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Ancestors of Homo Sapiens Hunted by Birds

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the mind-the-parrots dept.

Science 286

CFTM writes "The associate press writer, Alexandra Zavis, reports that 'A South African anthropologist said Thursday his research into the death nearly 2 million years ago of an ape-man shows human ancestors were hunted by birds.' The article raises some really fascinating questions, particularly when one begins to think about the evolutionary impact that this may have had on humans." From the article: "The Ohio State study determined that eagles would swoop down, pierce monkey skulls with their thumb-like back talons, then hover while their prey died before returning to tear at the skull. Examination of thousands of monkey remains produced a pattern of damage done by birds, including holes and ragged cuts in the shallow bones behind the eye sockets. Berger went back to the Taung skull, and found traces of the ragged cuts behind the eye sockets. He said none of the researchers who had for decades been debating how the child died had noticed the eye socket damage before."

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Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (4, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469775)

Perhaps our psychological fascination with dragons and birds of prey are subsequent results of frequent bird attacks on our ancestors? At any rate, it's been commonly believed that several thousand years of exposure to a species results in a slight increase of instinct of fear with each newborn. Books like Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond explain how evolutionary fears in species develop over many thousand years of exposure. Could what we see in movies of carrion-like dragons be a remnant of psychological fears imposed by these raptors on our ancestors?

If at one time our ancestors were hunted by large birds, what happened to them? One can easily think of ways for other large predator animals to be removed from the food chain but large raptors seem to have no natural predator. Did modern man learn to defend himself from such birds? Did our stone weapons suffice for protecting us from such large aerial predators or was it not until bronze weapons that we were specialized enough to protect ourselves?

While the telltale signs might remain in skeletons, these issues raise a host of new issues that obviously require much more research to be determined.

More importantly, aren't the researchers overlooking the obvious possibility that the "ragged cuts" behind the eye sockets resulted from carrion birds after the death of the individual?

Perhaps it was the case that many of these ancestors were wiped out from a plague that left no evidence of itself and there just happened to be large scavenger birds everywhere to capitalize off of these corpses? The result would be thousands (if not millions) of dead corpses left for scavengers to ravage. Corpses close enough to an aviary or bird sanctuary would likely suffer from these skull markings. Were the markings also present on other parts of the bodies? I've seen vultures pick a corpse clean and they probably worked pretty hard to get at the fat and oil rich brain ... the easiest access being the eyes.

Maybe the eyes of dead human corpses are merely a delicacy among scavenger birds or some other scavenger that left similar markings?

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (1, Insightful)

dnoyeb (547705) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469807)

Or maybe its just bullshit. Birds hunting the smartest animals on the planet, lol. I can see that...as a precursor to a Thanksgiving feast.

I am always fascinated by how we modern humans portray our predecessors as stupid, bumbling idiots. On one hand we claim how smart they are, the on the other we have them doing stupid things even monkeys wouldn't do.

Why are proto-humans always filthy? Most every animal on the planet washes his arse, but not proto-Human. He can make tools but not wash his ass. They hunt in groups, but jump around and make more noise than a herd of elephants. We do we paint pre humans this way?

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (3, Funny)

Wordsmith (183749) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469868)

Because, Geico commercials not withstanding, they're not around to defend themselves?

As someone who grew up in the Southern.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14469898)

I am always fascinated by how we modern humans portray our predecessors as stupid, bumbling idiots. On one hand we claim how smart they are, the on the other we have them doing stupid things even monkeys wouldn't do.
 
...part of the USA, I can tell you that you really shouldn't be so fascinated and surprised.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (3, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470012)

"Or maybe its just bullshit. Birds hunting the smartest animals on the planet, lol."

It is belived that Haast's eagle [bbc.co.uk] preyed on early New Zealanders.

"Most every animal on the planet washes his arse, but not proto-Human"

If you got close to a wild animal you would find it "filthy" and riddled with parasites, I have never seen one "wash it's arse" unless you count licking. If that is what you have to do to "wash" I would rather have a dirty arse.

"They hunt in groups, but jump around and make more noise than a herd of elephants."

They are the "beaters" that are jumping around, the purpose is to drive prey toward an ambush. It is a simple and very effective way to hunt in groups, wild chimps have been filmed hunting monkeys in a similar fashion.

