The Kalahari Persistence Hunt

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During a persistence hunt, an antelope, such as a kudu, is not shot or speared from a distance, but simply run down in the midday heat. Depending on the specific conditions, hunters of the central Kalahari will chase a kudu for about two to five hours over 25 to 35 km in temperatures of about 40 to 42°C (104 to 107°F). The hunter chases the kudu, which then runs away out of sight. By tracking it down at a fast running pace the hunter catches up with it before it has had enough time to rest in the shade. The animal is repeatedly chased and tracked down until it is too exhausted to continue running. The hunter then kills it at close range with a spear. Narrated by David Attenborough.

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Thanks for this link.

"... only one man will undertake it."

I suspect this is a ritualization, and that when these people really needed the meat for survival there would be several pursuers.

"This is how men hunted before they had weapons"

I doubt it. Even chimpanzees will pick up sticks and throw them. I strongly suspect that carrying weapons during a hunt had become usual by the time Homo ergaster had evolved.

"Running on two feet is more efficient over long distances than running on four." No. I've seen many studies quoted showing that four-footed running by mammals evolved for it is more energy-efficient than human bipedal running. AFAIK the real advantage is the ability to cool down by sweating: the human sweating system can remove ~20 cal/minute for long times, which is enough to make up for the lower energy efficiency. Note, however, that the prey selected is one adapted to short sprints for escape, rather than long-distance running. (Although I've read that a man in good condition can run down a horse.)

Obviously our earliest ancestors didn't have water bottles. However, I've wondered for a while whether there was some co-evolution between Homo ergaster/erectus and large citrus fruits (such as oranges or grapefruit), which could be strung from a length of vine and carried over the shoulder in appropriate numbers.

This mode of hunting may well have originated with Homo ergaster (with the changes to the foot improving efficiency running at the expense of climbing/scrambling through foliage), however I have a theory that the common ancestor of Homo, Pan, and Gorilla may have had sweat/cooling system similar to ours and practiced a strategy of long-distance chase. (Chimpanzees and Gorillas have very similar distributions of sweat glands to humans, including the loss of apocrine glands from all but the armpits, groin, and head.)

This has been going around science news for a little while now and I love it. Struggling to develop strong exercise habits, I've long thought that the development of rock-hucking, spear-chucking, etc. was the direct result of running being the most hateful activity ever.

That might have been true for the majority of our ancestors, who would have gladly sat down and waited for the antelope to stroll up and offer its neck, but they were(are) doing it barefoot and it was(is) their equivalent of a full time job.

The idea that my ancestors(and a few contemporaries) had to run dozens of miles in bare feet every few days, just to grab a hunk of meat, for at least hundreds of thousands of years, before wrestling barley into fields and goats into pens inspired me to be a better runner.

By respecting myself through physical betterment, I'm also paying reverence to my ancestors for the short, hard lives they were given and fought for, which resulted in my flabby, lazy existence. Whenever I run, I take moral support from all those many billions of ancient running apes that shaped the genetic profiles of myself and everyone else in the world.

Also toe-running. Realizing they did it better with minimal foot-wear was a revelation. Once you strengthen the toes, arches and calves, toe-running is far more comfortable, enjoyable and wreaks less havoc on the knees and spine, ensuring better mobility in old age. It also means not having to buy the latest heel-cushioning technology. Any decent athletic shoe can do just fine.

By cgauthier (not verified) on 19 Apr 2010 #permalink

Quadrupedal running may be more efficient from a purely biomechanical standpoint. That is what makes nearly all terrestrial homeotherm quadrupeds faster than H. sapiens at a sprint.

But, the fact still stands that for extended durations, bipedalism regains in cardiovascular efficiency what it cedes to 4-leggers in the raw mechanical game. It is our ability to modulate breathing independent of stride that allows us to hold a steady pace while keeping enriched O2 levels in the blood.

A quadruped's lungs must respire in synch with the animal's pace. Even if an animal has deliberate control over its breathing, she can't work against the compression and contraction of the rib cage during a running lope. O2 levels become depleted and the animal must rest. In fact, the accordion bellows analogy is what initially catalyzed the running man hypothesis.

Perspiration is obviously an advantage, and no doubt was selected for on the African plains. But it's not the primary reason we can outlast the antelope. Our cardiovascular betters, birds (also bipeds), don't sweat and many species are paragons of sustained distance travel using continuous exertion.

I could be wrong, but hunted healthy adult ostrich was probably not on our ancestors' menu.

By Amazona farino… (not verified) on 21 Apr 2010 #permalink