Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

HARVEST: Plant foods in human evolution

The HARVEST project explores the dietary choices that our hominin ancestors and relatives made, by recovering information on what they consumed, and how factors like environmental variation, intrinsic biology, and development of food processing technologies could have influenced their decisions.

2017 - 2022
Amanda Henry
ERC Starting Grant ERC Starting Grant

Factors affecting the harvest of nutrients from the floral environment

The diets of the hominins, our ancestors and closest relatives, were tightly interwoven with many aspects of their biology and behavior, and have shaped the way we interact with our food today.  Our present understanding of both what hominins ate and why they chose the foods they did is still very incomplete, particularly for plant foods.

Our ancestors' diet

Plant micro-remains (starch grains and phytoliths), bacterial proteins and DNA, and other residues recovered from fossil dental calculus will help us better understand what our ancestors ate. To place these data in a broader behavioral ecology framework, we will explore how different aspects of the environment, biology and behavior may have changed the relative costs or benefits of using particular plant foods.

To this end, we will study how environmental variability might change the relative nutritional properties of wild plants, how gut microbial communities may allow or reflect foraging mores, and how the ability or choice to make fire may make certain foods more accessible. These two main lines of research - what they ate, and what may have influenced their decisions - will be synthesized into a greater understanding of why hominins chose their foods.

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