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Origins of the Human Predatory Pattern: The Transition to Large-Animal Exploitation by Early Hominins

Jessica C. Thompson is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Yale University (10 Sachem Street, New Haven, Connecticut, 06511, USA [[email protected]]).

Susana Carvalho is Assistant Professor in the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford (64 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6PN, United Kingdom) and Director of Paleontology and Primatology at Gorongosa Restoration Project, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique. Curtis W. Marean is Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Institute of Human Origins of the Arizona State University (PO Box 874101, Tempe, Arizona 85287-4101, USA) and Honorary Professor at the Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape 6031, South Africa). Zeresenay Alemseged is Professor in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy of the University of Chicago (1027 East 57th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA).

The habitual consumption of large-animal resources (e.g., similar sized or larger than the consumer) separates human and nonhuman primate behavior. Flaked stone tool use, another important hominin behavior, is often portrayed as being functionally related to this by the necessity of a sharp edge for cutting animal tissue. However, most research on both issues emphasizes sites that postdate ca. 2.0 million years ago. This paper critically examines the theoretical significance of the earlier origins of these two behaviors, their proposed interrelationship, and the nature of the empirical record. We argue that concepts of meat-eating and tool use are too loosely defined: outside-bone nutrients (e.g., meat) and inside-bone nutrients (e.g., marrow and brains) have different macronutrient characteristics (protein vs. fat), mechanical requirements for access (cutting vs. percussion), search, handling and competitive costs, encounter rates, and net returns. Thus, they would have demanded distinct technological and behavioral solutions. We propose that the regular exploitation of large-animal resources—the “human predatory pattern”—began with an emphasis on percussion-based scavenging of inside-bone nutrients, independent of the emergence of flaked stone tool use. This leads to a series of empirical test implications that differ from previous “meat-eating” origins scenarios.