Facultative Carnivore describes the concept of animals that are technically omnivores but who thrive off of all meat diets. Humans may just be facultative carnivores - who need no plant products for long-term nutrition.
January 1, 325
Claudius AElianus His Various History
Ancient Spartans would only eat flesh, and their black broth was made of animal blood.
Claudius Aelianus, a Roman author and teacher of rhetoric who lived between c. 175 – c. 235 AD, wrote in his "Various History":
"The cooks at Lacedemon might not dress anything but flesh. He who was skilled in any other kind of cookery was cast out of Sparta. Son of Polybiades, for being grown too fat and heavy through luxury and idleness, they took out of the public Assembly, and threatened to punish him by banishment, unless he altered that blamable and rather Ionic than Laconic course of life: For his shape and habit of body was a shame to Lacedemon and our Laws". - Source
"The dish that was in the highest esteem among the Spartans was called melas zomos, or "black broth" a name which has long excited the curiosity of the learned. What were the precise ingredients of this mess has never been determined with certainty. We remember an old traveler, who, on observing the use of coffee for the first time in the East, conjectured that it was the black broth of the Lacedaemonians! Julius Pollux the preceptor of the Emperor Commodus in his "Onomasticon" says that this famous mess consisted of blood thickened in some particular way. Dr. Lister in his "Notes to Apicius" supposes it was hog's blood; and if so the dish must have had no remote resemblance to the black puddings of our own times. Whatever it was, it could have formed no very alluring dish. We are informed that a citizen of Sybaris having tasted their fare, declared that it was no longer astonishing to him that the Spartans should be so fearless of death in battle, since any one in his senses would much sooner die a thousand deaths than continue to exist on such miserable food. Plutarch relates that a king of Pontus having heard of this celebrated broth purchased a Lacedaemonian cook to make some of it for him. But when he came to taste it he expressed his detestation of the mess in very strong terms on which the cook observed, "Sir, to acquire a relish for this broth it is necessary first to bathe in the Eurotas;" meaning that the hardy habits of the Spartans gave a zest to this fare which it could not otherwise possess. The same writer informs us that the old men were so fond of it that they ranged themselves on one side to eat it leaving the meat to the young people". - Source
Nowadays, it is believed that melas zomos was made of boiled pigs' legs, blood, salt and vinegar. It is thought that the vinegar was used as an emulsifier to keep the blood from clotting during the cooking process.
January 1, 1295
Marckalada: The First Mention of America in the Mediterranean Area (c. 1340)
Marco Polo mentioned the Mekrit people of Mongolia who lived on hunted meat, fish, and birds, and could not grow corn, wheat, or wine.
[Our] authorities say that under the equator there are very high mountains, where there are temperate settlements, made possible by winds, or by the shadow of the mountains, or by the remarkable thickness of the walls, or by underground caves in valleys. At the equator there are also many islands that are truly temperate because of the rivers, or the marshes, or the winds, or for reasons that are unknown to us.
And for a similar reason there are settlements beneath or around the Arctic pole, despite the very intense cold. These settlements are so temperate that people cannot die there: this fact is well known for Ireland. The reasons why this happens are unknown to us. Marco Polo speaks explicitly about this, when he says that there is a certain desert 40 days across where nothing grows, neither wheat nor wine, but the people live by hunting birds and animals, and they ride deers.
When you leave Karakorum and the mount Altai, you go north for 40 days through the plain of Bangu. The people who live there are called Mekrit, and they are subject to Great Khan; their customs are like those of Tartars. They are a very wild people. They feed on the meat of the animals they hunt, especially of deer, of which they have an abundance; actually, they tame the deers and, after taming, ride them. They are lacking in both wheat and wine. In summer, they hunt birds and wild animals in abundance; in winter, they eat cooked animals and birds, and move from those lands because of the excessive cold.
Sundry Particulars on the Plain Beyond Caracoron
And when you leave Caracoron and the Altay, in which they bury the bodies of the Tartar Sovereigns, as I told you, you go north for forty days till you reach a country called the PLAIN OF BARGU. The people there are called MESCRIPT; they are a very wild race, and live by their cattle, the most of which are stags, and these stags, I assure you, they used to ride upon. Their customs are like those of the Tartars, and they are subject to the Great Kaan. They have neither corn nor wine.[They get birds for food, for the country is full of lakes and pools and marshes, which are much frequented by the birds when they are moulting, and when they have quite cast their feathers and can't fly, those people catch them. They also live partly on fish.]
