News Stories

Fish Eaters

Are they out of luck? - One reason we're all so concerned about the BP oil spill is that humans have been subsisting on fish for a very long time. Archeologists working in Kenya unearthed evidence that our human ancestors ate a wide variety of fish, which is aquatic "brain food" that may have helped fuel the evolution of the human brain two million years ago. And shellfish saved early Americans as well: A study of discarded oyster shells reveals the way that the first British colonists survived an unusually severe drought.

Gaining access to smaller animals like turtles and fish may have allowed early humans to increase the protein in their diet without the danger of interacting with dangerous carnivores, such as lions and hyenas. Paleoanthropologist Dr. Richmond says that aquatic foods are really important sources of the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that are "so critical to human brain growth. Finding these foods in the diets of our early ancestors suggests they may have helped to lift constraints on brain size and fuel the evolution of a larger brain."

The discovery of such a diverse animal diet is important because early human brain size increased dramatically after two million years ago. Growing a large brain requires an enormous investment in calories and nutrients and places considerable costs on the mother and developing infant. Anthropologists have long considered meat in the diet as key to the evolution of a larger brain. However, until now, there was no evidence that human ancestors this long ago had incorporated into their diets animal foods, from lakes and rivers, rich in brain nutrients.

Chemical analysis of shells thrown away from 1611-1612 in Jamestown in Virginia, which was founded in 1607, shows that the James River where the oysters were harvested was much saltier then than it is today, due to the decreased flow from surrounding freshwater rivers. This mans that there must have been less rain when these oysters were growing, thus the of the Jamestown colonists was probably caused by drought. During what became known as the "Starving Time," from 1609-1610, 80% of them died. BBC News quotes archaeologist Juliana Harding as saying, "Shortages of food and fresh drinking water, combined with poor leadership, nearly destroyed the colony during its first decade." In another early American Colony called Roanoke, the colonists didn't die off, they mysteriously disappeared, leaving no evidence of where they went except for the enigmatic word "Croatoan," carved on a tree near the center of the abandoned settlement. Archaeologists have speculated that this may have been their word for a nearby Indian tribe, which took them in. The question remains: Did the (probably) starving colonists join the tribe (if that's what they did) voluntarily, or not?

Meanwhile, people who fish for a living today pursue top profits, not necessarily top predators, which means they are

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