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Recent History

June 1, 1650



The Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, calculates the act of Creation to have occurred in 4004 B.C based on numerology in the Old Testament. This calculation would be believed for 200 years until evolution and geology started to push back.


For almost two millennia the Judeo-Christian story of

the Creation was taken for granted throughout the

Western world. With no good reason to doubt it,

the teaching of the increasingly powerful Christian

churches that God created man in his own image

was a comfortable one. There was a certain curiosity,

though, about just when this miraculous event had

occurred. James Usher (1581-1656), Archbishop of

Armagh, came up with an answer in 1650, when he

announced, as a result of his calculations based on the

numerology of the Old Testament, that the Creation

had taken place in 4004 B.C.

January 1, 1680

Telluris theoria sacra (The Sacred Theory of the Earth)


Reverend Thomas Burnet tries to explain the creation story using natural philosophy, i.e. not use any miracles. "They say in short that God Almighty created waters on purpose to make the Deluge ... And this, in a few words, is the whole account of the business. This is to cut the knot when we cannot loose it."

On the subject of miracles, the Reverend Thomas Burnet published his century's most famous geological treatise in the 1680s, Telluris theoria sacra (The Sacred Theory of the Earth). Burnet accepted the Bible's truth, and set out to construct a geological history that would be in accord with the events of Genesis.

But he believed something else even more strongly: that, as a scientist, he must follow natural law and scrupulously avoid miracles. His story is fanciful by modern standards: the earth originally was devoid of topography, but was drying and cracking; the cracks served as escape vents for internal fluids, but rain sealed the cracks, and the earth, transformed into a gigantic pressure cooker, ruptured its surface skin; surging internal waters inundated the earth, producing Noah's flood. Bizarre, to be sure, but bizarre precisely because Burnet would not abandon natural law. It is not easy to force a preconceived story into the strictures of physical causality. Over and over again, Burnet acknowledges that his task would be much simpler if only he could invoke a miracle. Why weave such a complex tale to find water for the flood in a physically acceptable manner, when God might simply have made new water for his cataclysmic purification? Many of Burnet's colleagues urged such a course, but he rejected it as inconsistent with the methods of "natural philosophy" (the word "science" had not yet entered English usage):

They say in short that God Almighty created waters on purpose to make the Deluge ... And this, in a few words, is the whole account of the business. This is to cut the knot when we cannot loose it.

Burnet's God, like the deity of Newton and Boyle, was a clock-winder, not a bungler who continually perturbed his own system with later corrections.

We think him a better Artist that makes a Clock that strikes regularly at every hour from the Springs and Wheels which he puts in the work, than he that hath so made his Clock that he must put his finger to it every hour to make it strike: And if one should contrive a piece of Clockwork so that it should beat all the hours, and make all its motions regularly for such a time, and that time being come, upon a signal given, or a Spring toucht, it should of its own accord fall all to pieces; would not this be look'd upon as a piece of greater Art, than if the Workman came at that time prefixt, and with a great Hammer beat it into pieces?

June 22, 1797

Account of Flint Weapons Discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk


John Frere dug up some old weapons and animal bones in England and realized they may be much more ancient than young earth creationism would suggest. Frere presented his results and wrote "weapons of war, fabricated and used by a people who had not the use of metals... The situation in which these weapons were found may tempt us to refer them to a very remote period indeed, even beyond that of the present world"

An interest in the past, instigated by observing worked stone tools in a clay mining pit, led him to become a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Royal Society and to conduct excavations at a site just south of Hoxne, 8 km east, and across the River Waveney, from his home in Roydon, near Diss. Frere wrote a letter to the Society of Antiquaries about flint tools and large bones of extinct animals found at a depth of approximately twelve feet (four meters) in a hole dug by local brickworkers. He described the worked stones as "...weapons of war, fabricated and used by a people who had not the use of metals... The situation in which these weapons were found may tempt us to refer them to a very remote period indeed, even beyond that of the present world...." In addition, Frere carefully described the stratigraphy of the find, with the tools lying below an apparent ancient sea floor, yet not in a position to which they could have been washed down. Although Frere's letter was officially read at the Society on 22 June 1797, and published by it in 1800, his interpretation was so radical by the standards of the day as to be overlooked for six decades, until noticed by John Evans.[5][6]

Frere's is considered one of the most important middle Pleistocene sites in Europe, because of what he observed in his letter: juxtaposition of artefacts, animal remains and stratigraphic evidence. Its significance is double: for paleoanthropology, showing Homo presence in Britain approximately 400,000 years ago, and, for geology, dating stages of the European Great Interglacial period (known in Britain as the Hoxnian).


printed as "Account of Flint Weapons Discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk,"

Archaeologia, 1800, vol. 13, pp. 204-205.

