Our Ancestors Had A Taste For Gazelle Brains

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

A new study has once again shown that our human ancestors had no qualms about eating every part of their prey, including the brains.

After uncovering fossils in Kenya, anthropologist Joseph Ferraro of Baylor University and his colleagues discovered that the earliest humans living in East Africa had a taste for multiple parts of the antelope. These early humans would even scavenge the leftovers of larger predators and finish off the remains. Their research published in an April 25 report in the online open-access journal PLOS ONE.

According to Science News, the anthropologists uncovered three sets of fossilized animal bones in Kenya, giving them new insights into how these early humans hunted, scavenged and ate. The fatty tissue of the brain could have given early Homo erectus the added energy boost they needed to hunt another day. These new findings also correspond with earlier digs which uncovered small animal bones with marks in them, suggesting butchery by small stone tools. This has led scientists to believe that the earliest humans were skilled meat eaters.

Ferraro´s study found that humans living in this area 2 million years ago would have hunted small animals like gazelles and hauled their kill back to their homes in Kanjera South. The team arrived at this conclusion after noticing that small bones from these animals were separated from the rest of the animal found in Kanjera South. These gazelle bones also bore the markings of primitive stone tools, suggesting that even more butchery was practiced here.

The team also discovered that these early humans knew where the meatiest portions of the animal could be found and selected these cuts first. The humans may have stuck to a raw meat diet, as these sites contained no signs of burned wood or other telltale signs of cooking. Additionally, some of the bones even bore the markings of both stone tools and lion´s teeth, suggesting that the humans may have killed the animal first, but the lion may have robbed them of their dinner.

What lead Ferraro and team to believe that Homo erectus had a taste for brain was the disproportionately large number of skulls and lower jaws found at the dig site compared to other types of bone. According to Ferraro, this could mean the humans learned to eat what bigger predators, such as lions, may have left behind.

Some predators have been found to devour their prey rather quickly before moving on. The archaeological team suspects that the earliest humans may have kept an eye on such predators, visiting the kill site after the predators had walked away and scavenging whatever portions they could find. This, say the researchers, may have often included the skull and brains.

Ferraro and his team also believe that early humans may have relied heavily on hunting to provide their meals between scavenging sessions, though more research is required in order to understand just how much they relied on hunting as opposed to scavenging.

The difficulty for future studies, explains Ferraro, will be determining this ratio between hunting and scavenging because it can be difficult to discern from the fossil record alone. After all, the fossil of a gazelle that was killed by a lion and quickly chased off by a human may look the same as the fossil of a gazelle which was only killed by a human. Understanding these early behaviors, however, could help archaeologists and ancient historians better understand how our earliest ancestors lived and track the ways in which we´ve progressed throughout the millennia.