"[Why] do we paint pre humans this way?"

Because it is the way they lived, many people don't have a clue of what it takes to live like a caveman. These people simply conclude the strange actions of "filthy" cavemen are "stupid" (or there is a conspiracy to portray them as filthy and stupid).

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (5, Funny)

Private Taco (808864) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469809)

"I've seen vultures pick a corpse clean and they probably worked pretty hard to get at the fat and oil rich brain ... the easiest access being the eyes."

You worked at Microsoft too?

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14469881)

now that's comedy!

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470001)

Holy shit...I just squirted coke out my nose...

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (1)

Hosiah (849792) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469825)

you gotta wonder if Hitchcock knew it all along...(link provided for young'uns: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056869/ [imdb.com] )

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (3, Informative)

miranatu (922449) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469830)

I think you should read the article a little more closely. This is building on data not only from the Taung child, but also from an Ohio State study on the predatory habits of certain birds. The study shows that birds did indeed hunt the way Berger suggests, from the evidence on thousands of monkey skulls. Similar damage is found on the Taung child, which would suggest that it was killed in the same way.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (4, Funny)

Basehart (633304) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469952)

"I think you should read the article a little more closely."

You insensitive clod. I would, but some giant bird just clawed my eyes out!

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (2, Insightful)

Ch_Omega (532549) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469835)

The article says nothing about adult-sized pre-humans being hunted by birds, only monkeys and one pre-human child, so I don't think there ever where a problem with birds hunting fully grown Hominidae or adult members of the homo genus, at least there is no scientific backing for it that I know of.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (-1)

Trogre (513942) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469856)

Ssssh, you'll upset the evolutionists!

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (0, Flamebait)

fimbulvetr (598306) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469945)

And since you're no evolutionist, you won't get offended right? You've got a better explanation, apparently. Perhaps some magical creature just created us out of the blue, perhaps? Nothing you can disprove, unlike the assertions in this article.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (1)

Ch_Omega (532549) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469979)

"Ssssh, you'll upset the evolutionists!" What does this have to do with anything? I belive in evolution. I'm just commenting on the parent posters question on when humans began defending themselves against giant birds, pointing out that no where in the article, there is any mention on fully grown pre-humans being hunted by birds.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (1)

superiority (892798) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470049)

The word "believe" implies some degree of faith. One should use, especially when debating with a Creationist or similar, the word "accept", as in "I accept the evidence". One does not believe or disbelieve in evidence (unless one is a nutjob), one accepts it as valid evidence supporting a cause.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (5, Interesting)

Gorobei (127755) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469849)

Bah. A behavior as simple as protecting your tribe's corpses from opportunistic predators quickly ensures you generally don't get attacked by eagles. Once a raptor sees it doesn't get a free meal from attacking proto-humans, it quickly gives up.

Heck, burying your dead becomes a great advantage: predators gain nothing from killing your species, and soon seek prey that actually gives them food! Maybe human death rituals (e.g. burial, burning, leaving to vultures) got started because they ensured predators didn't profit from the death of the victim.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (4, Informative)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470093)

"A behavior as simple as protecting your tribe's corpses from opportunistic predators quickly ensures you generally don't get attacked by eagles."

That is an extremely complex behavior. Very few animals do it, and those that do are very intelligent social animals. The only animals who do it that I can think of offhand are elephants and humans.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (2, Insightful)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470109)

If we're going to use logic, then don't bury humans because it teaches worms to attack us.

The obvious way to ensure that eagles don't benefit from a dead human lying around is to eat it first.
"It" being either the eagles or the body.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470191)

ITYM scavengers, not predators.

Thousand Years of Conditioning (1, Offtopic)

reporter (666905) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469879)

You can indeed see the effect of a thousand years of conditioning on the island of Japan. For 2000 years, the Japanese people have lived on a resource-poor island. When resources are scarce, everyone in the village is forced to share and to cooperate. Only through cooperation as a group can everyone expect to survive.

If a person does not cooperate with the group and stakes his own territory, then he risks his own survival. By himself, he will have a hard time in finding the necessary food and hospitable living space on a tiny island constantly ravaged by tsunamis, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

What is the result of these 2000 years of group think? It has produced a nation where the group has more value than the individual. Such thinking is perfect for mass production, where each worker must be a cooperating cog in the great wheel of industrial manufacturing. Toyota is hard to beat for this very reason.