John Frere's account of finding in 1790 Acheulean handaxes associated with the large bones of unknown animals (actually elephants) is the first clear presentation of the association in an open site of manmade tools and extinct animals. This account was ignored until J. Flower called attention to it sixty years later. Prestwich (see his account further on in this chapter) and Lyell (1863:166169) visited the Hoxne pit and described the geology, and interest in the locality is still active (West, 1956).

The Beginning of Paleolithic Archaeology

John Frere



I take the liberty to request you to lay before the Society some flints found in the parish of Hoxne, in the county of Suflolk, which, if not particularly objects of curiosity in themselves, must, I think, be considered in that light from the situation in which they were found.

They are, I think, evident weapons of war, fabricated and used by a people who had not the use of metals. They lay in great numbers at the depth of about twelve feet, in a stratified soil, which was dug into for the purpose of raising clay for bricks.

The strata are as follows:

1. Vegetable earth l l/2 feet.

2. Argill 7 l/2 feet.

3. Sand mixed with shells and other marine substances 1 foot.

4. A gravelly soil, in which the flints are found, generally at the rate of five or six in a square yard, 2 feet.

In the same stratum are frequently found small fragments of wood, very perfect when first dug up, but which soon decompose on being exposed to the air; and in the stratum of sand (No. 3), were found some extraordinary bones, particularly a jawbone of enormous size, of some unknown animal, with the teeth remaining in it. I was very eager to obtain a sight of this; and finding it had been carried to a neighboring gentleman, I inquired of him, but learned that he had presented it, together with a huge thighbone, found in the same place, to Sir Ashton Lever, and it therefore is probably now in Parkinson's Museum.

The situation in which these weapons were found may tempt us to refer them to a very remote period indeed; even beyond that of the present world; but, whatever our conjectures on that head may be, it will be difficult to account for the stratum in which they lie being covered with another stratum, which, on that supposition, may be conjectured to have been once the bottom, or at least the shore, of the sea. The manner in which they lie would lead to the persuasion that it was a place of their manufacture and not of their accidental deposit; and the numbers of them were so great that the man who carried on the brickwork told me that before he was aware of their being objects of curiosity, he had emptied baskets full of them into the ruts of the adjoining road. It may be conjectured that the different strata were formed by inundations happening at distant periods, and bringing down in succession the different materials of which they consist; to which I can only say that the ground in question does not lie at the foot of any higher ground, but does itself overhang a track of boggy earth, which extendsunder the fourth stratum; so that it should rather seem that torrents had washed away the incumbent strata and left the bogearth bare, than that the bogearth was covered by them, especially as the strata appear to be disposedhorizontally, and present their edges to the abrupt termination of the high ground.

If you think the above worthy the notice of the Society you will please to lay it before them.

I am, Sir,

with great respect,

Your faithful humble Servant,

John Frere

January 1, 1823



Other naturalists were critical of Diluvialism: the Church of Scotland pastor John Fleming published opposing arguments in a series of articles from 1823 onwards.

Other naturalists were critical of Diluvialism: the Church of Scotland pastor John Fleming published opposing arguments in a series of articles from 1823 onwards. He was critical of the assumption that fossils resembling modern tropical species had been swept north "by some violent means", which he regarded as absurd considering the "unbroken state" of fossil remains. For example, fossil mammoths demonstrated adaptation to the same northern climates now prevalent where they were found. He criticized Buckland's identification of red mud in the Kirkdale cave as diluvial, when near identical mud in other caves had been described as fluvial.[5] While Cuvier had reconciled geology with a loose reading of the biblical text, Fleming argued that such a union was "indiscreet" and turned to a more literal view of Genesis:[30]

But if the supposed impetuous torrent excavated valleys, and transported masses of rocks to a distance from their original repositories, then must the soil have been swept from off the earth to the destruction of the vegetable tribes. Moses does not record such an occurrence. On the contrary, in his history of the dove and the olive-leaf plucked off, he furnishes a proof that the flood was not so violent in its motions as to disturb the soil, nor to overturn the trees which it supported.

