It is commonly believed that our parents, the first hominids who inhabited the Earth thousands of years before us hunted big game animals, just as big predators do. This is a romantic view of how our ancestors operated in the past and there are few reason why we believed this. We were skillful in making tools and have the capacity of using them effectively. Besides this, our brain has grown through the years. The first hominids that inhabited the earth had smaller brains than Homo Sapiens. Looking at subsequent Homo species, we have seen how the brain capacity has slowly but progressively increased. We required proteins in order to increase our brain capacity. As you may know, proteins are found in animal meat. For many years we thought that the increase of our brain capacity happened due to the adoption of hunting techniques in our food search. But was this really the kind of activity hominids used to obtain their food and proteins?
The first hominids inhabited the planet in what is now Africa. The area where humans were at the time was an area of an extensive Savannah. This area was extremely dangerous as humans shared the land with big predators and scavengers such as lions, hyenas or leopards. Hominids at the time were not fast enough to compete with such fast animals which were able to run at explosive speed. They couldn’t compete in power and strength either. It is due to these circumstances that some scholars have raised doubts about the “human hunter” theory. The scepticism comes mainly because it would have been really difficult for a hominid hunter to catch the game and take it with them to a safe place in the Savannah.
These hominids had the capacity to see very far as they were bipedal. Hominids also had the opportunity to carry tools with their hands. In the areas where hominids lived, there were places with small water streams and little tree cover, where humans could feel safe from big predators. In these areas leopards also liked to store some of their prey. Some current studies have demonstrated that leopards hunt animals and keep the prey at the top of trees sometimes for periods of 6 to 7 hours. Apparently, this would have been an opportunity for hominids to steal their preys and eat meat.
Some hominids would have been able to hunt small game in these areas. However, they did not have the capacity to make complex tools so they were not able to use technology for hunting big game as later on Homo Sapiens or Homo Neanderthals did. This leads some scholars to believe that they might have hunted some animals but the amount of meat caught wouldn’t have been enough to feed their communities.
The trees offered a safe environment for hominids as I said. However, it seems unrealistic to believe that hominids could hunt in the middle of the Savannah and bring their preys to a storage area. Big prey animals weigh too much for hominids to capture them, drag them to a tree and finally lift the prey to be hanged on a tree branch. All of this would have required to be performed without been noticed by other predators or large scavengers. The activity just seems too risky.
As I said, these areas with trees and water streams would have been wonderful locations for humans to feel safe as they could climb the trees and observe the surroundings. From there, they could look at the Savannah and watch for predators and their activities.
Once a predator hunted a prey, they were the first ones to eat. Hominids were not able to compete with such powerful and strong animals so they probably could not have stolen the prey from the predator, unless something unusual happened. After predators finished their meal, powerful scavengers, such as hyenas, would have approached the prey and continued eating whatever was left. Hominids could not have competed with these powerful animals either so provably hominids waited patiently for them to finish. After they had satiated their hunger, hominids then had their opportunity to approach the prey to eat.
Now, after predators and scavengers ate the prey, it is likely that there was nothing left for the hominids to eat. So then, what did remain for the hominids to eat? Inside bones there is marrow, which is very rich in proteins. If we are looking at big game animals such as buffalo for example, neither hyenas nor vultures or other scavengers have the power to break the bones and obtain the marrow hidden inside them. The hominids on the other hand, had the capacity to make tools. Some of the tools found in this period are believed by scholars to have been capable of breaking bones to access the marrow. If this is true and hominids learnt this technique, they would have got access to a diet rich in protein and this would have explained the increase in brain capacity that the hominids and next generations experienced. This theory though does not seem as romantic as the human hunter approach. I guess that seeing humans as animals close to hyenas, vultures or even pigeons does not sound as attractive as being us closer to lions or tigers.
Based on the article “Carrion and Human Evolution” by Robert J. Blumenschine and John A. Caballo.