Record Details

Lupo, Karen D.;Schmitt, Dave N.
When bigger is not better: The economics of hunting megafauna and its implications for Plio-Pleistocene hunter-gatherers
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology
Journal Article
Big game hunting;Prey-rank;Hunting technology;Foraging theory;Hunters and gatherers;Megafauna;Social niches
Big game acquisition is viewed as pivotal in the evolution of early hominins and is often associated with the emergence of features that are hallmarks of Homo. We explore the energetic justification for the preference for big game under the premise that larger-sized prey is always more efficiently exploited than smaller-sized game. Using quantitative cost/benefit data derived from ethnographic, ethnoarchaeological and historic sources, we show that certain large-sized game (megafauna) are often more expensive to acquire than smaller-sized prey. Comparative analysis shows that African elephants (Loxodonta africana), the largest-sized terrestrial animal, are lower ranked and less efficient to acquire than many smaller-sized animals irrespective of their encounter rates. These data challenge the idea that prey body size can be used as a proxy for profitability and rank in zooarchaeological analyses. Prey profitability, especially for large-sized and costly taxa, is strongly influenced by prey characteristics relative to existing dispatch technology and the range of nonconsumptive benefits associated with hunting certain megafauna. Nonconsumptive rewards associated with these opportunities can only be gained by certain individuals and are not broadly available to everyone. We suggest that the idea of ‘big game’ specialization needs to be reframed in archaeology.