Anthropology P380: Prehistoric Diet and Nutrition

Project IC: A comparative nutritional analysis

This assignment is due in class on Tuesday Feb 24

Part C :  Analyze the nutritional quality of a typical daily diet of a group of hunter-gatherers in southern Africa, & compare their diet to your own.

Refer to the descriptions, below, of the eating behavior of a group over a couple of days, and follow the following steps:

Analysis Steps:

1. Go through the description, and make a list of the total amounts of different foods that were consumed by the group. You will need to estimate quantities of foods, and note these on your records. Locate their nutrient data per 100 g portion on the food data provided in the table at the bottom of this page.

2. Pick an individual from the !Kung group who is similar to yourself, and estimate what you feel their share of the group's total food was likely to be on each day. Calculate the number of 100g portions this would represent. (Discuss this with other class members!) Describe the logic of your choices in your essay. NOte: this is often a challenge nutritional anthropologists face in the field, as it is difficult to collect precise data on the foods all individuals in a group eat. Therefore, being clear about what you are basing your estimates on is important.

3. Using the NAP program, enter the nutrient values per 100 g portion for the types of food eaten by your !Kung individual into the database. Then use the program to analyze the nutritional quality of the diet of your chosen individual for Day 1 and Day 2 just as you did for your own diet (but using quantities in grams). Make print-outs of these analyses to compare to your own diet analysis.

IC Essay:

Write a 2-3 page essay that compares your conclusions about your own diet, which you wrote about in part B, to the diet of the !Kung individual you have chosen to analyze. Include in this essay:

  • a description of how you calculated the diet of !Kung individual you chose from the group data given to you. Discuss how "typical" or representative you think the sampled two-day diet of your individual was, compared to other individuals, or other times of the year. (You could discuss this in the context of how "typical" the two-day sample of your own diet was.)
  • a comparison of your diet to the diet of your !Kung individual, in terms of: caloric content (relative to body size), amount/type of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, and the amounts of cholesterol, saturated fats, fiber, and salt in the !Kung diet, both to your own actual diet, and the RDA calculated for the !Kung's profile that you enter.
  • Evaluate how "healthy" this !Kung individual's diet would be, compared to yours, in relation to the Paleo Diet and the second diet recommendations you analyzed in Part IB.
  • Overall, reflect on this entire project in your concluding paragraph -- what questions has it raised in your own mind, either about the quality of your own diet, or the dietary recommendations that you have read about?


!Kung diet data:

Read about the !Kung before starting this part of the assignment!

  • chapter 4 in Richard Lee's small book The Dobe !Kung on e-reserve.
  • John Yellen's article from Scientific American
  • the debate about mongongos and foraging strategy between Milton & Sih and O'Connell and Hawkes

The !Kung San are a group of people living in the Kalahari region of southern Africa who have been extensively studied by anthropologists during the last 30 years. While most !Kung now live in settlements at missions and feeding stations, when they were first visited by the anthropologist Richard Lee in the 1960's, many of them depended upon hunting and gathering for almost all of their food. You can refer to

A number of medical anthropologists and demographers have noted the good health of the !Kung, compared to western industrial standards; most of the "diseases of civilization," such as hypertension, atherosclerosis (heart disease), diabetes, and many forms of diet-related cancer, are extremely rare among traditional hunter-gatherers, including the !Kung. (e.g. average serum cholesterol level of !Kung is 120, compared to 210 in American white males). The !Kung are small in stature, lean, and well-nourished. Adult women average 4'10" tall, 87 lb, and men average 5'2"tall and 112 lb. They are also very active. While !Kung women typically only spend 12-20 hours a week actively gathering plant foods, they carry infants (and sometimes older children -- children are not weaned until they are 3-4 years old) with them while they work, and typically carry the weight of the day's harvest and/or firewood (often 25-30 lbs) 5 miles or more back to camp. Many plant foods such as mongongo nuts require long preparation times as well. The saying "a woman's work is never done" is certainly true among the !Kung! Men do most of the hunting, and some gathering, but typically only hunt 1-2 days a week.

Lee recorded information about the wild plant and animal foods that the !Kung collected, so it is possible to evaluate the nutritional content of their average wildfood diet. During the mongongo season, for example, Lee calculated that the average per capita caloric intake is 2355 kcal/day, while the average energy expenditure per person was 1975 kcal/day. However, he did not record food intakes by individual, only by group. So you will need to estimate the average daily diet of an individual !Kung from the descriptive information below.

The !Kung actively share food. Plant foods and animal foods collected by women and children are shared within family groups. Hunted game animals are the "property" of those involved in the hunt (including the owner of the dog, and the maker of the arrow), but game meat is shared throughout the community, so that every individual gets a portion. Overall, vegetable foods provide about 70% of the !Kung diet.

Two days of winter foraging with the !Kung

July is neither the best nor the worst time of year for !Kung subsistence. Winter in the Kalahari is cool and dry. The !Kung congregate in semi-permanent camps near water holes during this season. A number of plantfood staples are available during the winter months, including the important mongongo fruit/nut, and the diet is varied. The crisp, clear days are ideal for walking, visiting relatives in other camps, and tracking and snaring animals.

