Diet, Evolution, Extinction, Hunting


Recent History

Ancient History




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.




Stable Isotope Analyses and the Evolution of Human Diets

Margaret Schoeninger describes how stable isotopes tell us that humans and neanderthals were likely high level carnivores.


Abstract Stable isotope analysis of carbon and nitrogen has revolutionized anthropology’s approach and understanding of the evolution of human diet. A baseline comparison across extant nonhuman primates reveals that they all depend on C3 plants in forests, forest patches, and woodlands except during rare seasonal intake, in marginal regions, or where maize fields exist. Even large bodied hominoids that could theoretically rely on hard-to-digest C4 plants do not do so. Some Plio-Pleistocene hominins, however, apparently relied heavily on C4 and/or CAM plants, which suggests that they relied extensively on cecal-colon microbial fermentation. Neanderthals seem less carnivorous than is often assumed when we compare their δ15Nbone collagen values with those of recent human populations, including recent human foragers who also fall at or near the top of their local trophic system. Finally, the introduction of maize into North America is shown to have been more sporadic and temporally variable than previously assumed.

One of the most interesting and confounding applications of stable isotope ratios has been the study of Neanderthal δ15Nbone collagen values. On the basis of nitrogen data, authors suggest that Neanderthals ate virtually no plants or were highly carnivorous (Balter & Simon 2006, Hublin et al. 2009), predominantly ate meat (Richards & Schmitz 2008, El Zaatari et al. 2011), or obtained their protein solely from meat (Richards et al. 2008), especially large herbivores (Richards & Trinkaus 2009). Some have even suggested that Neanderthals might have differed physiologically from modern humans in order to digest such large amounts of meat (Pearson 2007). Complete carnivory in extant primates occurs only in Tarsier, which weighs ∼100 g and has distinct morphological adaptations that allow it to obtain and survive on such a diet (Fleagle 2013). Some foraging human populations such as the Dogrib, a Dene Aboriginal Canadian people living in the northwestern part of Canada, survived on almost 60% animal products (Szathmary et al. 1987), as did other human foragers living far from the equator (Kelly 1995, Cordain et al. 2000). All these groups, however, included significant amounts of plant foods and/or animal fat, and there may be a protein ceiling of ∼35% (Cordain et al. 2000) because higher levels compromise liver function owing to physiological limitations on urea synthesis (Speth & Spielmann 1983, Hardy 2010). In part, the assumption of carnivory is based on the expectation that Neanderthals lived under arctic conditions with few available plants. Yet, many Neanderthal sites are in more southern parts of western and southern Europe (Shipman 2008 and see included references), and Europe experienced temperature fluctuations, including warm intervals, during Neanderthal times (Hardy 2010). Evidence from dental calculus indicates that Neanderthals ate some plants (Henry et al. 2011, Salazar-Garcia et al. 2013), and edible plants were recovered from the Neanderthal site of Amud, Israel (Madella et al. 2002). Richards & Schmitz (2008) concluded that high carnivory was based on the similarity between Neanderthal values (9 and 7.9) and those of a red fox (8.6), even though red foxes are noted to be omnivores (Lloyd 1981). Figure 2 compares all generally accepted European Neanderthal δ15Nbone collagen values compared with European hyena, horse, and reindeer (Bocherens et al. 1991, Bocherens et al. 1999, Richards et al. 2000, Bocherens et al. 2001, Bocherens et al. 2005, Richards et al. 2008, Richards & Schmitz 2008). Although Neanderthals have the highest δ15Nbone collagen values, the overlap between individual Neanderthal δ15Nbone collagen values and those of hyenas is extensive (10.1–11.8 in the former and 7.9–11.5 in the latter). This is the same pattern seen in North American Great Basin human foragers (see Figure 2) and four additional trophic systems (Schoeninger 1995b). High relative δ15Nbone collagen values are common in humans, although it is far from clear how this result occurs. Neanderthals clearly ate meat just as human foragers worldwide do (Kelly 1995, Speth 2006); they selected prime adults and the bones most likely to contain a lot of marrow (Gaudzinski & Roebroeks 2000). Some data also suggest that they hunted marine mammals (Stringer et al. 2008), which often have much fat. Such selection would allow them to eat animal products for up to two-thirds of their diet. But, the question is, did they? Or, perhaps more realistically, did they all participate, and if so, when? Only after we understand why humans almost always have high δ15Nbone collagen values can we address these questions fully.




