Back to my homepage – Hans-Georg Michna

We Are Hunters

From a newsgroup discussion on early human development

[email address withheld] (Steve Pridgeon) wrote:

> I wouldn't get too fond of the idea that 'hunter-gatherer' is instinctive. Man couldn't hunt until he invented weapons, unless you count pouncing on the occasional unwary rodent as hunting. Look at your teeth; they suggest that roots and termites were more in line (health food fans take note).


just a few thoughts, not before mentioning that I'm no expert in the field. But let me write down just a few personal observations and thoughts.

We humans are usually totally helpless when we confront any serious predator. A lion wouldn't even have to disable you before eating you. This became shockingly clear to me when I once walked into a pride of lions by mistake near Seronera Lodge in the Serengeti. I am still alive, but only because today's lions are aware of Masai spears (but fortunately—for me—not of the much more recent arrival, the tourist, who does not have them and does not know how to use them). But if you ever see a lion use his full force in your immediate vicinity, you will never again believe that our ancestors walked past them naked to gather roots with their bare hands.

Now if our ancestors necessarily had spears, how can you imagine that they did not also use these for hunting?

Note that chimpanzees hunt regularly and systematically. They also show special behavior when handling meat. For example, a higher ranking animal will beg a lower ranking one for a share, something he will not do for anything else. Meat is a very attractive, wholesome food when it is scarce.

Another thought: Hunting large animals is an extremely complex social activity that requires all the power, skill, and especially brains you can muster. The other masters of this art, the lions, hyaenas, and wild dogs, show social behavior that is similar to ours, with all their complex calls, personal recognition, rank, greeting ceremonies, actions very similar to kissing and hugging, etc.

Compare this to gathering berries, a solitary, extremely boring exercise, depriving the individuals of all social interaction.

What I want to say that our ancestors and we probably have been hunters as well as gatherers, walkers, builders, fishers etc. But to say "hunter-gatherer" is the same as calling a bird a "flyer-walker" or my car a "roller-rattler". The fact that we were gatherers is trivial and unimportant. Nearly every animal is a gatherer on the side.

We are hunters.

This is where our instincts are. Our brains are wired for hunting. Hunting made us what we are today. Hunting put the pressure on us to develop, in our brains, sharp spatial capabilities, highly efficient cooperative behavior, the capability to understand and predict the actions of our hunting companions and of our prey, and finally a complex language.

The only other factor that may have driven our development even further was the mental (and technological) "arms race" among humans themselves, within the group, within the tribe, and against "the others".



Back to my homepage – Hans-Georg Michna


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