Did humans evolve to chase prey over long distances?

Humans have an exceptional ability to run long distances

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Before the advent of guns, many cultures around the world hunted by pursuing prey over long distances. The researchers found that the energy gained by hunting in this way can far exceed the energy expended in running, strengthening the argument that humans evolved for endurance running.

“I think our paper makes a very strong case for its importance in the past,” he says. Eugene Morin At Trent University in Canada. “Something that was once thought to be fringe is now a common strategy across the world.”

Humans are athletes of exceptional endurance, even able to outrun animals such as horses over distances of up to tens of kilometres. We have muscles designed for endurance rather than strength, and we can keep cool by sweating a lot.

“These traits can only be explained in the context of running,” says Morin. “There are not many reasons for humans to run long distances other than hunting.”

It has been suggested that humans evolved to chase prey until the prey became too exhausted or overheated to run any further.

This idea, known as the endurance running hypothesis, has been hotly debated. One criticism is that running consumes a lot of energy compared to walking. The other reason is that there are hardly any reports of modern humans using this hunting technique, suggesting that it is not very effective.

So, Maureen W Bruce Winterhalder At the University of California, Davis, he first estimated the energy expended to catch prey during persistence hunting versus the energy gained by catching prey of different sizes. For all but the smallest prey, running outperforms walking, according to their model.

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This is because running does not consume a lot of energy per kilometer but it can significantly reduce the duration of the chase. Running 4 km to catch an animal is more effective than walking 8 km, for example.

In practice, walking wouldn’t be helpful at all, Morin says, because endurance hunting often relies on pushing prey so hard that it overheats. “In most cases, this requires running,” he says.

Morin and Winterhalder also researched accounts of different peoples written by anthropologists or missionaries from the 16th century onwards. They found about 400 descriptions of heavy-duty hunting from around the world, most of them before 1850.

For example, the account of the Beothuk people of Newfoundland describes a long elk hunt. “The stag at first easily overtakes his pursuer, but after running four or five miles he stops and bids good-bye. [sic] crossed; Again he takes off, and again he is overtaken; Time and time again, he is passed over. Another account describes endurance hunting for herds of goats in Hawaii.

Running on snow

To Maureen’s surprise, there were also accounts from cooler regions, whereas previously known examples had been from hot, arid regions. A member of the Gwich’in people in Alaska and Canada was quoted as saying, “We hunted moose by running them in snowshoes, and we could run all day, like wolves.”

The ideal conditions for this, Morin says, were heavy snow with a crust strong enough to support a person wearing snowshoes but not strong enough to support heavier prey.

It also suggests that the ability to run long distances was a highly valued ability, with many accounts of long-distance running races being part of the culture of peoples around the world.

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“It is difficult to argue with the results of their analysis, which clearly support the anatomical, physiological, archaeological and other genetic evidence that humans evolved to run long distances to hunt,” he says. Daniel Lieberman At Harvard University, he is a proponent of the endurance running hypothesis. “Until the invention of modern techniques, persistence hunting by endurance was widespread and very successful.”

“I think their review is very interesting,” he says. Kara Wall Scheffler At Seattle Pacific University, which He criticized the hypothesis. But it also indicates that endurance sports are mentioned in only 2% of all hunting narratives examined in the study.

Henry Boone At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he says he remains skeptical of that hypothesis. Boone believes this method would not have worked in the jungles in which humans evolved, where hunters would quickly lose sight of fleeing prey. He also believes that hunters with stamina would mostly hunt young or old animals, but his team found teeth from animals slaughtered in their prime at a 2-million-year-old site.

On the basis of similar accounts of hunting, Wall-Scheffler has recently argued that women participated in hunts more often than previously thought. Morin says there are “abundant” examples of women and girls participating in trail running, but he and his colleagues found that only 2 percent of the endurance hunting accounts they looked at described women doing so.


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