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Ancient hunters stalked wildebeest and gazelle 2 million years ago. Source: frilled_dragon /Adobe Stock

Researchers Discover Evidence That Humans Hunted Two Million Years Ago

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Early humans began hunting prey animals two million years ago. A team of US scientists have proved ancient hunters ‘killed creatures for meat rather than having to scavenge from big cats.’

Animal bones from a two-million-year-old archaeological site called Kanjera South, near Lake Victoria in the west of Kenya, Africa, have been studied by a University of San Diego-led team of researchers. A new paper published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews presents gazelle and wildebeest bones having been cut with human crafted tools. The team said their paper provides evidence for the earliest strong indication for ‘hominin hunting.’

Notches on a bone left by ancient hunter butchering activity. (Jennifer A. Parkinson, Thomas W. Plummer, James S. Oliver, Laura C. Bishop)

Notches on a bone left by ancient hunter butchering activity. ( Jennifer A. Parkinson, Thomas W. Plummer, James S. Oliver, Laura C. Bishop )

2022, A Year of Paradigm Shifts

The team from University of San Diego, California, has shattered any remaining skepticism that 2 million years ago humans were scavenging, or scraping a subsistence, from dead animals and plants. Contrasting greatly with the idea that humans survived on the meaty bones of carcasses left behind by big cats, the new study found traces of ‘butchery marks’ on gazelle and wildebeest bones left by ancient hunters.

Skeptical archaeologists would normally point towards the marks having been caused by animal teeth, or natural weathering. But not in this instance, as the cut marks were found on the bones in places where only human tools could access. This is why the team said their research represents some of the ‘oldest strong evidence for hunting among ancient humans.’

Settling Timeworn Archaeological Arguments

The lead researcher, Professor Jennifer Parkinson, is a zooarchaeologist and paleoanthropologist at the University of San Diego. The scientist wrote in the new paper that increased meat consumption is ‘one of the major adaptive changes in hominin dietary evolution.’ The study looked at the bones of gazelle and wildebeest, which were common in the open grassy region around 2 million years ago, that have tiny butchery marks.

Until now it has always been argued as to whether these marks were made by prehistoric hunters that were human or by predator’s teeth and claws. The new study shows that the prey animals from Kanjera South had been ‘ butchered in those places that would have most likely already have been stripped clean of flesh had the animals been killed by predators like big cats.’

The new study shows that the prey animals had been ‘butchered in those places that would have most likely already have been stripped clean of flesh had the animals been killed by predators like big cats.’ (Mark /Adobe Stock)

The new study shows that the prey animals had been ‘butchered in those places that would have most likely already have been stripped clean of flesh had the animals been killed by predators like big cats.’ ( Mark /Adobe Stock)

Analyzing Micro-Marks for 2-Million-Year-Old Data on Ancient Hunters

In conclusion, the team said their findings suggest 2 million years ago ancient humans hunted then butchered the prey animals themselves. Professor Parkinson told New Scientist that early hominins ‘were not scavenging’ from felid [big cat] kill and that the new evidence provided in her paper demonstrates marks of butchering ‘in places where there would be no flesh on felid kills.’

The researchers found traces of butchery marks on gazelle and wildebeest bones ‘in places where there would be no flesh on felid kills.’ (Parkinson et al./ Quaternary Science Reviews)

The researchers found traces of butchery marks on gazelle and wildebeest bones ‘in places where there would be no flesh on felid kills.’ (Parkinson et al./ Quaternary Science Reviews )

While it is known that an early human ancestor hunted and butchered prey in this region of Africa 2 million years ago, it is not yet clear which one! Dr. Parker says archaeologists have unearthed ‘thousands of stone tools’ at Kanjera South, but no bones of the actual hunters themselves have ever been identified at the site. The researchers suspect Homo habilis is the prime candidate because their remains have been excavated at nearby sites. Exactly how these early hominins hunted is also not known at this time. However, it is suspected ambushes and lobbing wooden spears were among the ancient hunters’ tricks.

Homo habilis - forensic facial reconstruction/approximation. (Cicero Moraes/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Homo habilis - forensic facial reconstruction/approximation. (Cicero Moraes/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Leaps and Bounds in Only 10 Years

It was only in 2013 that Live Science covered the publication of an April 25 paper in the journal PLOS ONE supporting the idea that ‘ancient meat eating 2 million years ago fueled big changes in Homo species at that time.’ Only nine years ago it was a breakthrough discovery finding that the thousands of stone tools used by ancient hominins were for butchering and scavenging animals at least 2 million years ago.

Now we know early humans were actively hunting around 2 million years ago, which caused a rapid increase in brain and body size and is observed in the fossil record from that time. With their swollen brains and biceps, humans migrated from Africa to Eurasia around this time, and the meaty prey animals they stalked, ambushed, and trapped provided the energy for those evolution changing transformations, and migrations.

Top image: Ancient hunters stalked wildebeest and gazelle 2 million years ago. Source: frilled_dragon /Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

Comments

This looks very convincing.  The cut marks indicate early hunting, but more research needs to be done.

This is inconclusive. We cannot tell the difference between a human kill and one where early humans used their weapons and numbers to intimidate a lone predator off a fresh kill. Call it scavenging with menaces.

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