Old Stone Age Diet Depended On Latitude

There isn’t any single Stone Age diet, according to J.A.J. Gowlett, who (whom?) I assume is an archeologist with the University of Liverpool.

(I was tempted to write “there isn’t a monolithic Stone Age diet.”  Get it?  “Lith” is Greek or Latin for “stone.”)

This is probably old new for you guys who have been interested in the paleo diet for much longer than I.

Here are a few more of Gowlett’s ideas:

  • The Stone Age is is more accurately referred to as the Old Stone Age.
  • Hominids (the family of human ancestors) branched off from ape ancestors around eight to 10 million years ago.
  • Roots and tubers have been a part of our ancestral diet for perhaps as long as three million years,  which “places starchy carbohydrate consumption as part of the deep ancestry of human beings.”
  • Meat eating assumed greater importance about two million years ago.
  • Migration to colder environments necessitated more meat consumption because plant foods were more limited.
  • Our ancestors migrated from tropical to temperate latitudes about by 1.7 million years ago.
  • Early humans began using fire for cooking between 500,000 to 1.5 million years ago.
  • Neanderthals were heavily carnivorous.
  • “Ancestors of modern humans are now believed to have evolved in the tropics, probably in Africa, from about 200,000 years ago.”  Their diet was perhaps 70% plant-based.
  • “In contrast, modern humans entering Europe 40,000 years ago would have adopted a meat-based diet by necessity, and maintained this over hundreds of generations.”
  • “Modern hunters and gatherers echo the variety of past diets, ranging from largely plant based in the tropics, to being also heavily meat based in the arctic.”
  • No ancient human population depended heavily on cereals or non-human milk.  “Fruit certainly came first of all….”

Potential Implications For a Paleo Diabetic Diet (highly speculative)

Diabetics with tropical lineage may do better with a plant-based diet.  Those with northern European ancestry may do better with meat-based.

Paleo diets likely had very high fiber contents, reflecting the degree to which they were plant-based.  We’re looking at 70+ grams of fiber daily.  That much fiber would tend to reduce the effect of carbohydrate on blood sugar levels.

Fruits and roots have a high concentration of carbohydrate, with potential adverse effects on blood sugar (raising it, of course).  Diabetics eating paleo-style may need to avoid or limit certain fruits and roots: the ones with lower fiber content and higher glycemic index.  Blood sugar responses will vary from one diabetic to another.  Monitor blood sugar levels one or two hours after carb consumption to learn your idiosyncratic response.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Gowlett, J.A.J.  What actually was the Stone Age diet?  Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, 13 (2003): 143-147.

3 responses to “Old Stone Age Diet Depended On Latitude

  1. “Their diet was, therefore, probably largely (perhaps 70%) plant based like that of modern hunters and gatherers in the region [20].”

    If I recall correctly, Cordain’s statistics claim the figure is more like 35%. Given that the few surviving African H-Gs are almost entirely reduced to desert biomes, that Paleolithic Africa was much richer in large, slow game species now extinct, and that Paleolithic Africa was on average wetter (cf. Kiffians in what is now the Sahara) the real figure may be even smaller.

    Also, the date of stone tool usage (and associating with cutmarked bones) has been pushed back to at least 2.4 MYA, not 2 MYA as stated in the article. (Though there is still no solid evidence for early domestication of fire AFAIK.) Paleontology is moving very quickly these days.


  2. J.Stanton, thanks for that info.
    Kuipers, Eaton, Cordain, et al, in a 2010 article suggest the East African
    Paleolithic carb content was about 40%.

    In a 2000 article, Cordain estimated 20-40%.



    Kuipers, R., Luxwolda, M., Janneke Dijck-Brouwer, D., Eaton, S., Crawford, M., Cordain, L., & Muskiet, F. (2010). Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet British Journal of Nutrition, 1-22 DOI: 10.1017/S0007114510002679. Note that one of the authors is Loren Cordain. Good discussion of various Paleolithic diets.

    Cordain, L., et al. Plant-animal subsistance ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71 (2000): 682-692.