FOOD OF EARLY MODERN HUMANS (100,000-10,000 YEARS AGO)

FOOD OF EARLY MODERN HUMANS


Humans ate orangutans 40,000 year ago in Borneo

Prior to 10,000 B.C. modern humans for the most part were hunter-gatherers. A lot evidence has been presented in recent years that they ate a large variety and presumably a large amount of plant foods, debunking the notion that were predominately hunters. By the end of the last great Ice Age [ca 8500 B.C.], most of the large game animals were gone, bringing an end to the age of the great hunters. Hunting never disappeared, but its role in providing food for mankind was increasingly constricted. Fishing remained an important means of procuring animal food, but even this activity suffered from the increasing desiccation of large portions of the Earth. The problem of growing deserts was especially acute in North Africa and Southwest Asia. [Source: Internet Archive, from UNT]

Scholars believe that men may have learned what foods to eat by watching other animals, and through trial and error experimentation. Early man may have discovered early intoxicants and medicines this same way. Cooking allowed them to eat meat, grain and roots that otherwise would have been too tough for small teeth to handle. Ancient man flavored food with garlic.

Archaeologists working at sites in South Africa dated to 75,000 to 50,000 years ago have found evidence of burning vegetation, perhaps to clear land to quicken the growth of edible roots and tubers, and piles of shells such as giant periwinkles, a good source of protein. A good protein source is seen as vital to brain growth and development. Sites in South Africa have also revealed that early humans ate eland, springbok and seals. Charred orangutans bones have been found in at a 40,000-year-old site in Niah Caves in Malaysian Borneo.

Websites and Resources on Hominins and Human Origins: Smithsonian Human Origins Program humanorigins.si.edu ; Institute of Human Origins iho.asu.edu ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site becominghuman.org ; Talk Origins Index talkorigins.org/origins ; Last updated 2006. Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History amnh.org/exhibitions ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Human Evolution Images evolution-textbook.org; Hominin Species talkorigins.org ; Paleoanthropology Links talkorigins.org ; Britannica Human Evolution britannica.com ; Human Evolution handprint.com ; National Geographic Map of Human Migrations genographic.nationalgeographic.com ; Humin Origins Washington State University wsu.edu/gened/learn-modules ; University of California Museum of Anthropology ucmp.berkeley.edu; BBC The evolution of man" bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life; "Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans" (Video lecture series). Howard Hughes Medical Institute.; Human Evolution Timeline ArchaeologyInfo.com ; Walking with Cavemen (BBC) bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life ; PBS Evolution: Humans pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/humans; PBS: Human Evolution Library www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library; Human Evolution: you try it, from PBS pbs.org/wgbh/aso/tryit/evolution; John Hawks' Anthropology Weblog johnhawks.net/ ; New Scientist: Human Evolution newscientist.com/article-topic/human-evolution;

Websites and Resources on Neanderthals: Wikipedia: Neanderthals Wikipedia ; Neanderthals Study Guide thoughtco.com ; Neandertals on Trial, from PBS pbs.org/wgbh/nova; The Neanderthal Museum neanderthal.de/en/ ; The Neanderthal Flute, by Bob Fink greenwych.ca. Websites and Resources on Prehistoric Art: Chauvet Cave Paintings archeologie.culture.fr/chauvet ; Cave of Lascaux archeologie.culture.fr/lascaux/en; Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) africanrockart.org; Bradshaw Foundation bradshawfoundation.com; Australian and Asian Palaeoanthropology, by Peter Brown peterbrown-palaeoanthropology.net. Fossil Sites and Organizations: The Paleoanthropology Society paleoanthro.org; Institute of Human Origins (Don Johanson's organization) iho.asu.edu/; The Leakey Foundation leakeyfoundation.org; The Stone Age Institute stoneageinstitute.org; The Bradshaw Foundation bradshawfoundation.com ; Turkana Basin Institute turkanabasin.org; Koobi Fora Research Project kfrp.com; Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, South Africa maropeng.co.za ; Blombus Cave Project web.archive.org/web; Journals: Journal of Human Evolution journals.elsevier.com/; American Journal of Physical Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Evolutionary Anthropology onlinelibrary.wiley.com; Comptes Rendus Palevol journals.elsevier.com/ ; PaleoAnthropology paleoanthro.org.

