#24 - Stephen Merritt, PhD - Paleoanthropologist

This podcast is a mirror of the story of human evolution, it is both varied and somewhat complex. Stephen and I get into the following;

Should humans being following the diet trends of our ancestors?

What does ancestral really mean?

Did early humans persistence hunt? Or did they hunt more like wolves?

What role has human evolution and anthropology played in our ideas of race and cultural differences today.

A bit on barefoot running.

This podcast easily could have went on for hours, we'll try to get Stephen back on the show soon!

"My research explores the ecology and evolution of ancient humans' tool-assisted carnivory. Eating animals and using tools to butcher is an important intersection between the diet and technology. The ecological contexts surrounding this change in foraging behavior have likely influenced major trends in human evolution — like brain size expansion and increasing complexity of food production and consumption. In the contemporary world, diet is an important lens for examining culture, human health, and poverty; by examining industrialized food production, it is easy to appreciate the tremendous technological power that humanity wields as it produces more abundant, nutritious, cost-effective foods. Precisely because of the unprecedented ecological power our technology affords, humanity must act responsibly as we control other species’ genotypes, ensure equitable access to nutritious foods around the globe, and mediate the human footprint on the earth.


The important ways in which diet and technology are intertwined in the modern world brings up questions about their origins. How did we come to be the top consumer in all of the world’s ecosystems? To answer questions about the paleoecology of tool-assisted carnivory, I conduct fieldwork at Koobi Fora, in northern Kenya, where the deep history of human carnivory is encoded in archaeological assemblages of butchered bone that date approximately 1-2 million years ago. At this time in human prehistory, Oldowan stone tool technology was involved in a dietary shift toward large mammal carcass consumption, an ecological transition that put our ancestors in direct competition with ancient Carnivore guild members. As a zooarchaeologist and paleoanthropologist, I use information generated in carefully constructed modern-day experiments to reconstruct the role ancient humans and carnivores played in the formation of fragmentary bone assemblages."

Show Notes

Merritt 2012 cut mark cross section

Merritt 2016 cut mark cluster geometry and equifinality in replicated early Stone Age butchery

Merritt 2017 investigating hominin carnivory in the Okote Member of Koobi Fora, Kenya with an actualistic model

Merritt and Davis 2017 diagnostic properties of hammerstone broken long bone fragments

Patterson et al 2017 Ecosystem evolution and hominin paleobiology at East Turkana, northern Kenya between 2 and 1 Ma