The Hunting Apes: Meat Eating and the Origins of Human Behavior

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9780691011608: The Hunting Apes: Meat Eating and the Origins of Human Behavior
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What makes humans unique? What makes us the most successful animal species inhabiting the Earth today? Most scientists agree that the key to our success is the unusually large size of our brains. Our large brains gave us our exceptional thinking capacity and led to humans' other distinctive characteristics, including advanced communication, tool use, and walking on two legs. Or was it the other way around? Did the challenges faced by early humans push the species toward communication, tool use, and walking and, in doing so, drive the evolutionary engine toward a large brain? In this provocative new book, Craig Stanford presents an intriguing alternative to this puzzling question--an alternative grounded in recent, groundbreaking scientific observation. According to Stanford, what made humans unique was meat. Or, rather, the desire for meat, the eating of meat, the hunting of meat, and the sharing of meat.


Based on new insights into the behavior of chimps and other great apes, our now extinct human ancestors, and existing hunting and gathering societies, Stanford shows the remarkable role that meat has played in these societies. Perhaps because it provides a highly concentrated source of protein--essential for the development and health of the brain--meat is craved by many primates, including humans. This craving has given meat genuine power--the power to cause males to form hunting parties and organize entire cultures around hunting. And it has given men the power to manipulate and control women in these cultures. Stanford argues that the skills developed and required for successful hunting and especially the sharing of meat spurred the explosion of human brain size over the past 200,000 years. He then turns his attention to the ways meat is shared within primate and human societies to argue that this all-important activity has had profound effects on basic social structures that are still felt today.


Sure to spark a lively debate, Stanford's argument takes the form of an extended essay on human origins. The book's small format, helpful illustrations, and moderate tone will appeal to all readers interested in those fundamental questions about what makes us human.


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Review:

Most evolutionary biologists agree that what makes humans unique among animals is our brainpower. But why--and how--did we evolve our oversized brains? Craig Stanford dusts off theold "Man the Hunter" theory, roundly criticised as replete with bad (and sexist) assumptions, and finds a thick, juicy, postmodern steak at the heart of it. He argues: "The origins of human intelligence are linked to the acquisition of meat, especially through the cognitive capacities necessary for the strategic sharing of meat with fellow group members."

Stanford studied the great apes, especially chimpanzees, and came to the conclusion that among primates, meat is a valuable commodity both nutritionally and socially. Although many other foods are nutritionally desirable, meat is unique in its social desirability and for males, it represents power:

Underlying the nutritional aspect of getting meat, part of the social fabric of the community is revealed in the dominance displays, the tolerated theft, and the bartered meat for sexual access. The end of the hunt is often only the beginning of a whole other arena of social interaction.
In Stanford's view, females play a crucial role in keeping groups together and cementing individual relationships. Meat plays an important role in the way males fit in to a society and the ability of males to get meat readily may very well explain their societal dominance. These conclusions are not liable to be nearly so controversial as the way Stanford gathered his data--he drew broad parallels between chimps and modern hunter-gatherer societies. Stanford also admits that a lack of fossil evidence supporting his meat/brain link is problematic. The Hunting Apes is an interesting look at what is likely the worthwhile centre of a discredited evolutionary theory. --Therese Littleton, Amazon.com

Review:

"A provocative, eminently digestible book. . . . Stanford writes clearly and often deftly, and with admirable concision. . . . [A] marvelous exploration of evolutionary hypotheses . . . fascinating stuff."--Michael Pakenham, The Baltimore Sun

"Anyone who would like to review all of the arguments on human origins should read The Hunting Apes. . . . This book will go a long way in explaining why physical anthropologists and their colleagues fight so much."--Deborah L. Manzolillo, Times Literary Supplement

"A brave academic endeavour and a fine piece of popular science writing. . . . Stanford's book summarises a huge body of evidence in a pleasing, coherent and non-polemic way. You'll feel that you're talking with a learned . . . dinner companion, rather than enduring a lecture or hectoring sermon from an academic pulpit."--Adrian Barnett, New Scientist

"Stanford's ideas, while controversial, are amply documented by behavioral studies of nonhuman primates, anthropological studies of a number of human societies and archeological studies of early and pre-humans."--Publishers Weekly

"[A] provocative new look at what made people so smart. . . . This is a fascinating book, written for the nonspecialist."--Booklist

"An unabashed celebration of the carnivorous tendencies of early humankind. Virtually every aspect of Stanford's thesis about the importance of meat acquisition and sharing among early humans is steeped in controversy."--Kirkus Reviews

"[An] admirable little book. . . . [Stanford's] meticulously constructed study is both readable and thought-provoking and gives fascinating insights into the behaviour of our species."--The Tablet

"The Hunting Apes is a very enjoyable and quick read, written for a broad audience. . . . These are well-written synopses--good for students, the general informed public, and those in anthropology and other sub-disciplines who want to keep up on these topics."--M. Tappen, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

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