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Skull of ‘Nutcracker Man’ or Paranthropus boisei. The image is of Olduvai Hominid 5 (OH 5), the most famous of the early human fossils, which was found at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. (Credit: Courtesy of Donald C Johanson)

Topic: Evidence ancient man ate Tiger Nuts
An Oxford University study has concluded that our ancient ancestors who lived in East Africa between 2.4 million-1.4 million years ago survived mainly on a diet of tiger nuts. Tiger nuts are edible grass bulbs still eaten in parts of the world today. The study published in the journal, PLOS ONE, also suggests that these early hominins may have sought additional nourishment from fruits and invertebrates, like worms and grasshoppers.

Study author Dr Gabriele Macho examined the diet of Paranthropus boisei, nicknamed “Nutcracker Man” because of his big flat molar teeth and powerful jaws, through studying modern-day baboons in Kenya. Her findings help to explain a puzzle that has vexed archaeologists for 50 years.

Scholars have debated why this early human relative had such strong jaws, indicating a diet of hard foods like nuts, yet their teeth seemed to be made for consuming soft foods. Damage to the tooth enamel also indicated they had come into contact with an abrasive substance. Previous research using stable isotope analyses suggests the diet of these homimins was largely composed of C4 plants like grasses and sedges. However, a debate has raged over whether such high-fibre foods could ever be of sufficiently high quality for a large-brained, medium-sized hominin.

Dr Macho’s study finds that baboons today eat large quantities of C4 tiger nuts, and this food would have contained sufficiently high amounts of minerals, vitamins, and the fatty acids that would have been particularly important for the hominin brain. Her finding is grounded in existing data that details the diet of year-old baboons in Amboseli National Park in Kenya — a similar environment to that once inhabited by Paranthropus boisei. Dr Macho’s study is based on the assumption that baboons intuitively select food according to their needs. She concludes that the nutritional demands of a hominin would have been quite similar.

Dr Macho modified the findings of the previous study on baboons by Stuart Altmann (1998) on how long it took the year-old baboons to dig up tiger nuts and feed on various C4 sources. She calculated the likely time taken by hominins, suggesting that it would be at least twice that of the yearling baboons once their superior manual dexterity was taken into account. Dr Macho also factored in the likely calorie intake that would be needed by a big-brained human relative.

Tiger nuts, which are rich in starches, are highly abrasive in an unheated state. Dr Macho suggests that hominins’ teeth suffered abrasion and wear and tear due to these starches. The study finds that baboons’ teeth have similar marks giving clues about their pattern of consumption.

In order to digest the tiger nuts and allow the enzymes in the saliva to break down the starches, the hominins would need to chew the tiger nuts for a long time. All this chewing put considerable strain on the jaws and teeth, which explains why “Nutcracker Man” had such a distinctive cranial anatomy.

The Oxford study calculates a hominin could extract sufficient nutrients from a tiger nut- based diet, i.e. around 10,000 kilojoules or 2,000 calories a day — or 80% of their required daily calorie intake, in two and half to three hours. This fits comfortably within the foraging time of five to six hours per day typical for a large-bodied primate.

Dr Macho, from the School of Archaeology at Oxford University, said: ‘I believe that the theory — that “Nutcracker Man” lived on large amounts of tiger nuts- helps settle the debate about what our early human ancestor ate. On the basis of recent isotope results, these hominins appear to have survived on a diet of C4 foods, which suggests grasses and sedges. Yet these are not high quality foods. What this research tells us is that hominins were selective about the part of the grass that they ate, choosing the grass bulbs at the base of the grass blade as the mainstay of their diet.

‘Tiger nuts, still sold in health food shops as well as being widely used for grinding down and baking in many countries, would be relatively easy to find. They also provided a good source of nourishment for a medium-sized hominin with a large brain. This is why these hominins were able to survive for around one million years because they could successfully forage — even through periods of climatic change.’

Original article:
sciencedaily

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Topic:Early man

Beginning around two million years ago, early stone tool-making humans, known scientifically as Oldowan hominin, started to exhibit a number of physiological and ecological adaptations that required greater daily energy expenditures, including an increase in brain and body size, heavier investment in their offspring and significant home-range expansion.

Demonstrating how these early humans acquired the extra energy they needed to sustain these shifts has been the subject of much debate among researchers.

A recent study led by Joseph Ferraro, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology at Baylor, offers new insight in this debate with a wealth of archaeological evidence from the two million-year-old site of Kanjera South (KJS), Kenya. The study’s findings were recently published in PLOS One.

Facilitated brain expansion

“Considered in total, this study provides important early archaeological evidence for meat eating, hunting and scavenging behaviour -cornerstone adaptations that likely facilitated brain expansion in human evolution, movement of hominins out of Africa and into Eurasia, as well as important shifts in our social behaviour, anatomy and physiology,” Ferraro said.

Located on the shores of Lake Victoria, KJS contains “three large, well-preserved, stratified” layers of animal remains. The research team worked at the site for more than a decade, recovering thousands of animal bones and rudimentary stone tools.

Increased reliance on meat eating

According to researchers, hominins at KJS met their new energy requirements through an increased reliance on meat eating. Specifically, the archaeological record at KJS shows that hominins acquired an abundance of nutritious animal remains through a combination of both hunting and scavenging behaviours. The KJS site is the earliest known archaeological evidence of these behaviours.

“Our study helps inform the ‘hunting vs. scavenging’ debate in Palaeolithic archaeology. The record at KJS shows that it isn’t a case of either/or for Oldowan hominins two million years ago. Rather hominins at KJS were clearly doing both,” Ferraro said.