Diet of Early Modern Humans

Ewen Callaway wrote in NewScienceLife: “Chemical signatures locked into bone suggest the Neanderthals got the bulk of their protein from large game, such as mammoths, bison and reindeer. The anatomically modern humans that were living alongside them had more diverse tastes. As well as big game, they also had a liking for smaller mammals, fish and seafood. “It seems modern humans had a much broader diet, in terms of using fish or aquatic birds, which Neanderthals didn’t seem to do,” says Michael Richards, a biological anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and the University of British Columbia in Canada.” [Source: Ewen Callaway, NewScienceLife, August 12, 2009]

Modern humans are believed to have consumed more calories and protein than his predecessors because they needed more energy to maintain their large brains. Even though our brain accounts for only 2 percent of our body weight it eats up 20 percent of the energy our body produces. Ancient men at Dolni Vestonice and Pavlov in the Czech republic ate a lot of meat. They cooked stews and gruel in pits lined with hide and heated with hot rocks.

Researchers investigating early modern humans at El Juyo Cave in Spain used to periodically get to together and feast on food eaten by the ancient people they are studying. The main courses consisted of venison, salmon, oysters and mountain goat. Wild greens were served as a side dish and fermented honey drinks were served to get everyone loosened up. At the cave the researchers discovered 1,000 identifiable seeds, including grasses possibly used for bedding or teas, wild pansy, rosemary, and raspberry. [Source: Kenneth Weaver, National Geographic, November 1985]

Early humans seemed to stick with a pretty consistent diet regardless of environmental changes: They regularly ate a relatively higher proportion of plant-based foods. Researchers figured this out by studying the tiny, microscopic dings and dents on ancient teeth. [Source: Maanvi Singh, NPR, April 29, 2016]

“Special Places” in Northern Europe Chosen Based on Food Availability


Did early human learn what to eat by watching what animals ate?

Research led by the University of Southampton has found that early humans were driven by a need for nutrient-rich food to select ‘special places’ in northern Europe as their main habitat. Evidence of their activity at these sites comes in the form of hundreds of stone tools, including handaxes. According to the University of Southampton: “A study led by physical geographer at Southampton Professor Tony Brown, in collaboration with archaeologist Dr Laura Basell at Queen’s University Belfast, has found that sites popular with our early human ancestors, were abundant in foods containing nutrients vital for a balanced diet. The most important sites, dating between 500,000 to 100,000 years ago were based at the lower end of river valleys, providing ideal bases for early hominins – early humans who lived before Homo sapiens (us). [Source: University of Southampton, December 10, 2013]

“Professor Brown says: “Our research suggests that floodplain zones closer to the mouth of a river provided the ideal place for hominin activity, rather than forested slopes, plateaus or estuaries. The landscape in these locations tended to be richer in the nutrients critical for maintaining population health and maximising reproductive success.”

“The researchers began by identifying Palaeolithic sites in southern England and northern France where high concentrations of handaxes had been excavated –for example at Dunbridge in Hampshire, Swanscombe near Dartford and the Somme Valley in France. They found there were fewer than 25 sites where 500 handaxes or more were discovered. The high concentration of these artefacts suggests significant activity at the sites and that they were regularly used by early hominins.

“Professor Brown and his colleagues then compiled a database of plants and animals known to exist in the Pleistocene epoch (a period between 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) to establish a potential list of nutrient resources in the landscape and an estimation of the possible diet. This showed that an abundance of nutritious foods were available and suggests this was likely to have been the dominant factor driving early humans to focus on these sites in the lower reaches of river valleys, close to the upper tidal limit of rivers.

“Over 50 nutrients are needed to sustain human life. In particular, it would have been essential for early humans to find sources of protein, fats, carbohydrates, folic acid and vitamin C. The researchers suggest vitamins and protein may have come from sources such as raw liver, eggs, fish and plants, including watercress (which grows year round). Fats in particular, may have come from bone marrow, beaver tails and highly nutritious eels.

