Plotting and Scheming

Posted on November 4, 2009

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A friend of mine, who happens to be a biologist, commented on my last post.  She raised a good point about the paleolithic diet.  The principle of the diet is that it’s better to eat what “the cave men” ate.  But even if you accept that principle, there remains the controversial question of what those folks really did eat.  My friend (Susan Weiner) comments that tubers (a type of plant structure – potatoes being an example) were absolutely a part of the paleolithic diet.  In her own words: “One of the major advances that is speculated to have allowed our large brain size was increased enzymes to digest starch, and cooking tubers to make them more digestible. Potatoes, turnips, etc, are absolutely paleolithic, as are many beans.”

This disagrees with the story told by proponents of paleolithic dieting.  It does appear that the most popular paleolithic diet literature does not take into account more recent archeological findings.  Here is a summary of the work done on this subject at the Dominy Lab at UC Santa Cruz: http://people.ucsc.edu/%7Enjdominy/research/Cooking.html.  Some would counter this by pointing out that potatoes, as commonly seen in the grocery store, are the product of more recent artificial selection by humans.  But in any case, it looks like some starchy vegetables were definitely on the menu in the paleolithic age.

It is important to remember, with all of this archeological evidence, we are only seeing a very small sample of what went on in prehistory.  The diets of humans probably varied dramatically from region to region – perhaps even between tribes/bands/etc… in very close proximity.  Our species’ greatest strength is our adaptability, both as individuals and as a species.  Our adaptability as a species has a lot to do with the diversity we’re are able to achieve.  This diversity is not all genetic.  Our behavioral diversity comes largely in the form of different cultures – different learned behaviors.  So I have no doubt that most discussions of THE paleolithic way of life are … ridiculous.

Plotting and scheming…

This coming weekend was going to be my visit to the natural history museum in NYC, but the plan has changed!  This weekend I will be harvesting fiber plants and making twisted rope with Alexandra Thorn and Tim McCormack.  Because they’re awesome.  The weekend after that, I’ll be in Connecticut getting an introduction to flintknapping (and possibly some other things as well) from John A. Pawloski.  Because he’s awesome.

I’m going to push the NYC trip tentatively to the weekend of the 20th.

I am corresponding with someone from the National Speleological Society about sleeping in a cave.  Most caves in the Northeast have closed for the winter, so that the bats can hibernate undisturbed.  It’s likely that I’ll either be traveling to do this, or waiting until spring.  The cave painting I hope to do in a cave, but on a slab of rock I bring with me and then take home with me.

I hope to try starting a fire while I’m in CT for flintknapping.

The rest I’m still working on scheduling.  Thanks for reading!

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Posted in: General Interest