Chapter 4: Killing and Eating, Etc.

Two million years ago,  Homo developed a new method of acquiring food: power scavenging. This method involved running to carcasses immediately after animals were killed and scaring predators away to obtain the meat. This method required teamwork, correct timing, and a quick pace. This method differed from the scavenging seen 3.3-2 mya, which was known as “passive scavenging.” Passive scavenging did not allow Homo to acquire as much meat, because they had to run to the carcass and steal meat only when the predator was away or after the predator had taken all the meat it wanted. Power scavenging allowed Homo to obtain large amounts of protein without actually hunting the animal.

Homo ate foods other than meat as well. Their tools allowed them to cut nuts or unripe fruits that other primates could not access. They dug up underground storage organs (similar to present day yams or potatoes) and stole honey from bees. 

Hunting Parties

Hunting most likely began with the last common ancestor because chimpanzees and orangutans hunt today. Chimps hunt either socially in groups or solitarily with spear-like sticks. Female chimps and orangutans are the ones that do most of the hunting. Approximately one million years ago, we see the first evidence of Homo hunting. Growing bodies and brains led to nutritional stress which led to the development of tools, collaboration, creativity, and eventually organized hunting.

What Drove Communication Skills?

Organized hunting is a better method than power scavenging because you cut out the middle man and don’t have to wait around for a predator to make a kill. However, organized hunting does require great communication skills.

Around 500,000 years ago, we see evidence of sturdy spears made by Homo. Around 300,000 years ago, Homo began to throw these spears to kill prey. Between 500,000- 100,000 years ago, blades and composite tools were created.  Fossils from Qesem Cave in Israel demonstrate that 400,000 years ago, Homo had a large, various diet, including seeds, plants, pistachios, pine nuts, fungal spores, and even butterflies! Additionally, tartar on their teeth had embedded microcharcoal fragments demonstrated that they used fire. 

The Power of Cooking

Cooking gets rid of toxins and bacteria! Evidence of burned bone and heated rocks from 1.6 million years ago indicate that some Homo used fire at this time, but fire became more common 350,000-450,000 years ago.  Besides for cooking food, fire also provided Homo with light to make tools in the nighttime. About 400,000 years ago we see evidence of regular hunting and fireplaces, likely due to the development of our modern sized brains at this point in time. Fire dramatically increased the speed of technological advances and social change. Fire allowed for the variety of food we see in the modern day. 

“One of the most powerful and creative aspects of modern human eating is the variety, the diversity, and the ingenuity of how we prepare food” (82)