January 1, 1339
Cronica universalis, written by the Milanese friar Galvaneus de la Flamma
A Milanese friar named Galveneus de la Flamma writes about the Arctic people who survive off of a carnivore diet, and who live in fear of the 'huge white bears.' "In this land, there is neither wheat nor wine nor fruit; people live on milk, meat, and fish."
Further northwards there is the Ocean, a sea with many islands where a great quantity of peregrine falcons and gyrfalcons live. These islands are located so far north that the Polar Star remains behind you, toward the south. Sailors who frequent the seas of Denmark and Norway say that northwards, beyond Norway, there is Iceland; further ahead there is an island named Grolandia, where the Polar Star remains behind you, toward the south. The governor of this island is a bishop. In this land, there is neither wheat nor wine nor fruit; people live on milk, meat, and fish. They dwell in subterranean houses and do not venture to speak loudly or to make any noise, for fear that wild animals hear and devour them. There live huge white bears, which swim in the sea and bring shipwrecked sailors to the shore. There live white falcons capable of great flights, which are sent to the emperor of Katai. Further westwards there is another land, named Marckalada, where giants live; in this land, there are buildings with such huge slabs of stone that nobody could build with them, except huge giants. There are also green trees, animals and a great quantity of birds. However, no sailor was ever able to know anything for sure about this land or about its features.
January 1, 1732
Lachesis Lapponica - A Tour in Lapland
Legendary scientist Carl Linnaeus (von Linne) spent 6 months living with the northern Laplanders in Sweden and witnessed their exclusive meat and dairy diet and happy and healthy demeanor.
I never met with any people who lead such easy happy lives as the Laplanders. In summer they make two meals of milk in the course of the day, and when they have gone through their allotted task of milking their reindeer, or making cheese, they resign themselves to indolent tranquillity, not knowing what to do next. In winter their food is cheese, taken once or twice a day, but in the evening they eat meat. A single reindeer supplies four persons with food for a week.
Such of the male reindeer as are destined to serve for a stock of provision, are killed before the rutting-time, and their carcases hung up to be exposed to the air and frost before flaying. The flesh is smoked and a little salted, and then laid upon sledges to dry in the sun, that it may keep through the winter till spring. About the feast of St. Matthias (Feb. 24.) the reindeer begin to be so incommoded with the gad-fly, that they are not in a fit condition to be slain for eating. From that period therefore, till the milking season, the Laplanders are obliged to live on this stock of preserved meat. At other times of the year the females are killed for immediate use, according as they are wanted. The blood is kept fresh in kegs, or other vessels, and serves for food in the spring, being added to the _välling_, with a small proportion of milk and water. The blood of these animals is thick in consistence, like that of a hog. The Laplanders carry a portion of it along with them from place to place, in bladders or some kind of vessels. A stock of this and all other necessaries is collected as late as possible, before the melting of the snow, while there still remains a track for the sledges.
A kind of blood pudding or sausage is made, in general without flour, and with a large proportion of fat. This the Laplanders call _marfi_.
The liver of the reindeer, which is of a considerable bulk, is boiled and eaten fresh. The lungs, being salted and moderately dried, are eaten occasionally, or else given to the dogs. The intestines, which abound with fat, are cut open, washed, and boiled fresh; nor are they unpalatable. The brain and testicles are never eaten.
The people of this country boil their meat in water only, without any addition or seasoning, and drink the broth. _Jumomjölk_ kept for a whole year is delicate eating. Berries of all kinds are boiled in it. Some persons make a practice of boiling those berries by themselves, preserving them afterwards in small tubs, or other wooden vessels. They boil their fish more thoroughly than their meat, over a slow fire, drinking likewise the water in which it has been drest. The meat is never so much boiled as to separate from the bone. Fresh fish is sometimes roasted over the fire. Few people dry and salt it, though that method is sometimes practised. Meat is dried by the air, sun and smoke all together, being hung up in the chimney, or rather hole by which the smoke escapes through the roof.
The Laplanders never eat of more than one dish at a meal.
By way of dainty, the women occasionally mix the berries of the Dwarf Cornel (_Cornus suecica_) with _Kappi_ , which is made of whey boiled till it grows as thick as flummery. To this they moreover add some cream. That fruit is entirely neglected in the country of Medelpad.