Re:Thousand Years of Conditioning (0, Flamebait)

deesine (722173) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469926)

The Japanese are small. I wonder if they're frightened of birds.

Re:Thousand Years of Conditioning (1)

spooje (582773) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469982)

Yes, all the large crows around Tokyo really freak them out.

Re:Thousand Years of Conditioning (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470133)

The Japanese are small. I wonder if they're frightened of birds.

Nope. Just oversized lizards.

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470016)

Did modern man learn to defend himself from such birds?

We invented the tent.
     

Re:Birds of Prey or Carrion Birds? (3, Interesting)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470127)

I happen to agree with this theory of evolutionary predation fears. I think this could be used to explain all these 'hairy men' creatures that appear all over the world.

Up until about 200,000 years ago [wikimedia.org] there were about 5 or 6 different apes running around alongside our direct ancestors. These guys were smart, and they could use spears. My guess is they had a lot of body hair.

My personal pet theory is that about 100,000, human beings began systematically exterminating all other groups of hominids besides their own. The only hominids crafty enough to escape the slaughter were other homo sapiens.

You can see this continue today. Any group of human beings that give themselves some kind of group identity hate those other guys -- that group next door -- and will try to kill all of them, given the opportunity. They also think of other groups of people as savage animals.

So anways, rewind 100,000 years ago. A hairless human hunter venturing out into the woods to track down lunch stood a good chance of being killed by some hairy spear-wielding apeman.

Fast forward to today. People are still catching glimpses of hairy apemen in the woods (Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, whatever). Not that those hairy apemen are still alive, but that it's better to be paranoid and *suspect* that a creaking branch or other ambiguous sensory data is a hairy apeman, rather than foolishly walking into a hairy ape-mans' spear. To this day, human groups view their neighbor groups as savage animals who they are probably better off getting rid of.

How apt! (4, Funny)

mrseigen (518390) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469776)

Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.
Slashdot is in league with the birds.

Bird Brains? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14469780)

Hmm, so birds used to hunt humans, and now humans hunt birds. Kind of ironic. Whats next, Geeks loving microsoft and hating google?? Just my 2 cc.

Suddenly... (5, Funny)

Guppy06 (410832) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469791)

I don't feel so bad about wind power any more.

Re:Suddenly... (1)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469909)

Great! *cheerfully eats another can of beans*

Ancestors? (1)

yobjob (942868) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469796)

I get hunted by magpies when i'm 3 metres out the front door!

Old news, some doubt (4, Informative)

John Hawks (624818) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469799)

This story is mostly old news; the same researchers proposed it about ten years ago. The original idea was that the site where the skull was found (Taung) had a lot of young monkeys, which not only suggests predation, but also a relatively lightweight predator. Most of the other South African caves preserve larger adult specimens as well, which might have gotten in themselves or been carried (or dropped) by larger predators like leopards. It is a very tricky case to say that the accumulating agent at Taung must have been eagles, though, since it is much more likely that different predators and non-predation factors operated at different times for any given site.

What they found that justified a new paper was damage inside the eye orbits of the specimen, which is one area where eagle talons damage their prey. It could be true, but on the other hand there is a lot of doubt. After all, eagles aren't the only predators that damage the eyes, and there are other ways that the bones may have accumulated, chiefly water transport, that might not require predation at all. As one of my colleagues put it, so many young primates die of disease or inadequate nutrition; the chances of this story is greater than zero, but how much?

--John (my anthropology weblog is at http://johnhawks.net/weblog/ [johnhawks.net] )

Re:Old news, some doubt (5, Funny)

ratnerstar (609443) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469859)

It's extremely old news; I saw a documentary about this from 1963 [imdb.com] .

Harpy Eagles hunt monkeys today (4, Informative)

aapold (753705) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469818)

This has been known a long time, their primary diet consists of monkeys and sloths which they pluck from trees. Not many of them left though.

Wikipedia entry for Harpy Eagle [wikipedia.org] .

Yeah, the birds thought they had the last laugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14469822)

...but now it's PAYBACK TIME!

