Maybe It Was The Sashimi…

…as in fish, not fauna, that nudged our ancestors of 2 million years ago (already striding on their highly-functional feet) along the path toward larger & more complex brains. Granted, they probably didn’t enjoy succulent hamachi like we do today (no doubt a pleasure our descendants will marvel at…), but there’s ample evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish are really good for us, & I’m guessing they were also good for the growing brains of our long-ago grand-ancestors.

As much as I love meat, it seems to me that fish & other aquatic creatures are being unfairly submerged in the quest to understand why & how our ancestor hominids were able to survive with more & more energy-sucking brain cells.  A recent study asserts that cooking meat provided homo erectus folks of 1.8 million years ago with easy protein – & well, our love of barbecue definitely makes this seem plausible.  The only problem is that thus far, there’s no accepted scientific evidence of routine use of fire for cooking until about a million years later.

It seems clear though that something changed in our ancestors’ daily lives from around this time.  Significant modifications in teeth (smaller teeth, jaws, & canine teeth), shorter digestive tracts, birthing of increasingly more immature infants, & reduced difference in size between females & males (sexual dimorphism) all indicate that a key factor was probably both what they were eating & how they were obtaining it.

Raw animal meat is difficult for primates to digest, ergo the idea that some form of cooking was necessarily involved.  If we broaden the notion of cooking to include soaking, fermenting, drying, pounding, etc., it becomes plausible that our omnivore ancestors were getting brain food from not only the occasional large animal, but more likely from anything they could literally get their hands on…& creatures sitting or slithering in the water certainly weren’t beyond their reach.

The problem with arguing that aquatic food sources were fundamental to early human primate diets is an unfortunate lack of evidence.  While telltale cut marks on fossilized scavenged (or even hunted) bones is legitimately interpreted as evidence of early carnivorous tendencies of homo erectus, eating juicy amphibians or sucking small tasty sea creatures out of a shell & tossing away the empties doesn’t leave much for paleoanthropologists to discover & write home about, especially if this fragile evidence is now underwater due to climate & associated sea level changes over the past 2 million years.

There is something, though, that ought to give encouragement to fish-lovers: the first human necklace was made of shells.  More on that later.

MUSSEL SHELL was engraved by Homo erectus between 540,000 and 430,000 years ago. Image: Wim Lustenhouwer, VU University Amsterdam

updated 12/5/14.

This entry was posted in Humans Love Food!, Our Primate Nature and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Maybe It Was The Sashimi…

  1. Pat says:

    Great work! And of course they were getting protein from aquatic source.

  2. Allan Hotti says:

    How accessible was marine habitat?

  3. Allan Hotti says:

    Is there a reliable geological record?

  4. Tammy says:

    I read a book called something like Dreams of Dragons and it argues that we were also aquatic. Of course it’s been years since I read it and it’s not a topic that I know a lot about but it was fascinating.

  5. Pingback: Burn4: Cooking with Fire | the everyday primate

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  7. Pingback: Grandmothers & Other Newly Remarkable Hominins | the everyday primate

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