An unshakable middle paleolithic? Trends versus conservatism in the predatory niche and their social ramifications

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Abstract

The great temporal and geographic span of the Middle Paleolithic (MP) raises many questions about behavioral variation within this period and its evolutionary significance. This paper focuses on MP predator economics and its social ramifications by examining the data for possible trends in the size of the hominin ecological footprint, hunting practices, trophic level, food sharing, and the intensity with which sites were occupied. Middle Paleolithic hominins were big game hunters, and they were rather specialized in their focus on ungulate prey. Low-cost gatherable small prey were a perennial if minor contribution to MP diets at lower latitudes, but the overall breadth of the meat diet remained narrow throughout the period. Discernible trends in the MP are few. Foraging innovations of the MP include marine shellfish exploitation by 120,000 years BP (possibly earlier), galvanization of the prime-age ungulate hunting niche, and hearth-centered domestic camps. The density of zooarchaeological material seems to increase during the last 30,000 years of MP existence, implying mild increases in human populations. Important aspects of carcass processing and meat sharing in the MP do not show much variation but do indicate close cooperation and habitual sharing among group members. Contrasts to late Lower Paleolithic butchery patterns may illuminate more formal patterns of meat sharing in the MP and after. The seeming rigidity of MP hunting economics could have been the secret to its widespread success for 200,000 years.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S288-S304
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Volume54
Issue numberSUPPL8.
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2013
Event145th Symposium of the Wenner-Gren Foundation - Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: Jun 1 2012Jun 8 2012

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology

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