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The original Paleo diet: Raw liver, eggs, fish and plants, including watercress

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Scientists are studying the original Paleo diet, according to the December 10, 2013 press release, "Nutrients in food vital to location of early human settlements: The original 'Paleo-diet'." More than 50 nutrients are needed to sustain human life. In particular, it would have been essential for early humans to find sources of protein, fats, carbohydrates, folic acid and vitamin C. The diet included fats from bone marrow, beaver tails, and eels...highly nutritious. Picture Europe 100,000 to 500,000 years in the past. Hmm fresh meat...man's gotta eat. And a lot of women probably did some gathering of food as well.

Plants included watercress. And then the treats included raw liver, eggs, and fish, when the original Paleos learned to fish or collect seafood along the shore such as shellfish. There also would have been sea vegetables.

Highly nutritious and fatty bone marrow, beaver tails, and eels were included in the original Paleo diet

The researchers suggest vitamins and protein may have come from sources such as raw liver, eggs, fish and plants, including watercress (which grows year round). Fats in particular, may have come from bone marrow, beaver tails and highly nutritious eels. Those foods probably formed the original prehistoric Paleolithic diet of early humans, before Homo Sapiens, at least that's what they may have eaten in Europe 500,000 to 100,000 years ago.

Research led by the University of Southampton has found that early humans were driven by a need for nutrient-rich food to select "special places" in northern Europe as their main habitat. Evidence of their activity at these sites comes in the form of hundreds of stone tools, including hand axes. You can check out the original paper, "Site Distribution at the Edge of the Palaeolithic World: A Nutritional Niche Approach," published online December 10, 2013 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Nutrients were vital for a balanced diet back then

A new study led by physical geographer at Southampton Professor Tony Brown, in collaboration with archaeologist Dr Laura Basell at Queen's University Belfast, has found that sites popular with our early human ancestors, were abundant in foods containing nutrients vital for a balanced diet. The most important sites, dating between 500,000 to 100,000 years ago were based at the lower end of river valleys, providing ideal bases for early hominins – early humans who lived before Homo sapiens (us).

Professor Brown says, according to the news release, "Our research suggests that floodplain zones closer to the mouth of a river provided the ideal place for hominin activity, rather than forested slopes, plateaus or estuaries. The landscape in these locations tended to be richer in the nutrients critical for maintaining population health and maximizing reproductive success."

The English Heritage and the University of Southampton's Faculty of Social and Human Sciences funded the project. It involved academics from Geography and Environment and Medicine at Southampton, together with Archaeology at Queen's University, Belfast

The researchers began by identifying Paleolithic sites in southern England and northern France where high concentrations of hand axes had been excavated –for example at Dunbridge in Hampshire, Swanscombe near Dartford and the Somme Valley in France. They found there were fewer than 25 sites where 500 hand axes or more were discovered. The high concentration of these artifacts suggests significant activity at the sites and that they were regularly used by early hominins.

Professor Brown and his colleagues then compiled a database of plants and animals known to exist in the Pleistocene epoch (a period between 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) to establish a potential list of nutrient resources in the landscape and an estimation of the possible diet. This showed that an abundance of nutritious foods were available and suggests this was likely to have been the dominant factor driving early humans to focus on these sites in the lower reaches of river valleys, close to the upper tidal limit of rivers.

The nutritional diversity of these sites allowed hominins to colonize the Atlantic fringe of north west Europe during warm periods of the Pleistocene. These sites permitted the repeated occupation of this marginal area from warmer climate zones further south.

Professor Brown comments, according to the news release, "We can speculate that these types of locations were seen as 'healthy' or 'good' places to live which hominins revisited on a regular basis. If this is the case, the sites may have provided 'nodal points' or base camps along nutrient-rich route-ways through the Palaeolithic landscape, allowing early humans to explore northwards to more challenging environments."

The study was undertaken with nutrition experts Professor Siân Robinson and Dr Graham Burdge of Medicine at the University of Southampton. For more information about the Department of Medicine visit the University of Southhampton's Department of Medicine site. For more information about Geography and Environment at Southampton visit the University of Southhampton's geography department.

Dr Laura Basell of the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queen's University Belfast collaborated with Southampton academics on the paper. For more information about Queen's University Belfast visit the university's website. For more information about English Heritage visit the English Heritage site.

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