountain gorillas have to chimpanzees, or chimps to bonobos.

d) Classification of the really early bipedal hominins is in a bit of flux--at first, paranthropine australopithecines were their own genus, then lumped into Australopithecus, and then split again into their own genus. On the other hand, there are at least two proposals to lump early australopithecines with some more obscure early hominins like Kenyanthropus and Orrorrin into a new genus (Praeanthropus is one proposal that would include most early gracile australopithecines as well as Orrorrin--of note, A. bahrelghazali IS included in this proposal), and there is the possibility that Kenyanthropus may be a very early gracile australopithecine and contemporary of A. bahrelghazali.

e) There is at least one australopithecine species that predates A. bahrelghazali and is far better known from fossil remains--
A. anamensis; its teeth (which are the bits of it we find most often) are similar to those of chimpanzees and bonobos (and to Ardipithecus, which we'll get into in just a bit) and chimps in particular are known to hunt and scavenge as well as eat veggies and fruit. A. anamensis is also pretty damn close (both in location and in age) to being the ur-australopithecine--leading to the very, very interesting possibility that (much as what happened apparently with gorillas--more on THAT in a sec!) the ur-australopithecines may have speciated into "meat-eating" and "vegetarian" lineages as recently as 600,000 years after speciating from Ardipithecus (and evidence to A. anamensis speciating from Ar. ramidus with only about 200,000 years separating the two--a veritable blink of an eye in paleontological terms).

(A. anamensis is actually primitive enough that it's felt that it could have climbed trees frequently still--unfortunately, the one bit we DON'T have involves the lower spine, hips and feet which could tell us if it was an obligate bipedal (like australopithecines and us) or if it was more like Ardi (where it still had "chimp feet" but a "two-legs" spine and hips--and still frequently went back and forth). If we find the feet and spine and hips were closer to Ardi, A. anamensis would probably be sunk into a recent species of Ardipithecus--and the same goes for pretty much every other early australopithecine fossil we've not yet found the spine, hips and feet for yet. Yes, this is why a lot of this is in flux--damn those early hominins for NOT living in areas conducive to fossilisation!)

f) Ardipithecus itself has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench (pun intended) on how we thought great ape evolution works--we actually don't have good fossil remains of ur-gorillas and ur-chimpanzees, and Ardi (a remarkably complete specimen of Ar. ramidus) is fairly close (at least if the earlier radiodating is gone by of 4.4 million years or so) to a glimpse of what our ancestors looked like shortly after Pan forked off from the least common ancestor of chimps and humans.

The thing is...Ardi has a basically bipedal hip arrangement, chimp-like feet, and smaller canines than chimpanzees, and its teeth indicate omnivory rather than a strictly carnivore or herbivore diet--bonobo teeth would probably be the best modern analogue.

Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest some of the traits of chimps that we associate with "apes" may have been secondary--the "Pan lineage" going for exaggerated canines and an obligate-quadrupedal, tree-dwelling lifestyle whilst the australopithecine lineage (including our ancestors and a mess of "aunt and uncle" species) became savannah apes with a penchant for omnivory and a knack for banging the rocks together. (Yes, the teeth of modern apes are more generalised than Ardi's were.)

Unfortunately, it's going to take better fossils to sort this out (there is an older species of Ardipithecus, Ar. kadabba, but (as is so common with primate fossils) we pretty much just have scraps of teeth; it and the other "closest thing to the human-chimp common ancestor", Sahelanthropus, are pretty much scrappy enough to be a mess and Sahelanthropus may be closer to the gorilla/Ardipithecus split as there's concern it was a fossil that was washed up and then reburied in a flood millions of years back).

g) What we ARE able to determine from the mess of really early hominin fossils is that the "ur-ape" was probably some little bonobo-esque or gibbon-esque omnivore, and the cases where hominin apes have evolved full vegetarianism (gorillas, paranthropine australopithecines, and possibly A. bahrelghazali) were probably "divergences from the norm"--given rich sources of plant based foods, some hominin apes have evolved into vegetarians with the guts to match. (Of some important note, almost all the "vegetarian apes" are best described as "aunt and uncle" species, not directly ancestral--if Kenyanthropus or A. anamensis proves to be ancestral to gracile australopithecines, A. bahrelghazali is an "uncle species", so to speak.)

At the same time, the reverse has happened, as well--Neandertal man (our "brother" species) is known to have been highly carnivorous, even more so than most non-Nordic modern human cultures (including hunter-gatherer cultures), due to the extreme climate they lived in; the only diets among modern man that are comparable to the usual Neandertal cuisine are the traditional "country food" diets of Inuit and other Arctic and Nearctic indigenous peoples where vegetable food cannot be grown and can only be gathered at certain periods of the year. (That said, Neandertal man made out pretty good on a landlocked "Inuit-esque country food" culture until they got bred out or bled out (or both) some 30 odd millennia ago. Pity; I personally think they'd have been neat to know.)

