I have been busy trying to write a post about the importance of shellfish and oysters in the archeological record from early palaeolithic times and in the diet of early humans, since there seemed incontrovertible evidence that humans became humans because of an ω-3 fatty acid, only really available in fish and algal oil, that was then part of the palaeolithic diet some 130.000 years ago or even earlier. There is also parallel evidence that multi-generational food intake from marine sources led to a consequential increase in the cortex of the early Homo sapiens species which is also reflected in the synchronous origins of a material culture, for example, carvings on fish spears, the use of red ocre and the collection of shells for ornamental purposes.
When I attended the 7th International Oyster Symposium of the World Oyster Society in Bangor, Wales, September 2017, there was a fascinating public lecture given by professor Michael Crawford, of Imperial College, London, on ‘The role of sea foods in reversing the global crisis in mental health‘. I talked to him afterwards and really wanted to find out more (I was just retiring after working nearly all my life in psychiatry). Unfortunately, life took other turns and I never got back into the subject until very recently. Now he began his talk with a stark warning that humanity was facing a crisis in mental health and even as a species, because the food that had made the brain possible was becoming all the more scarce and diets had during the last 100 years or so had changed for the worst. (Palaeolithic diet which had enabled the brain to develop had had a 1:1 ratio in ω-3 and ω-6 fats which now had deteriorated so much that it was roughly 1:20, thus depriving the brain of its crucial building block, especially during pregnancy and early infancy when the brain expands so dramatically). He was quite scathing in his criticism of nutritionists who had emphasised the intake of protein to the detriment of ω-3 fatty acids, especially one of its absolutely most vital components, docosahexaenoic acid, commonly called DHA. It was this that terrestrial plants or any land-based diet could never provide in any significant quantity, as it only existed in abundance in algae, fish and shellfish.
So his message was that estauries needed to be cleaned and restored to supply the nutrients, trace elements and minerals in particular, flowing down from the mountains, and that an agriculturalisation of the oceans was essential if man was going to survive as a species. He saw the ever-increasing rise in brain disorders affecting those dependent on a land-based diet and that mothers or mothers-to-be were not being given the right advice about the need to digest fish oils which were shown to promote healthy brain development in children, despite possible effects from certain toxins. The benefits outweighed the risks was his indisputable message. DHA was a factor in alleviating depression, behavioural disorders, like ADHD in children, and indeeed seemed to promote a higher level of intelligence generally.
Now this doesn’t necessarily prove eating oysters is a panacea for psychological problems as in this talk he was focusing on the role of this ω-3 fat which may be found in salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna primarily (mainly in cold-water fish). But it is also a fact that oysters and mussels, intertidal shellfish, do contain relatively high levels of this fatty acid, as well as other brain nutrients like iodine, zinc, copper, selenium, for instance. And again they were predictably located, in massive abundance and readily harvested along the coastline in palaeolithic times and until relatively quite recently (until about 150 years ago).
So now that these resources which once had helped develop the cerebral cortex were growing ever more scarce, this could have worrying consequences for the future of mankind, unless ways to harness aquaculture on a vast scale were initiated. Wild stocks were already depleted beyond repair.
As an added incentive, replenishing the oyster beds in our estaurine areas is not only necessary for a healthy marine eco-system, and CO² sequestering, but also crucial for the future survival of modern man. Crawford quoted a reviewer of one of his books on this subject who foresaw future humans developing into a “race of morons”!! (It may have happened already)! His lecture is available online and I have put a link here at the end. It is almost obligatory viewing for anyone earnestly bothered about oyster restoration, aquaculture and healthy food! Enjoy!
I am writing a more extensive blog about this subject and delving more into the archaeological evidence of the significance of shells. A complicated subject.