Those must have been BIG birds.... (2, Insightful)

d474 (695126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469831)

...because I don't think there is any bird alive today that doesn't fly away the minute we get anywhere near them, no matter how large. (okay, maybe an ostrich will fight us, but that is a BIG bird...)

How do we know that the holes in the heads didn't come from other proto-humans that fastened a bird talon to the end of some spear and then battled one another? That would seem to make a pretty lethal weapon.

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (3, Insightful)

John Hawks (624818) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469862)

...because I don't think there is any bird alive today that doesn't fly away the minute we get anywhere near them, no matter how large. (okay, maybe an ostrich will fight us, but that is a BIG bird...)

Certainly so, if it was big enough to carry the kid off -- we're talking about a 2-4 year old toddler -- it would have to be a LOTR-size eagle. Maybe Gandalf called in an airstrike?

I think either an attack with damage inflicted at the site of attack, or an eagle who had later access to a carcass killed by another predator and carried off only the head would be more likely hypotheses.

An earlier poster suggested that carrion birds might have been responsible, and I think that is a good idea as well.

--John (My post is at my anthropology weblog, http://johnhawks.net/weblog [johnhawks.net] )

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (3, Funny)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469914)

"it would have to be a LOTR-size eagle. Maybe Gandalf called in an airstrike?"

Oh yea, I'm on slashdot baby.

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470136)

"Certainly so, if it was big enough to carry the kid off -- we're talking about a 2-4 year old toddler -- it would have to be a LOTR-size eagle. "

The ancestor we are talking about was from two million years ago. It was a tree-swinging ape. The two year old probably weighed five pounds.

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (1)

mmelson (441923) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469866)

It might not have been so much a matter of the birds being BIG but us being SMALL. The skull in the picture in the article is tiny; barely big enough to fill a person's hand. Maybe the birds only preyed on children?

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (1)

d474 (695126) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469891)

Since you put it that way, this article isn't that suprising. If early humans let their little children waddle around an open field in predatory bird territory, nature will take it's course.

But if the early adult humans were the size of modern 4 year old children, no wonder they were getting picked off by predatory birds...and any other hungry beast in that environment.

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (1)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469919)

I don't think there is any bird alive today that doesn't fly away the minute we get anywhere near them
You've never seen a grouse? It'll just sit there absolutely still, hoping you won't see it. People have actually run them over on the road.

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14469930)

You've never been to the Galapagos islands... The birds there do not have any fear of humans since there were no humans or any predators at all there until about 300-400 years ago.

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (2, Interesting)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470025)

How about a raptor weighing 200lb+, standing 6.5ft tall with a wingspan of 7-8 meters (~25ft)?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentavis_magnificen s [wikipedia.org]

Not too much you could do to stop one of those swooping down and sucking on your brain!

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470079)

I'd be more afraid of stepping out of my time machine and having one of THESE [wikipedia.org] suckers jump out of ambush at me!

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (2, Interesting)

Coryoth (254751) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470035)

How big a bird? Would an eagle with a 3 meter wingspan (that's just shy of 10' for you Americans) that hunted moa [wikipedia.org] (flightless birds that weighed as much as 250kg (more than 500 pounds)) count? Because Haast's eagle [wikipedia.org] was exactly that, and only became extinct around 500 years ago. One of those would have had no trouble taking down a man.

New Zealand has very unique fauna, and unlike nearby Australia (which seems to have the finest array of deadly creatures in the world) it's almost all harmless. Haast's eagle was one glaring exception, and would certainly have been a truly fearsome creature had it survived.

Jedidiah.

Re:Those must have been BIG birds.... (1)

Baloo Ursidae (29355) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470236)

...because I don't think there is any bird alive today that doesn't fly away the minute we get anywhere near them, no matter how large.

Go ahead, screw with an owl nest or eagle nest. I'd make sure your insurance is up to date before you do.

Sea gulls + French Fries + Fast Food Parking Lot (3, Funny)

xoip (920266) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469838)

Story reminds me of trying to eat fries outside a fast food joint and fighting off the seagulls.

Re:Sea gulls + French Fries + Fast Food Parking Lo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14469853)

alka-seltzer is your friend. watch the seagulls pop.

