Did our ancient ancestors really eat tree bark?

Illustration for article titled Did our ancient ancestors really eat tree bark?

Most of us try to get more fiber in our diet — but we'll never get as much as some of our long-ago ancestors. Australopithecus sediba lived in Africa around two million years ago, and it looks like their diet was different from any other ancient hominin's.


While most other species were happily munching on grass and sedges, A. sediba's tastes ran more towards the foresty end of the spectrum. Through laser analysis of carbon in the fossils' teeth, wear analysis, and examining preserved food fragments still in their mouths, researchers believe the hominin's diet was far more tree-linked than any other.

These analyses point to A. sediba eating trees, shrubs, bushes, bark, and wood. This is similar to modern chimpanzees, but stands in contrast to most other hominins. It adds another wrinkle to the question of where A. sediba stands in our evolutionary tree, as well as figuring out how we came to develop our current, much less wooden, diet.


Image: The skull of MH1, a juvenile male Australopithecus sediba, by Lee Berger

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From the one or two fossils of this "species", they determine that all of his cousins, brothers, sisters, and more distant kin ALL ate bark?

Suppose, just for a moment, that this INDIVIDUAL chewed bark for some reason, but he was considered a nutter by everyone else in the region. Suppose he was the Euell Gibbons (heh) of his era, amazing and dismaying his kin by grunting, "Ever eat a pine tree? Most parts ARE edible."?

This kind of reaching by paleontologists is disgraceful and the pandering such near-baseless assertions receive is a shame.