As our ancestors moved north out of Africa, and especially as they found themselves in climates that supported less gathering and more hunting, they were faced with an acute nutritional problem: scurvy. Humans are one of the few mammals that cannot manufacture this vital little chemical compound (others being the guinea pig and fruit bats). If there are no fruit and veg around, where will that vitamin C come from?
That’s a question that puzzled John Speth, an archaeologist and Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He found clues in the accounts of sailors and explorers shipwrecked in the Arctic. Those who, often literally, turned their noses up at the “disgusting” diet of the locals sometimes paid with their lives. Those who ate what the locals ate lived to tell the tale. John Speth told me the tale of how he came to propose the idea that putrid meat and fish may have been a key part of Neanderthal and modern human diet during the Palaeolithic.
- Read Putrid Meat and Fish in the Eurasian Middle and Upper Paleolithic: Are We Missing a Key Part of Neanderthal and Modern Human Diet? for John Speth’s full chain of reasoning – and all the wonderful first-hand accounts.
- Two articles, one from the University of Pennsylvania and one from the University of Chicago, give a flavour of Paul Rozin’s research.
- The Centers for Disease Control in the US has an interesting page on botulism in Alaska.
- Discover Magazine did a story on Alaskan food.
- But you know, I am just so sick of the whole 73-disgusting-foods-you-won’t-believe-people-not-like-us-eat trope, I could throw up. Get over it, people.
- I cobbled together the banner image from two images at Wikimedia, a ball and stick model of viatmin C and an illustration from The Arctic whaleman; or, Winter in the Arctic Ocean: being a narrative of the wreck of the whale ship Citizen. I know the whalers were taken care of by local people, but not whether any succumbed to scurvy. Nobody seems to know where the fish stink-head photo comes from — unless you do.