In Dalecarlia the people generally keep their cattle up in the mountains, twelve or sixteen miles from their own dwellings, on account of gad-flies and other stinging insects. There they have their dairies, and make cheese. The remaining whey is boiled till two thirds are wasted, when it becomes as thick as flummery. This is sometimes eaten instead of butter, sometimes mixed with dough, or serves for food in various other manners.
The mode of their entertainment is as follows. First, if the stranger arrives before their meat is set over the fire to boil, they present him either with iced milk, or with some kind of berries mixed with milk, or perhaps with cheese, or with _kappi_. Afterwards, when the meat is sufficiently cooked, and they have taken it out of the pot, they put into the water, in which it has been boiled, slices of cheese made of reindeer milk. This is a testimony of hospitality, and that they are disposed to make their guest as welcome as they can. They next serve up some of their dry or solid preparations of milk.
The reindeer are not slaughtered in the same manner as cattle usually are either at Stockholm or in Smoland. The animal being secured with a halter, the Laplander takes his spear and sticks it into the thorax behind the shoulder, so as to pierce the heart. By this means the blood collects in the cavity of the thorax, none of it appearing externally. After the skin is flayed off, the blood is found coagulated in the thorax, from whence it is extracted, and bruised into a soft mass. With this the poorer sort of people make a kind of soup, by boiling along with it the brains of the animal, which the rich do not eat. The testicles are never eaten by any sort of people. The penis serves to make a thong to draw the sledges.
Being exceedingly tired with this walk, I was glad to repose myself here in the desert, while my Finland conductor went in search of my future guide. Nor was I without considerable fears that this man, when he had met with the Laplander, might not be able to find me again. However, about noon he returned, accompanied by a Laplander, who took charge of me, inviting me home to his hut, where he treated me with fish, and fresh water.
I was afterwards conducted from one Laplander to another, till I came to a part of the river, about twenty-five miles above Lycksele. I shall not dwell on the inconveniences I was obliged to undergo every time we had to seek for any of the Laplanders, while I was quite destitute of provisions. These poor people themselves had, at this season, nothing but fish to eat, as they had not yet begun to slaughter their reindeer, nor to go a fowling; neither had they, as yet, milked any of their reindeer.
The stone and gout are entirely unknown amongst the Laplanders.
I have not heard of a single instance of jaundice.
April 1, 1770
A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean.
Samuele Hearne travels with the Northern Native Americans in order to explore the Northwest Passage and explains how they were reliant on fish alone followed by other animals like deer and beaver.
The remaining part of this month passed on without any interruption, or material occurrence, to disturb our repose, worth relating: our fishing nets provided us with daily food, and the Indians had too much philosophy about them to give themselves much additional trouble; for during the whole time not one of them offered to look for a partridge, or anything else which could yield a change of diet.
As the time may now be supposed to have lain heavy on my hands, it may not be improper to inform the reader how I employed it. In the first place, I embraced every favourable opportunity of observing the latitude of the place, the mean of which was 58° 46' 30" North; and the longitude by account was 5° 57' West, from Prince of Wales's Fort. I then corrected my reckoning from my last observation; brought up my journal, and filled up my chart, to the place of our residence. I built also some traps, and caught a few martins; and by way of saving my ammunition, set some snares for partridges. The former is performed by means of a few logs, so arranged that when the martin attempts to take away the bait laid for him, he with very little struggle pulls down a small post that supports the whole weight of the trap; when, if the animal be not killed by the weight of the logs, he is confined till he be frozen to death, or killed by the hunter going his rounds.
To snare partridges requires no other process than making a few little hedges across a creek, or a few short hedges projecting at right angles from the side of an island of willows, which those birds are found to frequent. Several openings must be left in each hedge, to admit the birds to pass through, and in each of them a snare must be set; so that when the partridges are hopping along the edge of the willows to feed, which is their usual custom, some of them soon get into the snares, where they are confined till they are taken out. I have caught from three to ten partridges in a day by this simple contrivance; which requires no further attendance than going round them night and morning.
