Strong Differences Between Neanderthals and AMHs Cannot Be Inferred from Ethnographic Evidence for Skill and Learning in Hunting

  • Katharine MacDonaldEmail author
Part of the Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans Series book series (RNMH)


The majority of analyses of hominin learning processes focus on stone tools. However, stone tool production is just one of many skills that were important for forager survival and success in the past, of which hunting strategies are one of the few documented in the Palaeolithic record. This chapter focuses on hunting skills, as a supplement to lithic studies addressing learning processes in Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans. Based on the ethnographic record, the content to be learned while hunting includes a wide range of different sorts of skills and information, some of which are situation specific. The similarities and relatively subtle differences in the record for hunting behaviour between the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic make it unlikely that there was a substantial contrast in the content to be learned or processes involved in acquiring hunting skills. Among contemporary hunters, various older individuals undertake some teaching and also frequently provide small tools, take children on hunting trips, and tell hunting stories. Children enthusiastically engage in their own hunting exploits and games with weapons. The widespread distribution of such activities suggests benefits for the speed and quality of learning, among other factors. It is not unlikely that AMH and Neanderthals, for whom hunting was an important skill, also employed some of these processes.


Hunting Skill learning Ethnography Children Middle and Upper Palaeolithic 


  1. Bamforth DB, Finlay N (2008) Introduction: archaeological approaches to lithic production skill and craft learning. J Archaeol Method Theory 15(1):1–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Biesele M, Barclay S (2001) Ju/’hoan women’s tracking knowledge and its contribution to their husbands’ hunting success. Afr Stud Monogr 26:67–84Google Scholar
  3. Binford LR (2007) The diet of early hominins: some things we need to know before “reading” the menu from the archaeological record. In: Roebroeks W (ed) Guts and brains. An integrative approach to the hominin record. Leiden University Press, Leiden, pp 185–222Google Scholar
  4. Bird DW, Bliege Bird R (2005) Martu children’s foraging strategies in the Western Desert, Australia. In: Hewlett BS, Lamb ME (eds) Hunter gatherer childhoods. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, pp 129–146Google Scholar
  5. Blasco R, Fernández Peris J (2012) A uniquely broad spectrum diet during the Middle Pleistocene at Bolomor Cave (Valencia, Spain). Quat Int 252:16–31. Scholar
  6. Bliege Bird R, Bird DW (2002) Constraints of knowing or constraints of growing? Fishing and collecting by the children of Mer. Hum Nat 13(2):239–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blurton Jones N, Konner M (1976) !Kung knowledge of animal behaviour (or: the proper study of mankind is animals). In: Lee RB, DeVore I (eds) Kalahari hunter-gatherers. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 325–348Google Scholar
  8. Blurton Jones NG, Hawkes K, O’Connell JF (1999) Some current ideas about the evolution of the human life history. In: Lee PC (ed) Comparative Primate socioecology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 140–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bock J (2002) Learning, life history, and productivity. Children’s lives in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Hum Nat 13(2):161–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bock J (2005) What makes a competent adult forager? In: Hewlett BS, Lamb ME (eds) Hunter-gatherer childhoods. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, pp 109–128Google Scholar
  11. Bock J, Johnson SE (2004) Subsistence ecology and play among the Okavango Delta people of Botswana. Hum Nat 15(1):63–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Churchill SE (1993) Weapon technology, prey size selection, and hunting methods in modern hunter-gatherers: implications for hunting in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. In: Peterkin GL, Bricker HM, Mellars PA (eds) Hunting and animal exploitation in the later Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of Europe, Archaeological papers of the American Anthropological Association; Number 4. American Anthropological Association, Washington, DC, pp 11–24Google Scholar
