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Evolutionary Implications of Persistence Hunting: An Examination of Energy Return on Investment for !Kung Hunting

Abstract

Hominins are smaller, slower, and weaker than most large mammals, yet they have been eating meat from freshly killed large mammals since before the invention of sophisticated weaponry. It is thought that they could have achieved this seemingly impossible feat through persistence hunting, a practice powered by endurance running. Essentially, one or more hunters pursue a prey animal in the heat of the day until it reaches the point of hyperthermia. This allows a hunter to safely kill the weakened animal at close range using methods such as beating, strangling, or spearing. The energy balance of this approach to getting food is controversial and has not been calculated previously. We examined the energy costs and gains of persistence hunting through several energy returned on investment (EROI) calculations based on synthesizing available field and laboratory data on the energy used by the hunters and the energy returned from the greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros). We estimate that the EROI of these hunter-gatherers hunting a kudu ranged from 26:1 to 69:1. The net energy gained from such an effort would sustain an average sized !Kung family for 6.7 to 11.2 days. The “profit” energy within these ranges would have supported the early human societies that practiced persistence hunting, contributing to the often-noted “leisure” characterizing many foraging societies (Sahlins 1974).

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Acknowledgements

We thank Dr. Thomas Love, from Linfield College, for providing advice and feedback on the manuscript. Thanks to Dr. Alfonso Peter Castro, from Syracuse University, for providing assistance finding literature. We also thank Lauren Carguello for support throughout the research process. Thanks to William Shields and the ESF honors program for assistance throughout the research process and to Garvin Boyle for comments on the manuscript. And finally, thanks to both Maryssa Carguello and Kyle Glaub for proofreading.

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Correspondence to Matthew Glaub.

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Glaub, M., Hall, C.A. Evolutionary Implications of Persistence Hunting: An Examination of Energy Return on Investment for !Kung Hunting. Hum Ecol 45, 393–401 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-017-9908-3

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Keywords

  • Persistence hunting
  • Human evolution
  • Energy returned on investment (EROI)
  • !Kung hunting practices
  • Bioenergetics