Before the invention of agriculture, which allowed the birth of the first large human settlements, our ancestors survived in small groups, sustaining themselves with what they could collect in nature, and hunting large and small animals. This lifestyle that made our ancestors (and the indigenous populations who continue to practice it today) defined as hunter-gatherers, a term that is however now being called into question by a new study led by archaeologists at the University of Wyoming. As they explain on the pages of Plos One, in fact, the diet of the ancient Andean populations was based predominantly on the consumption of vegetables, to the point of making American researchers propose the inversion of the current paradigm, with the adoption of the term gatherers-hunters to identify the first human communities.
The research was carried out by analyzing the remains of 24 ancient inhabitants of the Andes, dating back over nine thousand years, brought to light in the Peruvian mountains in the archaeological sites of Wilamaya Patjxa and Soro Mik’aya Patjxa. Using innovative techniques for analyzing the composition of the bones and teeth of these ancient mummies, integrated with archaeological information collected from their burial sites, researchers have managed to roughly reconstruct the diet they must have followed in life.
“It is commonly believed that early human societies were based on hunting, an idea that led to the development of a multitude of high-protein food fads, such as the paleo diet,” explains Randy Haas, an archaeologist at University of Wyoming who coordinated the research. “Our analyzes reveal that their diet was made up of 80% plant foods and just 20% meat.”
Tubers and vegetables
The archaeological data available for these ancient populations who inhabited the Peruvian Andes between nine thousand and 6,500 years ago in fact attest that the hunting of large animals was practiced and that therefore meat integrated, at least to a certain extent, their diet. But according to the results of the new study, the role played by meat was completely secondary: the main ingredient on the tables of these ancient humans were in fact potatoes and other local wild tubers. The consumption of small animals, however, was virtually unknown, at least in this part of the world.
These are unexpected results for Haas and his team, which therefore force us to rethink anew the role played by hunting and the consumption of animal foods in the lives of early humans, and perhaps more generally in the development of our species: at least on In the Andes, in fact, for thousands of years it seems that it was the harvesting of tubers and vegetables that ensured the survival of human beings. “Archaeologists, myself included, have been misled for a long time by prejudices about the diet of ancient Homo Sapiens in the Andean region – concludes Haas – and therefore it is probable that in the future research such as ours carried out in other parts of the world will show, at the same so that archaeologists have also made mistakes elsewhere.”