In today’s hunter-gatherer societies, the EROI for killing large animals dwarfs all other food sources. The EROI, of calories produced divided by those burned during the hours of labor invested, for large game (a deer, for example), is more than 100, and on average four times that of small game, fifteen times that of birds, about eight times that of roots and tubers, and 10-15 times that of seeds and nuts. The hunter-gatherer EROI for seeds, nuts, and birds is around ten-to-one. An average-sized adult African elephant carcass provides about 13 million calories, which would sustain a band of 12 people for a year if they could eat it all before it rotted and did not die of protein poisoning. The EROI for those easily killed proboscideans when humans invaded the Western Hemisphere could have been in the hundreds and even more than one thousand. Large animals have always been the mother lode of hunter-gatherer peoples, and the consensus among anthropologists is that no instincts urge a hunter to kill only what is needed, but a hunter will kill whatever he can. That finding partly derives from studying modern hunter-gatherers. There is no doubt that when early humans intruded into environments that never before encountered humans, where animals would have had no intrinsic fear of humans, people would have had an exceptionally easy time killing all large animals encountered. Animals without experience around humans, such as Antarctic penguins, are easily approached and killed. As happened innumerable times in the historical era, intruding humans killed all the naïve animals that they could. The only animals that survived developed a healthy fear of humans and avoided them, but how many could develop that fear before they were all killed? From the very beginning of the , . More than 500 million years later, a new kind of animal appeared that turned that advantage into a fatal disadvantage, as it found a way to mine that energy stored in large animals, and it quickly plundered it to exhaustion whenever it could.
Because the Western Hemisphere’s inhabitants were virtually all in their Stone Age, they as greatly as Old World civilizations did, and many societies were environmentally sustainable and provided seeming answers to questions that scientists have asked about Old World civilizations’ development. The natives of coastal California were familiar with agriculture, as it was practiced by nearby inland tribes, but they never adopted it. California was so bountiful, and its climate was so human-friendly, that its natives retained their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Similarly, northward on the Pacific Northwest's coast, natives created an economy in which half of its calories derived from salmon runs, and those peoples were relatively sedentary without agriculture. Natives turned the Great Plains into a big pasture for bison, and the biome was partly maintained by annual burning of the grasslands. In Mesoamerica, farming has been sustainable for thousands of years. In the Amazon, the natives transformed the rainforest, and a higher proportion of plants and trees provided human-digestible foods than in any other “wild” place on Earth, those natives also terraformed thin tropical soils with ceramics (maybe unintentional) and charcoals (intentional) and made super-soils called and . In summary, native practices in the Western Hemisphere were often sustainable if not quite abundant. But when civilizations arose, they had problems that were like their Old World counterparts'. Their problems were also environmental and not just the injustices of hierarchal societies, often steeply hierarchical.
Energy and the Human Journey: Where We Have Been; …
About a quarter-million years after Oldowan culture began, a new species appeared called , named by Louis Leakey in 1964. Whether is really the first member of the human genus has been debated ever since. As with all of its primate ancestors, was adapted for tree climbing. Virtually , especially those in Africa. Silverback gorillas are about the lone exception, along with some isolated chimps. certainly slept in trees. The predators of African woodlands and grasslands have been formidable for millions of years, and predators of in those days included , , and . Night camera footage is readily available on the Internet today showing the nighttime behaviors engaged in by hyenas, lions, and others. The African woodlands and plains are extremely dangerous at night, just from roving predators, not to mention being stumbled into by elephants, rhinos, and water buffalos. Today’s African hunter-gatherers sleep around the campfire to keep predators and interlopers at bay; a sentinel keeps watch as everybody sleeps in shifts through the twelve-hour nights. They are safer from predation at night in camp than they are in daytime as they roam.
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In the 1990s, Wrangham began to develop his Cooking Hypothesis, which he more fully elucidated in , published in 2009. Wrangham marshaled numerous lines of evidence to support his hypothesis, which was widely pilloried by his colleagues. Wrangham conceded that the archeological record was scarce for the early control of fire, but he countered that evidence for early fires would rarely survive. Most caves last a quarter million years or so; they are made from soft stone, and the geological dynamics that create caves also destroy them. Also, early humans, just like gorillas and chimpanzees today, and even early hunter-gatherers, would have been constantly on the move, never sleeping in the same place twice. If the first fires were made in the African woodlands and grasslands, the evidence would not survive for long, just as the remnants of today’s hunter-gatherer fires on the African savanna quickly disappear. The gist of Wrangham’s Cooking Hypothesis is this: