Here’s an example of the intransigence I see so often when considering new pieces of the puzzle, or even considering new perspectives on existing ones.
…But new studies show that human ancestors expanded their menu 3.5 million years ago, adding tropical grasses and sedges to an ape-like diet. The change set the stage for consuming more modern fare: grains, grasses, and meat and dairy from grazing animals.
In four studies of carbon isotopes in fossilized tooth enamel from scores of human ancestors and baboons in Africa from 4 million to 10,000 years ago, researchers found a surprise increase in the consumption of grasses and sedges–plants that resemble grasses and rushes but have stems with triangular cross sections.
I recall when that came out back in 2013 to great wailing and gnashing of teeth by the anointed. Can’t be right! You’re totally fucking with our cool narrative! We’re meat and fat hunters! Look at our big brains and small guts! We’re supposed to be keto-adapted! We’re natural fat burners! Like war, starches are unsafe for children and other living things!
Interestingly, Cordain tried to refute the June 2013 revelation by the National Academy of Sciences that multiple studies had shown increased C4 intake from eating sedges. But, his argument was fairly weak as while he acknowledged that the researchers had concluded that plants likely contributed to the bulk of C4 intake, he responded, “Nevertheless, when the isotopic data is triangulated from archaeological, physiological and nutrition evidence, it is apparent that the C4 signature in ancestral African hominin enamel almost certainly is resultant from increased consumption of animals that consumed C4 plants.”
Well, no. Unfortunately for Cordain, anthropologists had already tossed aside the idea of a carnivorous hominid, since dental morphology did not present as carnivorous and hominid tools were too primitive for butchering when the timeline showed a significant jump in C4. And just a few months after he wrote a formal letter to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences complaining about the findings, researchers from Oxford University discovered that it was indeed Tiger Nuts that contributed to higher C4 intake in P. boisei making his scrambled rebuttal look fairly weak. If I remember correctly, researchers showed evidence that these early hominids ate nutrient-dense sedge tubers, ate termites and likely scavenged animals when they could obtain them. So, I guess you could say Cordain tried to refute the National Academy of Sciences, but he soon quit once the evidence piled up against him.
I’ll not copy the whole thing here. Read the nicely organized, mutually respectful thread if you please. Nice to see this level of discourse on FTA. Here’s one additional comment by Duck in reply to Dan that really gives and excellent overview of the science of this new discovery.
I’m familiar with the Hadza as an example. National Geographic recently referenced that sentiment, explaining that most anthropologists believe that these “fallback” foods likely made up the majority of the diet, as the hunters usually come back empty-handed.
They even use the Hadza’s reliance on “fallback” foods in the article to prove their point.
“Every ecological study that tracks predator and prey populations (even if prey is grass) shows that predator populations grow in relation to the prey population.”
Well, I believe that’s a gross oversimplification. For instance, if that rule were always true, we’d expect to see anteaters everywhere, since there is virtually an unlimited supply of ants. But that isn’t the case. Clearly there are other factors involved that limit populations (higher prey, disease, etc). With hominids, the factors limiting populations were likely disease and infant mortality (just guessing).
“I draw this conclusion because in your post you mention there incredible abundance and growth rates, and how the paper you mentioned talks about how it would take a few hours to get enough calories for the day. If this was true, however, it would mean we would expect to see a population increase in hominids to match that abundant food source.”
Let me clarify. It supposedly takes 3 hours of foraging for a single hominid (like P. Boise) to obtain 80% of its calories from tiger nuts. If you are gathering for two or more, it will take longer. If you are gathering tiger nuts for a population of people, you need the skills of agriculture and lots of slaves—which is what we see in Ancient Egypt.
In other words, it’s “easy” for a single hominid to gather tiger nuts for 1 or 2 individuals. But it’s much harder to gather other people’s tiger nuts. You need slaves or machinery for that.
Finally, P. Boisei was not just a “snapshot”. P. Boisei was one of the most successful hominid species—its reign lasting millions of years. Though we aren’t descended from them, the same shift in C4 isotopes was simultaneously observed a wide array of hominid species, as shown by multiple studies covered by the National Academic of Sciences announcement last year. So, this isn’t just one snapshot. It’s actually many snapshots showing the same thing over and over again as homo moved into the grassy savannas.
Now, another clarification… P. Boisei is only significant because it had the largest levels of C4 of any hominid—nearly 70%! Combined with its dental morphology and dental calculus, all signs point to high tiger nut consumption.
But, Homo was a bit less (50-55% C4), indicating that our diet was more varied than P. Boisei. If we consider that Homo consumed animal foods, and we know they did (we are omnivores after all), then we can imagine that early humans probably consumed tiger nuts alongside a wide variety of foods. I never said that homo sat around just eating tiger nuts all day.
P. boisei is mostly useful because its diet probably wasn’t very varied (and it did evolve with a very unique jaw musculature…they called it “nutcracker man”). But, as I pointed out in my last comment in that other thread, we still see evidence that our direct ancestors ate starchy sedges as well as Neanderthals and early humans ate them too. But, again, I never said that humans sat around eating tiger nuts all day. They were likely just part of a varied diet.
I think that tiger nuts were used to fill in the nutritional holes in the homo diet and were a reliable source of carbohydrates. Tiger nuts are very rich in magnesium, calcium, potassium, Vitamin E and folate. Not coincidentally, these are the very nutrients that are often lacking from a modern “paleo” diet.
So, while tiger nuts are easy for a foraging primate to pluck right out of the ground and chomp on—dirt and all. I think that tiger nuts are a massive pain in the ass for agriculture. The Egyptians figured out how to cultivate them, and even turn them into flour, but it required a ton of work and skill. Unlike wheat, tiger nuts are by no means easy to harvest in large quantities. The paleo Indians at Mashantucket only used wild / weedy tiger nuts as a supplement to their maize and sorghum, but never figured out how to cultivate them—nor did they care to.
Read more about The Incredible Edible Tigernut. Did you know they have the same macronutrient profile as mother’s milk and pack more micronutrient nutrition than red meat?