Food Storage

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Human Uniqueness Compared to "Great Apes": 
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The extent to which human food-storing is universal depends on time-scale. Foragers are said to store food for at most a few days, while agriculturalists store food for months, according to annual cycles. Human food-stores may be publicly displayed as prestige items or privately hidden, especially in times of famine. In daily life, great apes in nature typically consume resources extemporaneously, i.e. they ‘eat as they go’, and no wild ape has been seen to store food. However, under laboratory conditions, squirrel monkeys spontaneously hide stashes of food. Many bird species cache food individually (e.g. scrub jay) or socially (acorn woodpecker), and some species show social cognition that yields strategies for minimizing theft of stored food. The first reliable evidence of human food storage in the archaeological record comes from residues recovered from Neolithic ceramic containers.

Frequency of food storage in smaller- or no-brained creatures suggests that its absence in apes is not a cognitive deficit. However, some long-term food storage, e.g. for months by squirrels, may not involve complex cognition; instead of mental time travel, it may rely on superior spatial memory. Organic residues on processing tools, e.g. grinders for cereals, suggest storage of food by humans.

Long-term food storage in wild great apes may be absent because they lack containers, preservation techniques, or home-bases. Without this technology, particulate, perishable, and pilferable food-stuffs may not be worth storing. Speculation about the evolution of human food storage is handicapped by problems of preservation, not just of food but of presumed organic containers, such as baskets, skins, etc., that are not found in the archaeological record.


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