The roots of civilization trace back to … roots
According to research by anthropologists Greg Laden of the University of Minnesota and Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, the presence of fleshy underground storage organs like roots and tubers must have sustained our ancestors who left the rain forest to colonize the savannah. They have published their research in the October issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.
"You can think of roots as a kind of 'conveyor belt' ... they were somewhat available in the forest, but abundant on the savannah," said Laden. "Once roots were 'discovered,' chimp-like creatures would not only be able to survive on the savannah, but may well have been compelled to extend their range into more and more open habitats."
When our ape ancestors moved -- for reasons unknown -- onto the open, relatively treeless savannah, they left behind the rain forest and its abundance of fruit and leaves, the mainstays of modern chimpanzee diets. Laden and Wrangham believe that savannah-dwellers may have adopted game as their primary food in place of fruit. But for a fallback food, they may well have taken to eating roots and tubers, which are much more abundant on savannahs than in rain forests.
|The top set of gigantic teeth belong to australopith, our ape ancestor. At bottom left are chimpanzee teeth; human teeth are at right. (Photo: University of Minnesota)|
While our ancient ancestors may have left the rain forest for the savannah in pursuit of game meat, it was the ability to find and eat roots that may have contributed to the initial split between humans and the other apes.
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