Cannibalism yielded ancient humans too few calories for a survival strategy

Posted at 7:24 PM, May 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-05 19:24:12-04

(RNN) - Ancient tribes who ate humans instead of other mammals got poor nutritional returns for their efforts if they had first to hunt the men, a new study says.

Some Neanderthals who ate their own kind did not have to expend much energy to do so because they ate victims who died from natural causes, said James Cole, an archaeology expert at the University of Brighton. 

His findings, published in Scientific Reports, result from his research to understand whether some ancient human ancestors became cannibals for reasons of nutrition or ritual. He analyzed data from sites where humans engaged in cannibalism.

Neanderthals who hunted other people for food, he wrote, presumably had to expend more mental and physical effort than if their prey was other mammals "given the hominins' ability to fight, run and think their way out of the hunt."

Sharing the man on the menu among a tribe of 25 would result in barely enough food for half a day, he calculated. He assumed each adult would need 2,400 calories daily.

Cole calculated that an average-sized Neanderthal adult human male (110 pounds) had 125,822 calories in his muscle tissue. A Paleolithic deer had 163,000 calories, a primitive cow 367,200, a bison 612,000 and a woolly mammoth 3.6 million.  

Human thighs yielded 13,354 calories in raw meat, he calculated, noting that cooked human flesh would have provided more calories. 

Besides thighs, he made calculations for other regularly consumed parts of a human body. Those included upper arms (7,451 calories), the torso and head (5,418 calories), calves (4,486 calories), liver (2,569 calories), heart (650 calories), kidneys (376 calories) and spleen (128 calories).

He said it may never be known why some ancient people turned to cannibalism.

Modern humans have turned to cannibalism to survive and for reasons that are criminal, psychotic, spiritual, dietary and medicinal. 

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