Scientists from Tel Aviv University proposed a new model that explains the disappearance of Homo erectus in favor of new species as being directly related to food sources (elephants) and the fat content available in a paper posted at the PLOS One web site on December 9, 2011.
The findings are not only relevant to humans evolutionary development 400,000 years ago but may be an insightful argument for new changes in man as he faces the prospects of loss of food sources due to global warming.
The basic finding based on teeth recently found in the Acheulo-Yabrudian 400-200 kyr site of Qesem Cave correlates the dependence of Homo erectus on elephants as a food source. When the elephants died out in the Levant Homo erectus was replaced by a Levantine Acheulo-Yabrudian hominin that was capable of obtaining high energy fat food from smaller animals.
“It should not come as a surprise that H. erectus, and its successors managed, and in fact evolved, to obtain a substantial amount of the densest form of nutritional energy available in nature – fat – to the point that it became an obligatory food source. Animal fat was an essential food source necessary in order to meet the daily energy expenditure of these Pleistocene hominins, especially taking into account their large energy-demanding brains. It should also not come as a surprise that for a predator, the disappearance of a major prey animal may be a significant reason for evolutionary change. The elephant was a uniquely large and fat-rich food-package and therefore a most attractive target during the Levantine Lower Palaeolithic Acheulian. Our calculations show that the elephant’s disappearance from the Levant just before 400 kyr was significant enough an event to have triggered the evolution of a species that was more adept, both physically and mentally, to obtain dense energy (such as fat) from a higher number of smaller, more evasive animals. The concomitant emergence of a new and innovative cultural complex – the Acheulo-Yabrudian, heralds a new set of behavioral habits including changes in hunting and sharing practices.”
“Thus, the particular dietary developments and cultural innovations joined together at the end of the Lower Paleolithic period in the Levant, reflecting a link between human biological and cultural/behavioral evolution. If indeed, as we tried to show, the dependence of humans on fat was so fundamental to their existence, the application is made possible, perhaps after some refinement, of this proposed bioenergetic model to the understanding of other important developments in human evolutionary history.”
Man the Fat Hunter: The Demise of Homo erectus and the Emergence of a New Hominin Lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca. 400 kyr) Levant
Miki Ben-Dor1, Avi Gopher1, Israel Hershkovitz2, Ran Barkai1*
1 Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel, 2 Department of Anatomy and Anthropology, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Dan David Laboratory for the Search and Study of Modern Humans, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
Citation: Ben-Dor M, Gopher A, Hershkovitz I, Barkai R (2011) Man the Fat Hunter: The Demise of Homo erectus and the Emergence of a New Hominin Lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca. 400 kyr) Levant. PLoS ONE 6(12): e28689. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028689