Sunday, 7 October 2012

Child dies - lack of meat say experts

Cave Paintings in Zimbabwebetween 350,000 and 400,000 years old 

Okay, it was quite some time ago.
e! Science News reports on new evidence that our early human ancestors began eating meat much earlier than previously thought - at least 1.5 million years ago.

A fragment of a child's skull discovered at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania shows the oldest known evidence of anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency, reports a new paper published Oct. 3 in the open access journal PLOS ONE. The discovery, made by a global team of researchers led by Manuel DomĂ­nguez-Rodrigo from Complutense University, Madrid, suggests that early human ancestors began eating meat much earlier in history than previously believed. The skull fragment identified is thought to belong to a child somewhat younger than two and shows bone lesions that commonly result from a lack of B-vitamins in the diet.

Previous reports show that early hominids ate meat, but whether it was a regular part of their diet or only consumed sporadically was not certain. The authors suggest that the bone lesions present in this skull fragment provide support for the idea that meat-eating was common enough that not consuming it could lead to anemia.

Nutritional deficiencies such as anemia are most common at weaning, when children's diets change drastically. The authors suggest that the child may have died at a period when he or she was starting to eat solid foods lacking meat. Alternatively, if the child still depended on the mother's milk, the mother may have been nutritionally deficient for lack of meat.

Both cases imply that "early humans were hunters, and had a physiology adapted to regular meat consumption at least 1.5 million years ago," say the authors.

So this is essentially a story about a hominid child who died because either the child or mother didn't get enough meat. Whatever the health advice and the incessant nudging, we must surely be well adapted to meat by now - if it was so nutritionally valuable 1.5 million years ago.

Maybe there's a lesson here.


Sam Vega said...

The lesson for this 55-year old vegan is to keep taking the Holland & Barrett B12 supplements, and to go heavy on the marmite.

A K Haart said...

Sam - we eat very little meat but lots of fish - and Marmite.

I tend to think a good diet is more individual than blanket advice is able to handle, although there are some obvious generalities worth sticking to.

Etsai said...

Hi, interesting report. Just wanted to offer a small correction with regards to the image of San rock paintings here. They are more likely to date between 11,000 - 2,000 years ago, and are attributed to shamanistic practices of the time rather than related to people's diet. See D Lewis-Williams and PS Garlake for more.

A K Haart said...

Etsai - crikey I'm not even sure where I found the image but I'll take your word for it.