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  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: March 2008

II.G.10 - Game

from II.G - Important Foods from Animal Sources


Evolutionary Underpinnings

Game (defined here as the meat of wild mammals, birds, and terrestrial reptiles) has been an important component of the human diet since earliest times. A signal difference between the digestive system of humans and those of their closest primate relatives is the modification of the guts of the former for the processing of a diet containing substantial quantities of meat (Chivers 1992). Until the last few thousand years, all meat-producing animals were wild. The continuing cultural significance of hunting as an activity, and game as an element of the diet, must be seen in the light of the age-old importance of game animals in human biological and cultural evolution.

Although little doubt exists that early hominids consumed appreciable quantities of game, lively debate lingers over whether our remote ancestors were primarily hunters or scavengers (e.g., Shipman 1986; Binford 1988). Nevertheless, there is abundant evidence that by the time of the appearance of early modern humans – between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago – hunting was one of humankind’s major activities. It may have been so for uncounted previous millennia.

A striking sexual division of subsistence labor characterizes most contemporary hunting and gathering peoples, with men hunting and women gathering (but see later discussion).Typically, gathered foods more or less reliably provide the bulk of the calories in the diet, mainly as carbohydrates, whereas game (and/or fish) contributes the undependable and sometimes limiting protein fraction. It has been proposed (Isaac 1978; Isaac and Crader 1981) that this bifurcation in foraging tasks and products is ancient and is implicated in the coevolution of food sharing, tool use, paternal investment in offspring, and related features of the unique human constellation of social behaviors.