According to new research, superior human characteristics like huge brains first appeared in Homo erectus roughly 2 million years ago. An increase in meat-eating is often believed to be related to this evolutionary transition toward human-like features.
Despite this, new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues the importance of meat consumption in early human evolution. It states that archaeological evidence for meat consumption increases dramatically after the appearance of Homo erectus.
The study authors argue that this increase can be explained mainly by greater research attention on this period, effectively skewing the evidence in favor of the “meat made us human” hypothesis.
To support the hypothesis that meat consumption supported the evolution of the human race, paleoanthropologists have traveled to notoriously well-preserved locations like Olduvai Gorge, where they have found magnificent firsthand evidence of early humans consuming meat, as stated by the study’s primary author, Andrew Barr, an associate professor of anthropology at George Washington University.
The ‘Meat Made us Human’ Evolutionary Story Unraveled
Nonetheless, when other scientists systematically analyzed data from a wide range of eastern African locations to verify this idea, ‘the meat made us human’ evolutionary story unraveled.
Barr and his colleagues published data from nine major study regions in eastern Africa, comprising 59 site levels dated between 2.6 million and 1.2 million years ago.
Hominin carnivory was tracked using many criteria, including the number of zooarchaeological sites with cut marks on animal bones and stratigraphic layers.
They say that the number of zooarchaeological sites and levels and the raw abundance of bones with cut marks all rose after the appearance of H. Erectus.
When they considered how much effort the researchers put into collecting data over time, they found no long-term rise in the amount of evidence for carnivory after the appearance of H. Erectus.
As the population of homo Erectus increased, so did the intensity of sampling, indicating that changes in human behavior were not the source of the increase in sampling.
Briana Pobiner, a research scientist in the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author on the study
“I’ve excavated and studied cut marked fossils for over 20 years, and our findings were still a big surprise to me. This study changes our understanding of what the zooarchaeological record tells us about the earliest prehistoric meat-eating. It also shows how important it is that we continue to ask big questions about our evolution, while we also continue to uncover and analyze new evidence about our past.”
According to the researchers, it’s important to find other answers for why contemporary people have specific physical and behavioral characteristics.
Alternatively, it is possible that our ancestors’ grandmothers liked to provision plant foods and that controlled fire was developed to increase the availability of nutrients via cooking. The researchers are careful to point out that none of these hypotheses are supported by the archaeological evidence at this time and that much more study is needed.
Barr added he believes this research and its conclusions would be of interest to paleoanthropologists and those who now base their diets on some variation of this meat-eating story.
The research calls into question the widely held belief that the widespread consumption of meat by our early ancestors was responsible for evolutionary changes.
Barr and Pobiner were joined by John Rowan, an associate anthropological professor at the University of Albany; Andrew Du, an assistant anthropology and geography faculty member at Colorado State University; and J. There is anthropology associate professor Tyler Faith in Utah.