Cover image for The hunting apes : meat eating and the origins of human behavior
The hunting apes : meat eating and the origins of human behavior
Stanford, Craig B. (Craig Britton), 1956-
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 253 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library QL737.P96 S73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



What makes humans unique? What makes us the most successful animal species inhabiting the Earth today? Most scientists agree that the key to our success is the unusually large size of our brains. Our large brains gave us our exceptional thinking capacity and led to humans' other distinctive characteristics, including advanced communication, tool use, and walking on two legs. Or was it the other way around? Did the challenges faced by early humans push the species toward communication, tool use, and walking and, in doing so, drive the evolutionary engine toward a large brain? In this provocative new book, Craig Stanford presents an intriguing alternative to this puzzling question--an alternative grounded in recent, groundbreaking scientific observation. According to Stanford, what made humans unique was meat. Or, rather, the desire for meat, the eating of meat, the hunting of meat, and the sharing of meat.

Based on new insights into the behavior of chimps and other great apes, our now extinct human ancestors, and existing hunting and gathering societies, Stanford shows the remarkable role that meat has played in these societies. Perhaps because it provides a highly concentrated source of protein--essential for the development and health of the brain--meat is craved by many primates, including humans. This craving has given meat genuine power--the power to cause males to form hunting parties and organize entire cultures around hunting. And it has given men the power to manipulate and control women in these cultures. Stanford argues that the skills developed and required for successful hunting and especially the sharing of meat spurred the explosion of human brain size over the past 200,000 years. He then turns his attention to the ways meat is shared within primate and human societies to argue that this all-important activity has had profound effects on basic social structures that are still felt today.

Sure to spark a lively debate, Stanford's argument takes the form of an extended essay on human origins. The book's small format, helpful illustrations, and moderate tone will appeal to all readers interested in those fundamental questions about what makes us human.

Author Notes

Craig B. Stanford is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Southern California

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Among the central questions in science that awaits answering is who we are and where we come from, as Stanford notes in the introduction to his provocative new look at what made people so smart. The author's contention that the desire for meat and the hunting, eating, and sharing of meat have been major driving forces in human evolution is supported in seven interconnected essays. Each covers one aspect of the author's belief that meat is the essential "recipe" for the expansion of the human brain. Drawing from his own research on chimpanzees, Stanford also bases his discussion on new insights he draws from the behavior of other great apes and hunter-gatherer human societies. One interesting speculation involves the evolution of bipedalism as a means of increasing the distance early hominids could travel while foraging. This increased the possibility of finding meat, which led to actively looking for meat (hunting), which led to greater social interactions involving meat, which led to greater intelligence. This is a fascinating book, written for the nonspecialist. --Nancy Bent

Publisher's Weekly Review

Many people believe that the one trait that most sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our intellectual capacity. Determining the evolutionary forces that led to such a qualitative difference between us and our nearest relatives can be viewed as the grail of those who study human evolution. Stanford (Chimpanzee and Red Colobus), an anthropologist at the University of Southern California, does a solid job of summarizing the wealth of often contradictory material bearing on this quest. He concludes that "the origins of human intelligence are linked to the acquisition of meat, especially through the cognitive capacities necessary for the strategic sharing of meat with fellow group members." Stanford's thesis is different from those postulated previously because of his focus on the sharing of meat and on the role that nonhunters, particularly females, have played in structuring group cohesion as well as interpersonal relationships. In prehuman groups, he contends, meat became the first commodity, not unlike money today, that could be used to acquire power, traded for sexual relations or bartered for other valuable resources. Stanford's ideas, while controversial, are amply documented by behavioral studies of nonhuman primates, anthropological studies of a number of human societies and archeological studies of early and pre-humans. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Chapter 1 The Indelible Stampp. 3
Chapter 2 Man the Hunter and Other Storiesp. 15
Chapter 3 Ape Naturep. 52
Chapter 4 The View from the Pliocenep. 103
Chapter 5 The Hunting Peoplep. 136
Chapter 6 The Ghost in the Gorillap. 163
Chapter 7 Meat's Patriarchyp. 199
Notesp. 219
Referencesp. 229
Indexp. 247

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