THE HUNTING APES by Craig B. Stanford


Meat Eating and the Origins of Human Behavior
Email this review


An unabashed celebration of the carnivorous tendencies of early humankind. Virtually every aspect of Stanford’s thesis about the importance of meat acquisition and sharing among early humans is steeped in controversy. Early evolutionary models of Man the Hunter were largely dismissed in the 1970s due to the tendency of these theories to focus on male-dominated activities while ignoring the important nutritional contributions of women in hunter- gatherer societies. Stanford (Anthropology/Univ. of Southern Calif.) attempts to sidestep this issue by focusing on the social, rather than nutritional, value of meat, which is acquired primarily by males and then used to manipulate and coerce females into sexual relations. He bases his theory primarily on the hunting activities of large apes, such as chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos, but includes modern hunter-gatherer societies in his survey of higher-primate hunting practices. His casual association between chimp and human hunting practices is certain to enrage ethnographers who have been attempting for several decades to dismiss the notion that modern hunter-gatherer societies can serve as a model for understanding early human activities. The absolute lack of fossil evidence to support the idea that an increased desire for meat in the diet was related to, or affected by, the explosion in intelligence and brain size in early man is also certain to keep Stanford’s critics from readily accepting his findings. Perhaps the most provocative aspect of Stanford’s argument is the notion that meat-sharing rituals may lie at the heart of the origins of patriarchal society. The gender-specific nature of hunting and the social elevation of meat-sharing activities may, he claims, provide the original basis for male dominance in human culture. The biological essentialism and mechanistic view of cultural activities propounded by Stanford here is not likely to sway many of the critics who wished to discredit the Man the Hunter model in the first place, but may find favor with those inclined toward sociobiology.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-691-01160-5
Page count: 262pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999