August 11, 2009

Early human European diets studied

U.S. and Canadian scientists say data from human fossils suggest a shift in animal resource exploitation as humans spread into Europe 40,000 years ago.

Washington University in St. Louis Professor Erik Trinkaus and University of British Columbia Professor Michael Richards used accumulations of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope data to reach that conclusion.

They said both the preceding Neanderthals and the incoming modern humans regularly and successfully hunted large game such as deer, cattle and horses, as well as occasionally killing larger or more dangerous animals. There is little evidence for the regular eating of fish by the Neanderthals, they added.

However, the stable isotope data suggests at least some European early modern humans consistently consumed fish, supplementing their diet of terrestrial animals.

That greater emphasis on small, harder to obtain sources of protein, the scientists said, reflects growing human populations in Europe and the pressure they placed on their environments.

The research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.