-- April 1st, 1770
I have already observed that nothing material happened to disturb our repose till the first of April, when to our great surprise the fishing nets did not afford us a single fish. Though some of the preceding days had been pretty successful, yet my companions, like true Indians, seldom went to sleep till they had cleared the tent of every article of provision. As nothing was to be caught in the nets, we all went out to angle; but in this we were equally unsuccessful, as we could not procure one fish the whole day. This sudden change of circumstances alarmed one of my companions so much, that he began to think of resuming the use of his gun, after having laid it by for near a month.
Early in the morning we arose; when my guide Conne-e-quese went a hunting, and the rest attended the nets and hooks near home; but all with such bad success, that we could not procure enough in one day to serve two men for a supper. This, instead of awakening the rest of my companions, sent them to sleep; and scarcely any of them had the prudence to look at the fishing nets, though they were not more than two or three hundred yards from the tent door.
-- April 1770.
My guide, who was a steady man, and an excellent hunter, having for many years been accustomed to provide for a large family, seemed by far the most industrious of all my crew; he closely pursued his hunting for several days, and seldom returned to the tent till after dark, while those at the tent passed most of their time in smoking and sleeping.
--April 10th 1770.
Several days passed without any signs of relief, till the 10th, when my guide continued out longer than ordinary, which made us conjecture that he had met with strangers, or seen some deer, or other game, which occasioned his delay. We all therefore lay down to sleep, having had but little refreshment for the three preceding days, except a pipe of tobacco and a draught of water; even partridges had become so scarce that not one was to be got; the heavy thaws had driven them all out towards the barren grounds. About midnight, to our great joy, our hunter arrived, and brought with him the blood and fragments of two deer that he had killed. This unexpected success soon roused the sleepers, who, in an instant, were busily employed in cooking a large kettle of broth, made with the blood, and some fat and scraps of meat shred small, boiled in it. This might be reckoned a dainty dish at any time, but was more particularly so in our present almost famished condition.
-- April 11 1770.
After partaking of this refreshment, we resumed our rest, and early in the morning set out in a body for the place where the deer were lying. As we intended to make our stay but short, we left our tent standing, containing all our baggage. On our arrival at the place of destination, some were immediately employed in making a hut or barrocado with young pine trees; while one man skinned the deer, the remainder went a hunting, and in the afternoon returned to the hut, after having killed two deer.
Several days were now spent in feasting and gluttony; during which the Indians killed five more deer and three fine beavers; finding at last, however, that there was little prospect of procuring either more deer or beavers, we determined to return to our tent, with the remains of what we had already obtained.
-- April 22 1770.
The flesh of these deer, though none of the largest, might with frugality have served our small number, (being only six) for some time; but my companions, like other Indians, feasted day and night while it lasted; and were so indolent and unthinking, as not to attend properly to the fishing nets; so that many fine fish, which had been entangled in the nets, were entirely spoiled, and in about twelve or fourteen days we were nearly in as great distress for provisions as ever.
Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia, Ethiopia
Study raises questions about long-held theories of human evolution
Grasslands and seasonally dry forests had replaced the thick rainforests that our apes had evolved in, meaning that our hominid ancestors might have been forced to scavenge or hunt calories on the grasslands. The ratio of C4 to C3 grasses demark this distinction.
A new analysis of the past 12 million years’ of vegetation change in the cradle of humanity is challenging long-held beliefs about the world in which our ancestors took shape – and, by extension, the impact it had on them.
The research combines sediment core studies of the waxy molecules from plant leaves with pollen analysis, yielding data of unprecedented scope and detail on what types of vegetation dominated the landscape surrounding the African Rift Valley (including present-day Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia), where early hominin fossils trace the history of human evolution.
“It is the combination of evidence both molecular and pollen evidence that allows us to say just how long we’ve seen Serengeti-type open grasslands,” said Sarah J. Feakins, assistant professor of Earth sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study, which was published online in Geology on Jan. 17.
Feakins worked with USC graduate student Hannah M. Liddy, USC undergraduate student Alexa Sieracki, Naomi E. Levin of Johns Hopkins University, Timothy I. Eglinton of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule and Raymonde Bonnefille of the Université d’Aix-Marseille.
The role that the environment played in the evolution of hominins—the tribe of human and ape ancestors whose family tree split from the ancestors of chimpanzees and bonobos about 6 million years ago—has been the subject of a century-long debate.