“The nutritional diversity of these sites allowed hominins to colonise the Atlantic fringe of north west Europe during warm periods of the Pleistocene. These sites permitted the repeated occupation of this marginal area from warmer climate zones further south. Professor Brown comments: “We can speculate that these types of locations were seen as ‘healthy’ or ‘good’ places to live which hominins revisited on a regular basis. If this is the case, the sites may have provided ‘nodal points’ or base camps along nutrient-rich route-ways through the Palaeolithic landscape, allowing early humans to explore northwards to more challenging environments.”“

Nut Eating by Our Human Ancestors


pistachios

Some of our earliest human ancestors are believed to have been avid nut eaters, prefering nuts to fruit. Gabriele Macho, a professor of paleoanthropology at the University of Bradford, and colleague Daisuke Shimizu analyzed the teeth of Australopithecus anamensis, a hominin that lived in Africa 4.2 to 3.9 million years ago of whom "Lucy" is the most famous. Based on actual tooth finds and sophisticated computer models showing multiple external and internal details of the teeth, they determined that tooth structure on wear and tear on teeth was more consistent with eating nuts than fruits.

Evidence from an archeological dig in Israel shows that nuts formed a major part of man's diet 780,000 years ago. Seven varieties of nuts — wild almond, prickly water lily, water chestnut and two kinds of both acorns and pistachios — along with stone tools to crack them open was found buried deep in a bog. The pistachios and water chestnut are similar to those eaten today. Over 50 pitted stones and a depression were found at the Israel site. The depression and the stones appear to have used to crack open large quantities of hard nuts. These stone tools, called "nutting stones"

Hebrew University reported: “The remains of seven types of 780,000-year-old nuts have been found at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in Israel's Hula Valley. The nuts and the stone tools found with them are the first evidence that various types of nuts formed a major parts of man's diet 780,000 years ago and that hominins (prehistoric men) had developed an assortment of tools to crack open nuts during the Early-Middle Pleistocene Period, according to researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University, who explained that the nuts were anaerobically preserved because the site has been waterlogged since its destruction. [Source: Hebrew University, February 17, 2002 =]

“Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar and PhD candidate Gonen Sharon, of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, and Prof. Mordechai Kislev and PhD candidate Yoel Melamed of the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Life Sciences, outline the conclusions that can be drawn from these findings about life in the Hula Valley three-quarters of a million years ago in an article that will be printed in the prestigious journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA) on February 19,” 2002.

“Seven species of edible fruits covered with a hard shell were found at the site: wild almond; prickly water lily; acorns from the Q. calliprinos evergreen and the Mt. Tabor oak; Atlantic pistachio; pistachio; and water chestnut. Most of them only can be cracked open by a hard hammer. They all have a high nutritional value and no doubt played a key role in the diet of the hominins at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov. (The pistachios and water chestnuts found at the site are similar to those available today in the Far East and northern Europe.) "Ethnographic studies of the contemporary hunter-gatherer population show that nuts were part of the human diet in all parts of the world. There is extensive documentation of the use of hammers and anvils to crack open nuts. The tools of contemporary hunter-gather tribes exhibit great similarity to the artifacts found at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov," Prof. Goren-Inbar said. "Some 50 pitted stones with at least one pit were found at the site. The pits appear to have been formed when the stones were used to crack open large quantities of hard nuts. Some of the stones are the size of hammers, while larger stones, some weighing as much as 30 kg, could be used as anvils." =

“Research on chimpanzees in Western Africa found many cases in which chimpanzees consumed a variety of nuts after using tools to crack them open. The chimpanzees would match the stone to the type of nut, using wooden tools to crack nuts with softer shells and stone tools to crack those with harder shells. The tools the chimpanzees used have pits in them that resemble those in the stones found at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov. "The wide range of activities (hunting, gathering, tool-making, etc) performed at the site show that Gesher Benot Ya'aqov was inhabited for an extended period and that its residents were very familiar with their surroundings and used a variety of strategies to survive and live in the Hula Valley in prehistoric times. Research on chimpanzees and on contemporary hunter-gather tribes show that nut-gathering was performed mainly by women and children. It can be concluded that the people living on the Lake Hula shore 780,000 years ago already had developed a complex society composed of members of various ages and both genders," Prof. Goren-Inbar concluded. “ =

Cave Full of 100,000 Year Old Grain


sorghum

Professor Julio Mercader, of the University of Calgary, has found evidence in a Mozambique cave that Homo Sapiens were eating wild grains as early as 100,000 years ago. The discovery is reported in the journal Science. It's being touted as the “earliest direct evidence of humans using pre-domesticated cereals anywhere in the world," in a university press release. [Source: Owen Jarus, Heritage Key, December 18, 2009 *-*]

