Human Ancestors Ate Tree Bark in Diet Focused on Forest

Traces of 2 million-year-old meals in the teeth of a species of human ancestors showed the hominins ate the bark of the trees they climbed, as well as leaves and fruit.

The finding means that ape-like human ancestor Australopithecus sediba, found in the Malapa Cave in South Africa in 2008, probably lived in forests, rather than the open savanna, according to a study published by the journal Nature.

The Australopithecus family, which includes the Lucy fossil, is what many scientists theorize evolved into the human genus Homo. Previous research suggests that the brains, hands, feet and pelvis of Au. sediba were human-like and may have represented an intermediate step. That the Au. sediba ate forest food rather than savanna food makes them more like modern chimpanzees, the researchers wrote.

The wood and bark tissue found in the teeth “increases the known variety of early hominin foods,” the scientists wrote in the study released yesterday. “The overall dietary pattern of these two individuals contrasts with available data for other hominins in the region and elsewhere.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Lopatto in New York at elopatto@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

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