Scientists Jesús Rodríguez, Ana Mateos and Guillermo Zorrilla, from the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH), have just published a work in the journal Journal of Human Evolution in which they analyze the cannibalistic behavior of the Atapuerca populations of a million years ago, the results of which show that anthropophagy was a profitable strategy for Homo antecessor.
Numerous studies have shown that all animals adapt their feeding strategies to optimize the cost-benefit balance, and based on this principle, the CENIEH researchers have studied the cannibalistic behavior of Homo antecessor, reexamining the data provided by other previous studies.
They have not only estimated the amount of food that could be obtained from each of the animals consumed by Homo antecessor (the benefit) and the effort that would have involved obtaining and processing each of these animals (the cost), but also have calculated the cost and benefit of consuming other humans compared to those of other dams.
"Our analyzes show that Homo antecessor, like any predator, selected their prey following the principle of optimizing the cost-benefit balance, and furthermore they also show that, considering only that balance, humans were a 'high ranking' prey. This means that, compared to other prey, humans could obtain a large amount of food at a low cost ”, explains Jesús Rodríguez.
One of the most surprising results of this study has been that humans were consumed in a much greater proportion than expected depending on its abundance compared to other animals. This could be explained by a high human encounter rate.
And, as Ana Mateos explains, “for Homo antecessor it was easier to meet a human than another animal. One of the possible explanations for this high encounter rate between humans is that the cannibalized corpses were members of the group who died from different causes ”.
Behavioral ecology of Homo antecessor
This article titled «Does optimal foraging theory explain the behavior of the oldest human cannibals?«, Has been carried out from a new point of view: that of the Ecology of human behavior (HBE, Human Behavioral Ecology, for its acronym in English).
The HBE tries to explain the behavior of animals applying the principle that the actions of any individual seek as their ultimate goal to guarantee their survival and that of their offspring, which translates into the search for the greatest possible benefit at the lowest cost.
Jesús Rodríguez, Guillermo Zorrilla-Revilla, Ana Mateos. 2019. «Does optimal foraging theory explain the behavior of the oldest human cannibals?«, Journal of Human Evolution 131, 228-239. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2019.03.010.