Much for the Hunter/Gatherer Theory
by Neil Schoenherr
idea of early man as a carnivorous hunter
doesn't jibe with the evidence
know it by current world events, but humans actually evolved to
be peaceful, cooperative and social animals, not the predators modern
mythology would have us believe, says an anthropologist at Washington
University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Robert W. Sussman,
Ph.D., professor anthropology in Arts & Sciences, spoke at a
press briefing, "Early Humans on the Menu," during the
American Association for the Advancement of the Science's Annual
scheduled to speak at the briefing were Karen Strier, University
of Wisconsin; Agustin Fuentes, University of Notre Dame; Douglas
Fry, Abo Akademi University in Helsinki and University of Arizona;
and James Rilling, Emory University.
In his latest
book, "Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators and Human Evolution,"
Sussman goes against the prevailing view and argues that primates,
including early humans, evolved not as hunters but as prey of many
predators, including wild dogs and cats, hyenas, eagles and crocodiles.
theories posed in research papers and popular literature, early
man was not an aggressive killer, Sussman argues. He poses a new
theory, based on the fossil record and living primate species, that
primates have been prey for millions of years, a fact that greatly
influenced the evolution of early man.
cooperation and many other features we have as modern humans developed
from our attempts to out-smart the predator," says Sussman.
Since the 1924
discovery of the first early humans, australopithicenes, which lived
from seven million years ago to two million years ago, many scientists
theorized that those early human ancestors were hunters and possessed
a killer instinct.
The idea of
"Man the Hunter" is the generally accepted paradigm of
human evolution, says Sussman, "It developed from a basic Judeo-Christian
ideology of man being inherently evil, aggressive and a natural
killer. In fact, when you really examine the fossil and living non-human
primate evidence, that is just not the case."
is based on studying the fossil evidence dating back nearly seven
million years. "Most theories on Man the Hunter fail to incorporate
this key fossil evidence," Sussman says. "We wanted evidence,
not just theory. We thoroughly examined literature available on
the skulls, bones, footprints and on environmental evidence, both
of our hominid ancestors and the predators that coexisted with them."
Since the process
of human evolution is so long and varied, Sussman and his co-author,
Donna L. Hart, decided to focus their research on one specific species,
Australopithecus afarensis, which lived between five million and
two and a half million years ago and is one of the better known
early human species. Most paleontologists agree that Australopithecus
afarensis is the common link between fossils that came before and
those that came after. It shares dental, cranial and skeletal traits
with both. It's also a very well-represented species in the fossil
afarensis was probably quite strong, like a small ape," Sussman
says. Adults ranged from around 3 to 5 feet and they weighed 60-100
pounds. They were basically smallish bipedal primates. Their teeth
were relatively small, very much like modern humans, and they were
fruit and nut eaters.
But what Sussman
and Hart discovered is that Australopithecus afarensis was not dentally
pre-adapted to eat meat. "It didn't have the sharp shearing
blades necessary to retain and cut such foods," Sussman says.
"These early humans simply couldn't eat meat. If they couldn't
eat meat, why would they hunt?"
It was not possible
for early humans to consume a large amount of meat until fire was
controlled and cooking was possible. Sussman points out that the
first tools didn't appear until two million years ago. And there
wasn't good evidence of fire until about 800,000 years ago. "In
fact, some archaeologists and paleontologists don't think we had
a modern, systematic method of hunting until as recently as 60,000
years ago," he says.
Australopithecus afarensis was an edge species," adds Sussman.
They could live in the trees and on the ground and could take advantage
of both. "Primates that are edge species, even today, are basically
prey species, not predators," Sussman argues.
living at the same time as Australopithecus afarensis were huge
and there were 10 times as many as today. There were hyenas as big
as bears, as well as saber-toothed cats and many other mega-sized
carnivores, reptiles and raptors. Australopithecus afarensis didn't
have tools, didn't have big teeth and was three feet tall. He was
using his brain, his agility and his social skills to get away from
these predators. "He wasn't hunting them," says Sussman.
"He was avoiding them at all costs."
six to ten percent of early humans were preyed upon according to
evidence that includes teeth marks on bones, talon marks on skulls
and holes in a fossil cranium into which sabertooth cat fangs fit,
says Sussman. The predation rate on savannah antelope and certain
ground-living monkeys today is around six to ten percent as well.
Hart provide evidence that many of our modern human traits, including
those of cooperation and socialization, developed as a result of
being a prey species and the early human's ability to out-smart
the predators. These traits did not result from trying to hunt for
prey or kill our competitors, says Sussman.
the main defenses against predators by animals without physical
defenses is living in groups," says Sussman. "In fact,
all diurnal primates (those active during the day) live in permanent
social groups. Most ecologists agree that predation pressure is
one of the major adaptive reasons for this group-living. In this
way there are more eyes and ears to locate the predators and more
individuals to mob them if attacked or to confuse them by scattering.
There are a number of reasons that living in groups is beneficial
for animals that otherwise would be very prone to being preyed upon."
Another theory of how this practice
of cooking animal food got started is this: A looooong time ago,
before the invention of the wheel and the mastering of fire, humans
were not the king of the jungle. In fact, we were other animals'
prey (as the above article indicates). And we didn't like that very
much. But unlike other prey animals, we were able to ponder how
we could prevent becoming some other animal's dinner. How could
we hold our own with, a saber-toothed tiger for example. It was
reasonable to assume that to be like the tiger, maybe we needed
to live like the tiger. So we observed how the tiger lived. For
one thing, he slept a lot. No problem there, we could do that. And
he ate animals. Hmmm, that would be a big change for us, for up
until that point, we ate what was easy to get, that was delicious;
those were our criteria. But to eat animal, this would be a challenge.
At first, we tried eating the carnivores'
leftovers. But since they eat the organs first, most of what was
left was muscle; not easy to eat, and definitely not appetizing
(steak sauce had yet to be invented). Then one day, during a storm,
lightning hit a tree, and a fiery branch fell upon an abandoned
carcass. The smell attracted our attention, and we discovered that
it was way easier to eat animal flesh if a burning limb had been
in contact with it for a while.
We figured that waiting for lightning to
catch a tree on fire was impractical, and that if we could start
fire whenever we wanted, we could partake of tiger food a lot easier.
So some of us embarked on the challenge of mastering fire, some
tackled the problem of catching our own animals so we wouldn't have
to rely on leftovers, and some worked on perfecting our tiger roars.
The other more widely accepted theory
is that we took up eating animals to survive, and we did this when
we roamed out of our natural biological "eco-niche" where
fruit was abundant.
Regardless of why we began putting
fire to our food, it was a turning point for the human species,
for had we not gone down that road if we had continued to
eat what we were designed to eat we, today, would no doubt
be a much kinder, gentler society. And when people start talking
to me about when we were hunter/gatherers, I ask, "Yes, but
what about before then, when we were foragers? Let's talk about
what we ate then... the foods we evolved to eat." This is a
great conversation starter!
a great video debunking the "Paleo Diet"
Yields Surprises about Early Human Diets
of the Benefits of Eating Raw Animal Foods
Eat Raw Foods?
to Have the BEST Odds of Avoiding Degenerative Disease
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