Re:Sea gulls + French Fries + Fast Food Parking Lo (1)

PseudoSchizo (847596) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469878)

Odd.. seems completly ontopic to me.. I guess if it was a lousy 'in soviet russia' joke, it would've been modded ontopic.. pSc

Re:Sea gulls + French Fries + Fast Food Parking Lo (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469922)

are you sure you weren't on a Alfred Hitchcock set?

Maybe we should just look to Futurama? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14469861)

I mean these guys are coming up with these ideas way before scientists...

KFC for Vendetta (5, Interesting)

EnsilZah (575600) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469867)

So the whole eating chicken thing is some unconcious racial memory payback thing?

Re:KFC for Vendetta (2, Funny)

dnoyeb (547705) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469911)

Well it might explain the purpose of the Afro.

I for one. . . (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14469870)

I for one say farewell to our old bird overlords.

I, for one. . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470053)

...welcome our new Hitchcock overlord.

Thank God! (1)

idlake (850372) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469874)

Finally, an explanation of my morbid fear of live chicken.

Re:Thank God! (1)

Basehart (633304) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469973)

That must be why my wife freaks out when I wear my chicken outfit while making love.

The Cycle (1)

vchoy (134429) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469875)

  • Long time 100000/1000000 years ago: Birds hunt Homo Sapiens
    • Recently (100/1000s years till now): Humans Hunt/eat Birds
      • Now we're being threatened not by the birds, but what they carry (avian flu).

        Interesting cycle.

Re:The Cycle (1)

corngrower (738661) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469944)

Think Alfred Hitchcock: The Birds

Re:The Cycle (1)

Carthag (643047) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469966)

WHAT

the circle of life (4, Funny)

Belseth (835595) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469892)

There a kind of symetry involved that birds once considered us fast food and now we eat deep fried birds as fast food. I wonder if we gave them high cholesterol?

Old news from 1963... (1)

Abuzar (732558) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469893)


This was already well documented in 1963:

The Birds [imdb.com]

Er.. (2, Interesting)

Paranoia Agent (887026) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469904)

Couldn't the birds have attacked AFTER death?

How fitting... (1)

CountZero117 (921222) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469907)

so, our ancestors were killed by birds, and now the birds are at it again with their pesky flu

But was this just a fluke? (1)

mfriedma (945835) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469933)

Even if a child occasionally got killed by birds that normally ate monkeys can we really say that birds preyed on homo sapiens?

Today children (and even adults) occasionally get killed by domestic dogs. But if you were frozen and woke up in 50,000 AD and got told by an anthropologist that in AD 2000 human beings were preyed on by domestic canines wouldn't you tell him that he was mistaken?

Re:But was this just a fluke? (1)

mattjb0010 (724744) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469969)

Today children (and even adults) occasionally get killed by domestic dogs.

and dingoes!

So where have they gone? (2, Funny)

utexaspunk (527541) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469940)

What happened to all these gigantic human-hunting birds? Did humans kill them all? It seems like they'd still be pretty successful, especially in rural areas. I'm glad I don't have to constantly be on the lookout for giant birds that could swoop down from the sky and pierce my brain with its talons through my eyeballs to let me dangle until I die. That's pretty horrific- someone should make a movie where a crazy scientist does some Jurassic Park shit and brings these birds back from extinction by crossbreeding them with pigeons. Being part pigeon, they multiply rapidly and quickly spread to the mainland US to terrorize the population....

Re:So where have they gone? (1)

Physician (861339) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470018)

I was walking to school once and I heard this sudden swooshing noise and quickly ducked my head, only to see a rather large bird just barely miss sending its claws through my skull. Apparently I was walking past the tree containing its nest and it was very protective of its home and perhaps the eggs therein. Needless to say, I avoided that tree from then on.

Must have been some giant birds (1)

putko (753330) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469962)

Human skulls used to be thicker, right?

They'd have to have some might powerful talons to break through a thick skull.

Re:Must have been some giant birds (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470089)

Even with a thicker skull, the eye sockets are a weak point. They used to perform lobotomies by pushing an ice pick through the back of the eye socket and moving it around.

I am editing wikipedia (5, Funny)

this great guy (922511) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469981)

to recategorize The Birds (1963) as a 'documentary'.