With the exception of certain subcultures (which either are dependent on some sort of agriculture involving limited animal husbandry--raising of cattle for milk and/or chickens for eggs--or are entirely dependent on innovations from the Industrial Revolution allowing synthesis of certain vitamins and amino acids missing from non-animal-based foods) there hasn't been a documented species of Homo that's speciated yet to vegetarianism (and if the dating on A. bahrelghazali is right, it should only take a few hundred thousand years for this speciation to occur--Homo has been around as a distinct genus for a million or two years). Not saying it won't occur (given half a million years, ANYTHING is possible) but the general trend with Homo has been with omnivory, with meat either from scavenged game or (especially with H. erectus on, possibly even with earlier Homo species) active hunting. Hence one has to be kind of careful discussing diets of hominins and such :D

h) Another note re early hominins in particular--With most critters, we have two ways of noting diet: Direct observation (hence how we know what chimps and bonobos and gorillas eat--and how we know chimps actively hunt including making primitive spears) and their teeth (not only is the size of the teeth different (trending down in Homo in particular) but the wear differs depending on what kind of food is eaten).

Hominins in particular throw a real monkey wrench (pun intended) into this--we, and our ancestors, seem to be pretty good at the art of banging the rocks together, and australopithecines in particular seem to have been the first of the hominin apes to figure out "If I break off pieces of this rock I can make it into a SHARPER rock to cut off pieces of meat or roots or whatever for food, or make this spear or this digging stick sharper so I can get that root out".

Most paranthropine australopithecines really don't bang the rocks together so much (from what we've seen) but gracile australopithecines do (which also points to A. bahrelghazali maybe being an ur-paranthropine) but the fact that we can make rocks serve as a good substitute for teeth (as can our ancestors) make things a bit tricker--we have to really go by wear and what kinds of banged-together-rocks may be available plus whatever plant fossils might be available to get an idea of just what australopithecines might have had for Second Breakfast.

(This actually gets easier with Homo species than australopithecines--fire pits with broken bones do show our ancestors and "aunts and uncles" would cook stuff and smash the bones to get the marrow out, and both our ancestors and "aunts and uncles" had gotten pretty damn good at banging the rocks together to make tooth-analogues and ur-metates and the like.)
2012-11-14 04:22:24 AM  
1 vote:

Meethos: .I want to eat your brain and gain your knowledge.

Too bad all you'd get is insanity prions.

Clemkadidlefark: Thank God my relatives progressed to eating animal proteins roasted over fire.

Interestingly enough, it is thought that those animal proteins (red meat especially) are a big part of what granted us such developed brains compared to other primates.
2012-11-13 07:22:05 PM  
1 vote:

brantgoose: We still eat a lot of grass--in the form of pasta, bread, rice, corn, flour, tacos, etc.

This does explain why we have lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C, though, and also perhaps makes a "grain" diet more natural relative to a fruit and nut-based diet. Although admittedly fruits, nuts, vegetables and roots are still healthier than the empty starchy calories of grain. Even for cows, grain is a sometimes food. We use it to fatten them up for slaughter, but feed them forage and other junk to bring them to slaughtering age.

Actually, being obligate citrivores seems to have happened way before the time that Pan and australopithecines diverged--probably the point of the loss of the ability to synthesize vitamin C occurred shortly after haplorrhine primates (including us, all the Old World and New World monkeys, and tarsiers) split from the strepsirrhine primates (lemurs and similar beasties). Alas, vitamin C production isn't one of those things that preserves in the fossil record, but molecular DNA dating posits that the split--and the loss of a functional vitamin C production gene--occurred fairly soon after the K-T boundary and primates started generally diversifying; primates may have also lost the ability to process uric acid around this time and uric acid seems to serve some of the same "reducing acid" capacities that ascorbate does in non-obligate-citrivore critters.

(Yes, monkeys (of which apes are a subclade of Old World monkeys, much as we are a species of great ape) are among the very very few critters that can get scurvy...and probably the only critters that can get gout, and both for the same reason. With "Old World primates" in particular, the "vitamin C non-production" pseudogene is remarkably conserved.)

As it is, the occasional loss of the "vitamin C production gene" does pop up now and again in the Euarchontoglires (the clade that includes not only us primates, but also lagomorphs like bunnies and pikas, rodents, treeshrews, and colugos--yes, ratties and bunnies and the common guinea pig are among your evolutionary cousins). In particular, the loss of the vitamin C gene has also show up in the Caviidae (the clade that includes guinea pigs and capybaras and a lot of "South American rodents of unusual size"; it's definitely proven with guinea pigs and capybaras, and it's speculated the whole of the Caviidae are unable to produce vitamin C, just like simian primates). Most fruit-eating bats (being obligate fructivores), again possibly all "megabats", have also lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C; at one time this was an argument for lumping in the "megabats" with the primates (and part of a theory that flight had evolved twice in mammals) but the "megabats" have since been shown to be related to the "microbats" (and both are now recognised to be less related to primates and more of an odd member of a broad Laurasiatheria clade including not only the Carnivora but equines, artiodactylians, whales and hippos, pangolins, and hedgehogs--and bats are really weird enough that we can't relate them to anything more than that without finding the battie equivalent of the Liaoning "feathered dinosaur" evolutionary series).
2012-11-13 04:14:14 PM  
1 vote:
We still eat a lot of grass--in the form of pasta, bread, rice, corn, flour, tacos, etc.