Among other things, one theory dating back to 1925 posits that early human ancestors developed bipedalism as a response to savannas encroaching on shrinking forests in northeast Africa. With fewer trees to swing from, human ancestors began walking to get around.
While the shift to bipedalism appears to have occurred somewhere between 6 and 4 million years ago, Feakins’ study finds that thick rainforests had already disappeared by that point—replaced by grasslands and seasonally dry forests some time before 12 million years ago.
In addition, the tropical C4-type grasses and shrubs of the modern African savannah began to dominate the landscape earlier than thought, replacing C3-type grasses that were better suited to a wetter environment. (The classification of C4 versus C3 refers to the manner of photosynthesis each type of plant utilizes.)
While earlier studies on vegetation change through this period relied on the analysis of individual sites throughout the Rift Valley—offering narrow snapshots—Feakins took a look at the whole picture by using a sediment core taken in the Gulf of Aden, where winds funnel and deposit sediment from the entire region. She then cross-referenced her findings with Levin who compiled data from ancient soil samples collected throughout eastern Africa.
“The combination of marine and terrestrial data enable us to link the environmental record at specific fossil sites to regional ecological and climate change,” Levin said.
In addition to informing scientists about the environment that our ancestors took shape in, Feakins’ study provides insights into the landscape that herbivores (horses, hippos and antelopes) grazed, as well as how plants across the landscape reacted to periods of global and regional environmental change.
“The types of grasses appear to be sensitive to global carbon dioxide levels,” said Liddy, who is currently working to refine the data pertaining to the Pliocene, to provide an even clearer picture of a period that experienced similar atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to present day. “There might be lessons in here for the future viability of our C4-grain crops,” says Feakins.
Palaeolithic and Mesolithic kill-butchering sites: the hard evidence
Lower Paleolithic hunting pratices are described, which represent scavenging large carcasses stuck near water holes and limited planning or hunting.
The places where animals have been killed or at least butchered by our ancestors represent obviously the best expression of the relation between man and his prey. Isaac (Isaac, 1976; Isaac & Cradeq, 1981), referring to African deposits of Lower Palaeolithic age, defines a simple kind of such sites as containing the skeleton of a single, large animal, associated with lithic artefacts (his type B sites): they represent a unique episode. However such accumulations seem to be very rare: in fact near the carcass of the huge beast almost always other generally much more fragmentary remains of other animals are found. These can represent "background" material without direct relation with hominid activity, but we cannot be sure of this. Evidently, Isaac's definition does not cover the effective variability of all Palaeolithic and Mesolithic kill and/or butchering sites. Therefore, I have tried, in my tesi di laurea, to develop a typolo gy of the possible kinds of bone concentrations reflecting man's animal procurement behaviour. For this aim, I drew information from various authors discussing the topic (Binford, 1984; Clark & Haynes, 1970; Crader, 1983; Meignen & Texieq, 1956) and read a selected number of papers dealing directly, or indirectly through discussions or summaries, with some 30 sites, my reading assignment depending to some extent on the accessibility of the papers included. I am aware that my sampling of sites is limited and perhaps biased and that the evidence as presented by the various authors is often equivocal, but I hope that my attempt will stimulate the development of a site typology which could be a useful tool for classification and research.
2. Suggested site typology:
a. Butchering sifes: places with animal natural deaths, later utilised by mary such as sites FLK N Lev. 6 (fig.1) and FLK N Deinotherium at Olduvai (Crader, 1983; Leakey, 1971), and site HAS (fig.2) at Koobi Fora (Cradeq, 1983).
b. Killing and butchering sites 1: a single animal carcass representing a unique hunting episode. This kind of accumulation is similar to Isaac's type B sites. An American example is Pleasant Lake (Fishea 1984; fig. 3).
c. Killing and butchering sites 2: extensive disarticulation and dispersion of the bones of a few big animals at the most associated with a comparatively small number of stone artefacts. Examples are Windhoek (Clark & Haynes, 1970) and perhaps Mwanganda (Clark & Haynes,1970).
d. Hunting losses: animals killed but not utilised by man; High Furlong (Hallam et al., 1973) would be an example.
