"The bones sealed up the marrow like a Tupperware container"
February 15, 2019 2:03 PM   Subscribe

A taste for fat, not meat, may have made us human: A new paper argues that our early ancestors acquired a taste for fat by eating marrow scavenged from the skeletal remains of large animals that had been killed and eaten by other predators. The argument challenges the widely held view among anthropologists that eating meat was the critical factor in setting the stage for the evolution of humans. While focusing on fat over meat may seem like a subtle distinction, the difference is significant. The nutrients of meat and fat are different, as are the technologies required to access them. The authors review evidence that a craving for marrow could have fueled not just a growing brain size, but the quest to go beyond smashing bones with rocks to make more sophisticated tools and to hunt large animals.
posted by not_the_water (24 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds like the argument is that complexity required to obtain fat drove brain size, but I wonder if fat calories/total calories ratio for other animals also correlates to brain size?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:07 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


A taste for fat and marrow is definitely what made me human.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:09 PM on February 15, 2019 [18 favorites]


A brief review of a related question from a couple of years ago: Why are there so many explanations for primate brain evolution?
Over the past four decades, many explanations for the evolution of large brains have been proposed. Broadly, these explanations divide into four major themes, each with many sub-hypotheses of their own: genetic explanations (primates have large brains because a particular gene mutation allows them to grow large brains), developmental explanations (primates have large brains because their extended periods of parental investment allow them to grow large brains), ecological explanations (primates evolved large brains in order to cope with demanding environmental conditions), and social explanations (there is something intrinsically complex about primate sociality that requires a large brain).

In many respects, the main problem associated with understanding why large brains have evolved has been the fact that there is an embarrassment of riches: there is empirical evidence to support every hypothesis.
posted by clawsoon at 2:21 PM on February 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


Mmm... marrow. /homer
posted by Barack Spinoza at 2:26 PM on February 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Clearly, our brains evolved to explain our brains.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:27 PM on February 15, 2019 [45 favorites]


The only organ to name itself, in fact.
posted by Barack Spinoza at 2:36 PM on February 15, 2019 [9 favorites]


The only organ to name itself, in fact.

Maybe the gurgles in our stomach are naming the stomach, but our brain doesn't understand the language.
posted by clawsoon at 2:39 PM on February 15, 2019 [18 favorites]


Searle’s Diner
posted by Barack Spinoza at 2:49 PM on February 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Tell that to my cat.
posted by thivaia at 2:53 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


the quest to go beyond smashing bones with rocks
Could someone please let me know when we have gone beyond smashing bones with rocks?

Or, alternatively: Metafilter: The quest to go beyond smashing bones with rocks

But this theory makes sense to me because it makes sense that they got started using stones as tools for bashing things open and then moved on to crafting the stones to make them work better to deal with more parts of the animal and kill the animals themselves. We had to start somewhere.

Also I remember seeing a thing (probably here on metafilter) that early coastal hominids grew their big brains with delicious shellfish.

Is the thing they're really saying though is that the nutrients consumed by the mother helped create high-quality baby brains more often? And/or the individuals who figured out how to get these better nutrients survived at better rates and more often passed on their ever-so-slightly bigger brain genes & things they figured out about how to get better nutrients?
posted by bleep at 3:12 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing that this is what's driving people to cook big honkin' bones in pressure cookers, turning that into a soup broth, and then giving their dog their the now rock-hard chew toy.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:20 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


You smash one tapir bone, next thing you know you're dealing with ethics in AI...
posted by Devonian at 3:38 PM on February 15, 2019 [20 favorites]


My early ancestors must have also had a craving for roasted garlic and crusty bread.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:40 PM on February 15, 2019 [12 favorites]


Makes me rethink the way we've been giving bones to dogs for thousands of years. Maybe all of evolution is bone-oriented.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 3:50 PM on February 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


can't believe there's no osso buco on seamless for immediate delivery, this is a microaggression
posted by poffin boffin at 4:18 PM on February 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


It's an interesting hypothesis, but that seems to be all it is, unless there's more in the paper which I can't access. The meat of small game is nutrition poor, but the marrow of large animals is nutrition rich. Okay, I can buy that. But humans didn't hunt for large game, they just found long bones in carcasses left by other predators. Hmmm... maybe? But wasn't there already a mammal in that ecosystem occupying a similar ecological niche? Spoiler, yes there was and it was the ancestor of the hyena, who had been eating bones for a few million years before we grew our big brains. So, any theory that says we were also slurping up that delicious bone butter would have to take into account that we had to compete with hyenas.
posted by runcibleshaw at 4:24 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm now in a marrow recipe internet hole
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:38 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


So, any theory that says we were also slurping up that delicious bone butter would have to take into account that we had to compete with hyenas.

I think it's pretty well established that early hominids competed with hyenas (and other large carnivores of the time).

Early Hominin Bone Shows Predation By Hyenas

Ancient Hyenas Ate Human Relatives Half a Million Years Ago
posted by zakur at 4:39 PM on February 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think it's pretty well established that early hominids competed with hyenas (and other large carnivores of the time).

That's my point. The entire hypothesis seems to be based on nutritive content vs the effort it takes to get it. Marrow may be high in nutrients, but if you have to fight off a pack of hyenas to get it might not be worth it.
posted by runcibleshaw at 4:50 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


You smash one tapir bone, next thing you know you're dealing with ethics in AI...

Best summary of 2001: A Space Odyssey ever.
posted by Barack Spinoza at 4:54 PM on February 15, 2019 [17 favorites]


(Oh, that’s what you meant. I need to eat more marrow)
posted by Barack Spinoza at 4:55 PM on February 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


In many respects, the main problem associated with understanding why large brains have evolved has been the fact that there is an embarrassment of riches: there is empirical evidence to support every hypothesis.

I always figured there as an interplay between these factors that drove our development. The mutation occurred in an environment where we were eating well enough for developing offspring to take advantage of the big brain gene. I honestly don't know why these things all have to be mutually exclusive. Very few human health issues are so cut and dried today, so why would it have been different in the past.
posted by Jilder at 5:39 PM on February 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


did this make anyone else think of the intro sequence to dr. octagon's "i'm destructive" where the dude talks about washing bones because they were smelly?

no?

cool.
posted by wibari at 9:44 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Clearly, our brains evolved to explain our brains.

"If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t."
- Emerson Pugh
posted by Pyrogenesis at 12:11 AM on February 16, 2019 [7 favorites]


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