Study: Early humans, apes had different diets
Early humans may have started eating differently than chimpanzees more than 3 million years ago.
November 14th, 2012
12:29 PM ET

Study: Early humans, apes had different diets

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Humans are picky eaters, and not just because we’re the only species that reviews restaurants. A new study suggests that our ancestors’ diets may have been different from our close primate relatives much earlier than we thought.

The human ancestor in question is called Australopithecus bahrelghazali. Remains of it were found in Chad at the Koro Toro fossil site. Researchers looked at fossils are more than 3 million years old.

Researchers examined the ratios of carbon isotopes present in the teeth of this early hominin, a word paleontologists use to talk about human ancestors. They reported their results in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Based on the carbon isotope ratios, it appears that Australopithecus bahrelghazali was focusing its noshing on a special category of plants that includes tropical grasses and sedges. These grassland plants have a distinct carbon signature in an animal’s teeth.

Apes, on the other hand, such as chimpanzees, do not eat that stuff, said Mark Teaford, co-editor of the Journal of Human Evolution and professor at High Point University, who was not involved in the study.

Although primates have a wide range of plant foods in their diet, their meals broadly fall into the category of leaves, fruits and nuts – in other words, more “woody” plants.

Considering the similar anatomy of early humans to other primates, Teaford says it doesn’t necessarily follow that they would be eating a lot of grasses and sedges.

“To be able to look at the isotope work and say, this thing is eating a diet fairly similar to some more recent ones, it’s surprising,” Teaford said.

Australopithecus bahrelghazali is the earliest example of a human ancestor who may have been eating grasses and sedges, and it’s more than 1.5 million years older than a previously-identified example of a hominin with this diet.

“Here you have this early human ancestor and you say, ‘Wow, what’s allowing it to do this?’ ” Teaford said. “Maybe we’re naïve in terms of our perspective on what’s required to process these foods efficiently.”

Teaford, independent of this new study, does work on the microscopic wear on the teeth of ancient human ancestors. There’s evidence in that line of research also that the diet of our early humans was not quite like that of other primates such as chimpanzees and baboons.

It’s possible that these results reflect, instead, that human ancestors were eating animals that were eating grasses and sedges. However, Teaford said that based on the strength of the carbon isotope signal from the fossils, it is probably not based on this indirect consumption of the plants. Also, different kinds of teeth probably would have been required to cut up tough meat.

More research should be done to firm up these theories, however.

This study is only based on two individuals, and the researchers could only investigate what these early humans ate during the time period when their teeth were forming – i.e. when they were young, notes Peter Ungar, anthropologist at the University of Arkansas who co-authored a book on the human diet with Teaford.

But the results are interesting, and shows that our puzzle of the food choices of early hominids gets more complicated as we add pieces to it, he said.

“I think it’s a wake up call to say, how well do we know what our ancestors were eating and how do we know what’s required to be able to eat these foods?” Teaford said.

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soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. Timothy Perrino

    The new food pyramid provides a handy way to make sure your family gets the nutrition they need, no matter the pace of life. Let’s take a look at how easy it can be to ensure good nutrition. The food pyramid is divided into five major categories: grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meats. We’ll offer suggestions on working these essentials into the daily fare with nary a complaint.-.

    Remember to pay a visit to our favorite web site

    May 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
  2. Babu G. Ranganathan


    All real evolution in nature is within limits. The genes already exist for micro-evolution (variations within a biological kind such as varieties of dogs, cats, horses, cows, etc.), but not for macro-evolution (variations across biological kinds such as from sea sponge to human). The unthinking environment has no ability to design or program entirely new genes. Only variations of already existing genes and traits are possible. A dog will always be a dog no matter how many varieties come into being.

    Evolutionists hope and assume that, over millions of years, random mutations (accidental changes) in the genetic code caused by radiation from the environment will produce entirely new genes for entirely new traits in species so that macro-evolution occurs. It’s much like hoping that, if given enough time, randomly changing the sequence of letters in a cook book will turn the book into a romance novel, or a book on astronomy!

    Another problem for macro-evolution is the issue of survival of the fittest. How can a partially evolved species be fit for survival? A partially evolved trait or organ that is not complete and fully functioning from the start will be a liability to a species, not a survival asset. Plants and animals in the process of macro-evolution would be unfit for survival.

    Imagine an evolving fish having part fins and part feet, with the fins evolving into feet. Where’s the survival advantage? It can't use either fins or feet efficiently. These fish exist only on automobile bumper stickers!