e. Hunting stations: dense distributions of osseous remains reflecting the reutilization of the locality for a lorig period, often on a seasonal base. Examples of such palimpsests of archaeological remains could be Mauran (Farizy & David, in press; Girard-Farizy & Leclerc, 1981), Stellmoor (Rus! 1937) and La Cotte de Saint-Brelade, lev. 3 and 6 (Scott, 1980; ftg. q. A subtype of hunting stations could be represented by American mass kills, as for example the Casper Site (Frison, 1974). In these sites, not examined here, animals are normally killed with game drive techniques.
f. Hunting stops: they can be relatively simple or quite complex: sometimes the hunters seek shelter behind a high rock and light a small fire as suggested by Binford (Binford, 1981). An example could be Phase IVA of the Grotte de l'Hortus (de Lumley, 1971).
g. Sighting sites: they would be characterised by modest bone accumulations in locations with a panoramic position and allowing to detect game and its movements easily. Examples are the Mesolithic sites described by Bagolini and Dalmeri (Bagolini & Dalmeri,
3.1. Lower Palaeolithic Scavenging: exploitation of the carcasses of big animals that died for natural causes; they are often found near lakes or swamps, as the elephant and maybe the Deinotherium at Olduvai (Leakey, 1971), the hippopotamus of Koobi Fora (Isaac, 7976) and the elephants of Kathu Pan (Klein, 1988), Namib IV (Kleirr, 1988) and Mwanganda's Village (Clark & Haynes, 1970).
Hunting: scanty traces of hunters' action are encountered. At Olorgesailie, occasional killing of some baboons with a head blow seems to have occurred (Shipman, Bosler & Davis, 1981). At Torralba and Ambrona, people may have killed elephants using wooden spears (fragments of wooden artefacts are present) and big stones (Allain" 1952). At Lehringen (Movius, 1950), hominids killed an Elephas antiquus with a wooden spear discovered in the site (see also Weber, this volume).
Planning: very limited or absent. The exploitation of animals would have been occasional and opportunistic with short and limited occupation of sites by small groups, as at Olduvai (Cradeq, 1983), Koobi Fora (Cradeq, 1983), etc.
Food transport: Acheulean people are said to have carried away the most useful and meaty parts of animal carcasses at Torralba (Freemary 1975), Ambrona (Freem an, 1975), Elandsfontein (Klein, 1988), etc. In earlier times, people apparently consumed the meat on the find spot. Specialised activities: at the already cited sites of Torralba, Ambrona and at Mwanganda distinct associations between certain bones and tools would occur: they may represent specialised activity areas.
Butchering tools: hand-axes and hachereaux are sometimes associated with big animals at Olorgesailie (Shipman, Bosler & Davis, 1981), Elandsfontein (Klein, 1988), Kathu Pan (Klein, 1988), Namib IV (Klein, 1988) etc., suggesting that they were used for butchering.
Environment and Behavior of 2.5-Million-Year-Old Bouri Hominids
By looking at 400 bones from 2.5 million years ago, paleoanthropologists can tell how rocks were used as some of the first tools to butcher and process meat and marrow processing of large carcasses. It's a clue that carnivory has been part of hominid evolution for at least 3 million years.
The Hata Member of the Bouri Formation is defined for Pliocene sedimentary outcrops in the Middle Awash Valley, Ethiopia. The Hata Member is dated to 2.5 million years ago and has produced a new species of Australopithecus and hominid postcranial remains not currently assigned to species. Spatially associated zooarchaeological remains show that hominids acquired meat and marrow by 2.5 million years ago and that they are the near contemporary of Oldowan artifacts at nearby Gona. The combined evidence suggests that behavioral changes associated with lithic technology and enhanced carnivory may have been coincident with the emergence of the Homo clade from Australopithecus afarensis in eastern Africa
We collected 400 vertebrate fossil specimens from the Hata Member (Table 1). Almost all of these come from within 3 m of the MOVT; most were found immediately above this unit. This assemblage largely reflects a mixture of grazers and water-dependent forms, which is broadly typical of later hominid-bearing Plio-Pleistocene occurrences and consistent with the sedimentological interpretation of the deposits as primarily lake marginal. Alcelaphine bovids are abundant and diverse. All indicators point to a broad featureless margin of a shallow freshwater lake. Minor changes in lake level, which were brought about by fluctuating water input, would probably have maintained broad grassy plains leading to the water’s edge. As discussed below, hominids were active on this landscape.
