Over at Discovery News, a recent article carries this sensational headline: “Human Ancestors Hunted by Prehistoric Beasts: Early humans appear to have occupied a much lower link of the food chain than their modern counterparts.” What the article actually reports, however, is the unsurprising fact that African Miocene apes — which are not “early humans” — were prey items:
The discovery of multiple de-fleshed, chomped and gnawed bones from the extinct primates, which lived 16 to 20 million years ago on Rusinga Island, Kenya, was announced today at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s 70th Anniversary Meeting in Pittsburgh.
At least one of the devoured primates, an early ape called Proconsul, is thought to have been an ancestor to both modern humans and chimpanzees. It, and other primates on the island, were also apparently good eats for numerous predators.
Aside from the uncertain issue of whether Proconsul is ancestral to bi-pedal hominids that do not appear in the fossil record until some 10-14 million years later, the reporter talked to a well known anthropologist about the finds:
Robert Sussman, professor of physical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, has long argued that primates, including early humans, evolved not as hunters but as prey of many predators, including wild dogs and cats, hyenas, eagles and crocodiles.
“Despite popular theories posed in research papers and popular literature, early man was not an aggressive killer,” said Sussman, author of the book “Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators and Human Evolution.”
He added that the idea of man as hunter “developed from a basic Judeo-Christian ideology of man being inherently evil, aggressive and a natural killer.”
While it may be true that Judeo-Christian theology views humans as inherently evil, aggressive, and homicidal due to the eating of an apple in the Garden of Eden and original sin, the idea of humans as hunters (or predators) did not exclusively develop from this tradition. In fact, nearly all anthropologists acknowledge that early humans — particularly Homo erectus and later hominids — were meat eating hunters and scavengers.
The evidence in support of early human hunting and protein consumption is overwhelming, but is something that is completely ignored (or dismissed as inconsequential) in Sussman’s book Man the Hunted, which he co-authored with Donna Hart. For those interested in this evidence, you can find a brief review in this paper, which I was prompted to write after reading — with some dismay, Man the Hunted.