Early Human Diets Included Beaver Hunting 400,000 Years Ago

by Santiago Fernandez
Early Human Diet

A recent study has uncovered that early humans 400,000 years ago included beavers in their diet, expanding our understanding of their dietary habits during the Middle Pleistocene. This discovery challenges the previously held belief that their diet was mainly composed of large mammals.

Findings from eastern Germany reveal a broader dietary range for early humans than previously recognized.

The research, conducted by experts from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, the Leibniz Zentrum für Archäologie, and Leiden University, indicates that early humans not only hunted beavers for food but potentially for their fur as well.

Contradicting Established Views

In a paper published in Scientific Reports, the researchers demonstrate that Middle Pleistocene humans regularly consumed smaller animals, indicating a more diverse diet than previously acknowledged.

It was commonly thought that hominins from this era largely relied on large mammals like bovids and rhinoceroses. This assumption was partly due to the better preservation of large mammal remains compared to smaller animals or plants, as noted by Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, a professor at JGU and Director of MONREPOS at the Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution, part of LEIZA. Gaudzinski-Windheuser, alongside colleagues Lutz Kindler and Wil Roebroeks, authored the study.

The latest research contradicts the earlier belief of a diet focused on large mammals, showing that early humans also hunted beavers 400,000 years ago.

Gaudzinski-Windheuser explains, “Previously, only isolated instances of cut marks on Paleolithic beaver bones were known. However, the extensive excavations at Bilzingsleben by Dietrich Mania uncovered numerous beaver remains, revealing a long-term strategy in exploiting these animals.”

Selective Hunting of Prime-Aged Beavers

The team analyzed beaver bones, approximately 400,000 years old, from Bilzingsleben, Thuringia, using magnifying glasses and digital microscopes. These bones, belonging to at least 94 beavers, displayed cut marks indicative of extensive carcass utilization.

Gaudzinski-Windheuser observes, “Most of the remains were of young adult beavers, suggesting that hominins targeted inexperienced but fully mature and fat-rich animals.” Fat was a crucial dietary component during the Pleistocene.

She concludes, “The prevalent view was that European people primarily subsisted on large game until about 50,000 years ago, marking a distinct difference from modern humans’ versatile diets. Our findings now show that hominin diets were much more varied much earlier.”

The study is titled “Beaver exploitation, 400,000 years ago, testifies to prey choice diversity of Middle Pleistocene hominins” by Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, Lutz Kindler, and Wil Roebroeks, published on 13 November 2023 in Scientific Reports.
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-46956-6

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Early Human Diet

What period does the recent study on early human diets focus on?

The study focuses on the Middle Pleistocene era, approximately 400,000 years ago.

What new information does the study reveal about early human diets?

The study reveals that early humans had a more varied diet than previously thought, including hunting beavers, which challenges the existing notion of their diet being primarily based on large mammals.

Where were the findings that led to this new understanding discovered?

The findings were discovered in eastern Germany, providing new insights into the dietary habits of early humans in that region.

Who conducted the research on early human dietary habits?

The research was conducted by a team from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, the Leibniz Zentrum für Archäologie, and Leiden University.

What assumptions does this new research challenge about early human diets?

This research challenges the assumption that early humans primarily subsisted on large mammals, showing that their diet was more diverse and included smaller animals like beavers.

How did researchers conclude that early humans hunted beavers?

The conclusion was based on the examination of beaver bones, which showed cut marks from stone tools, indicating that early humans systematically exploited these animals for food and possibly their pelts.

What significance does the study hold for understanding human evolution?

The study provides significant insights into the adaptability and survival strategies of early humans, demonstrating that their dietary choices were more complex and varied than previously believed, which is crucial for understanding human evolution.

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Linda Q December 3, 2023 - 7:23 am

This is why I love archaeology – always uncovering new secrets. Beaver hunting, who would have thought?

Kevin T December 3, 2023 - 11:27 am

kinda skeptical about this. How can they be so sure about diets from 400,000 years ago? Science is amazing, but still…

Emma G December 3, 2023 - 11:57 am

love learning about this kind of stuff, it’s like a window into the past! Makes me wonder what other surprises are waiting to be found.

Sarah L December 3, 2023 - 5:22 pm

Wow, this is so cool! always thought early humans just ate big game, but beavers? That’s news to me.

Raj P December 3, 2023 - 6:44 pm

the study’s interesting, but i’m curious about how they dated the bones accurately to 400,000 years. science is mind blowing sometimes.

Mike Johnston December 3, 2023 - 8:18 pm

Interesting stuff! didn’t know beavers were on the menu back then, kinda makes you think what else we got wrong about ancient diets…

Gary H December 4, 2023 - 12:55 am

So we were more sophisticated eaters even back then, huh? fascinating to see how our ancestors lived and adapted.


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