What the First Humans Ate
by Victoria Boutenko
Once, when I was a little girl, my father took me to an archeological site located near the Azov Sea. There, scientists were excavating the ancient Greek town of Tanais from 5th century B.C. We were surprised to discover that this ancient town was positioned so deep in the ground. During the past 25 centuries, it gradually had become covered by almost 30 feet of dirt. We had to climb down many steps to reach its narrow streets and tiny stone homes surrounded by stone fences. Tanais was so well preserved, that it was easy to imagine it full of people. I was mesmerized by my feelings of physical closeness to prehistoric life.
In addition to wandering the streets of Tanais, we were permitted to touch some newly excavated artifacts. Many small, broken, and other nonessential pieces were left at the site after they were thoroughly studied by the scientists. We found many small fragments of broken ceramic dishes, covered with curious patterns. I especially remember a very unusual looking petrified fish, which looked as if it had recently been dried. I immediately made plans to bring this 2,500 year old fish back to school with me, but as soon as I touched it with the tips of my fingers, it collapsed into powder.
Not long ago, I found myself equally mesmerized when I read about recent archeological discoveries. The article talked about the thirteen oldest human skeletons unearthed in East Africa. The scientists dated them at 3.6 million years and named them “the first family.” These hominids* had curved phalanges, or finger bones, which means the creatures were agile tree-climbers. Also, they had very thick enamel on their teeth; and their molars were large and square, similar to other creatures that chew lots of greens. Scientists believe that the first humans spent the majority of their time in the branches of trees because that habitat offered much-needed protection from predators and supplied fruit and green leaves, and thus the tree-climbing adaptation developed.
The earliest humans, known as “Australopithecus,” dwelled in East Africa about 3.6 million years ago. At that time, the land of East Africa was covered by tropical rainforest. It made sense to me that they lived in the tropics because heavy annual rainfall, high humidity, and hot temperatures year around ensured an abundance of food for all the inhabitants of the rainforest. I have heard amazing stories from people who traveled to the tropical rainforest about the countless varieties of fruits, all of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Some of these fruits even grow directly off the trunks of the trees. The variety of fruit-bearing plants in the tropical rainforest reaches almost three hundred different specimens, very few of which have been cultivated.
Sweet fleshy fruits attract not only birds and mammals but even fish, when the fruit rolls into the water. Due to the wealth of fruit, most of the animals in the tropical rainforest live in the canopy, which is the upper part of the trees. There is so much food available up there year round that some animals never descend to explore the forest floor. (I could definitely live like that if only I could get my computer up there!)
(This is a long chapter and I cannot publish it all here. Victoria)
Copyright 2007 by Victoria Boutenko. www.rawfamily.com