The bone modifications at these two excavated localities and at other localities from the same stratigraphic horizon across .2 km of outcrop demonstrate that stone tool–wielding hominids were active on the lake margin at 2.5 Ma. The bone modifications indicate that large mammals were disarticulated and defleshed and that their long bones were broken open, presumably to extract marrow, a new food in hominid evolution with important physiological, evolutionary, and behavioral effects. Similar patterns of marrow acquisition have been reported for younger sites such as Koobi Fora and Olduvai Gorge (12).
The situation on the Hata lake margin was even more difficult for early toolmakers. Here, raw materials were not readily available because of the absence of streams capable of carrying even pebbles. There were no nearby basalt outcrops. The absence of locally available raw material on the flat featureless Hata lake margin may explain the absence of lithic artifact concentrations. The bone modification evidence demonstrates that early hominids were transporting stone to the site of carcass manipulation. The paucity of evidence for lithic artifact abandonment at these sites suggests that these early hominids may have been curating their tools (cores and flakes) with foresight for subsequent use. Indications of tool curation by later hominids have been found at the more recent Pleistocene sites of Koobi Fora [Karari escarpment versus Ileret (13)] and Swartkrans [polished bone tools in a single repository (16)]. Additional research into the Hata beds may allow a determination of whether the butchery is related to hunting or scavenging. The Bouri discoveries show that the earliest Pliocene archaeological assemblages and their landscape patterning are strongly conditioned by the availability of raw material. They demonstrate that a major function of the earliest known tools was meat and marrow processing of large carcasses. Finally, they extend this pattern of butchery by hominids well into the Pliocene.
Aïn Hanech, Khedara, Algeria
Strongest evidence of early humans butchering animals discovered in North Africa
Early humans butchered horses and antelopes on a high grassy plateau in Algeria 2.4 million years ago.
On a high grassy plateau in Algeria, just 100 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea, early human ancestors butchered extinct horses, antelopes, and other animals with primitive stone tools 2 million to 2.4 million years ago. The dates, reported today, push back the age of the oldest tools in North Africa by as much as a half a million years and provide new insight into how these protohumans spread across the continent.
For decades, east Africa has been considered the birthplace of our genus Homo, and the epicenter of early toolmaking for almost 1 million years. The oldest known Homo fossils date back 2.8 million years in Ethiopia. Nearby, just 200,000 years later, scientists have found simple tools, such as thumb-size stone flakes, and fist-size cores from which such flakes were struck, in the nearby Rift Valley of Ethiopia.
After 25 years of excavations at the Ain Hanech complex—a dry ravine in Algeria—an international team reports the discovery of about 250 primitive tools and 296 bones of animals from a site called Ain Boucherit. About two dozen animal bones have cut marks that show they were skinned, defleshed, or pounded for marrow. Made of limestone and flint, the sharp-edged flakes and round cores—some the size of tennis balls—resemble those found in east Africa. Both represent the earliest known toolkit, the so-called Oldowan technology, named for the site where they were found 80 years ago at Olduvai in Tanzania.
Ain Hanech lacks volcanic minerals, which provide the gold standard for dating sites in eastern Africa. Instead, the researchers used three other dating methods, notably paleomagnetic dating, which detects known reversals in Earth’s magnetic field that are recorded in rock. The tools and cut-marked bones date as far back as 2.4 million years ago, the researchers report today in Science. They also used the identity of large, extinct animals, such as mastodons and ancient horses, to confirm the dates.
The cut-marked bones represent “the oldest substantive evidence for butchery” anywhere, says paleoanthropologist Thomas Plummer of the City University of New York’s Queens College, who was not involved with the study. Although other sites of this age in east Africa have stone tools, the evidence for actual butchery of animals is not as strong, he says.
At Ain Hanech, the dates provide “convincing evidence for stone tools and cut-marked bones at about 2 million years or more,” says geochronologist Warren Sharp of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California. But he finds the 2.4 million date “less compelling,” because of potential issues with the dating methods.
Whether the tools are 2 million or 2.4 million years old, they suggest toolmakers had spread farther and wider across Africa earlier than previously known. “There must have been a corridor through the Sahara with movement between east Africa and North Africa,” says paleoanthropologist Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Alternatively, the new dates suggest hominins in at least two different parts of Africa, separated by 5000 kilometers, were sophisticated enough to independently invent rudimentary stone tools and habitually make them, Potts says.
