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Human Brain Evolution: The Influence of Freshwater and Marine Food Resources

Stephen Cunnane (Editor), Kathlyn Stewart (Editor)
ISBN: 978-0-470-45268-4
217 pages
June 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
Human Brain Evolution: The Influence of Freshwater and Marine Food Resources (0470452684) cover image
The evolution of the human brain and cognitive ability is one of the central themes of physical/biological anthropology. This book discusses the emergence of human cognition at a conceptual level, describing it as a process of long adaptive stasis interrupted by short periods of cognitive advance. These advances were not linear and directed, but were acquired indirectly as part of changing human behaviors, in other words through the process of exaptation (acquisition of a function for which it was not originally selected). Based on studies of the modem human brain, certain prerequisites were needed for the development of the early brain and associated cognitive advances. This book documents the energy and nutrient constraints of the modern brain, highlighting the significant role of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) in brain development and maintenance. Crawford provides further emphasis for the role of essential fatty acids, in particular DHA, in brain development, by discussing the evolution of the eye and neural systems.

This is an ideal book for Graduate students, post docs, research scientists in Physical/Biological Anthropology, Human Biology, Archaeology, Nutrition, Cognitive Science, Neurosciences.  It is also an excellent selection for a grad student discussion seminar.

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FOREWORD: EVOLUTION, ENCEPHALIZATION, ENVIRONMENT (Phillip V. Tobias).

INTRODUCTION (Kathlyn M. Stewart and Stephen C. Cunnane).

CONTRIBUTORS.

CHAPTER 1: MACROEVOLUTIONARY PATTERNS, EXAPTATION, AND EMERGENCE IN THE EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN BRAIN AND COGNITION (Ian Tattersall).

Introduction.

Natural Selection.

Macroevolution.

Patterns in Human Evolution.

Symbolic Cognition.

Exaptation and Emergence.

Large Brains and Aquatic Resources.

References.

CHAPTER 2: LONG-CHAIN POLYUNSATURATED FATTY ACIDS IN HUMAN BRAIN EVOLUTION (Michael A. Crawford).

Introduction – Lipids and Evolution.

The Evolution of Complex Life Forms.

The Language of Lipids.

DHA.

Evolution of Homo sapiens.

DHA and Neural Pathways?

A Comment on AA.

The Third Phase of Earth's Life History – AA and Reproduction in Mammals.

Darwin and the Conditions of Existence.

Implications.

Conclusion.

Acknowledgments.

Notes.

References.

CHAPTER 3: HUMAN BRAIN EVOLUTION: A QUESTION OF SOLVING KEY NUTRITIONAL AND METABOLIC CONSTRAINTS ON MAMMALIAN BRAIN DEVELOPMENT (Stephen C. Cunnane).

Introduction.

Brain Evolution in Hominins.

Need for A New Paradigm.

Brain Development.

Energy Requirements of the Brain.

Nutrients and Brain Function.

Brain-Selective Nutrients.

Critical Importance of Baby Fat in Humans.

Gene – Nutrient Interactions.

Conclusions.

Acknowledgments.

References.

CHAPTER 4: METABOLIC AND MOLECULAR ASPECTS OF THE CRITICAL ROLE OF DOCOSAHEXAENOIC ACID IN HUMAN BRAIN FUNCTION (J. Thomas Brenna).

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Molecular Structure.

DHA and Neural Function.

Metabolic and Biophysical Considerations.

Functional Importance of DHA in Retinal and Neural Membranes.

Dietary Need for Preformed DHA.

DHA Intake During Pregnancy and Lactation: Effects on Higher CNS Functions of the Mother and Infant.

Summary.

References.

CHAPTER 5: LESSONS FROM SHOREBASED HUNTER-GATHERER DIETS IN EAST AFRICA (Frits A.J. Muskiet and Remko S. Kuipers).

Introduction.

Our Genetic Background.

Adaptation to the Conditions of Existence.

Western Diets and the Human Genome.

Brain-Selective Nutrients in Health and Disease.

Dietary Fatty Acids at the Land–Water Interface.

Tanzanian Breast Milk Fatty Acids Versus Western Recommendations.

Estimated Fatty Acid Intakes from Shore-Based Paleolithic Diets.

Conclusions.

Notes.

References.

Appendix.

CHAPTER 6: THYROID HORMONE, IODINE AND HUMAN BRAIN EVOLUTION (Sebastiano Venturi and Michel E. Bégin).

Introduction.

Thyroid Hormone Metabolism and Function.

Fetal Development.

Antioxidant Activity of Iodine.

Dietary Sources of Iodine.

Iodine Defi ciency Disorders.

Human Brain Evolution.

Thyroid Hormone, Iodine, and Human Brain Evolution.

Conclusion.

References.

CHAPTER 7: FOOD FOR THOUGHT: THE ROLE OF COASTLINES AND AQUATIC RESOURCES IN HUMAN EVOLUTION (Jon M. Erlandson).

Introduction.

Food for Thought.

Human Nutrition and Physiology.

Archaeological Evidence for the Antiquity of Fishing.

