Anthropology | Prehistoric Diet & Nutrition
P380 | 26756 | Sept

“YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT,”  we are often told.  Yet human diets today are
very different from those of our ancestors of just a few thousand
years ago. Are people adapted to their modern diets?   Is there a
"natural" diet for humans?

This course will explore how the long-term history of human diet has
influenced our genetic, physiological, cultural and social
development. It will focus on how we must integrate data from both
human evolutionary biology (e.g. fossil anatomy, bone chemistry) and
prehistoric culture (e.g., technology, food remains) to arrive at an
understanding of our dietary heritage. Our aims will be to understand
the evolution of human diet through time, the current scientific
limits of our knowledge of the past, and the relevance of research on
ancient foodways to our lives today.  In particular, this class will
cover topics which relate directly to issues of “Darwinian Medicine,”
and to questions about “ancient food-ways.”


I. We will begin with a brief review of modern "human primate"
nutrition and examine some of the biological and cultural factors that
can influence human food choice. You will compare your own diet to the
diets of non-human primates and human foragers, and this should help
you put some of the current "diet fads" in an evolutionary
perspective, and help you better understand the health effects of your
own dietary preferences.

II. We will then review the deep prehistoric record for proto-human
diet, focusing on case studies of the different methods used to
reconstruct diets (including studies of fossil anatomy & tooth wear,
bone chemistry, and artifact and faunal analysis of the earliest
archaeological sites). You will choose an archaeological case to study
in-depth to help you learn how archaeologists study remains from sites
to evaluate how prehistoric humans made a living before farming.

III. Finally, we will look at the more recent prehistoric record for
the transition from foraging to food production.  We will review the
different methods used to reconstruct the diet and health of
prehistoric peoples (including the study of human bone chemistry and
pathology, and organic residues, plant remains, animal bones and
artifacts from archaeological sites). Agriculture has not only changed
the types of foods we eat, it has also profoundly influenced many
aspects of our health and lifestyle.