Fleming was a vitalist who was strongly opposed to materialism. He believed that a 'vital principle' was inherent in the embryo with the capacity of "developing in succession the destined plan of existence."[8] He was a close associate of Robert Edmond Grant, who considered that the same laws of life affected all organisms.

In 1824, Fleming became involved in a famous controversy with the geologist William Buckland (1784–1856) about the nature of The Flood as described in the Bible. In 1828, he published his History of British Animals. This book addressed not only extant, but also fossil species. It explained the presence of fossils by climate change, suggesting that extinct species would have survived if weather conditions had been favorable. These theories contributed to the advancement of biogeography, and exerted some influence on Charles Darwin (1809–1882). Flemings' comments on instinct in his book Philosophy of Zoology had influenced Darwin.[9]

In 1831, Fleming found some fossils which he recognized as fish in the Old Red Sandstone units at Fife. This did not fit the generally accepted notion that the Earth was approximately 6,000 years old.

Partial list of publications

January 1, 1855

Frederic R. Lees

An Argument on Behalf of the Primitive Diet of Man


Dr Lees uses a mix of religious, scientific, and philosophical arguments for the idea that primitive man were vegetarians.

 That the aboriginal diet of mankind was fruit, and that amongst persons and tribes of any degree of sensibility and refinement, butchering has been regarded as offensive, disgusting, and barbarous, are facts that indicate beyond controversy, on which side pure Nature and our moral Instincts range themselves in this discussion. 

“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed, to you it shall be for food.” (Gen. i. 29.) 

Justifications of the slaughter and consumption of animals founded on the permissions of Scripture, prove far too-much. They would not only justify slavery, divorce, and polygamy,—which were equally departures and descents from the original and highest order of social-life,—but they would destroy all faith in scripture revelation itself. Christ, with a Divine indignation, has for ever rebuked and repudiated this shocking style of inference. 

Ancient History

Great Rift Valley, Ethiopia, Ethiopia



Study raises questions about long-held theories of human evolution

Grasslands and seasonally dry forests had replaced the thick rainforests that our apes had evolved in, meaning that our hominid ancestors might have been forced to scavenge or hunt calories on the grasslands. The ratio of C4 to C3 grasses demark this distinction.


A new analysis of the past 12 million years’ of vegetation change in the cradle of humanity is challenging long-held beliefs about the world in which our ancestors took shape – and, by extension, the impact it had on them.

The research combines sediment core studies of the waxy molecules from plant leaves with pollen analysis, yielding data of unprecedented scope and detail on what types of vegetation dominated the landscape surrounding the African Rift Valley (including present-day Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia), where early hominin fossils trace the history of human evolution.

“It is the combination of evidence both molecular and pollen evidence that allows us to say just how long we’ve seen Serengeti-type open grasslands,” said Sarah J. Feakins, assistant professor of Earth sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study, which was published online in Geology on Jan. 17.

Feakins worked with USC graduate student Hannah M. Liddy, USC undergraduate student Alexa Sieracki, Naomi E. Levin of Johns Hopkins University, Timothy I. Eglinton of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule and Raymonde Bonnefille of the Université d’Aix-Marseille.

The role that the environment played in the evolution of hominins—the tribe of human and ape ancestors whose family tree split from the ancestors of chimpanzees and bonobos about 6 million years ago—has been the subject of a century-long debate.

Among other things, one theory dating back to 1925 posits that early human ancestors developed bipedalism as a response to savannas encroaching on shrinking forests in northeast Africa. With fewer trees to swing from, human ancestors began walking to get around.

While the shift to bipedalism appears to have occurred somewhere between 6 and 4 million years ago, Feakins’ study finds that thick rainforests had already disappeared by that point—replaced by grasslands and seasonally dry forests some time before 12 million years ago.

In addition, the tropical C4-type grasses and shrubs of the modern African savannah began to dominate the landscape earlier than thought, replacing C3-type grasses that were better suited to a wetter environment. (The classification of C4 versus C3 refers to the manner of photosynthesis each type of plant utilizes.)