  13. Crittenden AN, Conklin-Brittain NL, Marlowe FW, Schoeninger MJ, Wrangham RW (2009) Foraging strategies and diet composition of Hadza children. Am J Phys Anthropol 138:112–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Csibra G, Gergely G (2011) Natural pedagogy as evolutionary adaptation. Philos Trans R Soc B 366(1567):1149–1157. Scholar
  15. Estioko-Griffin A, Griffin PB (1981) Woman the hunter: the Agta. In: Dahlberg F (ed) Woman the gatherer. Yale University Press, New Haven, pp 121–151Google Scholar
  16. Farizy C, David F, Jaubert J (1994) Hommes et Bisons du Paléolithique moyen à Mauran (Haute-Garonne), Gallia-Prehistoire Supplement 30. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, ParisGoogle Scholar
  17. Frison G (1998) Paleoindian large mammal hunters on the plains of North America. Proc Natl Acad Sci 95:14576–14583Google Scholar
  18. Gaudzinski S (1995) Wallertheim revisited: a re-analysis of the Fauna from the Middle Palaeolithic Site of Wallertheim (Rheinhessen/Germany). J Archaeol Sci 22:51–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gaudzinski S, Roebroeks W (2000) Adults only: reindeer hunting at the Middle Palaeolithic site Salzgitter Lebenstedt, northern Germany. J Hum Evol 38(4):497–521. Scholar
  20. Gaudzinski-Windheuser S, Niven L (2009) Hominin subsistence patterns during the Middle and Late Paleolithic in Northwestern Europe. In: Hublin JJ, Richards MP (eds) The evolution of hominin diets: integrating approaches to the study of Palaeolithic subsistence. Springer, Leipzig, pp 99–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goodale JC (1971) Tiwi wives: a study of the women of Melville Island, North Australia. University of Washington Press, SeattleGoogle Scholar
  22. Grant JWA, Chapman CA, Richardson KS (1992) Defended versus undefended home range size of carnivores, ungulates and primates. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 31(3):149–161CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Grayson DK, Delpech F (2003) Ungulates and the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic transition at Grotte XVI (Dordogne, France). J Archaeol Sci 30:1633–1648CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gubser NJ (1965) The Nunamiut Eskimos: hunters of caribou. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  25. Gurven M, Kaplan H, Gutierrez M (2006) How long does it take to become a proficient hunter? Implications for the evolution of extended development and long life span. J Hum Evol 51(5):454–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gusinde M (1931) The Selk’nam, on the life and thought of a hunting people of the Great Island of Tierra del Fuego, The Fireland Indians, vol 1. Verlag der Internationalen Zeitschrift, Mödling bei WienGoogle Scholar
  27. Haidle MN (2009) How to think a simple spear. In: de Beaune SA, Coolidge FL, Wynn T (eds) Cognitive archaeology and human evolution. Cambridge University, Cambridge, pp 57–74Google Scholar
  28. Henrich J, McElreath R (2003) The evolution of cultural evolution. Evol Anthropol 12(3):123–135. Scholar
  29. Hewlett BS, Cavalli-Sforza LL (1986) Cultural transmission among Aka pygmies. Am Anthropol 88(4):922–934. Scholar
  30. Hewlett BS, Fouts HN, Boyette AH, Hewlett BL (2011) Social learning among Congo Basin hunter-gatherers. Philos Trans R Soc B 366(1567):1168–1178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hill K, Barton M, Hurtado AM (2009) The emergence of human uniqueness: characters underlying behavioral modernity. Evol Anthropol 18(5):187–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hoppitt WJE, Brown GR, Kendal R, Rendell L, Thornton A, Webster MM, Laland KN (2008) Lessons from animal teaching. Trends Ecol Evol 23(9):486–493CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Horner V, Whiten A (2005) Causal knowledge and imitation/emulation switching in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and children. Anim Cogn 8:164–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jaubert J, Brugal JP (1990) Contribution à l’étude du mode de vie au Paléolithique moyen: Les chasseurs d’aurochs de la Borde. In: Jaubert J, Lorblanchet M, Laville H, Slott-Moller R, Turq A, Brugal JP (eds) Le chasseurs d’aurochs de la Borde: Un site du paleolithique moyen (Livernon, Lot). Maison Sci l’Homme, Paris, pp 128–145Google Scholar