Palaeolithic and Mesolithic kill-butchering sites:
the hard evidence

Middle Palaeolithic hunting involves less occasional killings, more specialization in large prey, game driving, dismembership in butchering and marrow extraction.


3.2. Middle Palaeolithic Hunting: Sites such as Zwolen (Gautier, 1989) and Mauran (Farrzy & David, in press; Girard-Farrzy & Leclerc,1981) preserve clear evidence of active hunting. 

Planning: killings are less often occasional. Neanderthal man returns periodically (or seasonally) to special places rich in game and with a natural topography propitious to hunting activities. This testifies to an intentional and calculated choice, as at the sites already mentioned. 

Specialisation: sometimes man specialises in the capture of a particular animal species: big bovids at Mauran (Farizy & David, in press), horses at Zwolen (Gautier, 1989), wild goats at the Grotte de l'Hortus (de Lumley, 1971). 

Hunting techniques: probably some kind of game driving was practised at Mauran (Farizy & David, in press), Zwolen (Gautieq, 1989), La Quina (Jelinek, Debenath & Dibble, 7989) and La Cotte de Saint-Brelade (Scott, 1e80). 

Seasonal killings: many killings are probably seasonal, animals fall in discrete age groups at Zwolen (Gautieq, 1989) and La Quina (]elinek, Debenath & Dibble, 1989). 

Food transport: the lightest and most meaty bones (hind limbs, pulni, ribs, vertebrae) may be carried away. In kill sites man leaves big and useless parts of animal skeletons (skulls, jaws etc.). Transport of meaty skeletal parts may be exemplified at Mauran (Farizy & David, in press). 

Butchering activities: at Maurary Farizy and David (Fafizy & David, in press) notice many phases in the butchering process: dismemberment, removal of muscular masses and bone breakage for marrow extraction.




Palaeolithic and Mesolithic kill-butchering sites: the hard evidence

The upper paleolithic is characterized by advanced hunting of large animals with various weapons, and planning to maximize easy prey


Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Hunting: 

the archaeological record leaves us some direct evidence of man's hunting activities. At Meiendorf (Rust 1937) and Stellmoor (Rusf 1937), some bones of reindeer and birds still conserve weapon marks and a few pieces of silex have remained thrusted in mammalian bones; man kills reindeer with harpoons and sticks (fractured skulls), birds with bows and maybe slings. Three fractured skulls of red deer in Abri Pataud (Bouchud, 1975), and one bovid skull with a circular orifice in Saint Marcel (Allain, 1952) suggest the practice of the so called " co'up de merlin": man has delivered a blow similar to the one used today to butcher cattle. Probably the animal already immobilized (wounded or entrapped) was hit on the frontal with a big stone. At Kokorevo I (Siberia), a large scapula of bison is pierced by the upper end of a point made of bone (Boriskowksi, 1965). At High Furlong (Mesolithic), an elk was discovered with the marks of L7 wounds made by barbed points, of which two were found in the site, and by other arms. The animal had apparently been attacked at two distinct occasions: during the first one, hunters aimed at the legs to lame the animal (fig. 6), later hunters hit the thoracic region and the lungs to kill it. However the elk died in a little lake, perhaps imprisoned in the ice, and man had no access to the meat. The animal represents in fact a hunting loss (Hallam et a1.,1973). 

Planning: very good. Many sites belong to Wpe e, were occupied periodically or seasonally and specialised in the capture of a particular game (e.g., horse, reindeeq, ibex). Game drive towards cliffs have been claimed and Solutre (Combier & Thevenot,1976) has long figured as an example, but the evidence is far from conclusive. 

