Monday, May 23, 2011

Evidence for African seasonal grassland tactical hunting during the Last Glacial Maximum

Lukenya Hill Archeological Site, Athi-Kapiti Plain, Kenya

Hunter-Gatherer Foraging Strategies in Tropical Grasslands: 
Model Building and Testing in the East African Middle and Late Stone Age

Curtis W. Marean


Hunter–gatherer adaptations to moist tropical grasslands are not well known from either the ethnographic or the archaeological record. This is unfortunate as grassland adaptations are clearly significant to human biological and behavioral evolution. The most effective strategy for remedying this problem is to develop models for grassland exploitation based on strong understandings of the ecological similarities and differences between cold, temperate, and tropical grasslands. Cold, temperate, and tropical grasslands are similar in that water and raw materials are often scarce and the most abundant large mammals are gregarious and mobile. Tropical grasslands differ from cold and temperate grasslands by having a greater diversity and biomass of edible above-ground plants and plants with underground storage organs, making carbohydrate availability greater and less seasonal. Large mobile mammals and resident large mammals are more diverse and have greater biomass in tropical grasslands. Overall, tropical grasslands are a richer and less seasonally punctuated environment than either cold or temperate grasslands. A comparison of ethnographic data regarding variation in foraging strategies in different cold, temperate, and tropical settings lead to the construction of three models for hunter–gatherer exploitation of tropical grasslands: a Generalized Grassland Model (no specialized tactical hunting—considered the favored model given modern African grassland conditions), a Seasonal Grassland Model (only seasonal use of specialized tactical hunting techniques—considered unlikely for Africa), and a Specialized Grassland Model (regular use of specialized tactical hunting strategies—considered highly unlikely for Africa). A preliminary test of these models shows the Athi-Kapiti Plains Holocene archaeological evidence is most consistent with the Generalized Grassland Model. The Last Glacial Maximum is most consistent with the Seasonal Grassland Model. A single MSA occupation also suggests that specialized tactical hunting strategies were used. These differences in hunting strategies were probably due to the differences in ecological conditions between the Holocene and the Last Glacial Maximum.

From page 217 of the paper:

Several lines of evidence converge to suggest that GvJm46 [Lukenya Hill, Athi-Kapiti Plain, Kenya] was a mass-kill site where the small extinct alcelaphine antelope was repeatedly killed in Late Pleistocene LSA and MSA times: (1) the open location in a natural topographic trap situated in a bottleneck along a well documented migration route, (2) the concentration of one species of grassland antelope compared to high diversities of large ungulates at contemporary nearby residential sites, (3) the catastrophic/life-structure mortality profile, and (4) the likelihood that GvJm46 represents many different kill events.

Helpful Maps:

Map of Kenya, with Athi River and Plain at Center Bottom

World Vegetation Map During the Last Glacial Maximum with African grassland, including Southern Kenya, shown in dark green.

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