Paleolithic cuisine was anything but lean and green, according to a study on the diets of our Pleistocene ancestors.
For a good 2 million years, Homo sapiens and their ancestors ditched the salad and dined heavily on meat, putting them at the top of the food chain.
It’s not quite the balanced diet of berries, grains, and steak we might picture when we think of ‘paleo’ food.
But according to a study last year by anthropologists from Israel’s Tel Aviv University and the University of Minho in Portugal, modern hunter-gatherers have given us the wrong impression of what we once ate.
“This comparison is futile, however, because 2 million years ago hunter-gatherer societies could hunt and consume elephants and other large animals – while today’s hunter gatherers do not have access to such bounty,” researcher Miki Ben‐Dor from Israel’s Tel Aviv University explained in 2021.
A look through hundreds of previous studies – on everything from modern human anatomy and physiology to measures of the isotopes inside ancient human bones and teeth – suggests we were primarily apex predators until roughly 12,000 years ago.
Reconstructing the grocery list of hominids who lived as far back as 2.5 million years ago is made all that much more difficult by the fact plant remains don’t preserve as easily as animal bones, teeth, and shells.
Other studies have used chemical analysis of bones and tooth enamel to find localized examples of diets heavy in plant material. But extrapolating this to humanity as a whole isn’t so straight forward.
We can find ample evidence of game hunting in the fossil record, but to determine what we gathered, anthropologists have traditionally turned to modern-day ethnography based on the assumption that little has changed.
According to Ben-Dor and his colleagues, this is a huge mistake.