Happened Then...Happens Now (5, Insightful)

queenb**ch (446380) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469986)

There is a rather large african bird that runs and pack hunts on the African plains even now. I'm sure that one of you will know the name of it, as it escapes me at the moment. It is quite feared in the regions it is known to inhabit because it currently has the rather uncomfortable habit of killing and eating members of our species. People joke about the dragon saying "Humans...yes...I like them. They're crunchy and taste good with ketchup." However, we often forget that being slow, weak, and unarmed (compared to other species and their natural equipment) that we make a tempting meal for a great many things. Since this is true of modern man, even with all of our technology (googling on "man killed by bear" brings up at least 10 pages), this must have been even more true of our early ancestors.

The whole reason that we consider a 30.06 superior to a flint tipped spear or big stick is because it can kill more stuff before that stuff can kill us. I can only imagine what it would have been like to try to fight of a predator armed only with the most basic implements. This leads me to think that early man was on the menu rather often. While this may sound cold to many of you, we have all benefitted from it, so don't feel too bad for the early guys. We know that our ancestors evolved quite a bit from looking at the fossil record. What's the big driving factor behind evolution? Predation. Wolves make the deer smarter and faster by culling the weak and stupid. Birds force moths to shift their coloration patterns by eating anything that "stands out". Why do we have these big brains and not a whole lot else? Predation. Since we didn't have fangs or claws or venom, we had to think our way out of being eaten. This selected for intelligence.

One theory has it that we're here because we're loosers. Now, don't squeal...keep reading. We know that early hominds lived in forests. Why? Plenty of food and plenty of cover. The same reasons that modern apes are found in forests. Given the idea that forest is the most desirable habitat, why did early hominds forsake the forest and creep on to the plains? It's simple...they didn't leave because they suddenly thought "You know, going out there on the plains where there's no food, no water, and a lot of predators we can't out run sounds like a MARVELOUS idea!" They were driven out. Groups of apes, chimps, etc. war over territory constantly. Early hominids lost a battle to retain their territory and were driven out of the forest and on to the plains because they were loosers. That's right, we're all decended from a big bunch of loosers who made the best of what they had left. Sound familiar??? Being on the plains made forced the evolution of walking upright so that we could see over the top of the grass to see predators coming at us. Once we starting walking around as bipeds instead of knuckle draggers, we had these free hands. With free hands and opposable thumbs, well you can just get into all kinds of trouble can't you.

Given that we have a long history of being dinner, I fail to see why these scientists think it's so odd. It seems emminently logical that some predator made the wounds on the skull.

2 cents,

Queen B

Re:Happened Then...Happens Now (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470038)

"Losers." It's spelled losers.

Re:Happened Then...Happens Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470180)

I think you're somewhat off with evolution.

Remember, the theory of evolution doesn't hold that man just existed, in primitive form, and then evolved. Early man or what man evolved from was probably equiped with more "bodily" weapons. What made man evolve to be more smart and have less weapons, is that the smarter man survived more often and longer, than the stronger stupider man. There came a point when intelligence starting winning of "strength", and having the "strength" gene became less important to survival than having the "smart" gene. Another thing to consider is I am sure the genes that effected intelligence had an even greated impact since humans stay in communities. Being intelligent enough to communicate effectively and solve problems as a group, and pass that information along (through means other than genetics) greatly helped. So, it wasn't that we gained intelligence because we were easy prey, we gained intelligence because it became a better helper of survival than strengths or "natural weapons" as you put it.

Additionally, I think we would fare a better chance at fighting than we may thing, if we grew up in the environment. A working / hunting man can become very strong. Protected as child, you would learn how your parents and community survived. You would grow up hunting and gathering instead of doing the enormous amount of things we do now a days.

Re:Happened Then...Happens Now (1)

raduf (307723) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470185)


      Thing is... are we really that weak? For one, we're pretty big. Average healthy male, accounting for "growth" in the last century, is about 50-60 kilos right? Most animals are actually less. And with hands and feet we have longer reach and more possibilities then any. If you compare with bears.. of course we lose! but for example a wolf... I can't really see a wolf attaking and killing, alone, a grown human male. Not on a regular basis. So in most climates we'd be at the top of the food chain, or close. Any place where there are no felines humans don't have natural predators. Bears? Boars? Poisonos snakes? Not really in their menu.

