Humans Are Not Nutritious, Cannibalism Study Says

First Posted: Apr 07, 2017 04:10 AM EDT

Cannibalism would be frowned upon these days. Stories of Hannibal Lecter, among others, are considered to be tales of horror. However, the humans' ancient ancestors actually did practice cannibalism, but it seems that taking down a human is not as fun as taking down the mammoth nearby.

As National Geographic explained, one mammoth can feed 25 hungry humans for a month, but eating a fellow human could provide the same crows with only a third of the daily calorie requirement. A study of ancient cannibalism estimated that people are not actually very nutritious, as they fare badly compared to other animals per size.

James Cole, who published the study in Scientific Reports said that when compared to other animals, humans actually lack nutrients. Boars and beavers, for instance, pack around 1,800 calories per pound of muscle. However, in that same weight, humans can only offer 650 calories.

So why did the human ancestors continue their cannibalistic ways? It turns out that it would have been more for social purposes. Cole mentioned that eating each other may have served as a form of social function. For instance, the many youngster bones found together with animal bones have scientists believing that human flesh could only be supplemental to the Neanderthal diet. Another theory states that cannibalism may have served as a "keep out" sign for outsiders.

Still, not everyone sees it that way. London's Natural History Museum anthropologist, Silvia Bello, said that there is more to the decision in picking their choice of meat -- mostly, that it is more practical. Erik Tinkaus of Washington University of St. Louis agrees. He shared, "It is an issue of survival when there are no other food sources, members of one's social group have died, and the surviving members consume the bodies of already-dead people."

It was not that hunger that drove Neanderthals to eat members of their tribes. But suffice it to say, there have been plenty of evidence that suggested early humans were emotionally complex. This means that at some point, they had the ability to understand the implications of eating one of their own.

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