When “men” came off the menu

Author: John Monczunski

The fossil record suggests that our ancestors had an unfortunate habit of becoming breakfast, lunch and dinner for other beasts. Holes in hominid skulls match saber-toothed tiger fangs, and piles of fossil bones have been found in South African caves where ancient predators apparently dragged our forebears and dropped them. But Notre Dame anthropologist Agustin Fuentes notes things began to change mysteriously for the better about two million years ago, when, he says, “predation rates on other species went up, while ours declined.”

At a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fuentes and his colleagues presented new evidence that suggests the drop in predation may have occurred because our human ancestors might have begun cooperating with one another to lessen their chance of becoming some monster cat’s not-so-happy meal.

The researchers developed a computer simulation to test whether teamwork might have given Homo Australopithecus an evolutionary advantage over its competing “cousin,” Homo paranthropus, explaining why australopithecus survived after paranthropus went extinct. In fact, the simulation results showed that merely a moderate amount of cooperation resulted in a pronounced advantage for australopithecus.

“Studies of human behavior in the social and biological sciences have tended to model the role of competition and the appearance of aggression, trying to explain why humans fight, go to war and otherwise engage in large-scale competitive contests. However,” Fuentes asserts, “predation played an important role in our evolution, and humanity evolved more by helping each other than by fighting each other.”