Conclusions.

Acknowledgments.

Notes.

References.

CHAPTER 8: THE CASE FOR EXPLOITATION OF WETLANDS ENVIRONMENTS AND FOODS BY PRE-SAPIENS HOMININS (Kathlyn M. Stewart).

Introduction.

Hominid Exploitation of Wetlands Environments and Resources.

Early Hominins: Colonization of New Environments.

Plio-Pleistocene Climate Instability and Use of Wetlands Resources.

Intensifi cation of Wetlands Vegetation Exploitation.

The Shift to High-Quality Foods.

Preconditions for Encephalization.

Precessional Forcing, Drying Lakes/Rivers, and Die-Offs of Aquatic Faunas.

Mammal Meat: A Later Hominin Adaptation?

Postscript: H. heidelbergensis and H. sapiens.

Summary.

Acknowledgments.

References.

CHAPTER 9: BRAIN SIZE IN CARNIVORAN MAMMALS THAT FORAGE AT THE LAND–WATER ECOTONE, WITH IMPLICATIONS FOR ROBUST AUSTRALOPITHECINE PALEOBIOLOGY (Alan B. Shabel).

Introduction.

Methods.

Results.

Discussion.

Acknowledgments.

References.

CHAPTER 10: COASTAL DIET, ENCEPHALIZATION, AND INNOVATIVE BEHAVIORS IN THE LATE MIDDLE STONE AGE OF SOUTHERN AFRICA (John Parkington).

Introduction.

Changes.

Climate Change.

A New Narrative.

References.

CHAPTER 11: HUMAN BRAIN EVOLUTION: A NEW WETLANDS SCENARIO (Stephen C. Cunnane and Kathlyn M. Stewart).

Human Brain Evolution.

Neurochemical and Nutritional Evidence.

The Fossil Evidence.

Plausibility, Prediction, and Parsimony.

Salient Points.

Conclusion.

Reference.

INDEX.

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“This is an ideal book for Graduate students, post docs, research scientists in Physical/ Biological Anthropology, Human Biology, Archaeology, Nutrition, Cognitive Science, Neurosciences. It is also an excellent selection for a grad student discussion seminar.”  (Human Evolution, 1 March 2013)

"This volume...is a puissant move away from the heavy, earthbound view of hominid evolution and a move toward a greater emphasis upon the role of water and waterways in hominid development, survival, and diversification" (Phillip Tobias, Foreward, Human Brain Evolution)

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May 28, 2010
Explore an Innovative Theory of Human Brain Evolution

The Human brain, and its uniquely sophisticated cognitive functions, represents a giant evolutionary leap from our earliest ancestors, but how did it evolve to be more sophisticated then our rival species?  In their new book Human Brain Evolution: The Influence of Freshwater and Marine Food Resources Stephen Cunnane and Kathlyn Stewart argue that our ancient ancestor’s unique relationship to water, and the aquatic food chain, may hold the answers.

“Paleoanthropologists and other scientists have traditionally viewed the evolution of human brain capacity as a matter of fine tuning by natural selection. However there is no evidence that our earliest ancestors developed cognitive capabilities beyond those of modern apes,” say Cunnane and Stewart. “It is not until about 2 million years ago that the appearance of larger brained hominins, with rough stone tools, signalled a cognitive advance. This book is based on the idea that environmental changes in habitat and food resources were the drivers of that evolutionary advance.”

This book documents the energy and nutrient needs and constraints of the modern brain, highlighting the significant role of the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in brain development and maintenance. Considerable emphasis is also placed on the ongoing vulnerability of the modern human brain. Poorer nutrition today, especially insufficient DHA, iodine and iron, contributes to slower mental development, mental illness and dementia on a global scale. Cunnane and Stewart pose the question – why is the human brain so vulnerable today, when it successfully evolved in tandem with the much simpler lifestyle and food resources of our ancestors?

Written for graduate students and research scientists alike, this book offers a multi-disciplinary treatment of human brain evolution, covering biological anthropology, archaeology, nutrition, and lipid chemistry to present a thorough treatment and innovative hypothesis about human brain evolution.

The book starts with early evidence of patterns in human evolution, cognitive functions and symbolic cognition and the early relationship between large brains and aquatic food resources. It then moves right into the role of key nutrients in brain development and function making the case that increased dietary ability of these nutrients in early hominins opened the door to brain expansion.

Later chapters deal with how hominins adapted to lake and river environments and to aquatic foods, the role of coastlines in later human evolution, archaeological evidence for the antiquity of fishing, as well as examining case studies of coastal diets from Southern Africa. 

“Waterways have been both deterrents to, and facilitators of, the dispersal of humans throughout Africa and across the world,” said Dr Phillip Tobias from the South African University of the Witwatersrand in the book’s foreword. “Humans need freshwater for drinking, for keeping cool and, as this book makes clear, as a source of aquatic plant and animal foodstuffs. These studies have shown the important role that the aquatic food chain plays in providing an abundance of DHA and their significance for the development and healthy function of the brain.”

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