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Did human ancestors eat bark?

Curiously, given that, in general, humans can’t eat wood, there is a recent claim that Austrelopithecus sediba ate bark. In “From Tree-Living to Tree-Eating: Human Ancestors Ate Bark” (Discover, July 2, 2012), we learn,

For example, the ratio of different carbon isotopes in the teeth suggested that they preferred to consume forest food rather than the grassland pickings that other early humans enjoyed. The tartar, meanwhile, contained plant particles linked to bark and woody material. But bark may not have been the hominins’ first food choice: modern primates tend to eat it only when tastier food is unavailable. Perhaps, the researchers suggest, these early humans had to deal with drought or a similarly stressful environment.

But how do we know the hominins were eating it for food? Bark can have medicinal, sedative, or analgesic qualities, and it is just as likely, surely, that they were chewing it for that purpose.

Historical note: White cedar bark has been used historically to cure scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency disease.

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7 Responses to Did human ancestors eat bark?

  1. Just to point out, this is actually *still* the case today (or at least was until the last century). Native Americans typically kept a reserve of prepared bark in storage in case of drought. If there was a famine for one reason or another, they ate the bark. If there was no drought, they fed the bark to the dogs.

  2. Cinnamon is a bark, and mauby — a favourite, acquired taste drink in the EC — is a bark.

  3. It seems to me that there are conflicting stories going on with this issue. Casey Luskin and David Klinghoffer at ENV wrote an article that stated A.Sediba was closer to chimps than to humans.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....61491.html

    But the article headline in Discover clearly shows that A.Sediba was a human ancestor. Which one is correct? Also, would the fact that these ancestors eating bark and contradicting Uncommon Descent’s recent post be a “D’oh” moment?

    I’m not against this blog but I want to keep us honest and the facts straight.

  4. Thanks, johnnyb. In Canada, most peoples would just eat the dogs. ;) But they also used bark tea to fight scurvy. The thing is, the fact that someone was chewing bark may not mean that he was consuming it as a food source, as opposed to medicinal use. (That might depend on the bark.)

  5. JLAfan2001 -

    I’m not sure what you mean by stating that A. sediba was clearly shown as a human ancestor. But in any case, I think you are incorrect in assuming that there should be consistency between this blog and ENV, or even this blog and itself. I value a diversity of opinions, and if there are different people with different views let one blogger decry the inclusion of sediba as human and let another one praise it! The main issue is that we have an open, honest discussion of the issues, and not use science as a political tool for stifling discussion and dissent.

  6. JohnnyB

    I was pointing out the article headline that says “from tree-living to tree-eating: human ancestors ate bark”. This is a contradiction to what David Klinghoffer wrote about A.Sebiba being closer to chimps than humans. If that were the case then paleoanthropologists wouldn’t be passing A.Sediba off as human anymore as this article indicates. I think that there should be consistency between the two blogs because they are on the same side. As far as I know, they both work for the Discovery Institute or at least affiliates of them. If there is disagreement, that could take away some credibility for ID. All eyes are on ID at the moment and critics would jump at the chance to point this out. It’s really not a matter of differing opinions anyway, it’s more like the article in ENV was wrong about A.Sediba. The same issue applies to the bark eating. The posts in the blog must be based on correct facts or else ID won’t be taken anymore seriously than what is has been so far. Any slip ups and the critics will have a field day.

  7. Pre global Mabul of Noach, the higher oxygen and lower radiation levels caused the nature/digestibility of plants to be different.
    For example the wording indicates the trees themselves may have been edible in Gan Eden.
    not just for mankind but for unrelated (except for the fact we have a common creator)animal life like chimps..).
    see the recent complex creation.
    Happy independence day,
    and do our best to use our freedom for good,
    pearlman cta
    author

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