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The Paleo Diet For Australopithecines: Approaching The Meat Of The Matter (Big Brains Require An Explanation, Part IV)
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March 12, 2012
10:58 am
Matthew
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I've just discovered your site (two days ago) and am finding the articles fascinating. This particular series is excellent, your writing style keeps the story line engaging and informative without getting sidetracked down speculative rabbit holes. I look forward to the next installment. I've also placed an order for your book. So far so good, keep it coming!

March 12, 2012
2:57 pm
Luke Terry
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Great stuff. Keep'em coming with this physical anthropology. I'm diggin' it!~

March 12, 2012
11:35 pm
Vizeet
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I think if Neanderthals were at-least as intelligent as humans then they could have easily copied humans weapons if technology gave humans an edge. Neanderthals didn't do that simply implies that humans projectile weapons did not have any advantage.

If I look into history the reason why Muslim rulers could rule India has nothing to do with intelligence, strength, numbers or weapons. They were able to win battles because they had better experience in fighting then we had. They might have found so many battles before they entered India.

Humans who entered into Neanderthals territory, may be having similar advantage.

March 15, 2012
10:43 pm
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Vizeet:

Absolutely: human brains have shrunk by roughly 10% since the advent of agriculture.

Re: projectile weapons, even if the Neandertals picked up the technology from Homo sapiens sapiens, their physical advantage of far greater strength would have been completely neutralized -- and, in fact, their greater bulk (and, presumably, greater calorie requirement) would have become a disadvantage.

Matthew:

I'm glad you find my writing interesting, and I hope you enjoy TGC!  Do stick around.

Luke:

Thank you.  I'll be back to this subject soon.

JS

March 19, 2012
6:35 am
Lauren
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Have you encountered the book "Descent of Woman" by Morgan? It's interesting; a lay anthropologist - aka housewife - did a poop-ton of research and made some alternate suggestions about the evolution of bipedalism and secondary sexual characteristics in humans, and was utterly ignored (or pilloried) for it, but her suggestion of a semi-acquatic phase including a lot of small fish in the diet would explain a lot of things about us (ability to hold our breath, watertight reproductive tract, loss of hair except for areas above the waterline (also explains loss of need for gripping baby toes), and most tellingly, subcutaneous fat. I'm not saying she's got the whole thing tied up, but as I recall (that was 10 years ago) it was a pretty valid-sounding alternative, and worth exploring.
I don't come to Gnolls regularly, but when I do I catch up and enjoy - as others have said - the calm consideration of what is known, rather than what is believed.

March 19, 2012
10:06 pm
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Lauren:

That would be the "Aquatic ape theory", which just came up in the discussion for Part III.  Pardon me for quoting myself:

"I don't see the evidence that [AAT] is true. There's no evidence that Ardipithecus or any other transitional bipedal hominins were aquatic in any way, either in behavior or in diet — and the fact that the transition to bipedalism preceded the increase in hominin brain size is evidence against it."

It's very important to remember that when Morgan wrote her books on AAT, there was no fossil record of the hominin transition to bipedalism -- so AAT was a plausible (though heterodox) alternative.  The transitional fossils between the chimp-human divergence and the bipedal A. afarensis (Orrorin, Ardipithecus) were found very recently, and only publicized in the last few years!  So it's only in retrospect that we can dismiss AAT.

(This is the problem with anthropology books...with so many important discoveries coming to light so recently, most printed matter is already out of date!)

JS

March 21, 2012
8:44 am
Kenneth Shonk
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Love this site. It explains why I also like to crack open bones and suck the marrow.

March 21, 2012
3:20 pm
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Kenneth:

Thank you!  There's something viscerally satisfying about eating meat on the bone, outdoors...because we've been doing it for millions of years.

JS

April 13, 2012
12:15 pm
jane
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thanks for the gravlax recipe. good one. eat raw myself (will make exception for your sugar) and have "raw" fish every now and then, maybe 2x a month. raw eliminates your beloved potato pretty much but that's ok. have you tried raw?

April 15, 2012
10:19 pm
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jane:

Gravlax is a great way to get people who "don't eat raw meat/fish" to eat raw fish!  (Here's the recipe.)  

No, I've never gone 100% raw for any significant period of time, though I've done it for perhaps two days.  Not intentionally, though...usually because I'm on the road and eating gravlax and salads out of a cooler!

