Geography, Earth and environment at Brighton

‘Ig’ Nobel prize for Brighton researcher

Research which quantified the calorific value of the human body has won a global award for a University of Brighton researcher.

The Ig Nobel prize, which celebrates unusual and imaginative research and runs parallel to the Nobel Prizes, has been awarded to Dr James Cole, Principal Lecturer in Archaeology from the University’s School of Environment and Technology. He received his award at Harvard University in Massachusetts, USA, last night (13 September).

Dr Cole’s research shed more light on the habits of our ancient human ancestors, some of whom were cannibals. He said: “I’m honoured my research has been recognised in this way. Human cannibalism is a subject that continues to hold a morbid fascination within modern societies. In particular, identifying the motivations for human cannibalism remains a contentious issue.”

The Ig Nobel award, organised by the USA magazine Annals of Improbable Research, is respected as a means of spurring interest in science, medicine and technology and a way to honour research that “makes you laugh, and then think”. The prize ceremony is co-sponsored by Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, with genuine Nobel Laureates handing out the prizes.

There are usually only 10 awards per year from more than 10,000 nominations. The ceremony takes place in Harvard’s Sanders Theatre where 1100 splendidly spectators watch the new winners step forward to accept their Prizes. Thousands more, around the world, watch our live online broadcast which can be found here:

Dr Cole, an expert in Human Origins was interviewed over two days by a host of media including The New York Times, Washington Post, National Geographic, Discover Magazine, Agence Française, PBS and The Guardian when his research was published in Scientific Reports last year.

Dr Cole assessed the calorie value of the human body: A 65kg or 10 stone human has approximately 32,000 calories in their muscle tissue compared to 163,000 calories in the muscle tissue of a deer and an estimated 3.6 million calories for the muscle tissue of a mammoth.

The results question the idea that our ancestors hunted and consumed members of their own species for strictly nutritional reasons given the much greater calorie return from the faunal species we know were commonly exploited in the past. This raises the suggestion that at least some acts of cannibalism amongst our human ancestors (and our own species) may have been socially motivated rather than nutritionally motivated.

He said: “It is possible that some of our ancestors may have eaten members of their own species out of necessity – but it is more likely perhaps to think of the cannibalism act within a social framework rather than a nutritional one.


For more on Dr Cole’s research click here.

To view footage of Dr Cole receiving his award, go to:



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Laura Ruby • September 14, 2018

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