You may remember earlier this June a series of scientific papers were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences evaluating the diet of numerous species of fossilized hominins, bipedal or upright walking apes, who lived in Africa from 4.1 to 1.4 million years ago.1234 These papers were grossly misinterpreted by the mass media, suggesting our early ancestors were regular consumers of grass and grass seeds (cereal grains).567
Poor research and analysis by a number of science writers have done their readers a disservice by inaccurately reporting the details of these three studies, making assumptions, and drawing conclusions that ancient hominin diets that the scientists themselves did not make.
The formal letter sent to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to address shortcomings was published in today’s Early Edition: “African hominin stable isotopic data do not necessarily indicate grass consumption.” I encourage you to read it carefully, revisit the original rebuttal published on The Paleo Diet Blog, and help guide others to make informed judgments.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus
1. Matt Sponheimer, Zeresenay Alemseged, Thure E. Cerling, Frederick E. Grine, William H. Kimbel, Meave G. Leakey, Julia A. Lee-Thorp, Fredrick Kyalo Manthi, Kaye E. Reed, Bernard A. Wood, and Jonathan G. Wynn. Isotopic evidence of early hominin diets. PNAS 2013 : 1222579110v1-201222579.
2. Jonathan G. Wynn, Matt Sponheimer, William H. Kimbel, Zeresenay Alemseged, Kaye Reed, Zelalem K. Bedaso, and Jessica N. Wilson. Diet of Australopithecus afarensis from the Pliocene Hadar Formation, Ethiopia. PNAS 2013 : 1222559110v1-201222559.
3. Thure E. Cerling, Fredrick Kyalo Manthi, Emma N. Mbua, Louise N. Leakey, Meave G. Leakey, Richard E. Leakey, Francis H. Brown, Frederick E. Grine, John A. Hart, Prince Kaleme, Hélène Roche, Kevin T. Uno, and Bernard A. Wood. Stable isotope-based diet reconstructions of Turkana Basin hominins. PNAS 2013 : 1222568110v1-201222568
4. Thure E. Cerling, Kendra L. Chritz, Nina G. Jablonski, Meave G. Leakey, and Fredrick Kyalo Manthi. Diet of Theropithecus from 4 to 1 Ma in Kenya. PNAS 2013 : 1222571110v1-201222571
5. Arnold, Carrie. “Even Our Ancestors Never Really Ate the “Paleo Diet” – The Crux | Discovermagazine.com.” DISCOVER Magazine: The Crux. Kalmbach Publishing Co., 3 June 2013.
6. Joyce, Chris. “Grass: It’s What’s For Dinner (3.5 Million Years Ago).” NPR the Salt. NPR, 3 June 2013.
7. Griffin, Catherine. “Human Ancestors’ Ape-like Diet Changed 3.5 Million Years Ago to Grass.” Science World Report: Nature & Environment. Science World Report, 4 June 2013.