While I was in graduate school, I would see Alan at the annual meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and he was always happy to talk with me about how insects likely made an important dietary contribution to early hominids. His big thing was always that I should dig for termite eggs.. I never dug for eggs, but the thought has never left my mind! I can definitely say that newly hatched insects, or the larvae, offer higher amounts of fat than adult forms, so I am guessing eggs would be similar, although I have never seen any data on it. Trust me, it is in my long-term goals to figure this out!
This April, I get to present some of my findings in a session honoring Alan's work. Here's my abstract:
Social insects and cultural origins
JULIE J. LESNIK. Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois-Chicago
"Alan Mann’s 1972 article in Man, “Hominid and cultural origins,” concluded that one of the significant changes towards becoming human is modification of the diet toward foods requiring a tool for acquisition and that an individual with a stick could have obtained many of these resources. This viewpoint has been embraced by primatologists more than it has by paleoanthropologists, but it is important for current discussions in paleoanthropology to embrace that hominid reliance on tools does not necessitate the preservation of artifacts. In this poster, Mann’s argument will be reinvestigated paying specific attention to the dietary contributions of social insects. Of all the possible foods that become more easily available with the use of a stick (tubers, roots, etc.), insects such as ants and termites provide some of the most identifiable and reliable high quality resources. Reconstructions of the nutritional and isotopic contributions of these resources, however, must recognize that both termites and ants are from taxonomically diverse clades and that variation in their contributions exists at even the caste level. Using the termite genus Macrotermes and the ant genus Camponotus as examples, these insects may provide good sources of energy and protein and would mainly contribute to a C3 carbon isotope signature. Utilizing these resources more intensively than extant nonhuman great apes could account for the dietary shift that supported brain size increase in the australopithecines."
I am looking forward to being in Calgary April 9th-12th. I hope to see you there! And I hope to see you at this amazing poster session!