Meat and the Evolution of Mind and Stature

Reading this book On Human Nature by EO Wilson

There’s a fascinating chapter titled emergence, and in it he talks about the role of meat, and how it was central to humans diet until populations concentrated and required more agriculture, and even then it was relegated to the most important individuals and classes of the tribe/ chiefdom/ state.

Meat is and always has been a necessity, providing the pinnacle of nutrition, and a delicacy, and only the most important members of a given society were prioritized in meats consumption, especially when scarce. Grains were for the masses, the common and the slaves.

I wonder if we can examine height and health of a given population, and trace their historical diet, and observe how the prevalent consumption of meat impacted their evolution in terms of height and weight etc.

He talks of India’s development, and how meat was relatively abundant in the large mammals, contrary to the habitats of central and South American civilizations. Over time, with population increases, its consumption was exclusively reserved for the upper castes. Various religions like Buddhism and Jainism responded in part to this inequality by abolishing the consumption of meat and animals altogether, which the masses quickly endorsed and adopted by making animals, such as the cow, sacred figures.

The central and South American civilizations had very little meat, and the upper class ate what dogs and birds and small game was available in the region, but they coped with this issue through human sacrifice and cannibalism… feeding the sacrificed humans to the people, starting with the most select pieces of meat for the priests and soldiers and Nobles, then feeding the common folk the lesser desirable cuts…. tens of thousands of people were sacrificed and consumed by the Aztecs every year.

Meat is crucial for health.

The necessity for meat has been obscured, but the biological roots for the importance of its consumption are evident throughout history as man evolved from primate tree dweller to a hunter gatherer on the plains, eating a large portion of his calories in meat. During that period, man’s cranium suddenly began to increase exponentially, in terms of evolutionary time lines. But suddenly (and I forget the exact date) the cranium size plateaued. The growth is due, they believe, to the strategy of hunting in social groups, and I also think the consumption of meat.

Protein is needed for cell division and dna replication, and growth. Every athlete and body builder knows this. I can’t help but wonder if all this meat consumption accelerated the evolution of man and contributed to the growth in brain size… until population increases and the necessary reliance on agriculture, and then the cranium size/ evolution slowed/ suddenly stopped.

Interesting to ponder.

There are other things, like the opposable thumb that allowed man to fashion tools that aided in hunting and crafting sophisticated tools, of course.

Only select species of felines, notably lions, canines, wolves and dogs etc., and select Primates such as chimps and humans hunt and consume prey larger than itself, and they do so through social hunting and strategy.

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