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05th May 2024

Scientists find that cavemen ate a mostly vegan diet in groundbreaking new study

Ryan Price

The findings have cast doubt over the Paleo diet.

A worldwide team of scientists have unearthed new information that suggests Stone Age people ate a mostly vegan diet.

Up until now, many have pictured early cavemen hunting wild animals before roasting them over an open fire for the whole family to feed on.

The Paleo diet has traditionally been the one most commonly attributed with our earlier ancestors from the Paleolithic era more than 2 million years ago.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, our predecessors used simple stone tools that were not advanced enough to grow and cultivate plants, so they hunted, fished, and gathered wild plants for food.

The diet includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and is centered around protein intake.

Now, according to the new study published by the Nature Ecology & Evolution Journal, there is substantial evidence to suggest a plant-based component in the diets of these hunter-gatherers in the late Stone Age era.

The study focuses on an area of Morocco known as Taforalt, which is home to one of the oldest burial grounds in North Africa, and dates back around 15,000 years before the present day.

(Image: Nature Ecology & Evolution Journal)

The group of scientists studied the chemical signatures of remains believed to be from the Paleolithic era using bones and teeth, and adopted a method known as stable isotope analysis which charts nitrogen and zinc isotopes found in teeth enamel and collagen.

The results suggested that the preconceived idea of meat being the primary source of protein during this time isn’t valid, and that a wide range of plant-based food – such as acorns, pine nuts and wild pulses – made up a “significant” part of the diet of these cave dwellers.

“Our analysis showed that these hunter-gatherer groups, they included an important amount of plant matter, wild plants to their diet, which changed our understanding of the diet of pre-agricultural populations,” Zineb Moubtahij, the lead author for the study stated.

Additionally, researchers saw an abundance of cavities in the buried remains in the Taforalt caves, the places where Iberomaurusians would lay the dead to rest. According to the study, these cavities suggested the consumption of “fermentable starchy plants” like beets, corn, rye, and cassava.

The most remarkable aspect of this study is the revelation that this population developed ways to cultivate plant growth and to harvest crops, thousands of years before the agricultural revolution took place.

According to the report, these “hunter-gatherers also engaged in early forms of plant cultivation, such as the intentional planting and harvesting of wild cereals. This practice probably paved the way for the development of agriculture in the region.”

The conclusion of the study emphasised the “importance of Taforalt population’s dietary reliance on plants, while animal resources were consumed in a lower proportion than at other Upper Palaeolithic sites with available isotopic data.”

The research team plans to continue it’s examination of Paleolithic sites in North Africa and use innovative techniques to gain a deeper understanding of ancient dietary practices and the implications for human evolution.

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