From the Third Chimpanzee:
“The mystique of Man the Hunter is now so rooted in us that it is hard to abandon our belief in its long-standing importance. Today, shooting a big animal is regarded as an ultimate expression of macho masculinity. Trapped in this mystique, male anthropologists like to stress the key role of big-game hunting in human evolution. Supposedly, big-game hunting was what induced protohuman males to cooperate with each other, develop language and big brains, join into bands, and share food. Even women were supposedly moulded by men’s big-game hunting: women suppressed the external signs of monthly ovulation that are so conspicuous in chimps, so as not to drive men into a frenzy of sexual competition and thereby spoil men’s cooperation at hunting.
As an example of the purple prose spawned by this men’s locker-room mentality, consider the following account of human evolution by Robert Ardrey in his book African Genesis:
'In some scrawny troop of beleagured not-yet-men on some scrawny forgotten plain a radian particle from an unknown source fractured a never-to-be-forgotten gene, and a primate carnivore was born. For better or worse, for tragedy or for triumph, for ultimate glory or ultimate damnation, intelligence made alliance with the way of the killer, and Cain with his sticks and his stones and his quickly running feet emerged on the high savannah.'
What pure fantasy!
Western male writers and anthropologists are not the only men with an exaggerated view of hunting. In New Guinea I have lived with real hunters, men who recently emerged from the Stone Age. Conversations at campfires go on for hours over each species of game animal, its habits, and how best to hunt it. To listen to my New Guinea friends, you would think that they eat fresh kangaroo for dinner every night and do little each day except hunt. In fact, when pressed for details, most New Guinea hunters admit that they have bagged only a few kangaroos in their whole life.
I still recall my first morning in the New Guinea highlands, when I set out with a group of a dozen men, armed with bows and arrows. As we passed a fallen tree, there was suddenly much excited shouting, men surrounded the tree, some spanned their bows, and others pressed forward into the brushpile. Convinced that an enraged boar or kangaroo was about to come out fighting, I looked for a tree that I could climb to a perch of safety. Then I heard triumphant shrieks, and out of the brushpile came two mighty hunters holding aloft their prey: two baby wrens, not quite able to fly, weighing about a third of an ounce each, and promptly plucked, roasted, and eaten. The rest of that day’s catch consisted of a few frogs and many mushrooms.
Studies of most modern hunter-gatherers with far more effective weapons than early Homo sapiens show that most of a family’s calories come from plant food gathered by women. Men catch rabbits and other small game never mentioned in the heroic campfire stories. Occasionally the men do bag a large animal, which does indeed contribute significantly to protein intake. But it is only in the Arctic, where little plant food is available, that big-game hunting becomes the dominant food source, and humans did not reach the Arctic until within the last few dozen millenia. Thus I would guess that big-game hunting contributed only modestly to our food intake until after we had evolved fully modern anatomy and behaviour. I doubt the usual view that hunting was the driving force behind our uniquely human brain and societies. For most of our history we were not mighty hunters but skilled chimps, using stone tools to acquire and prepare plant food and small animals. Occasionally, men did bag a large animal, and then retold the story of that rare event incessantly.”