Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eaten out of house and home: Homo Sapiens outruns and out hunts their Neandertal cousins

San Bushmen African Rock Art Depicting an Eland (Link)

Extinction hypotheses for the Neandertal abound.  As we now know, the Neandertal and their Denisovan cousins did not really go "extinct" but do form a small part of the total genetic contribution to Eurasians.

The idea that Neandertals were good hunters has been suggested for several years and was reported in 2006.  Neandertals likely also had the capacity for language as they possessed the Homo Sapiens FOXP2 variants for language. Additionally, the Gaudzinski-Windheuser and Niven paper suggests that Middle Paleolithic Neandertals were top predators who unselectively hunted large ungulates such as reindeer.  They seem to have specialized in eating the bone marrow from these animals.

By the Upper Paleolithic 30,000 years ago, when it is anticipated that Homo Sapiens began to dominate the Eurasian picture, the evidence suggests that Eurasians were eating both meat and bone marrow from bovids, cervids, and caprines.  Birds and other small game animals increasingly formed part of the Upper Paleolithic diet.  The large numbers of single species remains in archaeological kill sites suggests that both Upper Paleolithic Homo Sapiens and Middle Paleolithic Neanderthals seem to have sometimes used mass kill communal hunting strategies.

Which brings us to the modern remnants of mass kill communal hunting strategies, which have persisted where there are bovids or cervids that are not amenable to domestication.  In particular, deer, reindeer, buffalo and gazelles are not amenable to domestication.  It is for these animals that driveline and trap hunting strategies have, until recently, persisted across the globe.  As demonstrated by these examples, there are remarkably detailed similarities in the methods used to hunt remnant populations of bovids and cervids:

Sami Reindeer Funnel Trapping System
Dating the end of Mass Gazelle Hunting on the Khabur River
Nomads of South Siberia:  the pastoral economies of Tuva:  HUNTING TECHNIQUES
Hunting Caribou with Inukshuiit
Communal Buffalo Hunting:  Driveline, Jumps and Pounds

In areas of the globe with climates that were more hospitable to domesticated bovids, cervids and caprines, driveline and trap systems have entirely disappeared.  However, driveline and trap methods don't leave much to the imagination as to how sheep, cattle and goats were domesticated.  Hunters who used the driveline and trap system clearly understood the migration patterns and habits of the animals they hunted.  Their survival depended on this intimate knowledge.  Communal hunters must have eventually realized that certain species of bovids and caprines were more docile and did not necessary have to be killed on the spot after being trapped.  Domestication would have provided them a more steady supply of meat before the next hunt.  Over time, they saved and bred the most docile animals.  Only on the climate margins, where it was either too hot or too cold for domesticated cattle, goats and sheep did communal driveline and trap hunting persist.

The recent discover of a driveline and trap communal hunting system for gazelles in Syria is significant.  It extends the possibility that driveline and trap systems were used across the gazelle kingdom, which would include Africa.  I have voiced my observation that there is a concordance between the distribution of haplogroup E and the historical distribution of gazelles. (See Gazelle Hunters.) 

In the y-dna phylogeny of Homo Sapiens,

it is y-dna haplogroups E and FGHIJKLMNOPQR that dominate the genetic picture of the Middle East, interior Eurasia and the Americas.  African y-dna haplogroups are dominated by A, B and E.  Haplogroups C and D follow a coastal route from Africa all the way to the Pacific Rim.

The geographic distribution of y-dna haplogroups E and FGHIJKLMNOPQR are concordant with the Upper Paleolithic geographic distribution of gazelles, bovids, caprines, and cervids.  The modern societies that are dominant with men with these haplogroups traditionally have diets and cultural rituals that are centered on the eating of  bovids, caprines and cervids.  Whether it is the traditional Boeuf En Daube of Southern France, Kokoretsi of Greece, Haggis of Scotland, Arab Shawarma, Goat-Meat-on-a-Stick in West Africa, Jordanian Mansaf, Berber Mechoui, Mongolian Barbeque, Khlav Kalash or American Burgers, it is evident that the descendants of E and FGHIJKLMNOPQR haplogroup(y-dna) dominant cultures have a penchant for the meat and/or milk of large undulates.  They also possess a history of either domesticating these animals and/or utilizing communal hunting strategies to corral and kill seasonally large quantities of meat.

By comparison, y-dna haplogroups B, C and D dominant cultures have diets that are more diversified, with fish, reptiles, fish eggs, bird eggs and small mammals constituting a larger portion of their protein diet.

Haplogroup A(y-dna) is present in Africa.  It is strongly associated with the Khoisan, San or Bushmen people of South Africa and Namibia and with the Dinka, Shillik, Nuba and other pastoral people of the Sudan.   A deeper understanding of the autosomal genetic history of the Khoisan, against a Bantu (E haplogroup dominant) background, was explored in last year's open source paper Complete Khoisan and Bantu genomes from Southern Africa.  The Khoisan are the most genetically diverse of the living descendants of Homo Sapiens and they also likely preserve some cultural remnants of our distant Homo Sapiens past.  Given their position in Africa, the Khoisan (or Bushmen) also would be the least likely to have any traces of either Neandertal or Denisovan genetics. 

Can we learn anything from Khoisan hunting strategies and culture that would give us a clue as to what Homo Sapiens had as an advantage over Neanderthals and Denisovans?

The San employ an extraordinary hunting strategy called persistance hunting which requires the capacity for endurance running.  Here's the youtube video:

Recent research by David Raichlen and his team at the University of Arizona, Tucson, corroborates that Neandertals did not have the endurance running capabilities of the San.

Somewhere on their journey between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Homo Sapiens refined their persistence hunting technique.  The desert kite find in Syria is significant because it locates the refinement of San persistence hunting into Eurasian driveline and trap persistance hunting between Africa and the Arabian peninsula.  As Homo Sapiens came into contact with the Neandertal, they may even have borrowed some hunting tricks such as exploiting migratory paths and pitfalls.  Once driveline and trap hunting persistance techniques for large ungulates were perfected, the ability to endurance run allowed long range multiday round ups of bovids, caprines and cervids.

The demise of the Neandertal is therefore likely due to nothing more than Homo Sapiens outrunning and out hunting their Neandertal cousins.  "Eaten out of house and home" comes to mind.


  1. Marnie, you may find this article of interest:

    "Chad Weller, a Miami-based ultra athlete and running coach, has kept to a vegan diet for 18 of his 35 years on earth. He's been an endurance runner for 15 of those, and has competed in more than one hundred races to date, 10 of which were 100-milers"

    "The (Thailand) North Face 100K will take runners through fruit plantations, past Thai temples, and into wild and somewhat unpredictable territory. But it isn't the possibility of poisonous snake bites or even running out of hummus wraps on the trail that concerns Weller the most --- it's the heat."

    "Fruits and vegetables come from the earth, so you can think and feel lighter. And meat's something heavy, and there are so many things that have to happen for you to get the meat to your table. Vegetables, you just pick them out of the garden, and you either grill them or eat them raw."

    By the way, desert kites were used in Oman, where cattle are raised by the Shahra in caves and dome huts.

    1. Thanks for the Oman reference. I'll check it out.

      Not sure what you're point is about veganism. There's an ever increasing amount of evidence to indicate that Paleolithic people did not eat a vegan diet.


Comments have temporarily been turned off. Because I currently have a heavy workload, I do not feel that I can do an acceptable job as moderator. Thanks for your understanding.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.