    In fact, how could species have survived at all while their vital organs were supposedly evolving? Survival of the fittest (aka natural selection) may explain how species survive, due to minor variations and adaptations to the environment, but not how they originated. Natural selection merely “selects” from biological variations that are possible. It’s not a creative force.

    Genetic and biological similarities between species are no proof of common ancestry. Such similarities are better and more logically explained due to a common Genetic Engineer or Designer (yes, God) who designed similar functions for similar purposes in various species. Genetic information, like other forms of information, cannot arise by chance, so it's more rational to believe that DNA or genetic similarities between species are due to intelligent design.

    What about "Junk" DNA? The latest science shows that "Junk DNA" isn't junk after all! It's we who were ignorant of how useful these segments of DNA really are. Recent scientific research published in scientific journals such as Nature and RNA has revealed that the "non-coding" segments of DNA are essential in regulating gene expression (i.e. how, when, and where genes are expressed in the body).

    All the fossils that have been used to support human evolution have ultimately been found to be either hoaxes, non-human, or human, but not human and non-human.

    All species in the fossil record and living are complete, fully-formed, and fully functional. There's no macro-evolution in nature.

    Visit my newest Internet sites, THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION and WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS (2nd Edition)

    Babu G. Ranganathan
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)

    Author of the popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

    *I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I've been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who in The East" for my writings on religion and science.

    March 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  3. funny memes

    That is so true. I fell bad for those who don't believe, they'll have to find out the hard way.

    December 24, 2012 at 2:49 am |
  4. JP

    Don't you think humans would be a little overpowered with all those traits? Plus, we have our brains. We don't need super eyesight, we can make binoculars. We don't need super speed, we have cars and jets and boats. Heck, We can even go into space!!!

    December 6, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  5. w l jones

    Not to far from Chad in Gabon Africa human were using Atomic power plant two billion years ago . ,,same as we are today.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  6. Icelandic girl

    Evolution is the survival of the fittest...... Who gave us our emotions and tears? We cry when we are sad....WHY? We laugh when we are happy and hear something funny....WHY? We see in color....WHY? We can show and feel love....WHY? We don't NEED those things for survival...... What about our conscience?? We don't NEED that either...... Lets also look away from us humans...and away from our planet earth wich is a testimony in itself....raise your eyes high up and see the stars and the universe itself. WOW, how AWESOME it is. All these things are a gift from someone who loves us wery much. Jehovah God, the Creator of the universe and everything that is in excistence.

    November 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      Oh, you poor little girl... Evolution is NOT the survival of the fittest. Evolution is the gradual change of (something) over time. Survival of the fittest is a catch phrase. Other than that, you ask a lot of questions, and the only answer you provide is "goddunnit". You seem to be under the impression that we are the only creatures who see in colour... that is demonstrably false... open a biology text book and learn of the other species who see in colour. To show the ignorance of your reasoning... your bible claims god made man in his own image, therefore, we are nearly god like... why then did he create humans with worse eyesight than the octopus? than the eagle? why did he make us slower than the cheetah? why did he make us weaker than the chimpanzee? Why did he give dogs a better sense of smell? why did he give bats echo location and not us? For that matter, who made god? Where does god live? Which account of Jesus' birth is correct, Matthew or Luke? Your god doesn't answer any questions... evolution does. All you have to do is read a science text book... if you don't understand, you ask a science teacher to explain it to you.

      November 29, 2012 at 3:31 am |
  7. George Bush

    Apes ate fried chicken, watermelon, and sweet potato pie! All charged up on their EBTs!

    November 26, 2012 at 6:17 am |
    • tron

      That is why he is holding an obamaphone in his right hand.

      November 26, 2012 at 11:07 am |
      • George Bush

        Well, you mean a Reaganphone, the free phone program was started by in 1984 with free land line service.

        November 27, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • tlppdx

      I cannot believe either of you cannot be reported. Nice racism dudes. How's that thought process workin out for ya?

      November 27, 2012 at 3:43 am |
      • JP

        Again, why can't they be reported?

        December 6, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  8. John Williams

    This whole subject is hilarious. It has no impact on anything, yet people become angry or demeaning or so passionate. Its like sports betting sheets. For entertainment purposes only.

    November 24, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • camilleguenard

      I would argue that it is important, because we can figure out what foods are bodies are naturally designed for. The processed foods we eat to today make us sick. If we discover that humans evolved on fruit, leaves, nuts, and raw meat then we know what diet is healthiest for us today and what we should eat for maximum health and minimum sickness.

