Nutritional ecology and diachronic trends in Paleolithic diet and health


  • Bryan Hockett,

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    • Bryan Hockett is an archaeologist with the United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. He received his doctorate in anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1993. He has authored articles that discuss a wide range of topics, including small mammal taphonomy, Upper Paleolithic subsistence strategies in central Portugal, and Great Basin projectile points.

  • Jonathan Haws

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    • Jonathan Haws is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His dissertation uses archaeological data to test models of resource intensification and diversification used to explain Late Upper Paleolithic subsistence change on the Iberian Peninsula.


Modern nutritional studies have found that diverse diets are linked to lower infant mortality rates and longer life expectancies in humans. This is primarily because humans require more than fifty essential nutrients for growth and cell maintenance and repair; most of these essential nutrients must come from outside food sources rather than being manufactured by the body itself; and a diversity of food types is required to consume the full suite of essential nutrients necessary for optimal human health. These principles and their related affects on human adaptations and demography are the hallmarks of a theoretical paradigm defined as nutritional ecology. This essay applies concepts derived from nutritional ecology to the study of human evolution. Principles of nutritional ecology are applied to the study of the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition in order to broadly illustrate the interpretive ramifications of this approach. At any stage in human evolution, those hominid populations that chose to diversify their subsistence base may have had a selective advantage over competitors who restricted their diet principally to one food type, such as terrestrial mammals.