      And about competitions... a think it was our own species. Man is man greatest enemy they say? It's true. Wars, competition for resources, competition for a mate, all lead to winners and loosers. If animals were our greatest problem, we'd all have fangs ;)

What bird?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470198)

Packs of carnivorous birds eating modern humans? Never heard of it. Neither has google.

Re:Happened Then...Happens Now (2, Interesting)

jeffsenter (95083) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470209)

I don't know about some of this. I'm not sure that pre-humans were other animals dinner that often. It is important to recognize though that this pre-human of 2M years ago is basically an ape. Chimpanzees and Gorillas are probably better to compare this pre-human with than Neanderthals. Big cats probably posed some threat to the pre-humans, but Chimps and Gorillas don't face much by way of natural predators. These and other large apes are strong, social, and well organized. They can gang up on predators and coordinate defense effectively.

Re:Happened Then...Happens Now (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470225)

There is a rather large african bird that runs and pack hunts on the African plains even now. ... habit of killing and eating members of our species.

No, there isn't. Ostrich eat plants and bugs [wikipedia.org]

Why is this bogus post modded up?

Ever heard of Terror Birds? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14469988)

It's not what this article is talking about, but there's no doub that some birds at least have hunted larger mammals:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_bird [wikipedia.org]

And there's at least a little evidence that some very large predator-birds existed in South America much more recently than that.

Overlords (1, Insightful)

truckaxle (883149) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469989)

I would guess that this is probably the original origin of the "overlord" cliche.

Some little pip-squeak sitting around the communal fire, 2-million years ago trys to be cool and impress his commrades by announcing "I for one welcome our new avian menance overlords" Snicker snicker snicker. After months of repeating this phase with multiple variations his brained cracked skullcase somehow ended in the fire pit.

This is nothing new (4, Funny)

Ikoma Andy (41693) | more than 8 years ago | (#14469993)

I got chicks following me everywhere I go.

KFC (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470008)

Kentucky-Fried Chicken: Primate's ultimate finger-licken' revenge.

oh noes!!11! (1)

hobo sapiens (893427) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470022)

the birds are coming to get me!!!

What's that you say? Homo sapiens? * phew * I thought you said HOBO sapiens. You /. editors need to be more sensitive to us Hobo Sapiens.

Hahahaha (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470050)

Immaculate_Misconception: I only remember it because the level of idiocy that you displayed had me laughing so hard that tears came to my eyes, I actually called someone to share the humor of it, he thought you were an idiot also.

That's a pretty funny image.

I imagine you sitting in your parent's- no grandmother's- basement, with some kind of headset apparatus on your acne pocked melon, snorting with laughter. Your potato fingers stab at an oversized keypad and suddenly your only friend in the world, Gnuyn your pen pal from Cambodia, answers the phone and you grunt to him in your exclusive made-up pet language that he should check out fark.com and read my post.

Of course he has no idea what you are talking about. He never has. But he clucks into the receiver slavishly because your mom keeps sending him ten dollar bills every christmas so he has to be nice to you.

You chuckle some more, careful not to spill your capri sun, and then finger type a post bookended by some dazzling html that makes it stand out from all the others with its bold color. You are so proud of yourself that you don't bother to read any other comments, you simply 'ctl f' your login over and over again to keep track of all the felating responses to your superior humor. Gnuyn laughs nervously. You take that as a compliment.

You reread your posts until you become aroused and have to start typing one-handed. You come close to climaxing when you find someone who spelled "you are" as "your." Deep down you wish you had someone else to call that would actually listen to your nonsense- and you know it's nonsense. If you posted anything close to a rational thought no one would respond to you- you know, you've tried. So you blather on. You pray that someone will reply in the same way most of us pray we had two dicks. Perhaps we can borrow yours? Since you've never bothered to use it?

You briefly wonder what it would be like to be with a woman. A second later you regain control and resume stabbing your alienware keyboard with your stubby cheeto fingers and use your shoulder to push your glasses back into place above your fat dimpled sweaty nose.

I imagine your grandmother pounding on the basement door, yelling at you that you should come to bed. You release your two inch mushroom in a panic and fling your "love" sock into a dark corner. You pathetically try to pull up your sweatpants while bleating, "five more minutes, Nana!"