      November 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  9. Lori

    Wow ok evolution is not a matter of opinion. If you don't know about science what gives you the idea your rebuttle against scientific evidence is worth anything? It's like having a infant teach you to play piano.

    November 24, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  10. old Marine

    I read recently that only in the USA do educated people give at least lip service to the validity of a Genesis myth. In my own view, the miracle is not did it take 6 days or 6 billion years, but that it happened at all! If it tool 2 weeks instead of 1, would it be only half as miraculous?

    November 23, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      The word miraculous implies a magic power... magic does not exist... Harry Potter isn't real.

      November 25, 2012 at 6:14 am |
  11. Lotus

    Even all these things, and others similar that will still be discovered aren't able to invalidate the belief that God created all the life. Cheers

    November 21, 2012 at 3:56 am |
  12. Joe

    Ummmm, humans are apes.

    November 20, 2012 at 5:28 am |
    • zlop

      Apes "Ummmm" not.

      November 21, 2012 at 2:52 am |
    • CA Liberal

      Yup....certainly not related to dogs, cats or cows.

      November 21, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Oakstave

      No! Humans are primates. Apes are primates. Humans are not Apes.

      Caribou are deer. Moose are deer. Caribou are not moose. Get it?

      November 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
      • Matt

        Yes, humans are not considered to be apes by current scientific thinking, but I think that point can be argued.

        November 30, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  13. Fritz

    Our diet changed when we got flushed out of the trees because they were disappearing from our range. Those lucky chimps got to stay in the trees while our kind had to root around on the ground while dodging those pessky lions. An accident of location I guess. That's how we got the notion of spending lots of time on our haunches peering over the tall fescue...which tasted terrible give us enough warning to hightail it to the nearest tree when some lion lookin' for a snack spotted us scrounging on the ground. Being bipedal while rootin' around for a lousy tuber keeps you alive long enough to reproduce! Then with these front paws with these marvelous thumbs, a holdover from tree life, we could manipulate thingies like sticks an' stones to make cool stuff to bonk the lions with! And each other too! That mental stimulation made our brains grow so we could figure out what that hot glowing stuff was (fire) and how to make it. It's been all downhill since then! ;oD

    November 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Have to know

      Fritz, that was great, and probably right on track! Good job! and thanks!

      November 28, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  14. Johnny 5

    We are primates and we've never separated ourselves from them. We just do things a little differently. We are them and they are us, in short. It's that simple.

    November 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  15. tron

    Is that an Obama phone he is holding in his right hand?

    November 16, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  16. Sane Person

    It's always hilarious watching religious people argue against things they don't understand at all. To be religious is to be wilfully stupid.

    November 16, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  17. J.C.

    evolution, or should i say EVILution! Humans from monkeys make no cents what makes cents is GOD creating the earth in 7 days then he created man and then the inferior women then that stupid broad listened to the talking snake and now we have to make up for origninal sin by wearing hats, eating jesus' flesh and blood, paying the Church to molest our children, and hating gay people. All scientists should and will BURN IN HELL. GOD LOVES US ALL and GOD BLESS AMERICA

    November 15, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • rosethornne

      Check your straps, I think that tinfoil hat must be coming loose.

      November 16, 2012 at 9:03 am |
      • fimeilleur

        check your dictionary for the word SATIRE...

        November 25, 2012 at 6:19 am |
    • JC is the man

      Genius JC! Genius!!

      November 17, 2012 at 12:37 am |
      • J.C.

        There is no genius but Christ. Praise be his name!!!!!!

        November 17, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • CA Liberal

      I believe differently...My faith tells me that Oingo-Boingo created the earth in 1 day from elephant guts and all the gut bugs became the first people. The h*ll with all the scientists and their "theories".

      November 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  18. Your screw is loose

    "our close primate relatives". I'm insulted and shake my head in disbelief. You so-called scientists should be wearing a different kind of white jacket – a strait jacket! You can call YOUR relatives apes and monkeys, but my ancestors were born human from Day 1 to present!

    November 15, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • lolololol

      These people don't believe evolution.
      It is just a theory, after all.

      November 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Primewonk

      The bigger question is this – Why do people who purposefully choose to be ignorant about science, come onto science threads and post inane religious drivel demonstrating that ignorance for all to see?

