I’ve heard many advocates of a plant based diet wishfully describe how humans weren’t natural hunters, sure they would occasionally scavenge animals that were already killed or wounded as targets of opportunity but still preferred nuts or berries and were not very good hunters. What the paleontological record tells us is very different. This article is great evidence that our evolutionary ancestors did significant hunting. Reliable radioisotope studies of pre-agricultural humans all show is they were top chain predators who mainly ate meat. Finally there are many human cultures that live on an almost exclusively animal based diet to this day and display great health and vigor while avoid the diabetes, cancer and heart disease rampant in industrialized societies.
Humans are truly skilled hunters who over the last 150,000 years have been involved in if not the main factor in the extinction of more than 35 large species of mammals, birds and marsupials called “Megafauna”, many weighing up to 20 times as much as the largest human. These extinctions occurred toward the end of the Pleistocene epoch and has continued throughout the succeeding Holocene epoch which is still in progress. Regarding the extinctions that have occurred in the Pleistocene epoch since man appeared around 195,000 years ago the Wikipedia writes: “Most evidence suggests that humans were a major factor responsible for these extinctions”. It’s the Wikipedia article on the “Holocene Extinction” they write: “The Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the Sixth extinction or Anthropocene extinction, is a current event, and is one of the most significant extinction events in the history of the Earth. This ongoing extinction of species coincides with the present Holocene epoch (approx. 11,700 years), and is mainly a result of human activity”. I will now describe some of the more interesting cases of human induced extinctions.
Humans have always enjoyed eating fowl, in fact they hunted the largest bird that ever lived, the 1100 lb (500kg), 10 ft (3 m) Elephant Bird that had roamed the forests of Madagascar for millennia to extinction within a few thousand years of reaching the island. Though the most recent bones that have been found date to 1000 CE, sightings of the creatures were reported as recently as the 1700 when the French Governor of the island documented reports of their presence. Marco Polo mentioned hearing about them in his memoirs. Here’s what the wikipedia has to say about their demise: “They became extinct, perhaps around 1000–1200 CE, likely due to human activity.” We also managed to take out another giant bird in New Zealand called the Moa. It weighed in at about 510 lbs (230 kg) and with it’s long neck reached up to 12 ft (3.6 m) tall. Here’s what the Wikipedia has to say about them: ” They were the dominant herbivores in New Zealand’s forest, shrubland and subalpine ecosystems for thousands of years, and until the arrival of the Māori were hunted only by the Haast’s eagle. Moa extinction occurred around 1300–1440 ± 20 years, primarily due to overhunting by Māori.”
Some species we hunted to extinction, but others we drove to extinction by outcompeting fellow predators. The premier example of that was the saber-toothed tigers. Interestingly they are mammals but are much more closely related to kangaroos and opossums than cats and thus are an example of convergent evolution where animals from 2 species evolve to the same appearance from different genetic backgrounds. Their long incisor teeth were ideal for megafauna but when we helped put all those into extinction. They had great difficulty catching and eating smaller prey with their tooth arrangement. Human competition is also thought to have played a part in the extinction of the Hyena that used to roam throughout europe and went extinct in Europe about 21,000 years ago as humans expanded into the region.
Human’s are implicated in the extinction of 3 different species of giant armadillo: the Holmesina that roamed North and South America and was 6.6 ft (2 m) long and weighed up to 500 lbs (227 kg), the bigger Glyptodon that could weight up to 1600 lbs and the massive Doedicurus that weighed up to 5200 lbs (2,370 kg), achieved a length of 13 ft (4 m) and a height of 4.9 ft (1.5 m), boasted a huge spiked tail and had a hump full of fat like a camel to get it through the dry season. All were herbivores unlike the omnivorous armadillos of today.
A beautiful species of horse called Equus scotti used to roam the Americas but the last ones died out 10,000 years ago shortly after humans are thought to have reached the continent. And of course “Evidence of early Americans hunting horses had earlier been uncovered by University of Calgary scientists, who discovered the remains of a pony-sized horse while excavating the dry bed of the St Mary Reservoir in southern Alberta. Several of the horse’s vertebrae were smashed and it had what appeared to be butcher marks on several bones.”
During that same period several species of elephant that also roamed the Americas also went extinct. One of them know as Cuvieronius hyodon stood 7 feet and 7 inches (2.3 meters) tall and weighed about 3.5 tonnes and had spiral shaped tusks. Fossils of this behemoth have been found in Mexico that date to 13,390 years ago about the time man was getting settled in the new world. Another American elephant-like creature that human are thought to have hunted to extinction were the Mastodons (Mammut americanum). Here’s a quote from the Wikipedia: “Fossil evidence indicates that mastodons probably disappeared from North America about 10,500 years ago as part of a mass extinction of most of the Pleistocene megafauna that is widely believed to have been a result of human hunting pressure.”
And finally we were deadly to those deadly sinners the sloths. They were called Megatherium or giant ground sloths. Here’s a quote from the Wikipedia again: “Megatherium is one of the largest land mammals known to have existed, weighing up to 4 tonnes and measuring up to 6 m (20 ft) in length from head to tail. It is the largest-known ground sloth, as big as modern elephants, and would have only been exceeded in its time by a few species of mammoth…In the south, the giant ground sloth flourished until about 10,500 radiocarbon years BP (8,500 BCE). Most cite the appearance of an expanding population of human hunters as the cause of its extinction”
In my opinion anyone who suggests humans evolved to be fruit eaters just has not studied the literature. Humans evolved to be top chain predators feeding on some of the largest and most ferocious beasts that ever lived!