Friday, March 24, 2017

Dental Microwear Study: Neandertals and Early Modern Humans Had Different Dietary Strategies.

In "Neandertal versus Modern Human Dietary Responses to Climatic Fluctuations" Zaatari et al. discuss dental microwear evidence that early modern humans differed in dietary strategy from contemporaneous Neandertal humans.  Whereas Neandertals exploited plants only when in habitats rich in edible plant life (e.g. woodlands) and defaulted to almost strictly carnivorous diets when in open rangeland habitats, early modern humans appear to have opted for a more plant-rich diet regardless of whether they were in wooded or open habitats:

"Thus, the microwear data suggest that whereas Neandertals relied solely on animal meat in open habitats and only exploited plants as they became more available and diverse, modern humans seem to have indulged in plant exploitation more extensively and to have used plants to supplement their diets even in open habitats where they would have been less abundant in comparison to wooded habitats."
".....The microwear data hint that while Neandertals seem to have followed a more opportunistic dietary strategy, exploring resources only when they were most abundant and easily accessible in their local habitat (i.e., almost exclusively animal protein in open conditions but substantial amounts of plants in wooded ones), modern humans seem to have been willing to invest more effort in extracting resources from their environment (e.g., more plant foods in open conditions compared to Neandertals)."
Zaatari et al. hypothesize that a dedication to broad omnivory may have given early modern European humans an economic edge over Neandertals:
"Thus, the results of this study do not support the view that the Neandertals’ disappearance was primarily due to their inability to adapt to the severe climatic fluctuations of MIS 3. But, starting at around 42 ka cal BP, modern humans came into Western Europe, having likely entered Eastern Europe a couple of millennia earlier [3]. This could have potentially brought about competition with the Neandertals making them face an extra survival pressure [65]. If, indeed, there was any competition, and if behavioral differences like the ones suggested in this study were already established at the time of first contact, these differences might have given modern humans an advantage over the Neandertals by enabling more efficient exploitation of dietary resources in their environment and more flexibility in changing the percentages of contributions of these different resources in their diets."


bookgirl said...

Hi Don,

Like yourself I have been experimenting with a vegan whole foods diet and a whole foods omnivorous diet. I have also noticed brittle nails whilst on the vegan diet, and I still suffer from cavities (experienced this before I went vegan as well, but I hoped this WOE would cure it) so this led me to incorporate some whole fat grass-fed dairy. What do you think about dairy? Also what do you think about vitamin k2? I have been eating eggs to get some vitamin k2, as it is really hard to find on a vegan diet.

Thanks for your blog; it's very intriguing.

Don Matesz said...

Hi bookgirl,

My nails also became increasingly brittle when on a long-term vegan diet. Sorry to hear about your cavities. It may be possible to reverse cavities with sufficient nutrition. I know of no reports of reversing cavities with a vegan diet. Weston Price reported that wherever he found "devout" vegans, he found among them greatly increased dental decay. There is one old study showing reversal of tooth decay using a grain-free omnivorous diet:

I don't think dairy is species-appropriate for humans. Regardless of type of diet fed to the animals, the milk is designed by nature to feed and rapidly grow the young ones of that species. Consequently it has high levels of growth factors including hormones, and raises insulin levels substantially. Since adult humans generally are no longer in growth phases for healthy tissue, the dairy tends to promote abnormal growth of tissue, including, according to Campbell's research on casein, tumors.

Pastured eggs are good sources of K2 and also of choline, another nutrient that is scarce in plant foods. Eggs are better than dairy as there is no doubt that our species has been eating eggs for a very very long time. However, before humans took control of breeding and feeding animals, eggs could only be an relatively occasional food, relatively abundant only during natural breeding seasons for birds. In addition, pre-agricultural humans would not have used only the eggs from one species (such as chickens) but would have gotten them from many different species.

Hence I think it is best to limit egg consumption to say several eggs per week and if possible rotate species, sometimes chicken, sometimes duck, etc. Thankfully K2 is a fat soluble nutrient that the body stores, so it is not critical to get some every day. I presently take a K2 supplement due to lack of confidence that I get enough from my diet.

bookgirl said...


Thank you for your informative response. So from what I gather you probably recommend an occasional consumption of fish and, once in a while, eggs? The only reason why I am willing to consume dairy despite the risks, is because the minerals are very bioavailable for humans, and since I cannot get my hands on good sourdough bread, it's really my only option for minerals, since the phytic acid in foods like oatmeal tends to inhibit the absorption of minerals.

