I’m now so many wonderful episodes in, that it was far past time to give something back to Jeremy for the hours of work he’s put in to give me so much entertainment, enjoyment, and even knowledge. So I just made a pledge to support him on Patreon.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Eat This Podcast is a fantastic series on food, but it it uses the “foods we eat to examine and shed light on the lives we lead, from authenticity to zoology”. Food becomes his “vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.”
It’s unlike much of anything I’ve seen or followed in the food space for some time. As someone who is a fan of the science of food and fantastic writers like Harold McGee, Herve This, Alton Brown, Tom Standage, Michael Pollan, Nathan Myhrvold, Maxime Bilet, Matt Gross, and Michael Ruhlman (to name only a few), Eat This Podcast is now a must listen for me.
Not only are the episodes always interesting and unique, they’re phenomenally well researched and produced. You’d think he had a massive staff and production support at the level of a news organization like NPR. By way of mentioning NPR, I wanted to highlight the thought, care, and skill he puts into not only the stunning audio quality, but into the selection of underlying photos, musical bumpers, and the links to additional resources he finds along the way.
And if my recommendation isn’t enough, then perhaps knowing that this one person effort has been nominated for the James Beard Award in both 2015 and 2016 may tip the scales?
If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, I highly recommend you take a peek at what he has to offer. You can subscribe, download, and listen to them all for free. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll follow my lead and make a pledge to support his work on Patreon as well.
Neanderthals did not descale their teeth regularly, for which modern scientists can be very thankful. Embedded in the fossilized calculus, or tartar, on teeth from the Shanidar cave, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and elsewhere are some remarkable remains that are beginning to shed far more light on what Neanderthals ate. I don’t want to give too much away just yet. Let’s just say that if, like me, when you think of the Neanderthal diet you think of a bunch of cavemen and women sitting around chewing their way through a woolly mammoth, you’re in for a surprise.
My guide through the recent discoveries on Neanderthal diet is John Speth, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.
Amanda Henry’s research clearly points to moist-cooked starch grains in the mouths of Neanderthals (but did they swallow?). Archaeologists, however, have found almost no evidence of Neanderthals using the hot-rocks boil-in-a-bag method of modern people who lack fire-proof containers. And surprisingly, they didn’t know what John Speth discovered while watching TV in a motel room: that it is perfectly possible to boil water in a flimsy container over a direct fire. In the interests of time I had to cut his fascinating description of an experiment to make maple syrup by boiling the sap in a birch-bark tray over an open fire, which concluded that it was “both efficient and worthwhile”. So, now that they know it can be done, how long before they discover it was done?
There is evidence that Neanderthals ate moist-cooked starch. There is evidence that one can moist-cook without fire-proof containers and hot rocks. All we need now is evidence that Neanderthals used similar techniques, and the palaeo-dieters can add a nice mess of potage to their daily fare.
Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium). (A scientific paper.)
National Geographic’s early report on Amanda Henry’s discovery of plant remains on Neanderthal teeth and a more recent report from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
More on Neanderthal diets at John Hawks’ weblog.
Photograph of the Regourdou Neanderthal mandible used by permission of the photographer, Patrick Semal, and the Musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord.
Intro music by Dan-O at DanoSongs.com.
Final music played by Ljuben Dimkaroski on a replica of a Neanderthal bone flute found in a cave in western Slovenia.
While I’ve read lots of research surrounding this area, this is the kind of area which more mainstream food journalists, entertainers, and educators could and should be covering. Aside from a semi-regular appearance of Deb Duchon, a nutritional anthropologist, appearing on Alton Brown‘s Good Eats, this may be one of the few places I’ve seen such an interesting interview of this type.
This video by Travis Saul features a digital rendering of the Stele of Katumuwa. The ancient stele was discovered by University of Chicago archaeologists at Zincirli, Turkey in 2008. The inscription on the stele, written in a local dialect of Aramaic, is dated to around 735 BC. In word and image, Katumuwa asks his descendants to remember and honor him in his mortuary chapel at an annual sacrificial feast for his soul, which inhabited not his bodily remains, but the stone itself.
This reading of the Aramaic inscription and its English translation is kindly provided by Dennis Pardee, Henry Crown Professor of Hebrew Studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. For more detailed information about the inscription, read his chapter featured in this Oriental Institute Museum Publication:
Pardee, Dennis. “The Katumuwa Inscription” in, In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East, edited by V.R. Hermann and J.D. Schloen, pp.45-48. Oriental Institute Museum Publication 37. 2014. Chicago: The Oriental Institute.
The reading is also featured in the video “Remembering Katumuwa” featured in the Special Exhibit “In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East” at the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, April 8 2014–January 4 2015. https://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/special/remembrance/
In Remembrance of Me: Feasting with the Dead in the Ancient Middle East.
The story of human evolution has fascinated us like no other: we seem to have an insatiable curiosity about who we are and where we have come from. Yet studying the “stones and bones” skirts around what is perhaps the realest, and most relatable, story of human evolution – the social and cognitive changes that gave rise to modern humans.
In Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior, Robin Dunbar appeals to the human aspects of every reader, as subjects of mating, friendship, and community are discussed from an evolutionary psychology perspective. With a table of contents ranging from prehistoric times to modern days, Human Evolution focuses on an aspect of evolution that has typically been overshadowed by the archaeological record: the biological, neurological, and genetic changes that occurred with each “transition” in the evolutionary narrative. Dunbar’s interdisciplinary approach – inspired by his background as both an anthropologist and accomplished psychologist – brings the reader into all aspects of the evolutionary process, which he describes as the “jigsaw puzzle” of evolution that he and the reader will help solve. In doing so, the book carefully maps out each stage of the evolutionary process, from anatomical changes such as bipedalism and increase in brain size, to cognitive and behavioral changes, such as the ability to cook, laugh, and use language to form communities through religion and story-telling. Most importantly and interestingly, Dunbar hypothesizes the order in which these evolutionary changes occurred-conclusions that are reached with the “time budget model” theory that Dunbar himself coined. As definitive as the “stones and bones” are for the hard dates of archaeological evidence, this book explores far more complex psychological questions that require a degree of intellectual speculation: What does it really mean to be human (as opposed to being an ape), and how did we come to be that way?