Transported as whole carcasses

The fossil evidence for hominin hunting is particularly compelling. The record shows that Oldowan hominins acquired and butchered numerous small antelope carcasses. These animals are well represented at the site by most or all of their bones from the tops of their head to the tips of their hooves, indicating to researchers that they were transported to the site as whole carcasses.

Many of the bones also show evidence of cut marks made when hominins used simple stone tools to remove animal flesh. Some bones also bear evidence that hominins used fist-sized stones to break them open to acquire bone marrow.

In addition, modern studies in the Serengeti–an environment similar to KJS two million years ago–have also shown that predators completely devour antelopes of this size within minutes of their deaths. As a result, hominins could only have acquired these valuable remains on the savanna through active hunting.

Wildebeest-sized antelopes

The site also contains a large number of isolated heads of wildebeest-sized antelopes. In contrast to small antelope carcasses, the heads of these somewhat larger individuals are able to be consumed several days after death and could be scavenged, as even the largest African predators like lions and hyenas were unable to break them open to access their nutrient-rich brains.

“Tool-wielding hominins at KJS, on the other hand, could access this tissue and likely did so by scavenging these heads after the initial non-human hunters had consumed the rest of the carcass,” Ferraro said. “KJS hominins not only scavenged these head remains, they also transported them some distance to the archaeological site before breaking them open and consuming the brains. This is important because it provides the earliest archaeological evidence of this type of resource transport behaviour in the human lineage.”
Original article:
past horizons
May 10, 2013

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Topic early hunting- tools

At a site in the Homa Peninsula of Lake Victoria, Kenya, scientists are uncovering stone tools and fossils that are shedding new light on their manufacture and use, as well as early human habitat and behavior.
Led by co-directors Dr. Thomas Plummer of Queens College, City University of New York and Dr. Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution, excavations at the site, called Kanjera South, have revealed a large and diversified assortment of Oldowan stone tools, fossil animal remains and other flora and faunal evidence that is building a picture of hominin, or early human, life and behavior in a grassland environment about 2 million years ago. Oldowan stone tools represent the earliest known human or hominin stone tool industry, named after the Olduvai Gorge, where Louis Leakey first discovered examples in the 1930’s. This early industry was typically composed of simple “pebble tools” such as choppers, scrapers and pounders, a type of technology used from about 2.6 to 1.7 million years ago.
According to Plummer, the site “has yielded approximately 3700 fossils and 2900 artifacts…….This represents one of the largest collections of Oldowan artifacts and fauna found thus far”.
But more significant than the numbers is what the analysis of the finds and the site has revealed.
Says Plummer, “the ca. 2.0 Ma sediments at Kanjera South…..provide some of the best early evidence for a grassland dominated ecosystem during the time period of human evolution, and the first clear documentation of human ancestors forming archaeological sites in such a setting”.
The site thus shows clear evidence that early humans of this time period were inhabiting and utilizing a grassland environment, in addition to other types of environments, a signal of critical adapatation that led to evolutionary success. Moreover, analysis of the makeup of the tools and the geography and geology of the area suggested that these hominins were transporting what they must have consideed to be the highest quality materials from relatively distant locations to produce the most effective and efficient tools for butchering animals. Cut marks made by stone blades on fossil bones, particularly small antelopes, showed signs that the animals may have been hunted, or at least encountered first, by the early humans before other preying animals reached the carcasses.
“The overall pattern of hominin access to the complete carcasses of small antelopes may be the signal of hominin hunting”, writes Plummer. “If so, this would be the oldest evidence of hunting to date in the archaeological record”.
Use of stone tools by these early humans apparently went beyond butchery.
“Thus far, the use-wear on the quartz and quartzite subsample of Kanjera artifacts confirms that animal butchery was conducted on-site, but also demonstrates the processing of a variety of plant tissues, including wood (for making wooden tools?) and tubers. This is significant, because the processing of plant materials appears to have been quite important, but would otherwise have been archaeologically invisible”.

Plummer’s detailed article about the research and findings is published in the June 12, 2012 issue of Popular Archaeology Magazine.

Original article:
popular archaeology
June 13, 2012

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Topic:Blog on Neltithic Hunter/Gatherers
 

 

 

For the first time ever, work by researchers with Penn Museum’s archaeological excavation at the Laikipia Archaeological Project in north-central Kenya is being chronicled in a blog, as well as in photos and film.

Kathleen Ryan, a consulting scholar in the African Section at the Museum, is leading the group of researchers, which includes several Kenyan archaeologists. The excavation is focused on a period 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, Ryan says.

“Our interest is in the transition from the Later Stone Age, when the area was occupied by hunters and gatherers through the Pastoral Neolithic, when pastoralists herding cattle, sheep, and goats entered the area from the north,” she explains.  

The researchers will try to uncover how people and animals co-existed, Ryan says. “Did they interact peaceably? Did they share food resources such as wildlife or domestic livestock, wild plants, honey. Was either group drinking milk? Were the incoming pastoralists already lactose tolerant?”

Amy Ellsworth, Penn Museum’s digital media developer, will blog throughout the trip, which will last until May 13, and film what the researchers uncover. Jennifer Chiappardi will document the expedition in photos.

During the expedition, the team will also travel south to Maasailand where Ryan has been engaged in ethnobotanical research and education since 1993. In an effort to preserve local knowledge and pass it on to future generations, she organized two field schools in 1999 and 2000. Ryan will also work with local Maasai elders in describing traditional medicinal uses of various plants for both humans and animals.
Follow the blog at: http://penn.museum/blog/kenya

Original article:

By Jeanne Leong

April 27, 2010

A Penn archaeological research team studies bone remains during a 2009 excavation in Kenya. Photo credit: Jennifer Chiappardi

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