Tracking endurance

1 minute read

Outside magazine has a long article (“Fair Chase”) describing how some running enthusiasts recruited world-class marathoners to try to run down a pronghorn in New Mexico.

AS RIDICULOUS AS THIS spectacle might appear, the men are testing a much-debated scientific notion about when and how humans became hunters. Between two and three million years ago, when our australo pithecine ancestors ventured out of the forests and onto the protein-rich African savanna, they were prey more often than hunter. They gathered plant-based foods, just as their primate brethren did. Then something changed. They began running after game with long, steady strides. Evolutionary biologists like Harvard's Dan Lieberman think the uniquely human capacity for endurance running is a distant remnant of prehistoric persistence hunting.

The idea has become entrenched in running circles; most notably from the book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen and the associated articles in running magazines.

David Carrier makes an appearance:

Evolutionary biologist David Carrier and his brother, Scott, who wrote the 2001 memoir Running After Antelope, made the single recorded attempt to chase down a pronghorn. Scott, a recreational runner, characterized the elusiveness of the animal, which they pursued in Wyoming, like so: "They blend and flow and change positions. There are no individuals but this mass that moves across the desert like a pool of mercury on a glass table." The brothers failed. The antelope, Scott wrote, "used the terrain to ditch us."

The article is fun, it ends pretty much as you’d expect. Despite having the animal in ideal terrain, they still in the end couldn’t track it adequately. That’s the critique applied by Travis Pickering and Henry Bunn to the whole idea for early Homo, and here it is in practice.

(via Melody Dye)