The importance of large prey animals during the Pleistocene and the implications of their extinction on the use of dietary ethnographic analogies

Estimates of the human trophic level and dietary quality during the Paleolithic are the basis for many hypotheses and interpretations regarding human evolution and behavior. We describe an additional factor that could have significantly influenced human evolution and behavior, the availability of large prey animals.
Given the importance of large prey and the mounting evidence of the decline in its abundance throughout the Pleistocene, we question the reliability of past reconstructions of the human trophic level that were heavily based on analogies with the recent ethnographic record.
We review the ecological and technological records of the Hadza and the Ju/’hoansi (!Kung), two recent hunter-gatherers' groups that dominate the literature as acceptable ethnographic analogs for Paleolithic Africa. We find that their dietary record reflects, as expected by our model, an adaptation to an ecological reality of increased vegetal biomass and reduced large prey biomass that differ substantially from the ecology of most of the Pleistocene but do share analogical trends with the late Upper Paleolithic when the Late Quaternary Megafauna Extinction took place.

Last Updated
February 18, 2021