HARVEST:  Plant foods in Human Evolution

About the HARVEST Project:

Plant foods comprise the majority of most human diets, yet the potential importance of these foods in human evolution is often overlooked. Using a behavioral ecology framework, the HARVEST project explores fundamental questions: Why did hominins choose to eat certain plants? What were their foraging goals? 


Dental Calculus:

To understand the why hominins chose the foods they did, we first have to find out what they ate. Analyses of plant remains and other residues preserved in dental calculus provide information about food and processing techniques. We are using these methods to explore the diets of various hominin groups, both recent and ancient. 


Plant Nutritional Variation:

The decision to consume a particular plant depends in part on its inherent properties (nutrients and antifeedants). We are exploring the variation in plant properties among microhabitats in African environments similar to those used by hominins, to better model their food choices.


Factors Influencing Food Choices:

Cultural and technological factors also influence food choice. We are working with the Baka and Nzime of southeastern Cameroon to understand how they value wild plant foods, and to explore the relative influences of food quality, food accessibility, cultural preferences, and integration within the market economy on their dietary patterns.


Costs of Food Processing:

Finally, we are examining the energetic costs of food processing, such from chewing refractive foods or from gathering fuel for cooking food, might influence food choices. 

Results from these studies will help fill important lacunae in our understanding of hominin diets, broaden our knowledge of hominin behaviors in a variety of environments, and help generate hypotheses about the relationships between diet and human evolution.