The Evolution of Endurance Running and the Tyranny of Ethnography: A Reply to Pickering and Bunn (2007)

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The Evolution of Endurance Running and the Tyranny of Ethnography: A Reply to Pickering and Bunn (2007)

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Title: The Evolution of Endurance Running and the Tyranny of Ethnography: A Reply to Pickering and Bunn (2007)
Author: Lieberman, Daniel Eric; Bramble, Dennis M.; Raichlen, David A.; Shea, John J.

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Citation: Lieberman, Daniel E., Dennis M. Bramble, David A. Raichlen, and John J. Shea. 2007. The evolution of endurance running and the tyranny of ethnography: A reply to Pickering and Bunn (2007). Journal of Human Evolution 53(4): 439-442.
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Abstract: Endurance running (ER) poses a conundrum for paleoanthropologists. As summarized in Bramble and Lieberman (2004), human ER capabilities, which are unique among primates, either match or exceed those of mammals adapted for running (cursors), including dogs and equids. Because many of the biomechanical and physiological challenges of human ER are so different from those of walking, we can conclude that human ER capabilities did not arise merely as a by-product of selection for walking. Instead, the available evidence suggests that an array of features that improve ER performance were selected in the genus Homo, and they were probably present to some extent by the appearance of Homo erectus at approximately 1.9 Ma. Yet, ER is no longer necessary for human survival, even among extant foragers such as the Hadza or the Bushmen. Thus, a puzzle that paleoanthropologists must solve is identifying what past behaviors - behaviors no longer common among living foragers - favored the evolution of ER. Pickering and Bunn’s (2007) criticisms of the ER hypothesis center on two issues: first, that early Homo lacked the tracking abilities necessary for successful pursuit hunts, and second, that recent ethnographic evidence suggests that modern hunter-gatherers rarely use ER to either hunt or scavenge. These arguments are based on a presumptive link between modern human- like cognition and tracking abilities, as well as the notion that the modern ethnographic record provides an adequate reflection of past behaviors. Both of these assumptions are flawed. Although tracking is complex, there is little evidence to suggest that early hominids lacked the tracking abilities of much less encephalized carnivores. Additionally, as noted by Marlowe (2005), comparatively recent inventions, such as the bow and arrow, the spear thrower, nets, and even the spear point, fundamentally altered how humans hunt and scavenge. A strict reliance on the recent ethnographic record, what Wobst (1978) termed the ‘‘tyranny of ethnography,’’ is a fundamentally problematic way of testing hypotheses of past hunting behavior. Even so, a review of the ethnographic evidence reveals errors in Pickering and Bunn’s contentions.
Published Version: doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.07.002
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