Magazine article Science News

Early Humans Make Their Marks as Hunters

Magazine article Science News

Early Humans Make Their Marks as Hunters

Article excerpt

The earliest undisputed remains of Homo sapiens, dating to around 100,000 years ago, come from caves at the mouth of South Africa's Klasies River. For the past 15 years, a heated debate has centered on whether those ancient coastal humans occasionally hunted in simple ways, such as driving their prey over cliffs, or obtained meat solely from carcasses left by lions and other predators.

A new analysis of animal bones previously unearthed at the Klasies River site suggests that H. sapiens exhibited much more hunting prowess than either side of the debate has given them credit for.

"Early modern humans at Klasies River mouth were active hunters," contends anthropologist Richard G. Milo of Chicago State University. "Their behavior appears to have been as near-modern as their anatomy."

Milo conducted a microscopic study of the frequency and distribution of butchery marks on more than 5,400 animal bones found among H. sapiens remains in a Klasies River mouth cave. He presented his analysis at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society in St. Louis last week.

Nearly one in five of the animal bones bears incisions typical of butchery, Milo says. That proportion far exceeds a prior estimate for the same material reported by Lewis R. Binford of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

Butchery marks appear on bones from animals of all sizes and congregate at major skeletal joints, where a fresh kill would have been most easily cut into pieces. …

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