  35. Kamei N (2015) Play among Baka children in Cameroon. In: Hewlett BS, Lamb ME (eds) Hunter-gatherer childhoods. Evolutionary, developmental and cultural perspectives. Transaction publishers, New Brunswick, pp 343–359Google Scholar
  36. Kaplan HS, Hill K, Lancaster J, Hurtado AM (2000) A theory of human life history evolution: diet, intelligence and longevity. Evol Anthropol 9(4):156–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kent S (1996) Hunting variability at a recent sedentary Kalahari village. In: Kent S (ed) Cultural diversity and twentieth-century foragers: an African perspective. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 125–156Google Scholar
  38. Knecht H (1997) The history and development of projectile technology research. In: Knecht H (ed) Projectile technology. Plenum Press, New York, pp 3–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lancy DF (1996) Playing on the mother ground: cultural routines for children’s development. The Guilford Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  40. Lee RB (1972) The !Kung Bushmen of Botswana. In: Bicchieri MG (ed) Hunters and gatherers today. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, pp 327–368Google Scholar
  41. Lee RB (1979) The !Kung san: men, women and work in a foraging society. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  42. Liebenberg L (1990) The art of tracking: the origin of science. David Phillip Publishers, ClaremontGoogle Scholar
  43. MacDonald K (2007a) Cross-cultural comparison of learning in human hunting. Implications for life history evolution. Hum Nat 18(4):386–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. MacDonald K (2007b) Ecological hypotheses for human brain evolution: evidence for skill and learning processes in the ethnographic literature on hunting. In: Roebroeks W (ed) Guts and brains. An integrative approach to the hominin record. Leiden University Press, Leiden, pp 107–132Google Scholar
  45. Marlowe FW (2005) Hunter-gatherers and human evolution. Evol Anthropol 14:54–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Marshall L (1976) The !Kung of Nyae Nyae. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MACrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Mithen SJ (1990) Thoughtful foragers: a study of prehistoric decision making. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Morgan TJH, Uomini NT, Rendell LE, Chouinard-Thuly L, Street SE, Lewis HM, Cross CP, Evans C, Kearney R, de la Torre I, Whiten A, Laland KN (2015) Experimental evidence for the co-evolution of hominin tool-making teaching and language. Nat Commun 6:6029. Scholar
  49. Nelson RK (1973) Hunters of the northern forest. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  50. Nonaka T, Bril B, Rein R (2010) How do stone knappers predict and control the outcome of flaking? Implications for understanding early stone tool technology. J Hum Evol 59(2):155–167. Scholar
  51. Ohtsuka R (1989) Hunting activity and aging among the Gidra Papuans: a biobehavioural analysis. Am J Phys Anthropol 80(1):31–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Peters JF (1998) Life among the Yanomami. Broadview Press, OntarioCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Puri RK (2005) Deadly dances in the Bornean rainforest. Hunting knowledge of the Penan Benalui. KITLV Press, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  54. Richards MP (2009) Stable isotope evidence for European Upper Paleolithic human diets. In: Hublin JJ, Richards MP (eds) The evolution of hominin diets. Integrating approaches to the study of Palaeolithic subsistence. Springer, Leipzig, pp 251–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Richards M, Pettitt PB, Trinkaus E, Smith FH, Paunović M, Karavanić I (2000) Neanderthal diet at Vindija and Neanderthal predation: the evidence from stable isotopes. Proc Natl Acad Sci 97(13):7663–7666. Scholar