You rifle off one more razor sharp post and then cry yourself to sleep. You dream of Optimus Prime giving you a back rub while you ride He-man's cat around your high school gym to terrorize the cool kids. You have one thumb in your mouth and the other in your anus.

Just another beautiful day in the life of Immaculate Misconception.

I will pray for you. I know you will be offended by that, but I will do it anyway. You need a friend.

Haast Eagle (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470065)

The Haast egale, now extinct was the worlds largest eagle and is believed to have hunted people as recently as 800 years ago... Cant be bothered looking for a link, do your own research.

self defence from long ago (1)

dartarrow (930250) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470072)

..when one begins to think about the evolutionary impact that this may have had on humans


In defence, we developed killer mohawks

I know it's cliche, but... (1)

cnerd2025 (903423) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470076)

I guess that missing link is for the birds... Hahaha...stupid birds lost the evolutionary battle. Too bad, so sad...mwuhahaha

The speed of gene spreading (2, Interesting)

dybdahl (80720) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470086)

A good indicator, of how fast the best genes spread, is the story of Gengis Khan. According to a recent investigation in 2003, Djengis Khan's Y-chromosome is now carried by 16 million males in asia. Since these chromosomes are only given by fathers to sons, this 16 million multiplication of his genes in 800 years is quite remarkable. If he had superior genes then, he wouldn't have it as much today.

Re:The speed of gene spreading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470113)

Djengis Khan's Y-chromosome is now carried by 16 million males in asia. ... If he had superior genes then, he wouldn't have it as much today.

So what you're saying is, you're longing for the "good old days?"
Memo to /.: Keep an eye on this "dybdahl" character. Or welcome him, if you 're not tired of that gag yet.

Re:The speed of gene spreading (1)

zephc (225327) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470174)

Is that a gene specific to his Y chromosome that was not found in any of his ancestors? I think it's more likely that Genghis Khan simply shared the same gene that was preexisting in many men, and has made it to 16M men in Asia today.

E.g.
common ancestor -> GK -> some men today from the set of 16M
                            - - - - -> other men from the set of 16M

Correcting some misconceptions (5, Insightful)

bturtle (945841) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470106)

Noticed quite a few posts about imagined giant doom-birds swooping down to attack cave people, so I thought I'd mention a few things.

First of all, the Taung baby was not a modern human. (Ausralopithecines are bipedal, but closer to apes than to modern humans apart from that). An adult averaged between 65 and 90 lbs., depending on gender.

Second of all, they're talking about a child. It would be tiny, and the idea of something that small being attacked by a larger predatory bird doesn't seem that far-fetched. No need for Mothra.

Humans were much smaller (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470108)

People forget humans were much smaller in the good old days. Men weren't 150lbs. Male proto-humans might weight 70lbs and females much less. So the birds are really going after prey in the same weight class.

I dunno (1)

promethean_spark (696560) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470121)

When I go out jogging, I feel a natural fear of mountain lions and the like, but not birds. In fact I feel pretty capable of kicking a birds butt. If pre-humans were hunted by birds I think that'd mean that we at least figured out how to hold our own. We are talking about africans here, who were in the stone age until what, the 1800s?

Re:I dunno (1)

hairyface (717081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470190)

Don't extrapolate from your individual experience. When I go walking with my guinea pig, I have a terrific fear of chickens attacking me - and this despite the fact I always have a solid stick at hand (attached to my zimmer frame) for self defence.

Re: Africans in stone age until 1800s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470220)

> We are talking about africans here, who were in the stone age until what, the 1800s?

Oh for God's sake: Great Zimbabwe, Zanzibar, all of North Africa (Phoenicians, Egypt)...

Things change... (0, Offtopic)

like-it-or-not (608058) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470146)


This was like, what, over a million years ago?
Get over it!

Funny that I should read a story like this... (1, Redundant)

Solra Bizna (716281) | more than 8 years ago | (#14470155)

...when not three hours ago I finished watching Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" with my family.

-:sigma.SB

P.S. I didn't read the other comments before posting; this will probably be modded Redundant.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14470202)

I for one welcome our new cranium smashing bird overlords
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