While earlier studies on vegetation change through this period relied on the analysis of individual sites throughout the Rift Valley—offering narrow snapshots—Feakins took a look at the whole picture by using a sediment core taken in the Gulf of Aden, where winds funnel and deposit sediment from the entire region. She then cross-referenced her findings with Levin who compiled data from ancient soil samples collected throughout eastern Africa.

“The combination of marine and terrestrial data enable us to link the environmental record at specific fossil sites to regional ecological and climate change,” Levin said.

In addition to informing scientists about the environment that our ancestors took shape in, Feakins’ study provides insights into the landscape that herbivores (horses, hippos and antelopes) grazed, as well as how plants across the landscape reacted to periods of global and regional environmental change.

“The types of grasses appear to be sensitive to global carbon dioxide levels,” said Liddy, who is currently working to refine the data pertaining to the Pliocene, to provide an even clearer picture of a period that experienced similar atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to present day. “There might be lessons in here for the future viability of our C4-grain crops,” says Feakins.




Palaeolithic and Mesolithic kill-butchering sites: the hard evidence

Lower Paleolithic hunting pratices are described, which represent scavenging large carcasses stuck near water holes and limited planning or hunting.


The places where animals have been killed or at least butchered by our ancestors represent obviously the best expression of the relation between man and his prey. Isaac (Isaac, 1976; Isaac & Cradeq, 1981), referring to African deposits of Lower Palaeolithic age, defines a simple kind of such sites as containing the skeleton of a single, large animal, associated with lithic artefacts (his type B sites): they represent a unique episode. However such accumulations seem to be very rare: in fact near the carcass of the huge beast almost always other generally much more fragmentary remains of other animals are found. These can represent "background" material without direct relation with hominid activity, but we cannot be sure of this. Evidently, Isaac's definition does not cover the effective variability of all Palaeolithic and Mesolithic kill and/or butchering sites. Therefore, I have tried, in my tesi di laurea, to develop a typolo gy of the possible kinds of bone concentrations reflecting man's animal procurement behaviour. For this aim, I drew information from various authors discussing the topic (Binford, 1984; Clark & Haynes, 1970; Crader, 1983; Meignen & Texieq, 1956) and read a selected number of papers dealing directly, or indirectly through discussions or summaries, with some 30 sites, my reading assignment depending to some extent on the accessibility of the papers included. I am aware that my sampling of sites is limited and perhaps biased and that the evidence as presented by the various authors is often equivocal, but I hope that my attempt will stimulate the development of a site typology which could be a useful tool for classification and research. 

2. Suggested site typology:

a. Butchering sifes: places with animal natural deaths, later utilised by mary such as sites FLK N Lev. 6 (fig.1) and FLK N Deinotherium at Olduvai (Crader, 1983; Leakey, 1971), and site HAS (fig.2) at Koobi Fora (Cradeq, 1983). 

b. Killing and butchering sites 1: a single animal carcass representing a unique hunting episode. This kind of accumulation is similar to Isaac's type B sites. An American example is Pleasant Lake (Fishea 1984; fig. 3). 

c. Killing and butchering sites 2: extensive disarticulation and dispersion of the bones of a few big animals at the most associated with a comparatively small number of stone artefacts. Examples are Windhoek (Clark & Haynes, 1970) and perhaps Mwanganda (Clark & Haynes,1970). 

d. Hunting losses: animals killed but not utilised by man; High Furlong (Hallam et al., 1973) would be an example. 

e. Hunting stations: dense distributions of osseous remains reflecting the reutilization of the locality for a lorig period, often on a seasonal base. Examples of such palimpsests of archaeological remains could be Mauran (Farizy & David, in press; Girard-Farizy & Leclerc, 1981), Stellmoor (Rus! 1937) and La Cotte de Saint-Brelade, lev. 3 and 6 (Scott, 1980; ftg. q. A subtype of hunting stations could be represented by American mass kills, as for example the Casper Site (Frison, 1974). In these sites, not examined here, animals are normally killed with game drive techniques. 

f. Hunting stops: they can be relatively simple or quite complex: sometimes the hunters seek shelter behind a high rock and light a small fire as suggested by Binford (Binford, 1981). An example could be Phase IVA of the Grotte de l'Hortus (de Lumley, 1971). 

g. Sighting sites: they would be characterised by modest bone accumulations in locations with a panoramic position and allowing to detect game and its movements easily. Examples are the Mesolithic sites described by Bagolini and Dalmeri (Bagolini & Dalmeri,

3.1. Lower Palaeolithic Scavenging: exploitation of the carcasses of big animals that died for natural causes; they are often found near lakes or swamps, as the elephant and maybe the Deinotherium at Olduvai (Leakey, 1971), the hippopotamus of Koobi Fora (Isaac, 7976) and the elephants of Kathu Pan (Klein, 1988), Namib IV (Kleirr, 1988) and Mwanganda's Village (Clark & Haynes, 1970). 

