Was early man a meat eater or a vegetarian? Is not eating meat a natural?or unnatural?thing for people to do? One way to decide is to study our closest relations, the chimpanzees.

The debate centers on the diet followed by early hominids as their brain and body size slowly increased towards a human level. Was it meat-and-potatoes, or potatoes-and-meat? A new study documents a novel use of tools by chimps to dig for tubers and roots in the savanna woodlands of western Tanzania. The chimps’ eagerness for buried treats offers new insights in an ongoing debate about the role of meat versus potato-like foods in the diet of our hominid ancestors. Researcher Adriana Hernandez-Aguilar says, “Some researchers have suggested that what made us human was actually the [potatoes].”

Anthropologists had speculated that roots and tubers were mere fallback foods for hominids trying to survive the harsh dry season in the savanna 3.5 million years ago and later (hominids are known to have consumed meat at least as early as 2.5 million years ago). But the new study found that modern chimps only dig for roots during the rainy season, when other food sources abound. In other words, they like their potatoes! The finding suggests, but does not prove, that hominids behaved the same way. Hernandez-Aguilar says, “We look at chimps for the way that we could have behaved when our ancestors were chimp-like.”

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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