Do you ever wonder how we compare with people from bygone eras? How about 40,000 years ago or 430,000 years ago?
Neanderthals were around from about 430,000 years ago to 40,000 years ago. That may seem quite distant, but 2% of our DNA is Neanderthal. We might think of them as “cavemen,” but they were actually very intelligent and accomplished humans living in a very harsh environment. Their brain size ranged from 1,200 cubic centimeters (cm3) to 1,750 cm3.
Homo sapiens appeared about 300,000 years ago in Africa and were found to have lived in southwestern France 40,000 years ago. These European Homo sapiens were originally called Cro-Magnons. Their brains were about 1,600 cm3 and they were highly talented in hunting, crafting tools, painting, and wood carvings. Both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons buried their dead.
For perspective, today an average man’s brain is 1,260 cm3 and 1,130 cm3 for a women.
During the past 700,000 years the human brain increased dramatically in size and anthropologists believe it’s because the energy in the human diet increased. Larger brains are linked to distinctly human traits: the ability to create more complex tools, more advanced hunting techniques, furs for clothing, complex social structures, artistry, and the advent of language. Undoubtedly the production of tools and fire reduced the work load of jaws, teeth, and digestive systems. Also better tools improved access to meat, which as a nutrient dense and rich source of protein, also played a role in developing a larger brain.
So, back to the main point, “How do we differ from prehistoric humans?” Yes, tools and toys have changed. Most of us have visited museums and seen commonly used 200-year-old tools that we couldn’t figure out their purpose. Another example of lost knowledge would be to ask a college student if they can perform a simple multiplication problem with a mechanical analog computer. That’s a slide rule. Obviously our modern, cell phone equipped kids wouldn’t last but a few days in a world where Neanderthals prospered. This is why we can’t compare ourselves with prehistoric people based on the tools and toys of the times.
I believe that in nearly all respects we differ very little compared to Neanderthals. Their emotions were most likely identical to ours.
How about comparing anatomies? For the past several million years the human anatomy consisted of these systems:
Other than minor differences in appearances such as height, skin color, and other recognizable physical features, our modern anatomies are the same as the anatomies of Homo erectus. (This human species lived between 1.89 million and 143,000 years ago). If a Homo sapien could be “transported” from 100,000 years ago to today and was well-groomed and living next door, we wouldn’t see him as a “caveman.” He would be just another neighbor with emotions and anatomies like ours.
But what about comparing our food with prehistoric food? Unlike emotions, brain capacity, and anatomies, what man has been eating the past 10,000 years is dramatically different from prehistoric times. Unfortunately, the nutrients that built humans for more than one million years, when living conditions were far harsher than today, are the same nutrients our bodies require today. But modern foods are not delivering those nutrients and the consequences are body failings.
Recent fossil finds from the Jebel Irhoud archaeological site in Morocco reveal what our oldest-known Homo sapien ancestors were eating 300,000 years ago. Teresa Steele, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Davis, who analyzed and identified animal fossils at Jebel Irhoud, says they ate “plenty of gazelle meat, with the occasional wildebeest, zebra, and seasonal ostrich egg.” Among the other fossils, Steele also identified hartebeests, buffalos, porcupines, hares, tortoises, freshwater molluscs, and snakes. Small game was a small percentage of the remains.
Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens were primarily meat eaters. Certainly they ate plant material and seasonally some fruit and nuts. But overall their diets were consistently low glycemic, nutrient dense and diverse, with 1:1 ratios of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs) to Omega-3 EFAs. To duplicate the chemistry of the prehistoric menu today we can eat grass-fed meats, Omega-3 meats, wild-caught seafood, green leafy vegetables, other selected vegetables, and then sparingly fruit, nuts, and seeds.
With the advent of agriculture 12,000 to 10,000 years ago, humans gravitated to eating foods that were cheap, convenient, and tasty. Due to selective breeding modern varieties of fruit, nuts, and seeds (grain) are much larger than they were in their wild state. In addition fruit is much sweeter. Sugar, syrups, and vegetable oils are recent “inventions.” Consequently, many of our modern foods are high glycemic, often nutrient light or nutrient skewed, and loaded with Omega-6 EFAs. The high Omega-6 component in modern foods has increased the EFA ratios in most humans to 10:1 and even higher. Ratios above 4:1 are associated with increasing incidences of chronic disease. Ratios below 2:1 suppress many chronic diseases.
We may have fancy tools and toys these days, but our bodies are still prehistoric therefore we require prehistoric food.
To your health.
Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.
Don’t miss these links for additional reading:
Stone Age Tools by Emma Groeneveld from Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited
Timeline of Human Prehistory from Wikipedia
Homo Erectus from Smithsonian Institution
Human Evolution: Who were the Neanderthals? by Lisa Hendry from Natural History Museum
Cro-Magnon Prehistoric Human by The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
Emotions Make Us Human, Denying Them Makes Us Beasts by Victoria Klein
How Has the Human Brain Evolved? From Scientific American
The Human Anatomy from Interbody
Homo Sapiens 100,000 Years Earlier: Ancestors’ Diet of Game Revealed by University of California - Davis from Science News
The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids by Artemis Simopoulos, M.D.
New Food Analysis Tables by Ted Slanker