Early human cannibalism is definitely in the news these days. It’s becoming clear that Stone Age people were not just animals and that even cannibalism was probably mostly about concepts like power and love and so forth. W are still looking for the mere brute in human form.
From Malcolm Ritter at Yahoo:
Neanderthals and prehistoric members of our own species occasionally practiced cannibalism and explaining that is a scientific challenge. Generally, it has been attributed to factors like starvation, violence between groups or ceremonial practices following a death.
Now a new study suggests they were probably not hunting each other just for food.
That’s because “we are not very nutritious, on a calorie level,” compared to large game animals, says James Cole of the University of Brighton in England. Next to a mammoth, even a dozen burly Neanderthals would be slim pickings. More.
We’re about 126,000 calories (adult male), according to Cole. Human don’t have layers of blubber, after all. We actually don’t have a place to store a huge load of fat that wouldn’t just be in the way.
This theme gets expanded by Alessandra Potenza at the Verge,, who tells us the non-spectacular calorie count for each portion of our body:
So if eating a man isn’t that nutritious, why in the world would our ancestors spend time and resources to hunt other hominins that are just as smart just to get dinner? Cannibalism must have had another purpose, Cole says, possibly one connected to warfare or religion. Other researchers think those are valid conclusions. “There can be a cultural explanation for all of these episodes of cannibalism,” Rougier says. But that’s not a completely new conclusion, she says. For years now, we’ve gotten more and more evidence that early humans like the Neanderthals were actually quite complex. So it’s totally plausible that they ate human flesh for more than just gobbling down some juicy meat. More.
Cole himself explains at the Conversation:
So why then did prehistoric cannibalism occur? In short, there cannot have been a single reason. Each episode of prehistoric cannibalism will undoubtedly have had its own complex reason for occurring. But the poor calorific return of human flesh suggests to me that it may have been down to social or cultural reasons rather than the need to fill a gap in the diet. For example, it may be related to the social defence of resources or territory from interlopers who, having been killed, were then consumed.
Also, we shouldn’t underestimate the cultural and social sophistication of these species. Recent studies looking at the broader behavioural patterns for our ancestors, including the neanderthals, have started to show that they may have been more culturally complex than previously thought.More.
It’s nice to see some thoughtful remarks about our ancestors for once (h0wevermuchwe may deplore their habits), instead of the yabba dabba doo of evolutionary psychology
See also: Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documents
The search for our earliest ancestors: signals in the noise
Early human religion: A 747 built in the basement with an X-Acto knife
Imagine a world of religions that naturalism might indeed be able to explain
Cannibalism love: We do get some odd-seeming messages from science these days…
For Darwin day: Cannibalism, like suicide, is adaptive
Early man was a cannibal but the reasons are unclear
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