Ecological Relationships with Other Animals

The cave at Longgushan preserves evidence of the close association of homi-nids and a number of other animal species. Large mammalian carnivores, a number of mammalian herbivores, and many bird species are prominent members of this ecological community.

Cut marks on ungulate bones are unambiguous indicators of hominids' ecological relationship with such deer-like species as Gray's sika (Pseudaxis grayi) and the giant elk (Megalocerus pachyosteus). Tongue was clearly a commonly eaten body part. And we have noted the eating and apparent roasting of horse. There are also what appear from published photographs of fossil specimens that are now lost to be cut marks on bones of rhinoceroses, elephants, and pigs. Smaller animals that may have been eaten include tortoises and birds. Past authors have theorized that Homo erectus hunted these animals. But how did erectus really obtain these food sources?

Archaeology shows that erectus's stone-tool technology was minimal. With no long-distance hunting implements like the spear, or the much more advanced atlatl and bow, erectus bands would have had a very difficult time dispatching an animal as large as a woolly rhino. Smaller and slower animals such as tortoises may have been preferred prey. Larger prey was likely scavenged.

The glacial-interglacial population movements that we have postulated for Homo erectus suggest that hominids may have followed migrating herds of herbivores as they moved seasonally. This idea was proposed some years ago by ecologist Norton Griffiths and archaeologist Mary Leakey for African early hominids, but it may well have been a pattern of ecological be havior shown by Chinese Homo erectus as well. We will return to this important model of hominid dispersal during the Pleistocene in our discussion of global population movements and the origin of Homo erectus in chapter 7.

Environment and ecology provide us with a good basis on which to investigate the behavioral traits of Homo erectus that made life in Ice-Age China possible—intellectual ability, manual dexterity, and speech. In the next chapter we turn to these most human of erectus traits.


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