1.5-Million-Year-Old Skull Fragment Shows Oldest Evidence of Regular Meat Consumption

According to a multinational team of scientists led by Dr Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo of Complutense University, Madrid, a fragment of a child’s skull found at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania shows the oldest known evidence of anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency.

These are ectocranial, top right, and endocranial, top left, close-up views of the fossil skull discovered at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, accompanied by magnifications of the porotic hyperostosis paleopathology as observed ectocranially, lower left, and edge-on at the diploic-table junction. Scale = 1 mm (Dominguez-Rodrigo M et al)

The discovery, published in a paper in the journal PloS-ONE, 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 (Hominidae gen. et sp. indet.) 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 team suggests 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 scientists 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.

“Early humans were hunters, and had a physiology adapted to regular meat consumption at least 1.5 million years ago”, the scientists said.

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Bibliographic information: Dominguez-Rodrigo M et al. 2012. Earliest Porotic Hyperostosis on a 1.5-Million-Year-Old Hominin, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46414; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046414