Organized Scavenging for Meat

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Human Uniqueness Compared to "Great Apes": 
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All foraging peoples hunt (i.e. forage for mobile animal prey), and most or all hunters also scavenge, even if only opportunistically. Scavenging varies from piracy (usurping the intact prey of other predators) to harvesting carrion (taking what is left after others have fed). Social (vs. solitary) scavenging may be necessary for primates to displace large carnivores at kills, e.g. lion, spotted hyena. (Some scavengers, such as vultures, are adapted morphologically and behaviourally, so that they do no hunting. No human society is so specialised.) Ape scavenging has been recorded from several chimpanzee field-sites, but in all cases (including the only systematic analysis at Ngogo, in Uganda), it is rare. Gleaning tidbits from the scraps left by others at a kill is common, especially when chimpanzees take multiple prey in one hunt, and then less desirable body-parts of the prey are discarded.

Although there are descriptive reports of division of labour (=organization) in human scavenging, e.g. so that some participants use missiles and other weapons to keep competitors at bay, while others acquire the resource, there seem not to be any systematic studies. Such cooperative social scavenging seems to be absent in apes; instead (e.g.) chimpanzees may act selfishly but simultaneously in pirating a bushbuck kill from baboons. Just like cooperative hunting, cooperative scavenging needs careful investigation.

There is lively, ongoing debate as to the relative importance of hunting vs. scavenging in hominin evolution. Distinguishing between the two is a recurring challenge in archaeology.

Related MOCA Topics
Referenced By:
Title Certainty
Food Sharing Speculative
Home Base Speculative
Organized Gathering of Food Likely
Tool Making True

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