Owen Jarus wrote in Heritage Key, “Scientists have long believed that grains played little role in the Stone Age diet. This belief is fueled by the fact that it's difficult to process grain using the tools of the time. The cave that Mercader excavated had a layer that was used by people from 105,000 years ago to 42,000 years ago. In it there was a vast number of tools. Mercader took a sample of 70 from this assemblage. In particular he picked out the tools that could best be used to prepare Stone Age cereal. “These include cobble-sized core implements that have the right size and weight to be used as grinders of vegetable material: Cores and core scrapers make up more than one-third of the entire assemblage. Special pieces include a rhyolite grinder/core axe, a ground cobble, and a faceted quartz mortar," he said in his journal article. *-*

“Sure enough his work paid off, he recovered 2369 grains in all. “About 20 percent lack any starch residue (12 tools) but 80 percent have some," he said, adding, “the average number of grains on lithics is 270 times larger than that in the site's free-standing sediments." He found that most of the grain in question is an ancient variety of wild sorghum. A modern version of this wild plant grows nearby. *-*

“The conclusion: "Middle Stone Age groups routinely brought starchy plants to their cave sites and that starch granules got attached to and preserved on stone tools." The long stretch of time of these tools (60,000 years!) suggests that it wasn't some one-time event precipitated by a famine. It seems to be constant. But why just in this area? Why don't we have evidence on this all across the archaeological record?” *-*

Brendan Borrell wrote in Nature: “Mercader first discovered the Ngalue cave, in the sparsely populated Niassa province of Mozambique, with the help of locals in 2005. After a drive to the end of a road at an old mine site, he and his team then had to hike for 45 minutes to reach the cave’s mouth. In 2007, the team made this trip every day as they excavated in a dark chamber 20 metres from the cave entrance, identifying animal bones along with more than 500 quartz artefacts.” [Source: Brendan Borrell, Nature, December 17, 2009 /::\]

“Mercader says that he has always taken precautions not to wash or touch the excavated tools to ensure that he leaves pollens, starches and other microfossils intact. After examining 70 stone tools, including scrapers and grinders, he found that 80 percent contained traces of starch granules, mainly from wild Sorghum species. Some of the grains appeared damaged, but none had been cooked. “These data imply that early Homo sapiens from southern Africa consumed not just underground plant staples, but above-ground resources too,” he writes in this week’s issue of Science.” /::\

100,000-Year-Old Sorghum Found in African Cave: Did Humans Eat It?


sorghum

Based on evidence found in an African cave, the harvesting of wild grains — and maybe the cooking of them — may have begun more than 100,000 years ago.Brendan Borrell wrote in Nature: “Humans may have been baking bread 105,000 years ago, says a researcher who has discovered evidence of ground seeds from sorghum grass on stone tools in a Mozambique cave. “Whether they were eating it or not, we cannot be sure, but I cannot see how sorghum gets into the cave unless humans bring it in,” says study author Julio Mercader, an archaeologist at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada. Today, seeds from domesticated sorghum grass are used as flour for porridge, as a fermentation substrate for beer and as a dye for clothing. [Source: Brendan Borrell, Nature, December 17, 2009 /::\]

“Most researchers think that humans in the Middle Stone Age — which began around 300,000 years ago and ended around 50,000 years ago — depended on foodstuffs such as underground tubers and meat. Grains require a complex preparation process of grinding and charring before they can be digested by humans. Mercader says that sorghum flours could have been used to make culinary preparations such as bread. The first confirmed use of grains in the human diet comes from charred barley and wheat from Israel dating to about 23,000 years ago, so the latest findings could push that date back another 80,000 years. /::\

“Other scientists, however, are sceptical. Archaeologist Lyn Wadley, an honorary professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, points out that starch grains are notoriously difficult to identify, varying not only among species but also between different parts of a plant. “Even if sorghum is truly present at the site,” she says, “there could be a reason for this presence other than eating of grains.” At the Sibudu cave in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, her group has found that grasses similar to sorghum were used for bedding and as tinder for fireplaces. /::\

“Loren Cordain, an exercise physiologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and an expert on the Palaeolithic diet, agrees that the evidence is too thin to support the consumption of grains as food. “I don’t think they’ve really built a strong case for the notion that cereal grains were exploited on a real basis and were part of the diet of our ancestors,” he says. “It’s fascinating and suggestive, but the logic doesn’t fall in place.” He points out that there is no anvil rock with which to grind the grains as discovered in Israel, for instance, nor is there evidence that humans were cooking the grains.”

