A 2-million-year old hominid from South Africa had a very unusual diet, an international team of researchers has found. Instead of living on grasses and wild animals from the nearby savannas, like modern humans and pre-humans that have previously been studied, Australopithecus sediba lived on bark, woody tissues, fruits and other plants found almost exclusively in forests, like modern chimpanzees.
|A. sediba hanging with the locals
A team led by anthropologist Amanda G. Henry of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Liepzig, Germany, studied the teeth from two A. sediba individuals, using a laser to blast minute amounts of enamel from the teeth for analysis in a mass spectrometer.
That allowed researchers to determine the relative amounts of the stable isotopes carbon-12 and carbon-13 in the tooth enamel that was laid down when the primates were young. Carbon-12 indicates that the hominids ate so-called C3 plants, which are mostly forest foods, such as as leaves and fruits. Carbon-13 indicates that they ate so-called C4 plants, savanna foods such as seeds, roots and grasses.
|Leopards were a real threat to early hominids.
So we're basing our entire knowledge of this species habits on two individuals? What would you determine if you based you knowledge of humans dietary habits based on two people from the same area. You could get two Inuit (almost strictly carnivorous), or two Asian Indians (vegetarians), and get two very different results.
Around the same time, there were multiple species of hominids,including Paranthropus robustus, the robust australopithicine, which is thought to have included quite a bit of rough vegetable matter in its diet. All these various lines died out, though considering the apparent promiscuity of apes and humans, they may have contributed some genes to the developing human line.
Microscopic pits and scratches on the teeth also indicated that at least one of the hominids was eating harder foods, like nuts.
"What fascinates me are that these individuals are oddballs," said co-author Matt Sponheimer of the University of Colorado at Boulder. "I had pretty well convinced myself that, after 4 million years ago, most of our hominid kin had diets that were different from living apes, but now I am not so sure."
Thanks to Wombat-Soccho, who picked this up in generic "Rule 5 Monday" this week at The Other McCain, and to the Classical Liberal, who scooped it up with "Debt Bomb" and other Rule 5 posts.