How Oysters May Have Saved the Human Race


National Archives and Records Administration

A hundred years ago, oysters and shellfish were a staple of a working person's diet in New York and on the east coast; they were cheap, plentiful and healthy. Maggie Koerth-Baker of BoingBoing writes that a couple of hundred thousand years ago they were too; in fact, they may have saved humanity from starvation in a world of changing climate. Conditions were so bad that the population of breeding humans may have been reduced to as little as 1,000, but Professor Curtis Marean, Ph.D suggests that a shellfish diet kept them going.

Not South Africa 164,000 years ago

"They're a great source of protein," he said. "And shellfish are immune to colder ocean temperatures. In fact, when the water gets colder, those populations go up."

They are also a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids that are reputed to help build big brains. So did the shellfish diet make our ancestors smarter? Dr. Marean doesn't think so. Maggie Koerth-Baker writes:

Marean thinks the big brain came first. You can't just walk down to the beach and score yourself some sweet shellfish action (at least, not enough to sustain a society) without being pretty bright.

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