Hunting: scanty traces of hunters' action are encountered. At Olorgesailie, occasional killing of some baboons with a head blow seems to have occurred (Shipman, Bosler & Davis, 1981). At Torralba and Ambrona, people may have killed elephants using wooden spears (fragments of wooden artefacts are present) and big stones (Allain" 1952). At Lehringen (Movius, 1950), hominids killed an Elephas antiquus with a wooden spear discovered in the site (see also Weber, this volume). 

Planning: very limited or absent. The exploitation of animals would have been occasional and opportunistic with short and limited occupation of sites by small groups, as at Olduvai (Cradeq, 1983), Koobi Fora (Cradeq, 1983), etc. 

Food transport: Acheulean people are said to have carried away the most useful and meaty parts of animal carcasses at Torralba (Freemary 1975), Ambrona (Freem an, 1975), Elandsfontein (Klein, 1988), etc. In earlier times, people apparently consumed the meat on the find spot. Specialised activities: at the already cited sites of Torralba, Ambrona and at Mwanganda distinct associations between certain bones and tools would occur: they may represent specialised activity areas. 

Butchering tools: hand-axes and hachereaux are sometimes associated with big animals at Olorgesailie (Shipman, Bosler & Davis, 1981), Elandsfontein (Klein, 1988), Kathu Pan (Klein, 1988), Namib IV (Klein, 1988) etc., suggesting that they were used for butchering.




Environment and Behavior of 2.5-Million-Year-Old Bouri Hominids

By looking at 400 bones from 2.5 million years ago, paleoanthropologists can tell how rocks were used as some of the first tools to butcher and process meat and marrow processing of large carcasses. It's a clue that carnivory has been part of hominid evolution for at least 3 million years.


The Hata Member of the Bouri Formation is defined for Pliocene sedimentary outcrops in the Middle Awash Valley, Ethiopia. The Hata Member is dated to 2.5 million years ago and has produced a new species of Australopithecus and hominid postcranial remains not currently assigned to species. Spatially associated zooarchaeological remains show that hominids acquired meat and marrow by 2.5 million years ago and that they are the near contemporary of Oldowan artifacts at nearby Gona. The combined evidence suggests that behavioral changes associated with lithic technology and enhanced carnivory may have been coincident with the emergence of the Homo clade from Australopithecus afarensis in eastern Africa

We collected 400 vertebrate fossil specimens from the Hata Member (Table 1). Almost all of these come from within 3 m of the MOVT; most were found immediately above this unit. This assemblage largely reflects a mixture of grazers and water-dependent forms, which is broadly typical of later hominid-bearing Plio-Pleistocene occurrences and consistent with the sedimentological interpretation of the deposits as primarily lake marginal. Alcelaphine bovids are abundant and diverse. All indicators point to a broad featureless margin of a shallow freshwater lake. Minor changes in lake level, which were brought about by fluctuating water input, would probably have maintained broad grassy plains leading to the water’s edge. As discussed below, hominids were active on this landscape.

The bone modifications at these two excavated localities and at other localities from the same stratigraphic horizon across .2 km of outcrop demonstrate that stone tool–wielding hominids were active on the lake margin at 2.5 Ma. The bone modifications indicate that large mammals were disarticulated and defleshed and that their long bones were broken open, presumably to extract marrow, a new food in hominid evolution with important physiological, evolutionary, and behavioral effects. Similar patterns of marrow acquisition have been reported for younger sites such as Koobi Fora and Olduvai Gorge (12).

