Re: Cannibalism

Gerold Firl (
19 Sep 1995 12:39:18 -0700

In article <> (J. Moore) writes:

>Ge> Three million years
>Ge> ago the hominid line had both a vegetarian branch (the robust
>Ge> australopithecines) and more hunting-oriented omnivores; the
>Ge> branch died out...
>Ge> =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @

>The idea that robust australopithecines were "vegetarian" and more
>gracile australopithecines were less so, or that they were
>"hunting-oriented" to any greater degree is a rather old, and
>outdated, one. It does not appear to have been the case. They
>seem to have both been opportunistic omnivores, albeit with
>somewhat different plant diets likely (as evidenced by the robust
>features of the one group).

Interesting - I'd like to hear more. Stone tools have been found in
association with robust bones, but the suggestion has also been made
that the bones were left-overs from dinner, rather than the remains of
the tool-makers. I don't have enough data to make a judgement either
way; feel free to clue me in.

Whether or not the robust hominids were tool-users, their unique set of
physical adaptations is consistant with a greater emphasis on grazing,
rather than hunting and scavenging, relative to their gracile cousins.

The robust australopithecines (a. robustus and a. boisei if I recall
correctly) had marked physical adaptations for processing
high-cellulose diets; very large grinding molars, a huge jaw, and
massive cranial attach-points for the muscles which ground-up their
high-fiber diet. Looking to the gorillas for analogous adaptations
in the rest of their physiology, I would expect they also had a larger
ratio of large/small intestine than we do, so they could digest their
woody foods.

Such a feeding strategy does not rule-out opportunistic omnivory, of
course, but it does mitigate against making it as significant to the
diet of the robust line as it was to the gracile line. Gorillas don't
have time for much besides eating, and I would expect the analogy to
carry-over to the heavy-bodied australopithecines to some extent.

Finally, it does not appear that the robust hominids were ancestral to
man; h. habilus is clearly intermediate between erectus and the gracile
australopithecines. Asking "what happened to them?", our ancestors must
be the prime suspect for having caused their demise.

So, to reiterate, what is anachronistic about viewing the ecological
break between robust and gracile australopithecines as being based on a
dietary split between a primarily herbivorous vs. a meat-oriented
omnivory? Subsequent hominid evolution shows a clear trend towards
hunting adaptations (zhoudakian (sp?) cave in china showed that deer
was the favored food of h. erectus), and the robust line clearly
pursued a different strategy.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf