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November 13 2012

Our ancestors dined on grass 3.5 million years ago


Our ancestors began eating grass half a million years earlier than thought, soon after they started leaving the trees. Early hominins, living 3 to 3.5 million years ago, got over half their nutrition from grasses, unlike their predecessors, who preferred fruit and insects.

This is the earliest evidence of eating savannah plants, says Julia Lee-Thorp at the University of Oxford. She found high levels of carbon-13 in the bones of Australopithecus bahrelghazali, which lived on savannahs near Lake Chad in Africa. This is typical of animals that eat a lot of grasses and sedges.

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