Research questions idea that meat intake gave us bigger brains and our very humanity

Paleontologists and anthropologists have long hypothesized that eating meat is strongly related to Homo sapiens’ “successful” evolutionary path. In other words, protein—and the skills needed to secure it—helped build our big brains, facilitated longer limbs, and helped us walk upright. New research suggests this theory may be more complicated than we once thought, Wired reports. It may in fact be partly drawn from a sampling bias. After examining pre-existing East African data that covers millions of years of human evolution, researchers are suggesting that the “surge” of meat eating—detected by the presence of more butchered bones after the appearance of the ancient “human-like” species Homo erectus—may not have been a substantial increase, after all. Meaning that meat-theory-loving scientists found what they were looking for, precisely because they were looking for it, but not necessarily because the evidence actually bore out their hypothesis. Of course, one new paper doesn’t necessarily fully dismantle the “meat made us human” conventional wisdom. But it may be at the least a wakeup call to ask different questions. As Jessica Thompson, an anthropologist at Yale University, put it to Wired: “At some point there is no evidence for butchery, and at some point there’s a lot of evidence. And something had to happen in between.” —Alex Hinton

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