The Ecology of Hominin Scavenging

Session Date: 
Mar 2, 2018

Evidence for meat eating in the form of butchery marks on animal bones made by hominins dates back to at least 2.6 million years ago. Ancient tools from the same period suggest that these hominins used simple sharp stone knives to slice meat off of animal bones and rounded rocks to pound the bones open to access the fat and calorie rich marrow inside. But at this time, hominins were barely over three feet tall and hadn’t developed hunting technology like spears or bows and arrows. So how did they take down large, dangerous animals like elephants and hippos? Perhaps they didn’t hunt them, but instead scavenged the leftovers from carnivore kills and took advantage of naturally dead animals on the landscape. To test the hypothesis that hominins could have scavenged meat and marrow from the remains of kills of carnivores, I spent several months in a modern nature preserve in central Kenya. After waiting for predators like lions to finish consuming their prey, I found that most carcasses, especially those of the bigger prey animals, were abandoned with a lot of meat still on the bones. This suggests that scavenging could have been a worthwhile food procurement strategy for hominins.

File 2018_03_02_08_Pobiner-Web.mp489.07 MB