Persistence hunting (PH) has been an established practice in human society since the time of the earliest civilizations. In this context, hunter-gatherer societies are defined as groups which obtain resources through foraging. Persistence hunting is a common technique that hunter gatherer societies use in order to obtain meat as a food source. While persistence hunting has been traced to several groups including Native Americans, such as the Paiutes and Navajos and early natives in Australia, the hunters in Kalahari use this skill most consistently (Pickering et al. 2007). The concepts that will be discussed in relation to persistence hunting include the the hunting and gathering societies that practice persistence hunting, the role of endurance running, and lastly the characteristics that enable the certain hunter-gatherer groups to be successful.
A hunting and gathering society that has frequently used this technique are the Kalahari San Bushmen. The Kalahari Bushmen are indigenous peoples located throughout southern Africa primarily in Botswana, Namibia, Angola. (Survival 2018). As one of the few groups that still practices this hunting technique, the Bushmen have established a routine for persistence hunting. They first begin their preparations by drinking enough water to get them through the hunt.
Persistence hunting results in the prey being chased until it collapses from exhaustion, or as seen in some instances, the hunters will injure the animal and track its footprints until they find its body. Both methods require great endurance on behalf of the hunters because of how much energy is exhausted. Bushmen hunters will usually travel in a team as to divide the work in the event that one of them becomes too tired. Additionally, modern hunters have incorporated the use of dogs as a means to obtain a larger kill. Bushmen peoples frequently hunt antelopes and with the inclusion of dogs in hunts, hunters are able to reap larger quantities of meat.
There are several obstacles that Bushmen hunters face when they practice persistence hunting. They must be able to perform in various conditions which affects the outcome of the hunt. For example, simple and systematic tracking (Lienberg, 2008) are two methods by which the hunters track their prey. Simple tracking takes place in an ideal environment which allows for the men to acquire game effortlessly. Systematic tracking is complex in that the weather conditions are not favorable which makes chasing the animal complicated.
Due to the nature of persistence hunting, it has a significant role in hunter-gatherer societies. Endurance running defined as the act of running long distances continuously, can been traced through an evolutionary ecological approach. There is fossil evidence that suggests that along with persistence hunting, endurance running has roots dating back 2 millions years.
As such, scientists have proposed two theories supporting why hunting and gathering societies participate in endurance running. These theories are that these societies use this particular method of running for scavenging and persistence hunting (Liebenberg, 2006). Scavenging of food, specifically meat from carcasses, is a practice that is linked to persistence hunting as hunting and gathering societies adapted a meat based diet. In societies where resources and availability of food are scarce, men must weigh the costs and benefits of the hunt.
It is important for these hunters to identify the costs because endurance running can take hours or even days under harsh weather conditions. Some factors that hunters take into consideration include the energy value of the animal, the time it takes the hunter to handle and consume the prey and lastly the search time which varies depending on the location of the hunters. Given how costly endurance running and persistence hunting can be, hunters must ensure that the prey will provide maximum energy. However, an established theory as to why evolution has favored endurance running is that became a technique that allowed humans to integrate meat into their diet.
Anthropologists and evolutionary scientists frequently compare animals and humans when recognizing how each species has evolved over time to become better adapted to the environment. In the case of endurance running, there are key distinctions between animals and humans which allow them to perform differently. There are several biological characteristics that work in conjunction to ensure the Bushmen hunters are successful in persistence hunting. Inversely, animals exhibit traits that limit them in terms of mobility and adaptability.
For animals, the physiological characteristic of having four legs allows them to be successful in running short distances. However, in the case of persistence hunting, animals are easy prey as they cannot outperform their predators. Research has shown that humans have evolved to adapt more effectively to endurance running. Humans have the ability of short-term acclimatization in situations where they are exposed to certain environmental conditions. In the aforementioned example of endurance running, humans have established the ability to sweat which serves as a cooling mechanism. When humans are practicing endurance running in the context of persistence hunting, they are able to preserve their body temperatures to catch their prey.
On the other hand, animals do not have this advanced method of preserving energy and as such they are at a disadvantage when confronted by humans. Persistence hunting often times occurs during the day where temperatures range from 39-42℃ (Lienberg, 2006). As such, humans are able to cool down because of the evolutionary adaptation of vasodilation which occurs when our blood vessels respond to hot temperatures. Animals do not have this same mechanism and they become fatigued much faster and they become an easy target.
Additional examples of short-term acclimatization exhibited in the Bushmen hunters relates to the pigmentation of their skin, method of respiration and the development of their bones. Because of the Bushmen’s location in Africa, they have dark skin which serves as a barrier against the harsh sunlight. A dark complexion has eumelanin, a type of melanin, which significantly reduces the damage caused by ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) (Brenner et al. 2008). Given how much time these hunters spend in the sun during PH, it is important that they have these adaptations. Furthermore, human feet in particular have evolved in favor of endurance running which supports persistence hunting. As humans have shorter toes than animals, humans have an advantage in running much more competently over a longer period of time. Evolution has changed human skeletal abilities in that we now have