Human Evolution

, Volume 17, Issue 3–4, pp 199–206 | Cite as

The human adaptations to meat eating: a reappraisal

  • Hladik C. M. 
  • Pasquet P. 


In this paper we discuss the hypothesis, proposed by some authors, that man is a habitual meat-eater. Gut measurements of primate species do not support the contention that human digestive tract is specialized for meat-eating, especially when taking into account allometric factors and their variations between folivores, frugivores and meat-eaters. The dietary status of the human species is that of an unspecialised frugivore, having a flexible diet that includes seeds and meat (omnivorous diet). Throughout the various time periods, our human ancestors could have mostly consumed either vegetable, or large amounts of animal matter (with fat and/or carbohydrates as a supplement), depending on the availability and nutrient content of food resources. Some formerly adaptive traits (e.g. the “thrifty genotype”) could have resulted from selective pressure during transitory variations of feeding behaviour linked to environmental constraints existing in the past.

Key words

meat eating hominids gut allometry thrifty genotype 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. AIELLO L.C. & WHEELER P. 1995. The expensive-tissue hypothesis: The brain and the digestive system in human and primate evolution. Current Anthropology, 36:199–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. ARDREY R. 1976.The hunting hypothesis. Atheneum, New York.Google Scholar
  3. ASCHOFF J., GÜNTHER B. & KRAMER K. 1971. Energiehaushalt und Temperaturregulation. Urban and Schwartzenberg, Munchen.Google Scholar
  4. BRAND-MILLER J.C. & COLAGIURI S. 1994. The carnivore connection: dietary carbohydrate in the evolution of NIDDM. Diabetologia, 37: 1280–1286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. CHIVERS D.J. & HLADIK C.M. 1980. Morphology of the gastrointestinal tract in primates: comparisons with other mammals in relation to diet. Journal of Morphology, 166: 337–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. COUPLAN F. 1997. L’alimentation végétale potentielle de l’homme avant et après la domestication du feu au Paléolithique inférieur et moyen. In (M. Patou-Mathis, ed.) L’alimentation des hommes du paléolithique. Approche pluridisciplinaire, pp. 151–185. Etudes et Recherches Archéologiques de l’Université de Liège ERAUL 83, Liège.Google Scholar
  7. DART R.A. 1953. The predatory transition from ape to man. Int. Anthrop. Ling. Review, 1: 201–219.Google Scholar
  8. DEVORE I. & WASHBURN S.L. 1963. Baboon ecology in human evolution. In (F.C. Howell and F. Bourlière, eds) African ecology and human evolution, pp. 335–367. Aldine, Chicago.Google Scholar
  9. FOLEY R.A. & LEE P.C. 1991. Ecology and energetics of encephalisation in hominid evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, 334: 223–232.Google Scholar
  10. GARINE I. De 1990. Les modes alimentaires; Histoire de l’alimentation et des manières de table. In:Nistoire des Moeurs, vol I, pp. 1447–1627. Encyclopédie de la Pléiade. Gallimard, Paris.Google Scholar
  11. GORDON K.D. 1987. Evolutionary perspectives on human diet. In (F.E. Jonhston, ed) Nutritional anthropology pp. 3–39. Alan R. Liss Inc, New York.Google Scholar
  12. HENNEBERG M., SAFARIS V. & MATHERS K. 1998. Human adaptation to meat eating. Human Evolution, 13: 229–234.Google Scholar
  13. HLADIK A. & DOUNIAS E. 1993. Wild yams of the African forest as potential food resources. In (C.M. Hladik, A. Hladik, O.F. Linares, H Pagezy, A. Semple, and M. Hadley, eds) Tropical forests, people and food. Biocultural interactions and applications to Development, pp. 163–176. UNESCO and The Parthenon Publishing Group, Paris.Google Scholar
  14. HLADIK C.M. 1977. Le régime alimentaire des primates et son adaptation aux ressources du milieu forestier. Thesis (Doctorat d’Etat) Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle/Université Paris VI.Google Scholar
  15. HLADIK C.M. 1981. Diet and the evolution of feeding strategies among forest primates. In (R.S.O. Harding and G. Teleki, eds) Omnivorous primates: Gathering and hunting in human evolution, pp. 215–254. Columbia University press, New York.Google Scholar
  16. HLADIK C.M. 1988. Seasonal variations in food supply for wild primates. In (I. de Garine, I. and G.A. Harrison eds) Coping with uncertainty in food supply, pp. 1–25. Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  17. HLADIK C.M., CHIVERS D.J. & PASQUET P. 1999. On diet and gut size in non-human primates and humans: is there a relationship to brain size? Current Anthropology, 40: 695–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. HLADIK C.M. & PASQUET P. 1999. Évolution des comportements alimentaires: adaptations morphologiques et sensorielles. Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris, 11: 307–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. ISAAC G.Ll. & CRADER D.C. 1981. To what extent were early hominids carnivorous? An archaeological perspective. In (R.S.O. Harding and G. Teleki, eds) Omnivorous primates: gathering and hunting in human evolution, pp. 37–103. Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  20. JOHNS T. 1990. With bitter herbs they shall eat it. Chemical ecology and the origins of human diet and medicine. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson.Google Scholar
  21. LEE R.B. & DEVORE I. (eds.) 1968. Man the hunter. Aldine, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  22. LÉONARD W.R. & ROBERTSON M.L. 1997. Rethinking the energetics of bipedality. Current Anthropology, 38, 304–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. MARTIN R.D. 1983. Human brain evolution in an ecological context. American Museum of Natural History, New York.Google Scholar
  24. MILTON K. 1999. A hypothesis to explain the role of meat-eating in human evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology, 8: 11–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. NEEL J.V. 1982. The thrifty genotype revisited. In (J. Kobberlong and R. Tattersall, eds.) The genetics of diabetes mellitus, pp. 283–293. Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
  26. REICHHOLF J.H. 1990. Das Rätzel der menschwerdung. Die Enstehung des Menschen in Wechselspeil mit der Natur. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GMBH Co, Munchen.Google Scholar
  27. SENUT B., PICKFORD M., GOMMERY D., MEIN P., CHEBOI K. & COPPENS Y. 2001. First hominid from the Miocene (Lukeino Formation, Kenya). Compte rendus de l’Académie des Sciences de Paris, Sciences de la Terre et des planètes, 332: 137–144.Google Scholar
  28. SPETH J.D. 1989 Early hominid hunting and scavenging: the role of meat as an energy source. Journal of Human Evolution, 18: 329–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. SPETH J.D. 1991. Protein selection and avoidance strategies of contemporary and ancestral foragers: unresolved issues. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, 334: 265–270.Google Scholar
  30. WRANGHAM R.W., JONES J.H., LADEN G., PILBEAM D. & CONKLIN-BRITTAIN N.L. 1999. The raw and the stolen: Cooking and the Ecology of Human Origins. Current Anthropology, 40: 567–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. YOUNG T.K. 1993. Diabetes mellitus among native americans in Canada and the United States: an epidemiological review. American Journal of Human Biology, 5: 399–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© International Institute for the Study of Man 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hladik C. M. 
    • 1
  • Pasquet P. 
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratoire d’EcologieÉco-Anthropologie, CNRS (FRE 2323) and Museum National d’Histoire NaturelleBrunoy(France)
  2. 2.Dynamique de l’évolution humaine CNRS (UPR 2147) 44France

Personalised recommendations