The situation on the Hata lake margin was even more difficult for early toolmakers. Here, raw materials were not readily available because of the absence of streams capable of carrying even pebbles. There were no nearby basalt outcrops. The absence of locally available raw material on the flat featureless Hata lake margin may explain the absence of lithic artifact concentrations. The bone modification evidence demonstrates that early hominids were transporting stone to the site of carcass manipulation. The paucity of evidence for lithic artifact abandonment at these sites suggests that these early hominids may have been curating their tools (cores and flakes) with foresight for subsequent use. Indications of tool curation by later hominids have been found at the more recent Pleistocene sites of Koobi Fora [Karari escarpment versus Ileret (13)] and Swartkrans [polished bone tools in a single repository (16)]. Additional research into the Hata beds may allow a determination of whether the butchery is related to hunting or scavenging. The Bouri discoveries show that the earliest Pliocene archaeological assemblages and their landscape patterning are strongly conditioned by the availability of raw material. They demonstrate that a major function of the earliest known tools was meat and marrow processing of large carcasses. Finally, they extend this pattern of butchery by hominids well into the Pliocene.

Aïn Hanech, Khedara, Algeria



Strongest evidence of early humans butchering animals discovered in North Africa

Early humans butchered horses and antelopes on a high grassy plateau in Algeria 2.4 million years ago.


On a high grassy plateau in Algeria, just 100 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea, early human ancestors butchered extinct horses, antelopes, and other animals with primitive stone tools 2 million to 2.4 million years ago. The dates, reported today, push back the age of the oldest tools in North Africa by as much as a half a million years and provide new insight into how these protohumans spread across the continent.

For decades, east Africa has been considered the birthplace of our genus Homo, and the epicenter of early toolmaking for almost 1 million years. The oldest known Homo fossils date back 2.8 million years in Ethiopia. Nearby, just 200,000 years later, scientists have found simple tools, such as thumb-size stone flakes, and fist-size cores from which such flakes were struck, in the nearby Rift Valley of Ethiopia.

After 25 years of excavations at the Ain Hanech complex—a dry ravine in Algeria—an international team reports the discovery of about 250 primitive tools and 296 bones of animals from a site called Ain Boucherit. About two dozen animal bones have cut marks that show they were skinned, defleshed, or pounded for marrow. Made of limestone and flint, the sharp-edged flakes and round cores—some the size of tennis balls—resemble those found in east Africa. Both represent the earliest known toolkit, the so-called Oldowan technology, named for the site where they were found 80 years ago at Olduvai in Tanzania.

Ain Hanech lacks volcanic minerals, which provide the gold standard for dating sites in eastern Africa. Instead, the researchers used three other dating methods, notably paleomagnetic dating, which detects known reversals in Earth’s magnetic field that are recorded in rock. The tools and cut-marked bones date as far back as 2.4 million years ago, the researchers report today in Science. They also used the identity of large, extinct animals, such as mastodons and ancient horses, to confirm the dates.

The cut-marked bones represent “the oldest substantive evidence for butchery” anywhere, says paleoanthropologist Thomas Plummer of the City University of New York’s Queens College, who was not involved with the study. Although other sites of this age in east Africa have stone tools, the evidence for actual butchery of animals is not as strong, he says.

At Ain Hanech, the dates provide “convincing evidence for stone tools and cut-marked bones at about 2 million years or more,” says geochronologist Warren Sharp of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in California. But he finds the 2.4 million date “less compelling,” because of potential issues with the dating methods.

Whether the tools are 2 million or 2.4 million years old, they suggest toolmakers had spread farther and wider across Africa earlier than previously known. “There must have been a corridor through the Sahara with movement between east Africa and North Africa,” says paleoanthropologist Rick Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Alternatively, the new dates suggest hominins in at least two different parts of Africa, separated by 5000 kilometers, were sophisticated enough to independently invent rudimentary stone tools and habitually make them, Potts says.

Either way, the study suggests that by 2 million years ago or so, making stone tools and butchering meat with them was routine for human ancestors in distant corners of the African continent. And this technological revolution may have given them the tools they needed to travel farther and wider across Africa and beyond




Humans hunted for meat 2 million years ago - Evidence from ancient butchery site in Tanzania shows early man was capable of ambushing herds up to 1.6 million years earlier than previously thought

Evidence from ancient butchery site in Tanzania shows early man was capable of ambushing herds up to 2 million years ago and were selecting "only adult animals in their prime" which also tend to be the fattiest and we were picking what we wanted compared to other carnivores.


Ancient humans used complex hunting techniques to ambush and kill antelopes, gazelles, wildebeest and other large animals at least two million years ago. The discovery – made by anthropologist Professor Henry Bunn of Wisconsin University – pushes back the definitive date for the beginning of systematic human hunting by hundreds of thousands of years.

