My University of Wisconsin colleague Henry Bunn got some press this weekend for his presentation at the European Society for Human Evolution meeting: “Humans hunted for meat 2 million years ago”.
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."
It’s a very interesting statistical difference between the human-accumulated and carnivore-accumulated distributions, showing that prey choice really did differ between these groups of predators. Bunn has described the analytical methods behind the age distribution of prey species in an earlier paper with Travis Pickering
Only a few Oldowan-era sites have been found to preserve very extensive evidence of hominin activity. The canonical example is the FLK-Zinj locality, and there are a handful of others. Meanwhile, stone tools and cutmarks on bone have been found at a much larger number of localities, each of which shows just slight evidence of hominin presence. That distribution was once interpreted as evidence for central-place foraging strategies by early toolmakers, an interpretation that may yet be correct. But it does make more complicated the question of how hunting may have targeted different prey species. Bunn and colleagues have worked through these issues and continue to uncover clues about the behavior of these early humans.