Anthropology P380:

Prehistoric Diet and Nutrition
 Professor Jeanne Sept   Office: Student Building130A; 5-2555   TR 1-2; or by appointment

Syllabus | Readings | Lectures | Assignments

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I. Weeks 1-5: 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 hunter-gatherers, and this should help you put some of the current "diet fads" in an evolutionary perspective.

II. Weeks 6-9: We will then review the 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). Our aim will be to understand both the long-term history of human diet, and the limits of our knowledge of the past. You will be using an interactive computer program "Investigating Olduvai" to help you learn how archaeologists study animal bones from sites (faunal analysis) to determine whether our ancestors were hunters or scavengers.

III. Weeks 10-15: Finally, we will look at the prehistoric record for the transition from hunting and gathering to food production, again focusing on the different methods used to reconstruct the diet and health of prehistoric peoples (including the study of human bone chemistry and pathology, and plant remains, animal bones and artifacts from archaeological sites). Agriculture has not only changed the types of foods we eat, it has profoundly influenced many aspects of our health and lifestyle.


This class requires a lot of work: especially reading, writing and thinking. It is designed to give you a broad introduction to the topic, while also allowing you to explore topics of particular interest to you.

READINGS: Three texts are required for this course, and can be purchased from the bookstore:

&Mac183; Loren Cordain 2002. The Paleo Diet. John Wiley & Sons NJ

&Mac183; T. Douglas Price & Anne Birgitte Gebauer (eds) 1995. Last Hunters First Farmers. New perspectives on the Prehistoric Transition to Agriculture. School of American Research Press. NM

&Mac183; Jeanne Sept 1998 Investigating Olduvai CD-ROM Indiana University Press (also available from IU Media reserves)

Several other readings from books and journals (50-100 pp per week) will be required. These will available on e-reserves, or in the library.

COMPUTER WORK: We will use digital resources for this class in several ways.

We will be using ONCOURSE. By connecting to the class website you will be able to access the syllabus, quizzes, assignments and basic lecture notes, and also find links to useful online resources about diet and nutrition related to our coursework.

You will also be required to read and work with my CD-ROM called "Investigating Olduvai" (runs best on Mac computers or older Windows machines), and can either purchase it at one of the bookstores, or borrow one of the two copies at the UGL Media Desk (available for 1-day loan). You will use the Investigating Olduvai CD-ROM for class readings and your second project, which focuses on the issue of how much meat our proto-human ancestors ate, and whether they were hunters or scavengers.

Attention Graduate Students ! You can get graduate credit for this course if you do extra readings and a longer research paper, in addition to completing all the undergraduate course requirements. Please talk to Professor Sept about your interests.

Your grade will be based on Quizzes and take-home essays and research work, which we will spread out evenly during the semester.

There will be six "open book" online quizzes, available through Oncourse. They will be designed to encourage you keep up with the readings and lectures. Each quiz will have a specific deadline (due every other week), and late quizzes will not be accepted. Each quiz will be equally weighted, each with a variety of different types of questions.

Take-home essays and research projects will complement the materials covered in each third of the course. Written work turned in late will lose half a grade every day it is late unless I approve an excuse for you, based on medical or other issues. Please consult me about any assignment problems BEFORE the due dates. I will encourage you to work in groups and consult each other on assignments and projects, but I also expect you to turn in your own, original written work for your own grade, and I expect you to complete every assignment .

An optional Final Exam will give you the opportunity to improve your point score and course grade at the end of the semester.

Course Grades will be determined based on the following Grade Point System:. (NOTE: this is not the same as a percentage scale!)

A 100 - 95

A- 94 - 88

B+ 87 - 79

B 78 - 71

B- 70 - 63

C+ 62 - 54

C 53 - 46

C- 45 - 38

D+ 37 - 30

D 29 - 21

D- 20 - 15

F < 15

Assignment Relative weight Maximum score (A=4.0)
I - Personal Diet report 1 1 x 4.0 = 4
I - Paleo Diet Review 4 4 x 4.0 = 16
I - Dietary Comparison 2 2 x 4.0 = 8
II – Olduvai Analysis 3 3 x 4.0 = 12
II - Hominid Diet essay 3 3 x 4.10 = 12
III – Research Paper 6 6 x 4.0 = 24
Oncourse Quizzes 6 6 x 4.0 = 24
Optional (extra credit) Final Exam (3) (3 x 4.0 = 12)
Total possible 25 (28) 100 (112)

Links to related topics

Human Origins and Evolution in Africa Home Page

Jeanne Sept's Personal Home Page

IU Bloomington Home Page

Last updated: 30 August, 1999

Copyright 1998 Jeanne Sept