Anthropology P380:

The changes in diet and subsistence of hominids during the last million years.

I. Life and Times of "Archaic Homo"

For an introductory overview, refer to my A105 WWW notes about the Acheulian.

In Africa:

early Homo erectus (a.k.a. "H. ergaster")

new "Acheulian" technologies:

  • large cutting tools = bifaces (by 1.7 mya)
  • fire (probably by 1.5 mya)

Out of Africa:

  • into southern temperate areas by 1.8 mya
  • Homo erectus evolves into Homo spp
  • sites in Israel, Georgia, Java, China 1.8 - 1.5 mya
  • Acheulian sites widespread after 700,000 bp

Temperate ecology suggests animal foods probably important... but how acquired? What evidence could be found to recognize actual HUNTING, archaeologically?

Torralba/Ambrona sites in Spain 500-200,000bp

  • cooperative big game hunters??
  • taphonomic perspective ... open sites difficult to distinguish from scavenged carcasses

Boxgrove site in England with cuts everywhere...

site in Germany with several wooden spears and lots of horses

Atapuerca cave sites in Spain (sorry we didn't get a chance to discuss this in lecture)

  • Gran Dolina >780,000 bp (+ cutmarks)
  • Galleria ~400-200,000 bp (archaeology)
  • Sima de los Huesos ~300,000 bp

II. The Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic (Middle Stone Age and Later Stone Age)

It is not until the last 200,000 years that the archaeological record gets detailed enough to see significant changes in foraging patterns. For a brief overview, refer to my A105 WWW notes about the Acheulian. and my A105 WWW notes about the origins of modern humans. (includes cool links to rockart sites, etc).

NEW PEOPLE after 200,000:

Who were they? That depends upon which part of the globe you were in!

  • In Europe, Mousterian sites are associated with populations of surviving archaic humans "Neandertals" who were much more robust than the modern humans in Africa who were their contemporaries. Eric Trinkaus has argued, in fact, that neandertals had to "beat the bush" to survive in the extreme, fluctuating, highly seasonal environments of Ice Age Europe. Their thick bones and powerful muscles were adapted to high stress/activity loads. They also used their mouths/front teeth as tools (vice grips? scrapers?) The last neanderthal lived to 34,000bp
  • In southern Africa, there is good evidence of anatomically modern humans associated with early MSA assemblages by 120,000 years ago. But while they looked like us, they didn't necessarily behave in as modern a fashion!
  • In Near East , BOTH physical types were associated with Mousterian types of tools. While the tool types were the same, some authors have suggested that there were systematic differences in the foraging strategies used by neandertals and moderns in the Near East.
  • Note: we didn't discuss the fossil evidence for humans in Asia during this time period because it is poorly dated... some evidence suggests that Homo erectus survived very late in SE Asia. Other evidence suggests that modern human anatomy was present in the region by 40,000 years ago.


  • Technological shift by 200,000 years ago: the Middle Paleolithic / Middle Stone Age is heralded by a shift to small tools, mounted on handles, more specialized than Oldowan and Acheulian. Tools were made out of flakes, and shaped (retouched) for different functions. In South Africa, MSA tools were made on blades too. First obvious STONE WEAPONS appear in M.S.A. / M.P. contexts (stone points) and other tools to scrape wood and hide, cut things, etc. (Called "Mousterian culture" in western Europe).
  • After 40,000 years ago, a wider variety of formal tool forms mark the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic / Later Stone Age... more raw materials, more controlled flaking (e.g. blades, bifacial points, etc), harpoons and bone points, etc. The Upper Paleolithic toolkit is funtionally diverse and specialized. Stone tools are based on blade technology. But we see many different types of raw materials being used as tools (and ornaments). First the spear thrower, then later (after 15,000 years ago with the Late U.P. ) the bow & arrow, and evidence for nets/snares -- making it easier to do more than one thing at the same time (like the home shopping network, only different...) -- plus harpoons, fishhooks appear -- some UP sites FULL of salmon and others FULL of large numbers of single game species, such as reindeer (also needles for clothing, etc)



Food remains show HUNTING, COLLECTING and sharing at home bases.

All MSA sites show evidence that by 100,000 years ago these toolmakers had mastered the exploitation of a range of resources, including the hunting of many mammals. Special function hunting sites become common: MSA sites like Porc Epic in Ethiopia, and some Kalahari MSA sites show MSA hunters repeatedly hunting in particular situations too -- e.g. ambush sites in Kalahari, Porc Epic = cave above migration route valley to which hunters repeatedly returned with migratory ungulate prey. Classic Mousterian sites in western France -- some have a sparse dribble of bones over the years, but some have huge concentrations where many animals hunted, some like La Quina seem to be death trap sites used over and over, suggesting true cooperative hunting strategies.

