Ancient Energy Boost

Hunter! Gatherer! Farmer! Who works the hardest – or smartest?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Humanity’s evolution from earlier species took a LOT of energy. Bigger brains, needier children, and longer lifespans meant we had a lot on our PLATES – literally! How did ancient humans fuel all that growth? 

Thomas Kraft, from the University of California, Santa Barbara and colleagues wondered. Did ancient humans find ways to spend LESS TIME getting food? Or did they get food with less sweat? 

To find out, the researchers compared calories BURNED versus calories GAINED by present-day humans and our ape relatives. They analyzed different strategies of getting food – hunting, gathering, or the modern technology: farming! 

Results?The amount of work to get a calorie is similar whether you’re a great ape, hunter-gatherer, or farmer. BUT, human strategies are much less time-consuming! The researchers suggest it’s because we work TOGETHER for complicated activities like farming.

Less time working to get food leaves more time for…everything else! 

No wonder humans are so invested in farming. It’s a GROWING field!

Reference: Kraft, T. S., Venkataraman, V. V., Wallace, I. J., Crittenden, A. N., Holowka, N. B., Stieglitz, J., Harris, J., Raichlen, D. A., Wood, B., Gurven, M., & Pontzer, H. (2021). The energetics of uniquely human subsistence strategies. Science, 374(6575).

Photo credit: image from referenced article.