Diet, population size and the spread of modern humans into Europe

Aug 11, 2009

Stable isotope data published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Erik Trinkaus, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and Michael Richards of the University of British Columbia and the Max Planck Institute, suggests that at least some of the European early modern humans consistently consumed fish, supplementing their diet of terrestrial animals.

Accumulating carbon and nitrogen stable isotope data from fossil humans in Europe is pointing towards a significant shift in the range of animal resources exploited with the spread of modern humans into Europe 40,000 years ago.

Both the preceding and the incoming modern humans regularly and successfully hunted large game such as deer, cattle and horses, as well as occasionally killing larger or more dangerous animals. There is little evidence for the regular eating of fish by the Neandertals.

However, the stable isotope data published this week in the by Erik Trinkaus, professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, and Michael Richards of the University of British Columbia and the Max Planck Institute, suggests that at least some of the European early consistently consumed fish, supplementing their diet of terrestrial animals.

It is likely that this greater emphasis on small, harder to obtain, sources of protein reflects growing human populations in Europe and the pressure they placed on their environments.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis (news : web)

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User comments : 3

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squarepeg
not rated yet Aug 11, 2009
We're told that fish oils are "good for the brain". is there a clue here as to the success of H. Sapiens over the Neanderthals?
dmcl
not rated yet Aug 11, 2009
rather than evidence of population pressure, the ability to catch fish might indicate that H. Sapiens had a technology advantage over the Neaderthals. Fiber technologies (nets, baskets, etc, which rarely preserve well enough to leave evidence), reduce the necessity to follow migratory big game, allowing populations to establish larger, more permanent settlements. But the permanent settlement also hunts, making the region less suitable for the big game hunters. The settlement/displacment pattern, driven by technology advantage, can be seen in many parts of the world in even recent history.
deatopmg
not rated yet Aug 11, 2009
maybe they just liked the taste of fish.

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