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Monday, October 8, 2012

A 1.5 million year old meat diet

Humans were already eating meat on a regular basis one and a half million years ago. You may be surprised to learn how an international team of paleontologists reached this conclusion. It wasn’t just physical evidence in the form of butchery marks on bones, though we do have such clues. No, it was a case of 1.5 million year old malnutrition.

The scientists found the ancients skull fragments of a two-year child suffering from porotic hyperostosis. This disease is often associated with iron-deficiency anemia. In very young children, it is often caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency, either in their mother’s milk or in their own post-weaning diets.

Vitamin B12 is one of the few nutrients that people on strict vegetarian diets (no animal products of any kind) usually need to supplement. This is because it’s not found in plant sources, unless those sources have been artificially fortified. The fact that this unfortunate child likely died of what’s essentially a meat deficiency strongly suggests that meat was a routine and critical part of his community’s diet.

A fragment of a child's skull discovered at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, shows the oldest known evidence of anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046414

Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, Travis Rayne Pickering, Fernando Diez-Martín, Audax Mabulla, Charles Musiba, et al. (2012). Earliest Porotic Hyperostosis on a 1.5-Million-Year-Old Hominin, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania PLoS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046414