Ancient cannibals may not just have eaten other people for nutrition, because the whole human body only provides 125,000 calories, a study suggests.
For more than 10 years, James Cole, an archaeologist from the University of Brighton in England, has been studying “nutritional human cannibalism” in the Paleolithic period, which covers around 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago.
Cole said he was interested in finding out just how nutritious humans are, The New York Times reports. He admitted,
Whenever I talk about the topic, I always get a slight sort of side view from my colleagues.
He studies the human race’s ancestors, with a focus on their behavior and the complexities of their social and cultural structures. Cole said that cannibalism offered insight into those complexities, as eating others might have been for a variety of reasons – not just for survival. His fascination on the subject allowed him to create a calorie count for cannibals.
Several archeological sites in Western Europe yielded evidence that early hominins ate their own kind. Most scientists classify human cannibalism in this time period as either ritualistic or nutritional. Cole explained that nutritional cannibalism is when there is no evidence of spiritual or ritualistic practices accompanying the bones found at a specific site.
Cole wanted to examine whether or not human meat even offered any nutritional value, compared to other animals that the hominins could have hunted. “If we’re calling it ‘nutritional’ and we have no idea of the nutritional value, then how can that label be used?” he asked.
According to his calculations, human thighs come up to 13,350 calories, while calves are about 4,490 calories. The upper arms are some 7,450 calories, and the forearms about 1,660 calories. The heart provides 650 calories, the lungs are 1,600 calories, the liver has around 2,570 calories and the kidneys around 380 calories together.
The results show that humans are not worth eating if the point is for nutrition, Cole said. A mammoth, on the other hand, could supply a tribe of 25 adult males with 3.6 million calories – enough for 60 days.
Because of this, he said that perhaps Paleolithic cannibalism was conducted more for social or cultural reasons. He has made the limitations of his paper clear, including the small sample size and the fact that only male cadavers were measured.
The study was published in Scientific Reports.