Weapons of Mass Destruction

These, then, were the defenses used for most of our evolution: increase in size, socialization, vocalizations, bipedalism, increasing complexity of the brain, confusing and active defensive behaviors. Active defenses by primates may be in a general mammalian category; that is, employing teeth or nails and claws—like the angwantibo (a slow and steady prosimian) biting a predator on the nose—or they may be uniquely primate, such as using sticks or branches as weapons.

The truly singular retort at which primates excel is the use of weapons against predators. Breaking off or dropping branches was only observed in members of the New World capuchin monkey group by our survey respondents (and all aggressive retaliation of this kind was directed at wild cats and reptiles), but we know from reports and journal articles that unaltered weapons are used frequently by macaques and many other primate species.

At some point, hominids became weapon users. But the earliest weapons should not be thought of as any more than sticks and thorny branches. Anthropologists Lisa Rose and Fiona Marshall suggest that early hominids employed collective defense (just like non-human primates do), and "would have responded similarly to the risk of carnivore predation by intensifying cooperative behaviors, perhaps using branches or stones as simple defensive weapons."51 There is no evidence that the early hominids made or used stone tools—no link between the oldest fossils and any tools has yet to be found. As stated earlier, stone tools did not appear for almost 5 million years into our evolution, and they were not weaponry at that point.

The sticks and branches or the occasional rock used as a weapon wasn't a danger to predators—it was simply the primate method of defending ourselves as best we could (although sticks and stones can break bones). We were not on the offensive, we were on the defensive. And, we must not confuse tools, or even weapons, with the ability to avoid predation. Hominids after 2.3 million years ago had stone tools, but that did not keep them from being preyed upon, as was so obvious with the Homo erectus remains of hyena meals found in the caves of China.

Considering all this evidence, why is it then that so many scientists, scholars, and members of the general public have a view of our ancestors as bloodthirsty brutes, not just defending themselves but aggressively entering into combat with every living creature? We feel this picture of early humans is based on three things we tackle in the next chapter: perverted Western views of modern humans, the Christian concept of original sin, and . . . just plain sloppy science.

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