Two million years ago, our human ancestors were small-brained apemen and in the past many scientists have assumed the meat they ate had been gathered from animals that had died from natural causes or had been left behind by lions, leopards and other carnivores.

But Bunn argues that our apemen ancestors, although primitive and fairly puny, were capable of ambushing herds of large animals after carefully selecting individuals for slaughter. The appearance of this skill so early in our evolutionary past has key implications for the development of human intellect.

"We know that humans ate meat two million years ago," said Bunn, who was speaking in Bordeaux at the annual meeting of the European Society for the study of Human Evolution (ESHE). "What was not clear was the source of that meat. However, we have compared the type of prey killed by lions and leopards today with the type of prey selected by humans in those days. This has shown that men and women could not have been taking kill from other animals or eating those that had died of natural causes. They were selecting and killing what they wanted."

That finding has major implications, he added. "Until now the oldest, unambiguous evidence of human hunting has come from a 400,000-year-old site in Germany where horses were clearly being speared and their flesh eaten. We have now pushed that date back to around two million years ago."

The hunting instinct of early humans is a controversial subject. In the first half of the 20th century, many scientists argued that our ancestors' urge to hunt and kill drove us to develop spears and axes and to evolve bigger and bigger brains in order to handle these increasingly complex weapons. Extreme violence is in our nature, it was argued by fossil experts such as Raymond Dart and writers like Robert Ardrey, whose book African Genesis on the subject was particularly influential. By the 80s, the idea had run out of favour, and scientists argued that our larger brains evolved mainly to help us co-operate with each other. We developed language and other skills that helped us maintain complex societies.

"I don't disagree with this scenario," said Bunn. "But it has led us to downplay the hunting abilities of our early ancestors. People have dismissed them as mere scavengers and I don't think that looks right any more."

In his study, Bunn and his colleagues looked at a huge butchery site in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The carcasses of wildebeest, antelopes and gazelles were brought there by ancient humans, most probably members of the species Homo habilis, more than 1.8 million years ago. The meat was then stripped from the animals' bones and eaten.

"We decided to look at the ages of the animals that had been dragged there," said Benn. "By studying the teeth in the skulls that were left, we could get a very precise indication of what type of meat these early humans were consuming. Were they bringing back creatures that were in their prime or were old or young? Then we compared our results with the kinds of animals killed by lions and leopards."

The results for several species of large antelope Bunn analysed showed that humans preferred only adult animals in their prime, for example. Lions and leopards killed old, young and adults indiscriminately. For small antelope species, the picture was slightly different. Humans preferred only older animals, while lions and leopards had a fancy only for adults in their prime.

"For all the animals we looked at, we found a completely different pattern of meat preference between ancient humans and other carnivores, indicating that we were not just scavenging from lions and leopards and taking their leftovers. We were picking what we wanted and were killing it ourselves."

Bunn believes these early humans probably sat in trees and waited until herds of antelopes or gazelles passed below, then speared them at point-blank range. This skill, developed far earlier than suspected, was to have profound implications. Once our species got a taste for meat, it was provided with a dense, protein-rich source of energy. We no longer needed to invest internal resources on huge digestive tracts that were previously required to process vegetation and fruit, which are more difficult to digest. Freed from that task by meat, the new, energy-rich resources were then diverted inside our bodies and used to fuel our growing brains.

As a result, over the next two million years our crania grew, producing species of humans with increasingly large brains – until this carnivorous predilection produced Homo sapiens.


Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food


November 14, 2008

Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body


January 6, 2009

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human


November 3, 2009

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

Food and Western Disease: Health and Nutrition from an Evolutionary Perspective


January 11, 2010

Food and Western Disease: Health and Nutrition from an Evolutionary Perspective

Why Evolution is True.


January 26, 2010

Why Evolution is True.

The Fat Switch


January 1, 2012

The Fat Switch

The Nature of Nutrition: A Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity


July 22, 2012

The Nature of Nutrition: A Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity

Evolving Human Nutrition: Implications For Public Health (Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology)


December 5, 2013

Evolving Human Nutrition: Implications For Public Health (Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology)

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease


July 1, 2014

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

Evolution's Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins


May 9, 2017

Evolution's Bite: A Story of Teeth, Diet, and Human Origins
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