Evolution of the Human Diet Activity

By the end of the semester, my students are fairly stressed out about everything. I thought I would try to have some fun with the evolution of the human diet in the final week of class. Before class, I had them read Ungar et al. 2006 review on diet in early Homo and I had them read Fenton & Eaton 2016 review on Paleolithic nutrition.

I purchased a bunch of different foods to represent varied hominin diets throughout time (see list below), gave them a chart to fill out (see link), had them work in groups to both fill out the chart and eat the foods, and then we had a discussion (see discussion questions below).

Foods Used
1. Edible insects – purchased on Amazon
2. Wheatgrass = to represent consumable grasses and sedges, and they really had a tough time chewing on this!
3. Sunflower seeds in the shell – I couldn’t do nuts because of several nut allergies in my class
4. Apples
5. Carrots – underground storage organs
6. Turkey Jerky – Meat
7. Goldfish crackers – this was meant to represent marine food resources, I just couldn’t stomach the idea of fresh or canned fish at 9:30 in the morning. You may be hardier than me!
8. Wheaties style of cereal = grains
9. Cheese cubes = dairy

Evolution of Diet Foods
The various foods students got to assess and enjoy

Here is the guiding chart for students to work on:

Evolution of Human Diet Activity

Discussion Questions
1. I brought some representative hominin skulls (robust australopithecines, gracile australopithecines, H. erectus, etc.) so they could look at cranial and dental morphology. Can you match the skull with the diet?

2. Rank the different food from most to least nutritional? How are you basing this ranking? Protein? Total calories? Vitamins?

3. What benefits would hominins experienced with some of the more nutritional foods?

4. What role has culture played in making different foods more available (both physically and nutritionally)?

5. What is the modern day take on the Paleodiet? What are the pros and cons of this diet? What is the backing/lacking evidence for it?

Please enjoy these pictures of my students eating insects for the first time!

Lucie 1
Lucie Moore getting ready to eat a bacon and cheese cricket
Lucie 2
Down the hatch!
Lucie 3
Lucie seems unsure of this…
Cailey enjoying a chocolate covered cricket

Sadly, I do not think this one will translate to online!