African Archaeological Review

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 107–133 | Cite as

Prey Choice During the South African Middle Stone Age: Avoiding Dangerous Prey or Maximising Returns?

  • Gerrit Leendert DusseldorpEmail author
Original Article


Scrutinising prey choice allows the testing of hypotheses on whether the hunting capabilities of Middle Stone Age (MSA) people were as sophisticated as those of Later Stone Age hunter–gatherers. I apply an optimal foraging perspective to investigate whether MSA prey choice was constrained by the danger associated with hunting certain species. Here, I study the relative importance of elands, buffalo and suids. Eland was the most attractive prey to hunter–gatherers because it is large and docile. Buffalo and suids are more aggressive. When additional species to eland needed to be exploited, we would expect unsophisticated hunters to prefer the smaller suids over buffalo. If hunting prowess was sufficient to deal with both buffalo and suids, buffalo should be preferred. Due to their size, exploitation of buffalo would be more profitable than exploitation of suids. I show that, taking environmental circumstances into account, buffalo were preferred to suids, suggesting that MSA people were capable, sophisticated hunters.


Middle Stone Age Late Pleistocene South Africa Hunting Optimal foraging Subsistence strategies Behavioural modernity 


Le choix des espèces de proie des chasseurs du « Middle Stone Age » (MSA) peut être évaluée si les méthodes de chasse du MSA était également raffinée comme les méthodes de chasse du « Later Stone Age » (LSA). Ici j’applique «Optimal Foraging Theory» aux collections fauniques du MSA pour rechercher si le choix de la proie était contraint et par le danger associée avec chasser certaines espèces. Cette étude est concentrée à l’exploitation de l’éland, des buffles et des suidés. L’éland était la proie préférée par les chasseurs MSA, parce que c’est un animal grand mais docile. Les buffles et les suidés sont plus agressifs. Si l’exploitation des plus d’espèces que l’éland était nécessaire, il y a deux scénarios distinctifs. Si des espèces dangereuses étaient difficiles à chasser pour les hommes MSA, les suidés serait préférées. Si chasser des espèces dangereux n’était pas problématique, les buffles serait préférées, parce que des buffles sont plus grand et leur exploitation serait plus bénéficiaux. Je montre que, dans les environnements ou c’était possible, des hommes MSA préférait des buffles. Leur exploitation insinue que les homes MSA étaient des chasseurs très capables.



This research was sponsored by Christopher Henshilwood, who granted an NRF postdoctoral fellowship through his SARCHI chair and also provided helpful comments. The manuscript benefited from helpful advice from Shaw Badenhorst, James Brink, Jamie Clark, Lutz Kindler, Geeske Langejans, Marlize Lombard and two anonymous reviewers. Diane du Toit kindly compiled Figure 1.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Human EvolutionUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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