Chimpanzees crave roots and tubers even when food is plentiful above ground, as per a new study that raises questions about the relative importance of meat for brain evolution.
Appearing online the week of Nov. 12 in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the 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, said first author Adriana Hernandez-Aguilar, who collected the field data for her doctoral research at the University of Southern California.
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".
Some scientists have suggested that what made us human was actually the tubers, Hernandez-Aguilar said.
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)