Food around 100,000 BC

The Globe

The multiple ways in which Homo sapiens diverged physically and behaviorally from pre-sapiens forms of Homo in the period between about 300,000 years ago to 30,000 years ago are collectively referred to as the "Middle/Upper Paleolithic transition." This "transition" is visible in many radical changes, such as a shift from generalized hunting patterns to concentrations in some areas on gregarious herd mammals like deer, reindeer, and horses. (Patterns in Prehistory)

...while early humans ate some meat, we don't know how much meat they ate, or whether they got the meat by hunting or scavenging. It's not until much later, around 100,000 years ago, that we have good evidence about human hunting skills, and it's clear that humans then were still very ineffective big-game hunters. Hence human hunters of 500,000 years ago and earlier must have been even more ineffective. (The Third Chimpanzee)


Some South African caves occupied around 100,000 years ago provide us with the first time point in human evolution when we have detailed information about what people actually were eating. Our confidence stems from the fact that the African caves are full of stone tools, animal bones with cut marks from stone tools, and human bones, but few or no bones of carnivores like hyenas. Thus, it's clear that people, not hyenas, brought the bones to the caves. Among the bones are many of seals and penguins, as well as shellfish such as limpets. That makes Middle Stone Age Africans the first people for whom there is even a hint that they exploited the seashore. However, the caves contain very few remains of fish or flying seabirds, undoubtedly because people still lacked the fishhooks and nets needed to catch fish and birds. (The Third Chimpanzee)

The mammal bones from the caves include those of quite a few medium-sized species, among which those of an antelope called eland predominate by far. Eland bones in the caves represent eland of all ages, as if people had somehow managed to capture a whole herd and kill every individual. At first, the relative abundance of eland among hunters' prey is surprising, since the caves' environment 100,000 years ago was much as it is today and since eland is now one of the least common large animals in the area. The secret to the hunters' success with eland probably lay in the fact that eland are rather tame, not dangerous, and easy to drive in herds. This suggests that hunters occasionally managed to drive a whole herd over a cliff, explaining why the distribution of eland ages among the cave kills is like that in a living herd. In contrast, more dangerous prey, such as Cape buffalo, pigs, elephants, and rhinos, yield a very different picture. Buffalo bones in the caves are mainly of very young or very old individuals, while pigs, elephants, and rhinos are virtually unrepresented. (The Third Chimpanzee)

Hence Middle Stone Age Africans can be considered big-game hunters, but only barely. They either avoided dangerous species entirely or confined themselves to weak old animals or babies. Those choices reflect sound prudence on the hunters' part, since their weapons were still spears for thrusting rather than bows and arrows. (The Third Chimpanzee)

It is no coincidence that the world's first evidence that humans fed on marine life is to be found along this coastline [Cape Coast of Africa], where shellfish middens date back over 100,000 years before present. It was precisely this intensive, protein-rich marine diet over thousands of years that is believed to have spurred the increase in brain size of the archaics, pushing them over a morphological and behavioral boundary into their modern forms. (In the Footsteps of Eve)

Southwest Asia




Indus Valley






South America




North America