The Evolution of Human Diet

Dec 06, 2006

A University of Arkansas professor’s most recent work addresses the question of how human eating habits have evolved over millions of years.

Peter Ungar, professor of anthropology in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, has edited a book, The Evolution of Human Diet: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable, in which scholars from various disciplines address the knowledge and limitations of the field. The book offers an assessment of the current science, the limits of knowledge and possible directions for future research.

The idea for the book evolved from a 2003 workshop organized by Ungar and sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which brought together researchers from different fields who were examining the same issues in the evolution of human diet from different perspectives. The book builds on the workshop, examining the evolution of human diet through the hominin fossil record, the archeological record, paleoecology and modeling.

“Evidences of early hominin diets can be divided into evidence that comes from the fossils themselves and that derived from context and models,” Ungar writes in the conclusion of the book. Tooth chemistry and dental microwear reveal evidence of past diets, as do the shape and position of teeth and jaws. Cuts on animal bones point to possible past “menus” of animals eaten by early hominins. Stone tools associated with the bones suggest methods of processing the meat.

Reconstructions of past environments help researchers determine what resources would have been available for early hominins to eat, and comparisons with current-day environments and consumption patterns of recent foraging people and of nonhuman primates can help flesh out these models.

Book chapters among the 21 include the biomechanics of mandibles, what stone tools can tell us, the introduction of meat eating, the influence of cooking on human diet, energetic models of human nutritional evolution and the implications of Plio-Pleistocene hominin diets for modern humans.

In the last chapter, Ungar explores the limits of knowledge on the evolution of human diet. These include data-related limits related to gaps in the fossil record and methodological limits related to how researchers use the present to interpret the past. The limits of knowledge in the field may be unknowable.

“We can, however, identify the current boundaries to our knowledge, and in doing so, begin to nudge them,” Ungar writes. By doing so, scientists can determine directions for future research.

Source: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Explore further: Best of Last Week–Can space travel faster than light, another planet behind the Sun and should we allow head transplants

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

IBM outlines plan to revamp business for investors

25 minutes ago

(AP)—IBM's CEO says the company's plan to revamp its business to shift away from hardware and focus on business analytics, cloud computing, mobile services and security is on track.

Italian pacemaker firm Sorin to merge with Cyberonics

27 minutes ago

The Italian manufacturer of pacemakers Sorin announced Thursday it plans to merge with US medical device firm Cyberonics, creating a new company valued at around 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion).

New insight found in black hole collisions

54 minutes ago

New research by an astrophysicist at The University of Texas at Dallas provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger ...

Recommended for you

Bribery 'hits 1.6 billion people a year'

Feb 27, 2015

A total of 1.6 billion people worldwide – nearly a quarter of the global population – are forced to pay bribes to gain access to everyday public services, according to a new book by academics at the Universities of Birmingham ...

How music listening programmes can be easily fooled

Feb 26, 2015

For well over two decades, researchers have sought to build music listening software that can address the deluge of music growing faster than our Spotify-spoilt appetites. From software that can tell you ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.