Humanity bites

I said last time that I was going to return to being terrible. So, here we go.

“Human cannibalism is a subject that continues to hold a morbid fascination within modern societies.” (Cole, 2017)

Yeah, no kidding. It’s a common staple in slasher movies and even outside of it, from Shakespeare to South Park. I’m not even going to get started on Dr. Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs.  We even use it as an intimidation threat: you know, “I eat punks like you for breakfast.” I’m sure that once upon a time, punks like me were probably eaten for breakfast (while punks like me eat oatmeal for breakfast, especially if we hate our internet providers), probably in the Paleolithic era of human history. The term itself means ‘old stone,’ so this is part of the Stone Age as we know it. Yes, this is where the ‘Paleo’ in the ‘Paleo’ diet came from, which annoys more than a few paleontologists for several reasons, including because of paleo diet bots on Twitter, but I digress of course. Back to cannibalism.

Hunters had choices back in the Paleolithic, I’m sure: there was quite the species diversity for animals at the time, although humans at the time didn’t exactly feast on everything in sight. But they did what they could, and sometimes, other hominid species (OK, other human species, not necessarily the modern Homo sapiens) were in sight, so yes, cannibalism. Barring having actually seen it happen, there’s a wealth of evidence from archaeological record supporting the claim that cannibalism among Paleolithic hominids existed. The author cites several pieces of evidence from other studies in today’s Featured Article. It’s on page 2, and feel free to read it yourself since it’s an open journal. Reading this article three times for sci.casual is enough for me.

Just because they did, was it worth it? It’s a great intimidation tactic as I said, but was it actually nutritious? Are you thinking about or actually looking in the mirror as you read that line? Today’s Featured Article looks at the possible nutritional value of the human body based on several estimates. Oh well, on the good side, this was probably easy to get past an institutional review board since no humans were actually harmed in the study. I could be snarky and say that they were already harmed in the early Stone Age – oh wait, I just said it.

Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain (“Feast of the Malakans,” Niko Pirosmani)

But where did those estimates come from, though? All the way at the end of the article was the methods (because in some journals, they save that for the end, they have their reasons why, I’m sure) in which the author describes the process. No humans harmed, it’s just math and macros essentially; people big into fitness and the Paleo diet are probably familiar with the process. I’m talking about nutrients, not cannibalism. At least hopefully not. Anyway, each body is broken up into parts, and each part is broken down into carbs, fats, and protein, and the masses of each part is converted to calories. Granted, the edible parts are muscle, so calorie values were eventually based on that.

So, are humans really all that nutritious? They were not exactly known for their sedentary lifestyle, after all. According to Table 5, probably not, since there may have been better options, like mammoths, bears, and even giant deer.

Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-30-SA, Author: Bazonka, 2013)

But that’s not really a fair comparison, though. After all, these are very large animals, so of course it’s probably better (especially for your group) to hunt with your buddies rather than to hunt down your buddies. But what about species of similar body weight? According to the author, not even then. The closest is goat antelope. Even beavers have more calories in their muscle than the average human. Beavers.

Public Domain (Author: Natalie Zhupanyn)

Based on archaeological record, there’s little argument that Paleolithic humans engaged in cannibalism. The author supposes that they may have done so for nutrition’s sake, but it’s probably not the main reason why they would. So, there’s no need to go out there and eat humans. It’s not all that good for you, and it’s very, very, very much illegal in most places around the world anyway, so we’re talking about an extreme waste of time that you could be using for something else, like reading sci.casual and other extravagant wastes of time.

Regardless of the reasons, humans were on the menu in the Paleolithic. Sorry to ruin your Paleo diet.

Featured Article: Cole J (2017). Assessing the caloric significance of episode of human cannibalism in the Paleolithic. Scientific Reports 7: 44707. DOI: 10.1038/srep44707

Featured Image: CC-BY-40-SA (Author: Jonny Velasco, 2017)


  1. Sometimes I suspect that the main reason why cannibalism is not something popular these days is because it would prevent people from exploiting each other any further, or longer 🙂


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