The Paleoanthropology and Archaeology of Big-Game Hunting

Part of the series Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology pp 149-161

Big-Game Hunting: Protein, Fat, or Politics?

  • John D. SpethAffiliated withMuseum of Anthropology, University of Michigan Email author 

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I have pulled together a variety of information concerning protein as a nutrient, focusing particularly on protein’s costs and potentially undesirable effects when consumed in large amounts. Intakes of protein (plant and animal combined) above about ∼200–250 g per day can lead to weight loss, lethargy, and weakness, and, if sustained long enough, death. Such intakes can also be detrimental, even toxic, to the fetus and nursing newborn, lowering birth weight and increasing the chances of cognitive disorders, morbidity, and perinatal mortality. Because of its high-specific dynamic action (SDA), protein is also an inefficient way to provide energy to the body, whether for general metabolic needs or specifically for fueling the brain. It is also not the ideal nutrient for brain growth, which requires considerable inputs of fatty acids, particularly the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Aside from brain, the meat and organs from wild ungulates, African or otherwise, are limited, costly, and inefficient sources of DHA (see data in Crawford et al. 1969; Cordain et al. 2001, 2002b).