Either way, the study suggests that by 2 million years ago or so, making stone tools and butchering meat with them was routine for human ancestors in distant corners of the African continent. And this technological revolution may have given them the tools they needed to travel farther and wider across Africa and beyond
Humans hunted for meat 2 million years ago - Evidence from ancient butchery site in Tanzania shows early man was capable of ambushing herds up to 1.6 million years earlier than previously thought
Evidence from ancient butchery site in Tanzania shows early man was capable of ambushing herds up to 2 million years ago and were selecting "only adult animals in their prime" which also tend to be the fattiest and we were picking what we wanted compared to other carnivores.
Ancient humans used complex hunting techniques to ambush and kill antelopes, gazelles, wildebeest and other large animals at least two million years ago. The discovery – made by anthropologist Professor Henry Bunn of Wisconsin University – pushes back the definitive date for the beginning of systematic human hunting by hundreds of thousands of years.
Two million years ago, our human ancestors were small-brained apemen and in the past many scientists have assumed the meat they ate had been gathered from animals that had died from natural causes or had been left behind by lions, leopards and other carnivores.
But Bunn argues that our apemen ancestors, although primitive and fairly puny, were capable of ambushing herds of large animals after carefully selecting individuals for slaughter. The appearance of this skill so early in our evolutionary past has key implications for the development of human intellect.
"We know that humans ate meat two million years ago," said Bunn, who was speaking in Bordeaux at the annual meeting of the European Society for the study of Human Evolution (ESHE). "What was not clear was the source of that meat. However, we have compared the type of prey killed by lions and leopards today with the type of prey selected by humans in those days. This has shown that men and women could not have been taking kill from other animals or eating those that had died of natural causes. They were selecting and killing what they wanted."
That finding has major implications, he added. "Until now the oldest, unambiguous evidence of human hunting has come from a 400,000-year-old site in Germany where horses were clearly being speared and their flesh eaten. We have now pushed that date back to around two million years ago."
The hunting instinct of early humans is a controversial subject. In the first half of the 20th century, many scientists argued that our ancestors' urge to hunt and kill drove us to develop spears and axes and to evolve bigger and bigger brains in order to handle these increasingly complex weapons. Extreme violence is in our nature, it was argued by fossil experts such as Raymond Dart and writers like Robert Ardrey, whose book African Genesis on the subject was particularly influential. By the 80s, the idea had run out of favour, and scientists argued that our larger brains evolved mainly to help us co-operate with each other. We developed language and other skills that helped us maintain complex societies.
"I don't disagree with this scenario," said Bunn. "But it has led us to downplay the hunting abilities of our early ancestors. People have dismissed them as mere scavengers and I don't think that looks right any more."
In his study, Bunn and his colleagues looked at a huge butchery site in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The carcasses of wildebeest, antelopes and gazelles were brought there by ancient humans, most probably members of the species Homo habilis, more than 1.8 million years ago. The meat was then stripped from the animals' bones and eaten.
"We decided to look at the ages of the animals that had been dragged there," said Benn. "By studying the teeth in the skulls that were left, we could get a very precise indication of what type of meat these early humans were consuming. Were they bringing back creatures that were in their prime or were old or young? Then we compared our results with the kinds of animals killed by lions and leopards."
The results for several species of large antelope Bunn analysed showed that humans preferred only adult animals in their prime, for example. Lions and leopards killed old, young and adults indiscriminately. For small antelope species, the picture was slightly different. Humans preferred only older animals, while lions and leopards had a fancy only for adults in their prime.
"For all the animals we looked at, we found a completely different pattern of meat preference between ancient humans and other carnivores, indicating that we were not just scavenging from lions and leopards and taking their leftovers. We were picking what we wanted and were killing it ourselves."
Bunn believes these early humans probably sat in trees and waited until herds of antelopes or gazelles passed below, then speared them at point-blank range. This skill, developed far earlier than suspected, was to have profound implications. Once our species got a taste for meat, it was provided with a dense, protein-rich source of energy. We no longer needed to invest internal resources on huge digestive tracts that were previously required to process vegetation and fruit, which are more difficult to digest. Freed from that task by meat, the new, energy-rich resources were then diverted inside our bodies and used to fuel our growing brains.
As a result, over the next two million years our crania grew, producing species of humans with increasingly large brains – until this carnivorous predilection produced Homo sapiens.