This does explain why we have lost the ability to synthesize vitamin C, though, and also perhaps makes a "grain" diet more natural relative to a fruit and nut-based diet. Although admittedly fruits, nuts, vegetables and roots are still healthier than the empty starchy calories of grain. Even for cows, grain is a sometimes food. We use it to fatten them up for slaughter, but feed them forage and other junk to bring them to slaughtering age.

So the fact that we adapted to life in the grasslands between forests much earlier does has some relevance to our modern diet, but not a lot. We can't digrest cellolose which is the real secret of the ovine diet. We might get better at it with the four stomachs of the cow and with the right flora and fauna in our gut, but grass is not people food, not in large amounts at least.

Foragers like the Bushmen eat pretty much what they can, but especially a lot of roots, tubers, seeds, nuts, and what not. When fruits and berries and things like that are not in season, you have to rely on the parts of the plant that are found all year round: leaves, roots, stems, tubers, etc.

The yam, the potato, the carrot and other roots were a big part of our diet, and speaking of cow feed, our medieval European ancestors ate a tremendous amount of beans and peas. Peas are very nitrogenous.

Pease porridge hot
Pease porridge cold
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.

Despite having French Canadian ancestors, I hate split pea soup. My ancestors came from a part of the river which was extremely rich in game, water fowl, fish and sea mammals. Hunting and fishing were big contributors to the local diet, and there was good money to be made killing walruses, seals and the smaller whales that came up the Saint Lawrence in the XVIIth and XVIIIth century and even into the XIXth.

During the so-called Parish Revolution during the American Revolution, the Dubé family, which had owned the point of land from which the sea mammal hunt was launched, lost it to the families which led the Parish Militia, including some of my ancestors. The lead revolutionaries were hanged, including one of the Dubés, who was the most radical of the would-be revolutionaries and the leader of the revolt.

And that is one reason why Benedict Arnold never conquored Quebec. Politics is local. And it is often about food or money.

Let this be a lesson to all you would-be Ex-Yankees. Revolutionaries don't always win.

Also, to the victors belong the spoils.

"First you get the sugah, then you get the women, then you get the Powah." as Don Homer Simpson put it in his sugar fantasy parody of The Godfather.

My family did not profit long from the sea mammal hunt (we are poor cousins to those who did) but I have a lot of Nantucket and Boston sea captains on my Mother's side, a few privateers (legal pirates) and even some connections to real pirates, including some who turned to piracy from fishing, and some who turned to fishing from piracy. Business is business, as they say, and the great old fortunes of New England are often based on whaling, fishing, piracy, privateering, and shipping in more or less equal parts, not unlike the Vikings before them, who were farmers in season, merchants, seal hunters, and pirates during the off season.

But I digress. Back to our sheeple.
2012-11-13 04:12:25 PM  
1 vote:
Depending on their date of existence and place of living, early hominids ate a wide variety of foods. Some had powerful jaws and teeth for eating roots, tubers, and other tough foods, with insects, honey, and occasionally carrion. Fruits and seeds were also high on the list, similar to other apes. It was with Homo habilus that hominids began to eat meat with increasing regularity, both carrion and hunted, and with that increase of meat hominids began growing more and more intelligent.

Besides, look at the human digestive system. We lack everything that dedicated herbivores have: large grinding teeth, super-strong jaw muscles, multichambered stomachs, a cecum, the gut microbes that digest cellulose, etc. Fruits and seeds we can easily handle, but humans can't graze and expect to remain healthy.

As for the "paleolithic diet", what the pro- people forget is that many of the foods they say are paleo-diet compatible didn't exist at all or in their modern forms in caveman times, nor did they have the ability to season their food with spices and olive oil. A true paleo-diet would be living on the land and hunting and foraging, and even then humans have been so clean and neat for so long we lost our resistance to many toxins and bacteria.
2012-11-13 03:38:53 PM  
1 vote:
Not early humans, because not genus Homo.

Australopithecus wasn't human. More like an upright gorilla/chimp ancestor of man.
2012-11-13 03:36:36 PM  
1 vote:
Why say like cows? We weren't ruminants. We'd have eaten like horses.

/Actually, we'd have eaten like mice, but I was sticking with large mammals.
2012-11-13 03:33:37 PM  
1 vote:
i.dailymail.co.ukView Full Size

I used to smoke pot and play hacky-sack with this guy freshman year.
2012-11-13 03:22:21 PM  
1 vote:
Meaning they munched and pooped all day instead of at regular intervals?

Does this mean I can create a health-and-safety justification for a porcelain desk chair with a warmed seat?
2012-11-13 03:17:11 PM  
1 vote:
Screw paleo.

To lose weight, eat like our ancient evolutionary ancestors, Australopithecus bahrelghazali.
2012-11-13 03:16:26 PM  
1 vote:
Early "humans" weren't human until their diet included beer.
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