Scavenging: no doubt H. sapiens still killed or exploited animals in the occasional and opportunistic way of Lower Palaeolithic times. According to Lindner (Lindner,1941), hunters at Predmost utilised the carcasses of hundreds of mammoths that probably succumbed as a result of natural catastrophes, as food. 

Food transport: selective transport of the most useful animal parts is claimed for many sites. 

Specialised activities: sometimes the material is dislocated in distinct clusters that could reflect specialised activity areas as for example at Solutre (Combier & Thevenot, 1976). Site topography: some hunting sites were located in valleys enclosed by steep slopes as at Rascano (Gonziilez-Echegaray, 1979), Stellmoor (Rust, 1937), Meiendorf (Rust 1937), or at the foot of rocky cliffs at Solutr6 (Combier & Th6venot, 1,976). 

4. Conclusions 

Most of the Lower Palaeolithic sites analysed here belong to category a (butchering sites); other kind of concentrations are rare and difficult to ascertain. A number of hunting stations (category e) and a hunting stop (category f) form my sample for the age of Neanderthal man and related people. The Upper Palaeolithic is characterised by many hunting stations, while in Mesolithic times a hunting loss (category d ) was found as well as several sighting sites (category g). The foregoing distribution seems to reflect in a vague way an evolution from scavenging and haphazard opportunistic hunting to well organised, selective hunting activities. However, this reflection results no doubt in part from a priori assumptions concerning the evolution of hominid meat procurement often colouring the interpretations offered for the osseous "hard" data; these are frequently equivocal.

Unnamed Road, 89176 Asselfingen, Germany



Lowenmensch figurine

The lion-man sculpture is a 12 inch high figurine carved of ivory depicting a standing man with a lion face, leading me to think that men saw other apex carnivores as equals.


The Löwenmensch figurine or Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel is a prehistoric ivory sculpture discovered in the Hohlenstein-Stadel, a German cave in 1939. The German name, Löwenmensch, meaning "lion-human", is used most frequently because it was discovered and is exhibited in Germany.

The lion-headed figurine is the oldest-known zoomorphic (animal-shaped) sculpture in the world, and one of the oldest-known uncontested example of figurative art. It has been determined by carbon dating of the layer in which it was found to be between 35,000 and 40,000 years old, and therefore is associated with the archaeological Aurignacian culture of the Upper Paleolithic.[1] It was carved out of mammoth ivory using a flint stone knife. Seven parallel, transverse, carved gouges are on the left arm.

After several reconstructions that have incorporated newly found fragments, the figurine stands 31.1 cm (12.2 in) tall, 5.6 cm (2.2 in) wide, and 5.9 cm (2.3 in) thick. It currently is displayed in the Museum Ulm, Germany.

The Löwenmensch figurine lay in a chamber almost 30 metres from the entrance of the Stadel cave and was accompanied by many other remarkable objects. Bone tools and worked antlers were found, along with jewellery consisting of pendants, beads, and perforated animal teeth. The chamber was probably a special place, possibly used as a storehouse or hiding-place, or maybe as an area for cultic rituals.[16]

A similar but smaller lion-headed human sculpture was found along with other animal figurines and several flutes in the nearby Vogelherd Cave. This leads to the possibility that the Löwenmensch figurines were important in the mythology of humans of the early Upper Paleolithic. Archaeologist Nicholas Conard has suggested that the second lion-figurine "lends support to the hypothesis that Aurignacian people may have practised shamanism ... and that it should be considered strong evidence for fully symbolic communication and cultural modernity".[17]

The figurine shares certain similarities with later French cave paintings, which also show hybrid creatures with human-like lower bodies and animal heads such as the "Sorcerer" from the Trois Frères in the Pyrenees or the "Bison-man" from the Grotte de Gabillou in the Dordogne.[18][19]