When I started consuming grass fed, but pasteurized, yogurt I was surprised that I did not get any acne from it, despite being a very acne prone person (for example, nuts, seeds, even breads often are havoc for my face). Also I had been eating a low fat vegan diet for some time, and I experienced menstrual cycle issues. The moment I added dairy and eggs, it came back, even though I did not gain weight. I am of Northern European heritage, so maybe, like you mentioned in another post, I might be adapted to a certain diet?

It's a sad world when man does not even know what to put in its mouth anymore...

Thanks again.

Don Matesz said...


Well, people of Northern European genetic stock likely have a greater tolerance for dairy. Interesting that it does not stimulate acne for you although the listed plant foods do.

Northern Europeans have a history of dependence on fatty north ocean fish as well. There is some evidence that in Scandinavian nations, the incidence of M.S. (neurological disease) and cardiovascular diseases both are greater inland where people tend to eat more dairy, and practically absent along coasts where people eat a lot of fish. Although I think Nothern Europeans have a higher tolerance for dairy than other genetic groups, I don't know that they are completely adapted to all of its components.

If you're not wanting to eat poultry or meat, regular consumption of fish and occasional eggs might work for you. By regular I would mean at least several times weekly. You can also use whole fish carcass, or fish heads, to make a very mineral-rich and quite tasty broth by simmering long with a little acid (e.g. lemon or vinegar).

As I have presented in a previous blog post, menstrual cycle disturbances appear to be much more common among vegans than omnivores. I would assume simply that eating any source of cholesterol including dairy, eggs, fish or meat would restore healthy menstrual cycling for an individual who lost her cycle on a vegan diet.

Don Matesz said...

Seafood is also a much better source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids than dairy. Overall I consider it nutritionally superior and preferable to dairy.

bookgirl said...

Thanks again for all your comments.

I wonder though about how come the people, especially the men, living in Sardinia were able to achieve longevity despite eating copious amounts of Sheep dairy?

Don Matesz said...

"Copious" suggests rather unusually large amounts, but from research I have seen, I believe that at the time that Sardinians had record longevity (early 20th century), they ate rather small amounts of dairy products. I could be wrong. There are so many factors at play, its not impossible. Yet I tend to view all in an evolutionary perspective, so I leave dairy to the side. Your mileage may vary.

Shameer Mulji said...

"I don't think dairy is species-appropriate for humans. Regardless of type of diet fed to the animals, the milk is designed by nature to feed and rapidly grow the young ones of that species. Consequently it has high levels of growth factors including hormones, and raises insulin levels substantially. Since adult humans generally are no longer in growth phases for healthy tissue, the dairy tends to promote abnormal growth of tissue, including, according to Campbell's research on casein, tumors. "

Does this apply also to fermented dairy like yogurt & kefir or strictly just drinking milk?

Don Matesz said...


I am not aware of any evidence that fermenting milk removes these growth factors. I am aware of some research suggesting that fermentation might make milk sugar MORE delterious as higher intake of fermented milk has been associated with greater ovarian cancer risk and this has been related to galactose exposure for some genetic types. The evidence is not conclusive at this point as the following studies demonstrate, but we do know that galactose metabolism is toxic to some body tissues particularly ovaries. (3+ servings modest association)

Maybe Northern Europeans (Netherlands) are exempt from this effect:

And maybe not (Swedish study):

And maybe it is wrong altogether:

Or maybe they are failing to study people who are completely dairy free in comparison to those who eat 'some' dairy. It seems this is the case, so its a bit like they are studying only people who smoke 1-2 packs of cigarettes daily, in which case it will be very hard to find an association between smoking and any negative outcome (because there really is no control group of non-smokers, or, in this case, non-milk-drinkers).

To me the variability and weakness of the evidence (due to lack of appropriate controls i.e. not milk drinkers) combined with the principle that the milk of any species is designed by Nature as food for the newborn of that species gives me sufficient reason to consider dairy a suboptimal if not unsuitable food for regular use by humans. But that's just my take on it.

If you had to take milk as Nature offers it, but suckling at the teat of the animals, would or could you do it? My answer is no, thus it seems my natural inclination would be not to consume a food that I couldn't get in Nature without human interference. Your answer may be different.