  56. Richerson PJ, Boyd R (2005) Not by genes alone: how culture transformed human evolution. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  57. Roebroeks W (2001) Hominid behaviour and the earliest occupation of Europe: an exploration. J Hum Evol 41:437–461. Scholar
  58. Rots V (2009) The functional analysis of the Mousterian and Micoquian assemblages of Sesselfelsgrotte, Germany: aspects of tool use and hafting in the European Late Middle Paleolithic. Quartär 56:37–66Google Scholar
  59. Rots V (2013) Insights into early Middle Palaeolithic tool use and hafting in Western Europe. The functional analysis of level IIa of the early Middle Palaeolithic site of Biache-Saint-Vaast (France). J Archaeol Sci 40(1):497–506. Scholar
  60. Shennan SJ, Steele J (1999) Cultural learning in hominids: a behavioural ecological approach. In: Box HO, Gibson KR (eds) Mammalian social learning: comparative ecological perspectives. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 367–388Google Scholar
  61. Shostak M (1981) Nisa, the life and words of a !Kung woman. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  62. Silberbauer G (1981) Hunter and habitat in the Central Kalahari Desert. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  63. Sterelny K (2012) The evolved apprentice. How evolution made humans unique. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MACrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Stiner MC, Munro ND, Surovell TA (2000) The tortoise and the hare: small game use, the broad spectrum revolution, and Paleolithic demography. Curr Anthropol 41(1):39–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stout D (2002) Skill and cognition in stone tool production – an ethnographic case study from Irian Jaya. Curr Anthropol 43(5):693–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Stout D, Toth N, Schick K, Stout J, Hutchins G (2000) Stone tool-making and brain activation: position emission tomography (PET) studies. J Archaeol Sci 27(12):1215–1223. Scholar
  67. Tanner A (1979) Bringing home animals: religious ideology and mode of production of the Mistassini Cree hunters. Hurst, LondonGoogle Scholar
  68. Tayanin D, Lindell K (1991) Hunting and fishing in a Kammu village, Studies on Asian topics no. 14. Curzon Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  69. Tehrani JJ, Riede F (2008) Towards an archaeology of pedagogy: learning, teaching and the generation of material culture traditions. World Archaeol 40(3):316–331. Scholar
  70. Tennie C, Call J, Tomasello M (2009) Ratcheting up the ratchet: on the evolution of cumulative culture. Philos Trans R Soc B 364(1528):2405–2415. Scholar
  71. Teyssandier N, Bon F, Bordes JG (2010) Within projectile range. Some thoughts on the appearance of the Aurignacian in Europe. J Anthropol Res 66:209–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Thieme H (1997) Lower Palaeolithic hunting spears from Germany. Nature 385:807–810CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Thieme H, Veil S (1985) Neue Untersuchungen zum eemzeitlichen Elefanten-Jagdplatz Leheringen, Ldkr. Verden. Die Kunde NF 36:11–58Google Scholar
  74. van Beek AG (1987) The way of all flesh: hunting and ideology of the Bedamuni of the Great Papuan Plateau (Papua New Guinea). University of Leiden, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  75. van Kolfschoten T (2014) The Palaeolithic locality Schoningen (Germany): a review of the mammalian record. Quat Int 326:469–480. Scholar
  76. Veil S (1991) Die Nachbildung der Lanze von Lehringen. Experimente zur Holzbearbeitung im Mittelpaläolithikum. Die Kunde NF 41/42:9–22Google Scholar
  77. Voormolen B (2008) Ancient hunters, modern butchers. Schöningen 13II-4, a kill-butchery site dating from the northwest European Lower Palaeolithic. J Taphonomy 6(2):71–247Google Scholar
  78. Walker R, Hill K, Kaplan H, McMillan G (2002) Age-dependency in hunting ability among the Ache of Eastern Paraguay. J Hum Evol 42:639–657. Scholar
  79. Yost JA, Kelley PM (1983) Shotguns blowguns and spears: the analysis of technical efficiency. In: Hames RB, Vickers WT (eds) Adaptive responses of native Amazonians. Academic, New York, pp 189–224Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of ArchaeologyUniversity of LeidenLeidenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations