Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution

Summary of: Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution

Author(s) / Editor(s)

The authors demonstrate that homo sapiens is occasionally a prey species today, that existing apes and monkeys are hunted extensively by various predators, and that various early Homo sapiens ancestor fossils show marks consistent with predation.

Publication Reference

Published in/by
Westview Press
Date
2005

Findings

  • Contrary to much previous thought on the evolution of Homo sapiens, the authors demonstrate that existing evidence supports the theory that fossil hominids, like modern apes – and people in some parts of the world today – were a prey species, and group behavior is in part a defensive adaptation.

The theory that ancestral hominids were hunters has achieved considerable popularity. The authors note that there is considerable evidence that ancestral hominids were more likely a prey species. There are three major lines of evidence:

  • Modern humans are occasionally prey species for certain predators, especially for tigers in parts of modern India and Bangladesh … people wear masks on the backs of their heads in order to appear alert to potential stalkers.
  • Modern apes and monkeys are frequent prey species for a wide variety of carnivores, a fact which does not appear in publications about the animals themselves but which is widely noted in works covering the diet of the predators themselves.
  • Ancestral hominid fossils show the marks of various predators – tooth, claw, and talon marks – that are consistent with predation.

The authors demonstrate the prey-nature of early hominid ancestors. Their speculations as to what this means in evolutionary and behavioral terms, however, are weaker. This is because it is a long way (in both time and, potentially, place) from Australopithicus afarensis to H. sapiens … the use of tools and fire, for instance, may well have modified behavior inasmuch as the immediate ancestors of H. sapiens became a more formidable prey species.

The question as to what behaviors are derived from those ancestors which were commonly prey animals remains open for speculation and future work. That said, the authors present a challenge to those who maintain the view that humankind’s ancestors were hunters from the earliest times.