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If you picture early humans dining, you likely imagine them sitting down to a barbecue of mammoth, aurochs, and giant elk meat. But in the rainforests of Sri Lanka, where our ancestors ventured about 45,000 years ago, people hunted more modest fare, primarily monkeys and tree squirrels. Then they turned the bones of these animals into projectiles to hunt more of them. The practice continued for tens of thousands of years, making this the longest known record of humans hunting other primates, archaeologists report today.
Many scientists believed such forests lacked the resources for early humans to successfully settle. Instead, our ancestors apparently quickly adapted to this and other challenging environments (such as high elevations and deserts), in part by figuring out how to reliably hunt difficult-to-catch prey.
Research - Patrick - Roberts - Max - Planck
To conduct the research, archaeologist Patrick Roberts of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and colleagues analyzed animal bones recovered from Sri Lanka’s Fa Hien Cave in Kalutara during excavations from 2009 and 2012. Materials and artifacts including charcoal, faunal remains, shell beads, and bone and stone tools indicate people occupied the site from about 45,000 to 4000 years ago.
The scientists analyzed almost 14,500 animal bones and teeth from four periods of occupation and found that gazelle-size mammals were the most common. Monkeys (primarily macaques and purple-faced langurs, the latter of which inhabit the tallest trees, reaching some 45 meters) and tree squirrels made up more than 70% of the identified remains, which also included otters, fish, reptiles, and birds. Fewer than 4% of the bones came from deer, pigs, and bovids, such as buffalo. Many bones bore cut-marks from butchery and had been burned, signs that humans processed them for meat.
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