Wednesday 5 March 2014

Neanderthal Co-operative Hunting, the Way It Surely Must Have Been.

The wily leader of the hunt.
Even if you couldn’t see her, you knew she and two of her cohort were hidden in the copse, downwind of their objective. The young rhino was oblivious to the feint they had prepared for it. The thirsty quadruped continued to move toward the seep, watchfully, instinctively alert to movement, sound, and scent. [Like a good rhino it was nearly as blind as a bat!]

Upwind of the three hidden in the brush there is movement in the tall grass. Two of the hunting co-op on one side, and three on the other, were flanking their prey. They had learned their roles as children, and were executing them perfectly—acting like wing forwards in a soccer match in which the three hidden in the brush downwind were the center forwards, waiting for the wingers to force their opponent to make a mistake and create a chance to score—in this case, the wingers function to make their prey run straight at the hunting blind where ambush and certain death awaited.
Preparing for the hunt.
As each of the forward wingers crept further and further upwind they were closing the circle. They had played their roles beautifully, and now they stood their ground, their work done. So, when the rhino finally sensed the danger, an escape upwind was impossible. He never had a chance. The remaining wingers occupied both flanks, and as the anxious unguate turned first to its right, and then to its left, the hunters on the flanks showed themselves. They moved methodically toward their now hysterical prey. It’s only remaining escape was straight downwind.

A job well done.
The ill-fated rhino was heading into the trap that she had laid for him. She and her two companions ambushed the young animal as it neared their hunting blind. They pounced on the hapless creature and despatched him moments later. They all had their fill at the kill site, which became their home for the next few days, while they alternately fended off scavengers and fed off the carcass.

The days were turning colder, and it was time for the group to take refuge in a small cave in the adjacent hillside.


Despite the graphics, cleverly designed to keep you off my scent, the scenario I just described isn't that of a hypothetical group of Neanderthals. It's an [almost] verbatim account of African lion cooperative hunting behaviour, habitually anchored by an alpha female.

I've taken your time today to illustrate how vapid and at the same time misleading are the claims that palaeoanthropologists trot out at every opportunity—that those brilliant Neanderthals took part in cooperative hunting forays, underpinned by big brains, big mouths, and the ability to make sharp sticks. Clearly it requires less brain mass, and no vocalization nor language to organize a hunt involving several conspecifics.

So, when you go back home tonight, and you're imbibing more gibberish about the fascinating and remarkable Neanderthals, remember this moment. Carry it with you through all your days, and at every opportunity throw it back in the faces of those who'd have you believe that cooperative hunting is unique to large bipedal apes.

Panthera leo Regina surveys her domain.

Thanks for joining me today. There's more to come.


  1. Yep. I've made the same point about wolves. They hunt just fine in packs without ever speaking a word....

  2. The young rhino was oblivious to the feint they had prepared for it. The thirsty quadruped continued to move toward the seep, watchfully, instinctively alert to movement, sound, and scent. [Like a good rhino it was nearly as blind as a bat!

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