How did hunter-gatherers get enough salt in their diet?

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Did they just find salt on the ground and lick it? Did they drink animal blood? Did they drink ocean water (I hope not)?

I’ve always wondered this since I was a little kid.

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18 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Depends where they were located. Those located near the sea obviously had access. For some areas there are natural salt deposits. In other cases salt came from the food they ate, a lot of roots, and as you mentioned animal products contain salt. But before salt was readily available, it just wasn’t used as much. Modern people use a huge amount of excess salt. It tastes really good, and because our bodies evolved in a time when it was relatively scarce, we have been programmed to seek it out, but we don’t need nearly as much as we actually eat. Trading insult probably also developed very early in Hunter gather societies. Those that lived near salt deposits or near the sea would harvest it and trade it inland.

There has probably also been some modern evolutionary changes to the way our bodies handle salt. There is some evidence that populations that evolved in hot climates with limited access to salt retain salt better than other populations, though this is far from proven science at this point.

For more information than you ever wanted to know about salt I highly recommend the book “Salt” by Mark Kurlansky.

Anonymous 0 Comments

I think the general idea that a lot of their salt intake came from red meats. Otherwise, according to a bit of quick research, their high consumption of plants provided a bit of salt as well. I also read that humans would follow animals to salt deposits.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Boiling saltwater separates the salt from the water. I can’t say for sure without further reading, but I would think people figured out this low-tech desalination method far back in prehistoric times. It was famously used by the Lewis and Clark expedition to procure salt in to enhance a bland diet when the group was in place at Fort Clatsop. There is a site commemorating this at present day Seaside, Oregon.

… and one also gets drinking water as a result.

Anonymous 0 Comments

If they lived by the ocean couldn’t they have just pulled a Ghandi and collect salt from salt water? Seems like a no brainer option.

Anonymous 0 Comments

One thing to remember is all the animals living in the same place would also need a source of salt. For example elephants will go into caves or even dig in the ground looking for natural salt, humans could get it from the same sources.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Only a small amount of salt is needed for your body to function- something along the lines of 500mg of sodium.

Anonymous 0 Comments

The most common source of protein for hunter-gatherer societies, barring geographical difficulties, was actually from fishing. Most communities were near bodies of water, whether rivers or the sea. Access to salt is therefore not too difficult. Also, hunter-gatherer societies moved frequently and interacted and traded with other groups, and that would include salt. This would be for the tribes that hunted and migrated with animal herds on the Eurasian steppe.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Salt came from what they hunted and gathered. All plants and animals are made of millions of cells. All those cells need to be able to communicate with one another. Salt makes communication possible.

Since some hunter-gatherer humans lived by the ocean, and some inland, humans had to evolve to be able to deal with vastly different amounts of salt in their diet. As a child grows up, their body gets used to the amount of salt normally in their diet. Those who live by the sea learn to expell thar salt through sweat and urine. Those who grow up inland have to learn to treat salt like a precious gem, never to be thrown away.

What would happen if a hunter-gatherer was moved from the ocean to the prairies or vice versa? They would die. Those used to salt will find it impossible to get enough, their muscles will spasm and cramp, and they will die of dehydration. Those not used to salt will die of kidney failure.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Do we need salt? I didn’t know that

Anonymous 0 Comments

Salt is a flavor enhancer, things with salt taste better. Pre-historic peoples would identify things that tasted the best in their day to day lives and continue to seek them out. They didn’t know it had anything to do with salt, they just knew one thing tasted better than the other.