      November 16, 2012 at 8:22 am |
      • Have to know

        Now, THAT is the truth. Lets them get their fix for the day, their irate fix! Gotta get uppity about something to know they are alive. Geez

        November 28, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • JC is the man

      Monkeys r funny. He thinks we didnt come from monkeys!! Funny funny funny.

      November 17, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Johnny 5

      We are them and they are us. Face the facts and move forward.

      November 17, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bangalorean

      hahahhahaha Funnnyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

      November 20, 2012 at 1:28 am |
    • Joe

      He's insulted. Really? Reality insults you? The war is over dude...even the Catholic Church gave up fighting this battle.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:32 am |
  19. truthonlyat51


    November 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded


      If you adhere to the bible, NO

      November 15, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • JC is the man

      No. You are funny. I love it when grown ups believe in a "creator". "He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good. But if you kill someone, he won't do anything about it, even though he is all powerful and real."
      Wait, I....

      November 17, 2012 at 12:42 am |
      • Have to know

        OMGoodness, that is funny and SO TRUE. I, myself would rather believe in Santa Clause...he is much nicer and only comes around once a year...and he MUST be real cause Norad tracks him every year! They don't do that for the "other guy in the sky".

        November 28, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • Joe

      Evolution is fact. There was no Adam and no Eve. No talking snake. No original sin. No need for salvation and no need for a savior. If you don't take Genesis literally the whole story is allegory.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:35 am |
      • Your screw is loose

        Wow. For an agnostic, you seem to know a lot about the Bible. It's amazing when people acknowledge something that doesn't exist, but yet it does. Something has to exist in order to be denied! Think about it.

        November 20, 2012 at 8:08 am |
      • quag

        Really, so all I have to do is deny something and that means it exists? I deny unicorns. Dolt!

        November 24, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
      • Have to know

        I deny that I want to win the 500 million dollar lottery.....wait...wait....crap it didn't work!

        November 28, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  20. truthonlyat51

    Monkeys and humans are differant species no matter how many billion years you go each way, why else would you still have monkeys and humans. why wouldnt all evolve? No wander they have differant diets!

    November 14, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • AGrey

      So we are clear, the animal in the photo is a chimpanzee, not a monkey. But monkeys, humans, and chimpanzees are indeed different species, but share a relatively recent common ancestor. Monkeys and chimps are not "less evolved" than humans, they simply took different evolutionary pathways away from the common ancestor.

      November 15, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • Joe

      "Still have monkeys" is the wrong verbiage. The reason that there are monkeys and humans at the same time is the same reason that you have/had a grandpa but also have a cousin. We share a common ancestor with monkeys and fish and all other living organisms...even plants. However, chimps are our closest living relative that is a different species.

      November 20, 2012 at 7:25 am |
      • Your screw is loose

        say what? lol. I hope you don't go out in public saying that! People will laugh you out of the building.

        November 20, 2012 at 8:01 am |
      • quag

        They would laugh me out of your Common ancestry is proven with genetics alone. So without a single fossil, evolution is a fact. I think you are a troll because you make silly claims and back them up with nothing.

        November 24, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  21. Ann

    I love Wheat Grass

    November 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  22. tony

    "Also, different kinds of teeth probably would have been required to cut up tough meat."
    So the latest paleolithic fad diet is BS.
    More grains less meat. Sounds like the new food pyramid.

    November 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • larry5

      One of the most important parts of the Paleo diet is to not eat chemicals, preservatives, prepared food that has been "improved", mystery food, dairy products and fake sugars. Good food is expensive in the short run and a screaming deal in the long run.

      November 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  23. Nairwd

    in a million years from now, if we're not extinct yet, someone will find fossilized remains of a human teenager oddball who liked to eat glue, and come up with all kinds of theories based on ONE fossil. :-/

    November 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • JC is the man

      Actually one of the smartest things said yet! We assume the "one" sample is the accepted norm and never take the one-off into consideration. How many folks these days are little people or those with giantism. Or some orher difference?

      November 17, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  24. Jeff

    Well now, humans were never apes, apes will never be human! Evolution is a "theory." The so called "missing link" between the humans and apes hasn't been found, and never will be! When someone gets hungry, if at all possible, they eat! Simple as that. How much does this scientist make yearly for studying teeth? Better still, who gives a flip about what someone was eating 6000 years ago!?!

    November 14, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • snowboarder

      thanks for the laugh jeff

      November 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Jon

      Try millions of years ago...not six thousand. Get your nose out of that book and join the modern people.

