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Scientists overturn long-held beliefs after making shocking discovery about diet of Stone Age humans: 'They were probably a lot more adaptable'

"The biases of previous researchers … could furthermore inflate the [past learnings]."

"The biases of previous researchers ... could furthermore inflate the [past learnings]."

Photo Credit: iStock

A discovery about the diet of Stone Age humans may just turn around some common assumptions.

In a study published in PLOS ONE on Jan. 24, researchers found in the remains of 24 people the evidence of a plant-based diet. The analyzed bones from two burial sites on the Andean Altiplano of Peru showed plants made up 70 to 95% of the average diet.

"Burnt plant remains found at the burial sites suggest that tubers were likely the most important food source," The Weather Channel reported. "Further, the distinct dental-wear patterns on the individuals' upper incisors also support the idea of a plant-based diet."

Anthropologists and archaeologists have traditionally described early humans as hunter-gatherers who evolved from scavengers and relied on meat for energy. Studies have shown their diets consisted of 68% animal foods.

But at least in this corner of the world, that was not true.

"So, what does this mean for our understanding of these ancient societies?" Ashmita Gupta of The Weather Channel India wrote. "Well, it turns out that they were probably a lot more adaptable and resourceful than we ever gave them credit for. Not only did they figure out how to survive in the harsh, high-altitude environment of the Andes, but they also thrived on a diet that was surprisingly plant-based.

"As per researchers, the commonly used description of early humans as 'hunter-gatherers' should be changed to 'gatherer-hunters,' at least in the Andes of South America."

The Guardian noted the tuber-focused diet may have included wild potatoes and that the meat portion was likely based on large mammals such as deer or llamas and not small mammals, birds, or fish.

The study pointed out that the well-traveled idea that humans who lived 6,500 to 9,000 years ago ate mostly meat is based on preservation biases; projectile points and animal bones are more likely to be unearthed than plant materials. "The biases of previous researchers who have generally been males from a culture in which hunting is a distinctly masculine pursuit could furthermore inflate the hunting signal," the authors wrote.

Whether this finding is an anomaly or the first step of many that will change the narrative, plant-based diets have proved to be beneficial to human health. One method is the "plant slant," undertaken in the five global "blue zones," where people consume mostly beans, whole grains, and vegetables — and live longer.

Another diet that rarely includes meat is the Mediterranean, which includes the newly popular lupini beans.

Reducing your red meat consumption can lessen your risk of developing diabetes, and less demand for livestock — which produces 14.5% of global planet-warming gases — means less pollution in our atmosphere.

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