JS

May 1, 2012
12:59 pm
roger
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Basically, you relate brain size with intelligence as Darwin and Mayr are doing. This seem to me the core of your argumentation. However, today, the range of human brain goes from 900cc to 2500cc without noticeable differences in intelligence or even better survival values. Moreover man's brain is bigger, by at least 10%, than women brain without noticeable differences in intelligence. Moreover the Flores man, with a brain, the size of chimp brain, was capable of making the same tool as homo erectus.
To be fair to Darwin, I have to say that somewhere in his book, Descent of Man he backoff from brain size to composition of the brain. As for Mayr, in What Evolution is, he ends up by saying that there might be some neurons that are specifically humans.
Maybe, you are following a wrong trail.

May 1, 2012
3:42 pm
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roger:

First, I think you mean 900-1500cc, not 2500cc.

Second, intelligence in the modern era is roughly 1/2 dependent on cultural transmission (the probable source of the "Flynn effect") and only 1/2 on innate capability -- so it's risky to extrapolate from modern distributions to the Paleolithic, where cultural differences were much smaller and innate intelligence a much greater factor.

Third, you'll recall that Homo floresiensis was necessarily descended from either H. erectus or H. sapiens, meaning that its primitive stone toolkit was necessarily invented by ancestors with larger brains typical of hominins of the time.  Chimpanzees can be taught to flake Oldowan stone tools, among other complicated behaviors...but there's no evidence that they've ever managed to invent them on their own.

While I don't think that cephalic ratio explains all of human intelligence, it's clear that larger brains are more energetically expensive than smaller brains -- so there must have been some reason that they were selected for despite this handicap.  If you don't think larger brains were necessary for the development of intelligence, it's your responsibility to come up with an alternative explanation for them!

JS

June 4, 2012
3:40 pm
roger
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Hi Jim

Really, I should have wrote 400cc to 2200+ cc. 400cc about, for proportionates dwarfs as Jeffrey Hudson(18inches tall), Henrietta Moritz (22in) and Pauline Musters(23in). Dwarfs of Ecuador suffering from laron syndrome but very proportionates, seem to have about 700cc. At the other extreme, there are lord Byron, Oliver Cromwell and Yvan Turgenev with brain over 2200cc.
So, someone can be intelligent at about any brain size and also dim witted at 600cc as the gorilla, at 1000cc like the homo erectus, at 1500cc like the neandertal and even, seemingly, homo sapiens,from 150000 to about 70000 years ago.

June 5, 2012
5:06 pm
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roger:

I don't think Homo heidelbergensis and the Neandertals were dim-witted: try surviving in ice-age Europe without the benefit of modern technology -- or any technology at all beyond sharp rocks you made yourself.

In fact, since all the things we think of as "culture" post-date the emergence of anatomically modern humans, it's clear that surviving as a hunter-gatherer had to be very mentally demanding: otherwise our ancestors wouldn't have developed these big brains in the first place!  

Yes, there's a great deal of variation in modern brain size...but the fact that it's decreased over 10% since the invention of agriculture should tell us something.  Also, culture and education creates roughly half of what we think of as "intelligence"...but I do note a distinct lack of genius proportionate dwarves in the historical record.  And it turns out that Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man was a deliberate fraud.  So while I believe that enough other confounding factors exist that cranial capacity doesn't tell us much about the capabilities of any individual modern human, I think it's reasonable to use its average as a proxy for relative intelligence of hominins in archaeological time.

JS

June 8, 2012
6:51 pm
roger
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Sorry, I have used dim witted because of two things. First, during many thousand years, there were no significant changes in their technologies which remained about the same for heidelberg, neandertal and even homo sapiens sapiens until about 50 to 60000 years ago. Second, it seems that they could not make knots or untie or untangle knots. And, only us, among animals are capable of doing that easily. Why?
What brougth the so called Great Leap Forward, 40,50 or 60000 years ago, is the real question but you did not speak about that

June 9, 2012
11:38 am
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roger:

We're still in the Pliocene at this point.  The so-called "Great Leap Forward" post-dates anatomically modern humans, and is still several million years in the future.

JS

August 27, 2012
9:41 am
WalterB
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This is the best overview of modern view on human evolution that I have come across, a real gem.

August 27, 2012
6:38 pm
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js290:

Great article!  There's a good reason we see so many dotted lines and question marks in the evolutionary tree during the Pleistocene...there were several different hominins, and we're not exactly sure which ones were ancestral and which weren't.

WalterB:

Thank you!  I'll continue adding to it in the future.

JS

December 12, 2017
9:55 am
raw food
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