      November 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Dan

      November 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Susan

      Saying it's ok to reject evolution because it's "just a theory" shows you don't know the various meanings of the word "theory". English is like that - lots of words have somewhat different meanings in different contexts. A scientific :"theory" is not unproven. It's proof lies in how well it explains observable stuff and predicts useful new underrstandings and results. For instance, the theory of evolution implied that there had to be some universal life thingy, and intrigued scientists hunted it down, eventually finding it and calling it DNA. The discovery and study of DNA is a solid result of the theory of evolution that proves evolution. It's widely accepted as a crime-solving tool by people who don't realize the evolution connection. Scientists are using DNA to study a lot more than criminal idenity; It shows for instance that we are not descended from any existing apes,but from a common being (now extinct) that evolved in different way into chimpanzees and humans. Chimps can't become human now - it doesn't work that way. But we had a common ancestor way back that was neither chimp nor human. This was a brilliant insight based on indirect evidence by early evolutionary scientists. It is now demonstrable. You don't have to be brilliant to see it now. In fact, you have to be willfully blind not to see it. It is not optional.

      November 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
      • Have to know

        Thank you, Susan, VERY well put!

        November 28, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Primewonk

      Humans are apes. We are great apes.

      Your post is an exellent example of what happens when you choose to get your "sciency" information from the "Pastor Dave's" of the world. The problem is that "Pastor Dave" is just as ignorant about sciece as his minions.

      November 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  25. Alex

    Since the study was based on two individuals when their teeth were forming, it can't consider other possiblities for a 'woody' diet such as drought or other crisis that led to that being the only food available.
    More and varied study is needed but understandably there is a lack fossil evidence to study.

    November 14, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  26. Chase

    first of all humans aren't picky eaters. what is out there that a human hasnt tried to eat? (other than feces and urine, which has been done). Maybe where your from you only eat what YOU WANT but I consider all options when hungry, and then pick the best. Its called choosing your best options....NOT PICKY. If I had to drink my own urine or eat wild meat to survive I would. Just like any HUMAN. It annoys me how the generations are turning immature and unwilling unless its THEIR way.

    November 14, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Mike

      We only eat around 15% of the worl's food sources.

      November 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  27. billygraham

    none of this ever happened.

    November 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Jon

      God planted these bones to fool non-believers.

      November 14, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
      • Ben Rast

        Why would God provide significant evidence contrary to the Bible and even his own existence? In what possible context does that make sense?

        November 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
      • JP

        That is so true. I fell bad for those who don't believe, they'll have to find out the hard way. Hope your "theory" can help you where your going.

        December 6, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • Dan

      Go put your head back in the sand.

      November 14, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Bhikhu Patel

      I believe in supreme because my parents taught me. But When I got educated my thinking changed. There is no proof that God created universe in 7 days. But there are many proofs scientifically available that humans evolved from common ancester. From common ancester many different species evolved such as humans,apes,chimps etc. Apes chimp can not be evolved into humans now because they evolved that way from the common ancester. Please give me solid proof contrarary to my belief. Thank you.

      November 16, 2012 at 10:51 am |
      • Your screw is loose

        just open your heart and soul, not your mind!

        November 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
      • Your screw is loose

        say what?

        November 16, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
      • Have to know

        Please tell me you are not serious, open your heart and not your mind! That is the problem with the world...closed minds. SO MANY people would be alive and happy if others would just open their minds!!! open heart too but OPEN THAT MIND!!! open open open!

        November 28, 2012 at 10:13 am |
      • JP

        I have a question. How did the big bang start? I don't think space randomly explodes. Plus, if you read a Bible, you'll get all the proof you need.

        December 6, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  28. james

    Humans learded to cook thier food , domesticate animals, and plant gardens, where as Neanderthals hunted meat.

    November 14, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • BOFH

      ... which is about as relevant as invention of cellphones would be for an article about building of pyramids.
      Domestication of animals and beginning of agriculture: somewhere between 10 and 20 thousands years ago.
      Extinction of Neandertals: about 30 thousands. Beginning of cooking – well before that, and Neandertals definitely did cook food.
      Anything discussed in this article: >3 millions, i.e. 3000 thousands.

      November 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      humans dont hunt for meat anymore? thats news to me

      November 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  29. Josh

    Or it could be that early humans were smart enough to try different foods, when faced with the alternative of starving to death.

    November 14, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
    • Chase


      November 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm |


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