Hunting Hypothesis and Male Myths in Anthropogeny

Session Date: 
May 19, 2023

The hunting hypothesis proposes that the dietary shift to meat procurement was the catalyst favoring a suite of transformative human biological and behavioral adaptations. Evolutionary changes in the human diet are associated with the emergence of food sharing, the division of labor and pooled energy budgets. With cooperation at its center, this complex of traits sets hominins on a path distinct from our closest relatives. The historic weight given to hunting as a prime mover in the social and evolutionary sciences, also assumes the primacy of men in shaping one of humanity’s most seminal characteristics—our capacity for cooperation.

To balance this discussion, I revisit several misconceptions linked to the hunting hypothesis. First, preservation biases in the archaeological record and dietary accounts of hunter-gatherers challenge the emphasis on hunting, which ignores the many ways women and children support nutrient diversity and food processing, traits that equally distinguish the human diet. I review these important contributions, and by implication the significance of women and children in supporting these evolutionary changes and their dietary advantages. Second, claims often are made that hunting favored males to band together and form alliances, selecting for gender differences in cooperative and social networking abilities. I reevaluate this assumption by considering the strong cooperative and economic bonds that form between mothers and children, and the many ethnographic examples demonstrating that it is women who more often forage in groups and provide the majority of daily calories.

Revising myths about the centrality of hunting to more closely reflect the archaeological and ethnographic records has important implications for updating the entrenched emphasis on male behaviors. New paleoanthropological and ethnographic data challenge older arguments and suggest alternative explanations for the complex of traits typically tied to hunting (e.g. family formation, central place foraging, the division of labor, long childhoods, high fertility). My research indicates that female cooperation includes several critical components that influence human dietary and life history success.

File 2023_05_19_06_Kramer.mp4229.76 MB