The research, by University of Utah geochemist Thure Cerling
and an international team of scientists, refutes the previously held belief
that early humans shared the diets of forest-dwelling primates.
The research was published in four studies published online
this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The studies
analysed the tooth enamel of ancestors of humans and great apes to show that early
man gained a taste for grasses and sedges, grass-like plants with edged
stems."It was like the opening of a new restaurant and they didn't have to
eat the same old stuff," Cerling told Reuters on Tuesday.
No longer dependent on forests for their supply of food, the
change in diet helped pave the way for early man to explore new habitats,
Cerling said. The question of whether those ancestors were pure herbivores or
carnivores remains unanswered."That is a mystery still to be
unravelled," Cerling said.
Earlier studies indicate that early man did not scavenge for
meat until 2.5 million years ago and did not begin hunting for game until about
500 000 years ago.