Sophisticated tools and technologies helped Homo sapiens survive in challenging rainforests
Ancient humans hunted and killed fleet-footed tree-dwelling mammals – including monkeys and giant squirrels – far earlier than previously thought.
Detailed excavations of a rainforest cave in Sri Lanka show that anatomically modern humans as far back as 45,000 years ago used sophisticated hunting strategies to capture the wily animals.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, could help to explain how Homo sapiens were able to colonise a range of extreme environments and why they are today the solitary survivors from a family tree that once included Neanderthals, Denisovans and other archaic human species.
“Rainforests are notoriously difficult to be able to live in successfully,” says archaeologist Michelle Langley from Griffith University in Australia, who led the study’s tool analysis.
“They don't have as many resources as savannahs, which have large herds of big animals like antelope or bison. The animals they do have tend to be hard to find, or they're up in the trees where you need pretty special technologies to get them.”
Specialized rainforest hunting by Homo sapiens ~45,000 years ago
Oshan Wedage, Noel Amano, Michelle C. Langley, Katerina Douka, James Blinkhorn, Alison Crowther, Siran Deraniyagala, Nikos Kourampas, Ian Simpson, Nimal Perera, Andrea Picin, Nicole Boivin, Michael Petraglia & Patrick Roberts
Nature Communicationsvolume 10, Article number: 739 (2019)
Abstract: Defining the distinctive capacities of Homo sapiens relative to other hominins is a major focus for human evolutionary studies. It has been argued that the procurement of small, difficult-to-catch, agile prey is a hallmark of complex behavior unique to our species; however, most research in this regard has been limited to the last 20,000 years in Europe and the Levant. Here, we present detailed faunal assemblage and taphonomic data from Fa-Hien Lena Cave in Sri Lanka that demonstrates specialized, sophisticated hunting of semi-arboreal and arboreal monkey and squirrel populations from ca. 45,000 years ago, in a tropical rainforest environment. Facilitated by complex osseous and microlithic technologies, we argue these data highlight that the early capture of small, elusive mammals was part of the plastic behavior of Homo sapiens that allowed it to rapidly colonize a series of extreme environments that were apparently untouched by its hominin relatives.