The Role of Hunting in Anthropogeny

Event Date (Pacific Time): 
Friday, Mar 2, 2018 - 1:00pm to 5:30pm
Event Chairs:

James Moore, Assoc. Prof. Emeritus, Anthropology Dept, UCSD
Richard Wrangham, Harvard University

Hunting has long been seen as a key human adaptation, thought to have influenced our anatomy, physiology and behavior. Humans have been hunter/gatherers for most of our existence as a species; only today are the last hunter/gatherer cultures being lost. However, there is considerable uncertainty about where, when, why and how our early ancestors came to consume vertebrate meat on a regular basis. Cutmarks on fossil bones are open to multiple interpretations (for example, were processed carcasses hunted or scavenged?). We can look to our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, for clues – but surprisingly, there is still significant uncertainty about why chimpanzees hunt, why it is usually a male activity, or what explains dramatic differences between populations in rates of meat consumption. The goal of this CARTA symposium is to explore evidence pertaining to understanding the origins of hominin hunting in an attempt to focus research agendas for the future.

Event Sessions:

Media for each talk can be played by clicking on icons in the table below, or by clicking on the individual talk titles below and then the attachment file at the bottom of the page.

Speakers Session Media

Pascal Gagneux

Richard Wrangham
Welcome & Opening Remarks
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Alyssa Crittenden
Nutritional Significance of Meat
Are we inherently vegetarian or carnivorous? Despite the robust data that suggests that we are, in fact, omnivorous, the debate rages on. Almost every discussion on the links between diet and human origins comes back to this central question. For well over a century, anthropologists have argued that meat eating was likely a catalyst for critical watershed moments in human evolution – such as pair bonding, tool making, neural expansion, cooperation, and even increased longevity. While the... read more
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Rebecca Bliege Bird
Why Foragers Hunt
The idea that women have evolved to be plant gatherers and men hunters has dominated evolutionary thinking and the popular imagination for decades. Many have suggested that the origins of a distinctly human form of social organization known as the nuclear family lie in women depending on a man's hunting production to provide high energy foods in the form of meat and fat to her children. This model is commonly invoked to explain patterns of human hunting both past and present, and while there... read more
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Ian Gilby
Pan the Hunter: Ecological Explanations for Chimpanzee Predation
As frequent predators (relative to other apes), and one of our closest living relatives, chimpanzees are a valuable point of reference for investigating why meat consumption increased so dramatically throughout human evolution. Although chimpanzees primarily eat plant-source foods, they consume vertebrate prey with great excitement, attesting to its nutritional value. Indeed, meat is a concentrated source of easily-digestible macro- and micro-nutrients that chimpanzees should consume whenever... read more
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David Watts
Social Explanations for Chimpanzee Hunting
Chimpanzees hunt vertebrates more often and eat more meat than do any other nonhuman primates, and meat from captured prey is typically distributed among multiple individuals. Also, they and bonobos are our closest living relatives.  For these reasons, they have received much attention in discussions of the ecological and social importance of hunting and meat eating in human evolution.  The fundamental importance of hunting and meat eating to chimpanzees lies in the fact that meat has high... read more
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Jill Pruetz
Hunting by Savanna - Living Chimpanzees
Chimpanzees living at the Fongoli, Senegal site are the only nonhuman apes thus far that routinely hunt vertebrate prey with tools, with more than 500 cases now recorded.  These chimpanzees hunt the Senegal Galago with tools, systematically making "spears" to stab at and rouse these nocturnal primates from their sleeping cavities during the day. I review research on these apes’ hunting behavior collected over the course of more than 10 years (2006-2017) and focus on their tool-assisted hunting... read more
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Margaret Schoeninger
How We Determine What Food Fueled Human Evolution
Humans can and do eat anything and everything.  If we cannot eat it directly, we give it to an organism (from yeast to cattle) to eat it for us by transforming it into something that we can eat such as beer, bread, and meat.  Humans are also unique within the primate order because most human populations eat meat across all ecological zones inhabited by humans.  In contrast, other nonhuman primates, e.g., capuchins, baboons, and chimpanzees, eat meat under restricted conditions and in limited... read more
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Briana Pobiner
The Ecology of Hominin Scavenging
Evidence for meat eating in the form of butchery marks on animal bones made by hominins dates back to at least 2.6 million years ago. Ancient tools from the same period suggest that these hominins used simple sharp stone knives to slice meat off of animal bones and rounded rocks to pound the bones open to access the fat and calorie rich marrow inside. But at this time, hominins were barely over three feet tall and hadn’t developed hunting technology like spears or bows and arrows. So how did... read more
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Richard Wrangham
How Control of Fire Changed Hunting
When meat first became a nutritionally significant food item for Homo it is classically regarded as having been eaten raw. In support, other primates eat meat raw; and archaeological signals of hunting long precede confident evidence of fire control. However two kinds of problems suggest that any large role for meat-eating by early Homo would have depended on their cooking their food, especially plant foods. First, since the meat products of tropical animals are relatively protein-rich and fat-... read more
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James Moore

All Speakers

Ajit Varki
Wrap-up, Question and Answer Session, Closing Remarks
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