“But Mercader believes early human grain consumption is possible even if he has not yet fully demonstrated it. “If you think about the complexity of modern human behaviour, I’m not sure the early use of grains is unexpected: it’s in line with other discoveries from the Middle Stone Age,” he says. Early modern humans first emerged around 150,000 to 200,000 years ago, and scientists working in South Africa have found that humans 72,000 years ago were using shell beads and ochre pigments, in addition to making stone tools with the help of fire.3 “I understand healthy scepticism goes a long way,” Mercader says, “but let us not overdo it.”“ /::\

Evidence of Modern Humans Using Wild Grains and Tubers 60,000 Years Ago


eating yams

In 2009, the University of Calgary reported: “Julio Mercader, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Tropical Archaeology in the U of C’s Department of Archaeology, recovered dozens of stone tools from a deep cave in Mozambique showing that wild sorghum, the ancestor of the chief cereal consumed today in sub-Saharan Africa for flours, breads, porridges and alcoholic beverages, was in Homo sapiens’ pantry along with the African wine palm, the false banana, pigeon peas, wild oranges and the African “potato.” This is the earliest direct evidence of humans using pre-domesticated cereals anywhere in the world. Mercader’s findings are published in the December 18 issue of the research journal Science. [Source: University of Calgary, December 18, 2009]

“This broadens the timeline for the use of grass seeds by our species, and is proof of an expanded and sophisticated diet much earlier than we believed,” Mercader said. “This happened during the Middle Stone Age, a time when the collecting of wild grains has conventionally been perceived as an irrelevant activity and not as important as that of roots, fruits and nuts.”

In 2007, Mercader and colleagues from Mozambique’s University of Eduardo Mondlane excavated a limestone cave near Lake Niassa that was used intermittently by ancient foragers over the course of more than 60,000 years. Deep in this cave, they uncovered dozens of stone tools, animal bones and plant remains indicative of prehistoric dietary practices. The discovery of several thousand starch grains on the excavated plant grinders and scrapers showed that wild sorghum was being brought to the cave and processed systematically.

“It has been hypothesized that starch use represents a critical step in human evolution by improving the quality of the diet in the African savannas and woodlands where the modern human line first evolved. This could be considered one of the earliest examples of this dietary transformation,” Mercader said. “The inclusion of cereals in our diet is considered an important step in human evolution because of the technical complexity and the culinary manipulation that are required to turn grains into staples.” Mercader said the evidence is on par with grass seed use by hunter-gatherers in many parts of the world during the closing stages of the last Ice Age, approximately 12,000 years ago. In this case, the trend dates back to the beginnings of the Ice Age, some 90,000 years earlier.

30,000-Year-Old Flatbread Made from Cattails and Ferns

Based on the discovery of dirty “kitchen” tools imbedded with ground materials, modern humans that lived 30,000 years ago appear to have made bread and soups from cattail and fern flour, scientists reported in 2010. The discoveries represent the oldest evidence for flour preparation and plant food processing and suggest that early modern humans may have processed a wide variety plants and thus consumed more plant products than previously thought. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, discovery.com, October 18, 2010]


birdnest ferns

AFP reported: “Starch grains found on grinding stones suggest that prehistoric man may have consumed a type of bread at least 30,000 years ago in Europe, US researchers said. The study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggested that processing starch grains, possibly grinding them into flour, was a widespread practice across Europe, contrary to popular belief that the Paleolithic man was primarily a meat eater. [Source: AFP, October 19, 2010 \+/]

Grains recovered from grindstones and pestle grinders at three sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic appeared to come mostly from starchy cattails and ferns, which researchers said would provide a significant source of carbohydrates and energy. "The wide size range and the different morphologies of the starch grains recovered (at two of the sites) suggest that they were used for grinding more than one plant species and possibly for other purposes," the scientists said. \+/

In order to be properly digested and realise its full nutrient value, the flour would have to be cooked after undergoing multi-step processing, including root peeling, drying and grinding into a flour likely usable for making flatbread or cakes. For their study, researchers analysed traces of wear and residue on grindstones and other tools by microscope, and conducted experimental reconstruction of how the tools functioned. \+/

Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discovery News: “The food preparation tools were found to contain the remains of starch grains from various wild plants, including cattail rhizomes, cattail leaves, moonworts, the ternate grapefern, lady’s mantle, burdock, lettuce roots, rye, burr chervil root, parts of edible grasses, edible seeds and more. “Cooking enhances digestibility and also the taste of starch is improved by cooking,” lead author Anna Revedin explained to Discovery News, adding that it also helped to fuel the active lifestyle of hunter-gatherers. “We are quite convinced that flour enhanced their mobility capacity, since it ensured a good source of energetic food during their travels,” explained Revedin, a researcher in the Italian Institute of Prehistory and Protohistory. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, discovery.com, October 18, 2010 <=>]

“She and her colleagues analyzed mortar and pestle-type stones that were found at three sites: Bilancino II in the Megello Valley of Italy, Kostenki 16 at Pokrovsky Valley, Russia; and Pavlov VI in southern Moravia, Czech Republic. Since modern humans as well as Neanderthals inhabited these regions, the researchers think it’s possible that either or both groups had cooking know-how. <=>

“Flour made from cattails — which tastes a bit like the plant’s distant cousin, corn — seems to have been particularly popular. “Our experiments suggest that it is possible to mix this flour with water to obtain a sort of flat bread cooked on hot stones,” Revedin said. “It is also possible that the flour was used in a mixed soup.” Virtually all of the discovered cattails and ferns are rich in starch and, as such, represent significant sources of carbohydrates and energy, according to Revedin and her team. The foods were chosen, they believe, due to the plants’ proximity to campsites, their prevalence, their size and their appearance, with the latter referring to foods that must have been favored due to years of tried and true eating experience.

Alcohol Consumption May Be 10 Million Years Old, Study Says

A study published in 2014 suggests that primates may have begun drinking alcohol in the form of fermented fruit on the forest floor 10 million years ago. Sarah Knapton wrote in The Telegraph: “Alcohol was thought to have been first brewed by Neolithic farmers around 9,000 years ago when northern Chinese villagers made the happy discovery that fruit and honey could be fermented into an intoxicating liquor.But new evidence suggests our ancestors had become accustomed to drinking nearly 10 million years before. [Source: Sarah Knapton, The Telegraph, December 1, 2014 *|||*]

“Scientists now believe that when primates left the trees and began walking on two feet they also started scooping up mushy, fermented fruit which was lying on the ground. And over time their bodies learned to process the ethanol present. Experts at Santa Fe College in the US studied the gene ADH4 which produces an enzyme to break down alcohol in the body. It was hypothesised that the enzyme would not appear until the first alcohol was produced by early farmers. But scientists were amazed to find it 10 million years earlier, at the end of the Miocene epoch. *|||*

“The findings could explain why tree-dwelling orang-utans still cannot metabolize alcohol while humans, chimps and gorillas can. “This transition implies the genomes of modern human, chimpanzee and gorilla began adapting at least 10 million years ago to dietary ethanol present in fermenting fruit,” said Professor Matthew Carrigan, of Santa Fe College. “This conclusion contrasts with the relatively short amount of time – about 9,000 years – since fermentative technology enabled humans to consume beverages with higher ethanol content than fruit fermenting in the wild. Our ape ancestors gained a digestive enzyme capable of metabolizing ethanol near the time they began using the forest floor about 10 million years ago. Because fruit collected from the forest floor is expected to contain higher concentrations of fermenting yeast and ethanol than similar fruits hanging on trees this transition may also be the first time our ancestors were exposed to – and adapted to – substantial amounts of dietary ethanol.” *|||*

“Any primates unable to digest the fermented fruits would have died before passing on their genes, but those who could would have passed the drinking gene on to their offspring. The evolutionary history of the ADH4 gene was reconstructed using data from 28 different mammals, including 17 primates, collected from public databases or well-preserved tissue samples. *|||*

“The first evidence of man making alcohol comes from the Neolithic village Jiahu in China where clay pots were found containing residues of tartaric acid, one of the main acids present in wine. Some archaeologists have suggested that the entire Neolithic Revolution, which began about 11,000 years ago, was fuelled by the quest for by drinking and intoxication. Archaeologist Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania claims that prehistoric communities cultivated wheat, rice, corn, barley, and millet primarily for the purpose of producing alcoholic beverages. He believes that early farmers supplanted their diet with a nutritious hybrid swill which was half fruit and half wine.” *|||*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018


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