Ancient Egyptians Were Actually Mostly Vegetarian, New Research Says

Primarily feasting on meats, eggs and vegetables, many people on “cavemen diets,” including the Paleo Diet, claim that they are eating like the ancients. While the image of a caveman hunter eating the flesh off of an animal’s bone is embedded in many of our minds, it isn’t quite accurate. The truth is that our ancestors were mostly vegetarian, feasting on fruits, veggies and grains.

New research from Egypt  confirms the latter, showing that ancient societies that were mostly vegetarian existed and thrived — although their view of what it meant to “go veg” must’ve been completely different from our own modern one.

Eat More Like an Ancient Egyptian

As reported in Inside Science, the carbon atoms of ancient Egyptian mummies reveal that ancient Egyptians loved their fruits, veggies and (really loved) grains.

French scientists surveyed 45 ancient Egyptian mummies. Instead of focusing on the common hair-collagen-protein trifecta, these scientists examined the mummies’ teeth and bones. The scientists also purposefully studied mummies from different points in history. That way, they could determine the diets from an extended span of time versus an isolated period.

Publishing their findings in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the French scientists determined that the ancient Egyptians were mainly vegetarians. Like other ancient societies, their diets were largely made up of wheat and barley.

And then their research got really interesting.

Still Veg Despite All the Fish in the Nile

The ancient Egyptians walked their vegetarian talk. The research showed that the ancients actually kept going veg up. While the researchers hypothesized that there would be changes to the diet over time, they were wrong. They even kept up a vegetarian diet when the region “became increasingly arid between 3500 B.C. and 600 A.D.” They were able to maintain their vegetarian thanks to their advanced irrigation systems.

We know that the ancient Egyptians revered and used the Nile, and that’s where things get fishy. Apart from common-sense, the ancients told us that they knew how to fish from their fishing hieroglyphs, texts, paintings, sculptures and reliefs. Yet, the assumption that they were hooked on fish might be inaccurate; overall, the mummy isotopes don’t reveal a significant amount of fish consumption. On top of that, we also know that some fish species weren’t eaten due to religious motives.

The Ancient Egyptians Werent the Only Vegetarians

Believe it or not, while vegetarianism feels so politicized today, it wasn’t always this way. Each society had their own reasons for going and staying (mostly) vegetarian. However, even some of the ancients had to tackle the ethics of eating animals. Vegetarianism was also woven into many of the world’s religions; Christianity, Judaism and Islam are included — Jesus himself could’ve been mostly vegetarian.

Let’s take a quick go-around the ancient world where vegetarian diets were highly adopted and practiced:

Paleolithic hunters (ironically, enough) were “almost exclusively” vegetarian; although, they would rely on meat more in the neolithic period.

No fat shaming for ancient gladiators; they needed to be fat to survive. Those big and intimidating gladiators were also mostly vegetarian who loved their carbs.

In China, a mostly vegetarian diet was the norm in northern and southern dynasties. The Qing Dynasty actually had three types of vegetarians: “assorted vegetarian diet, meat-modelled vegetarian diet and purely vegetarian diet.”

The ancient civilizations of the Americas also relied on a mostly vegetarian diet. While animal flesh complemented their diets, it wasn’t the center of their diets. The Maya had maize (corn was called “ishin,” and it literally means “center”), the (pre-) Inca civilizations had the potato. A variety of vegetables and delicious fruits rounded out the other staples.

The ancients gave us invaluable lessons in how to coexist with our environment; they weren’t being trendy by going green or veg or being sustainable; they just were.

One of the most valuable ancient gems of wisdom is: Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. It seems like many ancient societies adopted a mostly vegetarian diet, so there must be something to it. While we can debate whether going vegetarian can heal the body forever, even a mostly vegetarian diet can definitely help heal our planet and the animals that we share it with today.

Photo Credit: Elena Pleskevich

240 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S3 days ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S3 days ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

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Carole R.
Carole R1 years ago

Interesting. Thanks for posting.

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Dorothy M.
Dorothy M1 years ago

As sure as the sun rises in the east, every time an article raises to question long held false beliefs that eating meat is natural to and good for humans, up pops the grumpy old men. Gerald, get over it -- people are waking up, questioning whether or not they want their bodies to be graveyards. Times are changing. 400 million fewer animals were slaughtered in the U.S. last year because people are eating less meat. Why does that bother you???? You should rejoice (that is if you care about animals).

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Marie B.
Marie B2 years ago

'Gerald L', ooooh, a new word for you a "food racist" *clap clap clap clap*!!! smh

Hey, face it, the article is: "Ancient Egyptians Were Actually Mostly Vegetarian, New Research Says" and, as usual, you have NOTHING to add to this article.
Funny too, there are fewer of you I'm noticing... 😝

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Gerald L.
Gerald L2 years ago

contd; Now, now Marie, do you think the Egyptians burnt the cows milk as offering to their gods, and burnt the cow corpse as you state? Get over it girl, they enjoyed their dairy, and flambe' steak. YOU are the one trying to twist the FACTS! Your quote "You are paranoid, and you can't even stand the fact that people talk about hundreds or thousands of years ago about NOT EATING MEAT."

It's apparent your the one out trying to Conn Troll. They obviously used dairy products.

Then you ask Frank; "Why are you on Care2 anyway? To make sure everyone eats more dead corpses? Paranoid?"

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