Re: Savanna hunting/scavenging

Paul Crowley (
Sun, 15 Dec 96 18:49:24 GMT

In article <> "Andrew Lewis" writes:

> Did hominids hunt on the savanna or did they scavenge?

. . . . . . . or did they do neither?

Chimpanzees don't appear to scavenge. H.s.s. don't. There
are few smells more repulsive to us than rotting meat; this
is because it does us no good. We do not have the digestive
systems to cope with it.

> 3. I think that it was in a book by Laurens Van der Post that I read that
> San (Bushman) hunters would follow a solitary male lion and when it
> killed they would let it feed for a while but then move in to take the
> meat. It occurs to me that this form of "hunting" must be considered in
> addition to the usual idea of hunting and scavenging as a possible
> strategy by hominids.

It is most unlikely that the australopithecines would want to
follow, or were capable of following, a fully grown male lion.
(Do you realise how BIG they are?) The San have spears and
bows and arrows, and lions have learned to be wary of them.
OTOH chimps keep to the trees in the presence of lions and
a-piths would have been even more vulnerable. They would only
be able to protect themselves by throwing stones and when a
lion ignored the stones, there would soon be several dead
hominids and one well-fed lion.

> The cheetah would have been a ideal candidate for this tactic. Their
> size and the fact that they are solitary makes them less intimidating
> than most predators, and they have a big problem with other carnivores
> taking away their kills. Imagine a dozen male hominids following a
> cheetah from a distance single file. When it makes a kill they move
> closer.

The a-piths were not designed for this kind of activity. (It's
most likely that they could not run.) And no cheetah would hunt
while being followed. A cheetah could lose a following band of
hominids in minutes, if not seconds.

> 3. My theory of hominid evolution, the Multi Habitat Theory, suggests
> that hominids only ventured onto the savanna when food was most abundant.

Where were they the rest of the time? In the woods competing
with chimps?

> This is something that our ancestors could have taken advantage
> of, moving in when the pickings are easiest. This is what I mean by
> exploiting the seasonal abundance of different environments.
> Noel Mostert in his book "Frontiers" writes about the San hunters and
> gatherers:
> "there were many overlapping lifestyles in southern Africa. Those on the
> west coast, for example, might summer in the foothills of the inland
> mountains, well watered country with an abundance of game, and in the
> winter move to the coast for a period, to subsist mainly off shellfish."

This is just about OK for H.s.s. . . . but for a-piths?
Or even H.erectus?

> If hominids used any of the 4 above strategies, either singly or in
> combination, it could help to explain how they could have survived
> on the savanna in competition with lions and hyaenas, and other
> primates such as baboons.

It's not survival in the face of competition that's the issue,
it's the bringing up of families in the face of predation -
especially nocturnal predation by lions, leopards, hyenas,
chimpanzees, when you have no fire and no shelter. It's the
endurance of the bitter night cold on the savanna; and the
heat of the day and the finding of water.

There is *nothing* in our anatomy, and even less (if that's
possible) in that of a-piths, that suggests adaptation to a
savanna existence. It's hard to imagine a terrestrial mammal
less able to survive there in its natural state - in terms of
its ability to forage, its dietary and water requirements, its
natural weapons and other abilities to cope with or avoid
predators, and its protection against extremes of temperature.

> The biggest "Just So" story ever is
> the Savanna Theory, which is now untenable. I am merely suggesting a
> replacement.

You are making the same mistake as Elaine Morgan. You need
to reject the Savanna Theory entirely, instead of partially.
There is nothing in its favour, except tradition. It was
acceptable as a working hypothesis 100 years ago, or perhaps
even 50 years ago. But it's long, long past its sell-by date.
It's utterly indefensible.