“Utterly Wrong” Robert Ardrey Vindicated Again. “Scientific American” Embraces the “Hunting Hypothesis”

The dubious claim that early man never engaged in anything so politically incorrect as hunting was part and parcel of the Blank Slate.  In fact, you can almost date its collapse from the time that abashed admissions that he did, in fact, hunt began appearing in the scientific and popular literature.  As recently as 1997, for example, British journalist Brian Deer subjected Jane Goodall, no less, to some grossly sexist ridicule as an ignorant “secretary” and “waitress,” because she had dared to notice that chimpanzees hunt and eat meat, and inform the world about it.   In the same year, the Pubic Broadcasting Network aired a series entitled “In Search of Human Origins,” which featured the palpably ludicrous claim that early man satisfied the need for meat to fuel his big brain by duking it out with the hyenas and vultures as a “highly successful scavenger.”  The “scavenger” schtick never really passed the “Ho Ho” test, and PBS heaved it overboard in its “Becoming Human” series in 2009, in which viewers learned that,

Homo erectus probably hunted with close-quarters weapons, with spears that were thrown at animals from a short distance, clubs, thrown rocks, weapons like that. They weren’t using long distance projectile weapons that we know of.

The Homo erectus hunt was simple but effective. It fed not just their larger brains, but the growing complexity of that early human society.

This about face was managed without cracking the faintest smile, or the faintest hint that the network had imposed on the credulity of its audience with the “scavenger” routine just over a decade earlier.  Of course, there was also not the faintest mention of Robert Ardrey, who had insisted on the hunting proclivities of early man in his book, The Hunting Hypothesis, published in 1976.  By this time, of course, Ardrey had already been reduced to an unperson by the “men of science” in works such as Steven Pinker’s ludicrous revision of history, The Blank Slate.  Unlike those who so shamelessly dismiss his legacy today, Ardrey was actually possessed of what H. L. Mencken used to refer to as “common decency.”  Instead of burying the contributions of significant thinkers in the past, he had a remarkable facility for digging them up.  His works are full of references to such remarkable but little known geniuses as Eugene Marais, Raymond Dart, Henry Eliot Howard, and Carveth Read.

In the case of Read, for example, instead of following the modern practice of declaring him “totally and utterly wrong” and then proceeding to pirate his ideas, he insisted on his contribution as one of the first, if not the first, to suggest a hunting transition from ape to man in his book, The Origin of Man and His Superstitions.”  Read coined the term “Lycopithecus” for his hypothesized hunting apes, noting the similarities in social behavior between wolves and man, and wrote,

Moreover, when our ape first pursued game, especially big game (not being by ancient adaptation in structure and instinct a carnivore), he may have been, and probably was, incapable of killing enough prey single-handed; and, if so, he will have profited by becoming both social and cooperative as a hunter, like the wolves and dogs – in short, a sort of wolf-ape (Lycopithecus).

…the less our ancestor in his new career trusted to trees the better for him. Such simple strategy (hunting from trees) could not make him a dominant animal throughout the world; nothing could do this but the gradual attainment of erect gait adapted to running down his prey.

Watch PBS’s Becoming Human series and you’ll see how Read’s hypothesis about the “attainment of erect gait adapted to running down prey” was “rediscovered” a little under a hundred years later.

Fast forward another five years, and we find ourselves treated to yet another vindication of Ardrey and Read, from no less than the relentlessly politically correct Scientific American!  In an article shockingly entitled, Rise of the Human Predator, we are treated to an epiphany that would certainly have amused Ardrey, and caused the ancient Blank Slaters to swallow their gum.  If a nail in the coffin of the Blank Slate’s bitter resistance to the Hunting Hypothesis were needed, this would definitely qualify.  Here’s the byline:

For decades researchers have been locked in debate over how and when hunting began and how big a role it played in human evolution.  Recent analyses of human anatomy, stone tools and animal bones are helping to fill in the details of this game-changing shift in subsistence strategy.  This evidence indicates that hunting evolved far earlier than some scholars had envisioned – and profoundly impacted subsequent human evolution.

Stunning, really!  Ardrey said almost exactly the same things in The Hunting Hypothesis back in 1976.  Of course, there is nothing as “shy-making” as one of novelist Evelyn Waugh’s “bright young things” might have put it, as any mention of him, nor of Carveth Read.  Nor, for that matter, in spite of citing evidence of hunting going back 1.8 million years, could the author bring himself to mention Raymond Dart, whose statistical evidence for hunting by Australopithecus africanus was first ignored, then subjected to a lame “refutation” by C. K. Brain, but who is now being hailed as the “Father of Cave Taphonomy.”

Somehow, I’m not surprised.