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(Comparative Anatomy and Physiology Brought Up to Date--continued, Part 3A)

The Fossil-Record Evidence
about Human Diet


Meat a part of human diet for ~2.5 million years

The evidence of the fossil record is, by and large, clear: Since the inception of the earliest humans (i.e., the genus Homo, approximately 2.5 million years ago), the human diet has included meat. This is well-known in paleoanthropological circles, and is discussed in Setting the Scientific Record Straight on Humanity's Evolutionary Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets.

The current state of knowledge regarding the diet of our prehistoric ancestors is nicely summarized in Speth [1991, p. 265]:

[S]tone tools and fossil bones--the latter commonly displaying distinctive cut-marks produced when a carcass is dismembered and stripped of edible flesh with a sharp-edged stone flake--are found together on many Plio-Pleistocene archaeological sites, convincing proof that by at least 2.0 to 2.5 Ma [million years ago] before present (BP) these early hominids did in fact eat meat (Bunn 1986; Isaac and Crader 1981). In contrast, plant remains are absent or exceedingly rare on these ancient sites and their role in early hominid diet, therefore, can only be guessed on the basis of their known importance in contemporary forager diets, as well as their potential availability in Plio-Pleistocene environments (for example, see Peters et al. (1984); Sept (1984). Thus few today doubt that early hominids ate meat, and most would agree that they probably consumed far more meat than did their primate forebears. Instead, most studies nowadays focus primarily on how that meat was procured; that is, whether early hominids actively hunted animals, particularly large-bodied prey, or scavenged carcasses...

I fully concur with the view that meat was a regular and important component of early hominid diet. For this, the archaeological and taphonomic evidence is compelling.

Early hominid diet was mixed, not exclusive

The comments in Mann [1981, pp. 24-25] further illuminate the above:

Nevertheless, given the available archaeological evidence and what is known of the dietary patterns of living gatherer/hunters and chimpanzees, it appears unlikely to me that all early hominids were almost exclusively carnivorous or herbivorous. It is more reasonable to suggest that the diet of most early hominids fell within the broad range of today's gatherer/hunter diets, but that within the wide spectrum of this adaptation, local environmental resources and seasonal scarcity may have forced some individual populations to become more dependent on vegetable or animal-tissue foods than others.

The remarks by Mann remind us of the obvious: that early hominid diets, like hunter-gatherer diets, are a function of local flora and fauna; such diets are limited to the local food base (and to food acquired via trading).

"Natural" behavior a function of evolution

The evidence that meat has been part of the human diet for ~2.5 million years, thus, directly implies that meat is a "natural" part of the human diet, where "natural" is defined as: those foods one is adapted to consume by evolution. (Side note to vegetarians: The fact that meat is a natural part of the evolutionary diet does not imply that one must, or even should, eat meat.)

Some raw dietary advocates, in apparent denial of the evolutionary evidence, try to turn "opportunistic feeding" into a straw-man argument. The straw-man argument they construct is that the claim meat can be a natural part of the diet is based solely on the idea that humans can (and do) eat meat; they then claim it is circular logic, asserting that the "possibility" is not evidence it is "natural." However, this type of criticism or straw-man argument is based on a rather astonishing ignorance of--or at least certainly a denial of--evolutionary adaptation and how it occurs (discussed below). As such, the anti-"opportunistic feeding" straw-man argument is logically invalid.


(Examining Rationalizations and Denials of the Fossil-Record Evidence of Human Diet)

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GO TO PART 1 - Brief Overview: What is the Relevance of Comparative Anatomical and Physiological "Proofs"?

GO TO PART 2 - Looking at Ape Diets: Myths, Realities, and Rationalizations

GO TO PART 3 - The Fossil-Record Evidence about Human Diet

GO TO PART 4 - Intelligence, Evolution of the Human Brain, and Diet

GO TO PART 5 - Limitations on Comparative Dietary Proofs

GO TO PART 6 - What Comparative Anatomy Does and Doesn't Tell Us about Human Diet

GO TO PART 7 - Insights about Human Nutrition & Digestion from Comparative Physiology

GO TO PART 8 - Further Issues in the Debate over Omnivorous vs. Vegetarian Diets

GO TO PART 9 - Conclusions: The End, or The Beginning of a New Approach to Your Diet?

Back to Research-Based Appraisals of Alternative Diet Lore

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