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Isotopic Evidence for the Diet of an Early Hominid, Australopithecus africanus

Science  15 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5400, pp. 368-370
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5400.368

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Abstract

Current consensus holds that the 3-million-year-old hominidAustralopithecus africanus subsisted on fruits and leaves, much as the modern chimpanzee does. Stable carbon isotope analysis ofA. africanus from Makapansgat Limeworks, South Africa, demonstrates that this early hominid ate not only fruits and leaves but also large quantities of carbon-13–enriched foods such as grasses and sedges or animals that ate these plants, or both. The results suggest that early hominids regularly exploited relatively open environments such as woodlands or grasslands for food. They may also suggest that hominids consumed high-quality animal foods before the development of stone tools and the origin of the genus Homo.

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