The Paleolithic Diet and Modern Hunter-Gatherer Tribes

This fresh look at Paleolithic and ancestral diets takes contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes into consideration.


| March 2016



African pot

Modern diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and most types of cancer are non-existent in hunter-gatherer cultures surviving today

Photo by fotolia/africa

The human body’s innate mechanisms for healing and immunity extend beyond the mending of cuts and broken bones or recovery from colds and flu. Given the foods we evolved to thrive on, foods our ancestors knew well, the body can naturally prevent and overcome a host of degenerative conditions and chronic illnesses, from allergies, eczema, and arthritis to dental caries, heart attack, and even cancer.

Primal Nutrition (Healing Arts Press, 2015) by Dr. Ron Schmid demonstrates that the strongest and most disease-resistant indigenous cultures around the world lived on whole, natural foods--seafood, wild game, healthy grass-fed domestic animals, and, in some cases, whole grains and raw dairy. He explores how modern refined diets differ from ancestral ones, the dramatic declines in health seen in indigenous cultures that adopt modern diets, and the steps you can take to build health with traditional foods.

Early relatives of humans lived in trees probably more than five million years ago, eating fruit, eggs, and nestlings. Changing climatic patterns in Africa near the equator are thought to have driven these creatures down from the trees in times of drought to forage for food in grasslands. Certain relatives of early humans, classified in the genus Homo, and other creatures of the genus Australopithecus, appear in the fossil records of two to nearly four million years ago.

Australopithecines were similar to our ancestors in many ways; both are thought to have descended from the same ancestral line, and both walked with feet nearly identical to those of modern humans. Though the head has undergone drastic changes, particularly in the size of the brain, they walked upright. We know this from the position of the foramen magnum, the hole in the base of the skull through which the spinal cord passes en route to the brain.

Australopithecus was first named by anatomist Raymond Dart when skeletal remains of the creature were discovered in 1924. For many years, it was thought to be the direct ancestor of humans. Recent discoveries, however, indicated Australopithecus was a vegetarian cousin of the genus Homo, the line believed to lead to modern humans. The jaw and teeth are heavier, more suited to chewing and grinding roots. The teeth of Homo species of the same period are smaller and lighter, more suited for tearing and chewing meat. While Homo developed, Australo-pithecines became extinct between five hundred thousand and one million years ago.

Almost two million years ago, Homo erectus appeared; it was believed to be the first human. Meat consumption increased during this time, as evidenced by the animal bones that litter the caves that Homo erectus inhabited. Additionally, they had tools for hunting and cleaning animals, and they lived in areas well populated with large game. These people spread far from central Africa, where they most likely had originated. A classic find of this species is Peking man, who lived approximately four hundred thousand years ago and was the first to use fire.