Meat-Eating & Human Evolution

Meat-Eating & Human Evolution

Meat-Eating & Human Evolution

Meat-Eating & Human Evolution

Synopsis

When, why, and how early humans began to eat meat are three of the most fundamental unresolved questions in the study of human origins. Before 2.5 million years ago the presence and importance of meat in the hominid diet is unkown. After stone tools appear in the fossil record it seems clear that meat was eaten in increasing quantities, but whether it was obtained through hunting or scavenging remains a topic of intense debate. This book takes a novel and strongly interdisciplinary approach to the role of meat in the early hominid diet, inviting well-known researchers who study the human fossil record, modern hunter-gatherers, and nonhuman primates to contribute chapters to a volume that integrates these three perspectives. Stanford's research has been on the ecology of hunting by wild chimpanzees. Bunn is an archaeologist who has worked on both the fossil record and modern foraging people. This will be a reconsideration of the role of hunting, scavening, and the uses of meat in light of recent data and modern evolutionary theory. There is currently no other book, nor has there ever been, that occupies the niche this book will create for itself.

Excerpt

More than 30 years after the publication of Man the Hunter, the role of meat in the early human diet remains a central topic of human evolutionary research. There is little doubt that meat-eating became increasingly important in human ancestry, despite the lack of direct evidence in the fossil record of how meat was obtained, or how much was eaten, or how often, or how exactly increasing importance of meat-eating may have contributed to the rise of the genus Homo. Although the fossil evidence is becoming clearer on these issues, we still lack key evidence about early hominid behavioral ecology. Information about meateating patterns from modern nonhuman primates, from modern foraging people, and from the fossil record could all contribute to a clearer picture of early humanity than we have at present.

With this goal in mind, a workshop was held October 2–5, 1998, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “The Early Human Diet: the Role of Meat,” sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, brought together 18 participants representing several subfields of human origins research. Papers were presented at the workshop by Michael Alvard, Henry Bunn, Robert Foley, Kristen Hawkes, William McGrew, Katharine Milton, Travis Pickering, John Rick, Lisa Rose, Margaret Schoeninger, Jeanne Sept, John Speth, Craig Stanford, Mary Stiner, Martha Tappen, Blaire Van Valkenburgh, Alan Walker, and Bruce Winterhalder.

Why publish a volume on meat-eating at this time? Despite its importance in the evolutionary ecology of the Hominidae, scholars from different disciplines have only rarely gathered to discuss the topic. Few of the contributors to this volume had sat in the same group to discuss the crosscutting aspects of their work before the Madison workshop. Most of the participants work in the field of biological anthropology or archaeology; lack of intellectual crossfertilization may simply reflect increasing specialization within the discipline.

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