For example, at Klasies River Mouth, a MSA site in South Africa (refer to Richard Klein article):

  • shows some of the first evidence of the exploitation of coastal marine foods, such as shellfish ,... but NOT many shorebirds, or fish, or animals requiring boats. (This implies a technological economic cost/benefit threshold that the KRM people would/could not cross). = collecting strategy
  • Faunal remains suggest that KRM'ers were able to hunt: including some marine mammals, such as baby seals (bop them on the heads!) at least some smaller ungulates, and docile antelope such as eland, if not all (dangerous animals such as buffalo and pig were less common, and perhaps scavenging was still a common strategy? )... Note Klein's approach to analyzing the age profiles of animals in the site as evidence of how effective the hunters were
  • by the LSA, at sites in the same region such as Nelson's Bay Cave, people were clearly master hunters, including a range of bird species and fish and dangerous animals

For example: zooarchaeological studies of Mousterian sites in Europe and the Near East (by Mary Stiner and others ) also suggests interesting subsistence patterns, particularly of meat/marrow acquisition -- e.g. Stiner's arguments, based on body part representation, that early Mousterian assemblages in Italy (before 50,000 years ago) could have had a major scavenging component. However, Curtis Marean, in the article in your reader, has a different interpretation of this evidence. Check out his arguments!

  • There are also some intriguing arguments about the different ways in which MSA/Mousterian peoples used sites strategically in the landscape. Stiner sees a key difference between sites older than 55,000 years ago, which are dominated by bones suggesting non-confrontational scavenging was very common -- lots of "head collecting" and smashing open for fat, apparently in the early spring, some exploitation of local marine resources (collecting small, sessile animals), and manufacturing large flake tools and RE-USING them over and over -- tools have a long use-life. She argues both these patterns suggest frequent movement, ephemeral occupation, opportunistic exploitation of local resources , perhaps moving quickly through areas and "skimming" high quality foods, moving on. IMPROVISATION is valued?
  • After 55,000 the pattern changes -- many complete carcasses appear at sites, suggesting major transport of rich food sources, biased towards prime adults, thoroughly smashed &processed for marrow. Fall-Winter hunting? = congregation time for many game, particularly as sea level went down. Tool manufacture shifted to reliance on more efficient, smaller cores, each flake tool abandonned more quickly (little re-use). Perhaps social cooperation becoming important??
  • In all cases MSA/MP shelter sites = first evidence of sites that were used repeatedly, perhaps as home-bases?? or at least as places that were repeatedly visited for periods of time, to which stones, animal bones were imported, and where fire hearths accumulated over thousands of years. But many Mousterian sites can be interpreted as short occupations -- sites where evidence of carnivore occupation, owls etc, is just as prominent as human occupation debris (e.g. Larry Straus' work in Cantabrian Spain) perhaps settling-into particular regions and opportunistically exploiting a wide range of resources, while later groups adopted a more STRATEGIC pattern of land use and foraging -- that included seasonal scheduling of resources, and focus on some key resources?

Mary Stiner's recent analyses of faunal remains from Hayonim Cave in Israel provide another interesting study:

  • a human predatory niche was already present in MP populations as early as 200,000 years ago... were clearly able to hunt both deer and gazelle (based on carcass completeness)... perhaps by driving them
  • small game were an important component of diet, from MP through UP, with some interesting changes:
    • before 40,000 years ago, the MP layers contain lots (>46%) of tortoise and shellfish = "collectables"
    • between 40,000 and 20,000 years ago, the early UP evidence indicates game birds added to menu (plus evidence of predation pressure on tortoise size... average tortoise size getting smaller)
    • after 20,000 years ago, the late UP and early Epi-Paleolithic (or "Mesolithic" layers (Natufian Culture) start really hunting bunnies

She suggests this "tortoise v hare" story represents an increase in predation pressure, coupled with new technologies and strategies to make harvesting the abundant, but elusive, small game more efficient

III. Late Glacial Adaptations

Overall, after 30,000 years ago in most parts of world, see a real "adaptive shift" to highly organized hunting & gathering foraging systems -- as the WORLD is FILLING UP

  • Occupation of wider range of habitats in U.P., including Australia (by boat by 50,000 bp), and Siberia (and, eventually, the Americas, by foot, at least by ca. 15,000 bp, if not before)
  • ALL wild animals hunted, and different regions show different ecological specializations. e.g. some areas of W. Europe specialize in reindeer, further east you have horse hunting, and mammoth hunting on steppes of Russia and central Asia. May relate to technological advances? Many sites contain an abundance of single species, such as salmon, etc
  • This suggests a strategy that includes investment -- some way to STORE food in large amounts -- e.g. smoking salmon?
  • Also more of a cooperative/group strategy -- economies may have started to integrate wider social networks -- perhaps notion of formal rules of food sharing and regional reciprocity, so characteristic of modern world, first appeared during last Ice Age ... certainly material evidence for social groups becomes evident at this time , formal regional STYLES become very apparent.

After the height of the last glaciation, ca. 18,000 years ago, we see evidence of real economic specialization -- almost entrepreneurship ! People re-occupying regions with the retreat of the glaciers (e.g. in northern Europe) and taking advantage of rapidly changing ecological conditions. EXAMPLES:

e.g. UP sites in France in the Dordogne River Valley Paris Basin show reindeer hunters taking advantage of seasonal migration and spatial concentration of game (Pincevent, Etioles sites), and see NUMBER of sites rapidly growing and becoming more prominent. In some areas the QUANTITY of garbage really starts piling up --perhaps population growth? Or just more territoriality in foraging patterns?

Investment in SOCIAL PLACE illustrated by Cave ART, but also appears in guise of differentiation -- e.g. mammoth hunter sites at Mezhirich (15,000 bp), in Ukraine show structures built from mammoth bones that indicate many person-hours of construction time (communal effort) as well as some structures larger/more complex than others (suggesting social differentiation)

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