Ancient humans hunted monkeys for tens of thousands of years | Science

The first Sri Lankans returned the bones of monkeys and squirrels that they hunted in these projectile points.

N. Amano

By Virginia Morell

If you imagine the first humans eating, you'll probably imagine them sitting in front of a mammoth barbecue, aurochs and giant elk meat. But in the tropical rainforests of Sri Lanka, where our ancestors ventured about 45,000 years ago, locals were looking for more modest dishes, mostly monkeys and arboreal squirrels. They then transformed the bones of these animals into projectiles to hunt more of them. The practice has continued for tens of thousands of years, making this document the longest known record of humans searching for other primates, archaeologists reported today..

Many scientists have felt that such forests lacked resources to enable the first humans to settle successfully. Instead, our ancestors apparently quickly adapted to this environment and other challenging environments (such as high altitudes and deserts), in part by determining how to reliably hunt prey that are difficult to catch.

To conduct the research, archaeologist Patrick Roberts of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (SHH) in Jena, Germany, and his colleagues analyzed the bones of the dead. recovered in Fa Hien Cave, Kalutara, Sri Lanka, during excavations carried out in 2009 and 2012. Artifacts including charcoal, wildlife remains, shell beads and bone and stone tools indicate that people occupied the site about 45,000 to 4,000 years ago.

Scientists analyzed nearly 14,500 bones and animal teeth from four periods of occupation and discovered that mammals the size of a gazelle were the most common. The monkeys (mainly macaques and purple-faced langurs, the last of which inhabit the tallest trees up to about 45 meters) and the tree squirrels made up more than 70% of the identified remains, which also included otters, fish, reptiles and birds. Less than 4% of the bones came from deer, pigs and cattle, such as buffaloes. Many bones had cut marks from the butcher shop and were burned, indicating that humans were turning them into meat.

The first humans settled in this Sri Lankan cave 45,000 years ago.

O. Wedage

Archaeologists have also discovered many microliths (stone tools with minute shapes), whose purpose is still unknown, but which were probably used for hunting. In addition, they identified approximately three dozen points of finished or partially completed bone projectiles. These ancient humans used "monkey bones hunted to hunt more monkeys," says study co-author Noel Amano, archaeologist at SHH.

Finally, the remains reveal that the first Sri Lankans were sustainable hunters, targeting mainly adult animals, scientists reported today. Nature Communications. "They hunted these animals for nearly 40,000 years, without leading to extinction," Roberts said. "They need to have a deep understanding of the monkeys' life cycle and an understanding of the wise use of resources."

The results corroborate the idea that as human beings spread throughout the world, they had to abandon the hunt for large, stray animals such as mammoths and bison to become smaller prey that "could withstand higher predation rate, "says archaeologist Robin Dennell of the University of Sheffield in the UK, who was not involved in the study.

Steve Kuhn, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said Steve Kuhn, a former man who probably knew how to hunt more agile and elusive game. People had started hunting small animals in Eurasia about the same time they had entered Sri Lanka, he notes, so they probably came with these skills.

Kuhn also warns that early Sri Lankans may not have been such wise resource managers; more likely, human populations were small and "did not have much impact". They hunted more monkeys and squirrels and fewer deer or pigs, he thinks, simply because the smaller animals were probably more abundant. Like those of us who do not have the time to go shopping, cooking and hamburger, these young people may have just hunted and dined with the most readily available animals.

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