The camp at the Dobe waterhole had 25 people in it during the two days reported here, grouped in 4 households:

  • =Toma, his wife N!ai, their 4 children (ages 2, 6, 11, 16), and N!ai's grandmother
  • K''au and his wife N!uhka and their 2 children (6 mo, 4 years old)
  • /Twi and his wives //Kushe and /Tasa, their 5 children (ages 1, 5 & 3, 8, 13), /Twi's grandmother, and both of /Tasa' parents
  • Bo and his wife //Koka, and their first child (1 year old)

Day 1

While the men and older people stayed in camp, the women went gathering in two groups with their children. N!ai and N!uhka picked Grewia berries about an hour's walk from camp. They and the young children ate and picked berries for several hours, taking about 6 litres of berries each back to camp. Each litre (4 cups) of berries yields about 300 grams of edible fruit. On the way home N!ai dug up 11 Tan roots, and N!uhnka dug 8 Tan roots and one Xwa root. The Tan roots ranged between one and two kilos each. The Xwa root was one kilo. Meanwhile, //Koka, //Kushe, and /Tasa had also gone gathering; //Koka brought back 6 babobab fruit and 1 Xwa root, and the others returned with 1 dozen Baobab fruit (each baobab fruit weighs 100-200 grams), and 2 Xwa roots between them. =Toma and /Twi's eldest children collected 6 small bird's eggs, two lizards of 200 grams each, and 50 Ts'in bean pods (750g edible seeds) together.

Day 2

=Toma, N!ai, //Koka and their children walked 4 hours to the Mongongo grove and carried back 30 kg of whole nuts to the camp. With the help of grandmother, they roasted and cracked some of the nuts that afternoon, providing about 1500 g of nutmeats for N!ai's family and 500 g for //Koka's family. N!uhka and /Tasa and their children picked and ate Grewia berries for several hours, each bringing back a quart of berries to share with their families that evening. /Twi had gone hunting and killed a small antelope (15 kg whole carcass 6 kg meat and some marrow bones), which he brought back to camp and shared with all the families.



!Kung food nutritional data and descriptions reported in the following tables are mainly taken from R.B. Lee's 1979 book The !Kung San. Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society Cambridge University Press. Note that information on all the nutrients in these foods is not available -- just use the information you have.

 food name  Mongongo nut Mongongo fruit  Grewia berries  Baobab fruit  Ts'in bean seeds
 kcal/100g  654  312  293  388  544
 moisture / 100g  4.2  13.4  10.6  5.2  5.2
 minerals / 100g  4.0  5.7  3.7  7.3  2.9
 protein/100g  28.3  6.6  5.4  14.3  31.6
dietary fats /100g  58.4  0.6  0.2  13.9  36.1
 cholesterol mg/100g  0  0  0  0  0
 % polyunsaturated fatty acids  ?  ?  ?  ?  ?
 soluble carbohydrates / 100g  3.7  70.2  67.5  51.4  23.2
 fiber / 100g  1.5  3.5  12.6  10.7  1.0
 Calcium Mg/100g  249  89.6  157  272  136
 Magnesiummg/100g  500  195  172  630  258
 iron mg/100 g  2.07  0.74  4.7  9.51  3.3
 sodium mg/100g  2.0  1.01  31.0  76.3  89.0
 potassium mg/100g  686.6  1760  655  4173  849
 B-carotene mg/100g  ?  0  ?  ?  0.22
 thiamine mg/100g  0.13  ?  ?  ?  0.94
 riboflavin mg/100g  0.14  0.11  ?  ?  0.82
 Vitamin C mg/100g  0.57  8.51  ?  ?  2.19

 food name  /Tan root !Xwa root  lizard  antelope  bird eggs (use a small fowl egg equivalent)
 kcal/100g  47  31  113  150  
 moisture / 100g  82.0  90.0  73  60.2  
 minerals / 100g  4.1  1.5    7.2  
 protein/100g  2.2  0.6  24  30.4  
dietary fats /100g  0.1  0.7  1.2  2.2  
 cholesterol mg/100g  0  0  0  80  
 % polyunsaturated fatty acids  ?  ?  ~60%  32%  
 soluble carbohydrates / 100g  9.4  5.6  0  0  
 fiber / 100g  2.2  1.6  0  0  
 Calcium Mg/100g  201.9  ?    65  
 Magnesiummg/100g  944  ?      
 Phosphorus mg/100g        302  
 iron mg/100 g  0.45  ?    2.1  
 sodium mg/100g  11.1  ?      
 potassium mg/100g  262  ?      
 B-carotene mg/100g  0  ?      
 thiamine mg/100g  0.06  0.05    0.07  
 riboflavin mg/100g  ?  0.02    0.28  
 Vitamin C mg/100g  3.35  5.84  0  0  

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Last updated: 11 February, 2004
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