Tina Lüdecke doing field work at Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

Dr Tina Lüdecke is studying how the Gorongosa National Park fauna can help us understand when our human ancestors started to eat meat.

For her research into the onset and evolution of meat consumption in human ancestors, Dr. Tina Lüdecke will receive €1.3 million from the German Research Foundation (DFG). Lüdecke is a research associate at the University of Oxford and has served as the leading geochemist for the Paleo-Primate Project Gorongosa since 2016. She will use this funding to set up her own Emmy Noether Junior Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (MPIC) in Mainz, Germany. Over the next six years, Lüdecke’s group will investigate when meat entered the diet of our early ancestors and how its consumption developed over millions of years.

As a first step, the group will use teeth from modern herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores that died of natural causes in Gorongosa National Park to further develop novel methods for measuring nitrogen isotopes in tooth enamel. Here, Lüdecke will collaborate with Mozambican students that she plans to mentor. This work will allow her group to establish a modern comparative dataset for fossil studies.

In the next step, Lüdecke will concentrate on sampling mammalian teeth from Plio Pleistocene hominin fossil sites in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and South Africa. She and her team will analyze fossil teeth to determine the nitrogen isotope signatures of animals with known dietary behaviors (e.g., meat vs. plant eating) that coexisted with early hominins. These data will serve as a baseline with which to compare the nitrogen isotope signatures of early hominins. Taken together, this information will help us gain a better understanding of the dietary habits of early hominins, including meat consumption in different hominin groups. Theories of human evolution often invoke an increase in meat consumption as a key adaptation of early hominins, so this new research will provide a critical test of these ideas.

Tina Lüdecke working at the E.O.Wilson Lab at Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

Tina Lüdecke working at the E.O.Wilson Lab at Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique