Happy Hunting Ground

When the Amerindians got past the glaciers, it was as if they had died and gone to heaven. They’d lived in Beringia for thousands of years, so obviously it was possible to make a living there, but it was a harsh and unforgiving environment. Things were way better south of the ice: more game, game that had never seen humans, never co-evolved with humans, had no hereditary fear of humans. Likely a brave could close to atlatl range of a giant ground sloth without any reaction.

On the other hand… there were a lot of predators around, and they didn’t have any baked-in fear of humans either. Dire wolves, sabertooth tigers, scimitar cats, the American lion, short-faced-bears. Today, big predators in Africa and Eurasia know in their genes that Man is dangerous. In America, they probably thought that he was the weakest and most defenseless of all living things, and acted according. The life of those early Amerinds was thus full of interest.

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94 Responses to Happy Hunting Ground

  1. Garr says:

    How would genes in which you know that Man is Dangerous develop? I mean, I do recognize that we know in our genes that Rat and Snake are Dangerous, but how does that get started?

    • johnb3 says:

      In the exact opposite way as the genes for this developed.

    • Michel Rouzic says:

      Well it’s simple, in a population, individuals have a certain range of traits, some are more this or that trait than others, and that’s at the very least partly genetic. If an individual animal is more likely to naively approach humans for a cuddle/an attack and humans happen to think that animal is yummy or a threat, then that individual animal won’t be as successful as its less approaching siblings, who will fare better. Whatever makes individuals of the same species more or less likely to want to approach humans, who knows what that might be at the level of alleles, after hundreds of generations in which those who are more inclined towards approaching humans consistently fare poorly, whatever genes made that behaviour more likely will become increasingly rare, and if being more paranoid about humans than anyone in the original population was, then eventually that population will move in that direction until the whole species is appropriately paranoid. If being scared of humans is a good survival strategy, then after enough generations the whole species might be scared of humans.

      Or think about it like this, our archaic ancestors were pretty short, so short that the average modern human might be taller than the tallest of them. So being tall was consistently such an advantage that our ancestors became taller and taller to the point of eventually reaching new heights. Height is a simple trait to understand, but this mechanism also work for all kinds of other genetic traits, that includes arbitrary fears.

      I have a pretty innate fear of snakes, even as a 3 month baby I displayed a fear of what could be mistaken for a snake, even though I had no idea what a snake was, and later nothing made me turn white and run home faster than seeing even a little snake in the grass. If there are some genes that can cause one to run for their life when they see a tube-shaped living thing wriggling in the grass, then if those genes can make a significant difference in how likely you are to survive and pass on your genes you will progressively have more and more people with such genes. Being terrified of snakes is definitely a better survival strategy than trying to cuddle snakes, so that might be where it’s coming from. Makes you wonder if maybe the Irish would be somewhat (barely) less likely to have less innate fear of snakes than the rest of the world, given the lack of an advantage that being afraid of snakes would have had there for the last several thousand years.

      What I’m really wondering though is if there’s a fear specifically of humans or a more general fear of certain types of predators.

      • Smithie says:

        They say dogs circle as they prepare to sit because it is a behavior built-in to check the ground for snakes.

        The theory seems believable to me. I have walked in the woods with a dog. Often his foot would hit a stick, which was mostly hidden in the leaf litter. The end of the stick, a few inches distant, would move suddenly, but not in obvious connection to his foot. This caused him to jump back a little, and he was mostly a pretty calm dog.

        I wonder if any of this has to do with having ancestors that lived in caves and dens.

      • Janet says:

        If you search for “cats scared of cucumbers”, you’ll get lots of video about how even a remotely snake-shaped object can cause innate panic.

      • Garr says:

        But why would there be “genes that can cause one to run for their life when they see a tube-shaped living thing wriggling in the grass” in the first place, that then get selected-for?

        Same for something like “genes that cause one to run for one’s life upon seeing a tall, narrow silhouette that moves in a lurching, uneven manner.” Those genes have to be in place to begin with if they’re to be selected-for. How would this have happened?

        • GAY_WEED_DAD_69 says:

          Initially it would have been a coarser reflex — be on heightened alert if you see any motion in your lower field of view, say, and over time it would have become more refined.

        • Michel Rouzic says:

          All kinds of traits just pop up all the time. Genes for skin allergy to water, genes for not feeling pain, genes for being born without a foreskin or important organ, genes for growing endlessly, genes for never growing beyond the toddler stage, we know a lot less about how behaviour traits are caused/influenced by genes, but it’s safe to assume that there are genes for most traits you can think of. The “how” of how can genes be so specific (how are they coded to produce what they do) is kind of a mystery (well at least as far as I’m concerned), but if you take the view that such traits are in absolute terms a genetic possibility then when they pop up somewhat randomly (you might say the stage needs to be set, for instance you’d need well developed visual processing capabilities for a fear of something visually specific to pop up and become advantageous) they get a chance to spread. In other words we don’t know how fear of snakes might be coded, but if it can be possibly coded at all then it’s possible that sooner or later it will just happen.

          And unlike what GAY_WEED_DAD_69 says it doesn’t necessarily happen progressively, I see lots of people making the mistake to believe that traits come up in a smooth progressive way, but that’s wrong, some traits do just pop up like they’re either on or off, and if they’re advantageous they might well eventually spread to most of a population.

          So the answer to your question is all kinds of nonsensical traits pop up all the time, the deleterious ones tend to go forgotten because they stay very rare, the rare helpful ones get spread because if a trait gives you an average 10% (I’m exaggerating) extra surviving and reproducing offsprings per generation than without that trait then after hundreds of generations that trait will likely be very widely spread.

      • athEIst says:

        So being tall was consistently such an advantage

        I’m not sure of that

      • jb says:

        When I was very young I had no fear of spiders. I remember dragging my fingers through spider webs, and poking at the funny little things that ran around on them. But around five I developed a spider phobia. Not sure why, but it may have had something to do with a big lump on my leg that needed to be soaked in Epsom salts, and which I was told was likely a spider bite (although I didn’t remember being bitten). When spiders all of the sudden started being really scary I remember being puzzled, because I knew I hadn’t been afraid of them before. It was never a debilitating fear, and with the passage of time — especially once I got into middle age — it’s substantially diminished. But it’s definitely not gone, even today.

        Snakes however have never bothered me in the slightest…

  2. Paul Conroy says:

    THey must have had dogs.
    The Carolina Yellow Dog is a descendant of these breeds.

    • another fred says:

      We had a pack of those take up residence for a while in my Alabama hometown around 1960 after a bridge was built that let them invade town from their wild habitat. They made the papers, but after a few were shot they left.

  3. ziel says:

    because people who didn’t get skittish around rats and snakes didn’t reproduce a lot.Of course no doubt some of those with Ophidiophobia no doubt got nervous around lots of relatively harmless stuff, which isn’t good, but after awhile it shakes itself out. Same with Lions and humans.

  4. ziel says:

    Perhaps the new-world predators just didn’t recognize the the two-legged interlopers as prey, and so tended to ignore them in favor of their normal diet?

    • Rodep says:

      Seconding this. I could easily see the baseline go the other way: seems like a poor evolutionary strategy in general, to attempt to bring down large game you haven’t specifically evolved to hunt.

      I wonder if in bringing this up, Gregory is testing theories for why the hypothetical Andamanese in Brazil failed to expand to fill the Americas, if indeed they arrived first.

      • BigGameAndBeachcombers says:

        All this talk about the advantages of big game hunters against beachcombers might be a bit more convincing if we supplemented it with some real data about contributions to HG subsistence, rather than these vague notions. (Does anyone who actually studies HG subsistence really refer to “beachcombers”?).

        To which end I would suggest a chat with https://twitter.com/Evolving_Moloch, whose knowledge of hunter gatherer subsistence is probably a fair bit more exhausting than any commentator (or blog owner) here, and who is generally critical of the corruption of anthropology by empty Progressive notions.

        • Caradoc says:

          Animal protein intake is increased at high latitudes ie. Tasmania, Fuego, the Arctic. Note this does not mean big game, necessarily: it can be fish, or wallabies. But people like Hadza, Veddah or Semang in lower latitudes do rely upon meat and fish a lot less, as though latitude forces meat eating and the gender division of labour, even in band societies. There was no megafaunal hunting in S Brazil, where the beachcomber(?) component is identified, and where latest dates for megafauna are Holocene.

        • Among hunter gathers from the 1800’s much of the beach combing type gathering was associated with hunger/famine type situations. Mussels were poverty food. Hungry times lead to folks eating scraps drifting in on the tide.

          While hunting whales, seals, etc is more energy intensive takes you away from the village and is much more dangerous it is still preferred. It is higher prestige and better rewarded. I remember an elder mocking another because the other guy actually enjoyed eating the scavenged fish heads. He had no tolerance for a guy that wouldn’t work harder.

          • Caradoc says:

            Aye but ethnohistorical Arctic folk, were reliant on techniques and technologies at the extremes of human cultural diversity. Greg refers to Andamanese-like people in South America, suggesting they inherited and carried over a similar economy. Andamanese depend extensively on coastal resources, hunting fish with bows and arrows (Mesolithic tech) and fishing baskets. Hunting land fauna is done using Mesolithic grade tech (again) so is not reconstructable for their Pleistocene ancestors. Beachcombing presumably means such, a generalised HG economy adapted to aquatic and specifically coastal environments.

            He’s also thinking, quite probably, of the Pericues and the Yaghans, and maybe the Aussie Abo use of the coasts.

            • The local tribe has legends of small people who lived between the water and the end of the driftwood. They couldn’t speak properly so they whistled. They were poor hunters so they gleaned from the beach area. If you found food like a beached seal and whistled while you were harvesting it they would think you meant for them to have it. They would throw small stones to drive off interlopers and mimic child’s voices to lure girls who were out berrying.

              I’ve heard about these guys since I was a kid and spoke to adults who swore to being hit by the stones or hearing the voices. They would make perfect legends of a gleaning scavenging type of Andaman ish population.

              • Caradoc says:

                Ah you’re talking about the buqs! Which oddly became dragged into the bigfoot mythos. Buq folklore has fairyland elements but my own feeling is that they are a cultural memory of coastal macaques, or even Ivan Sanderson’s protopygmies (shades of Flores), meaning they were stories brought over from the Asian mainland. This old link to monkeys is borne out by the Columbia River stone heads, which were found in a precolumbian context.

              • The locals describe them as little people with yellow skin. They don’t get them mixed up with Bigfoot or the cannibal ogress, (those are two different legends). I can see where they might be memories of monkeys but a coastal gleener fits better.

                Nobody likes talking about them if they really believe because they don’t want the attention from them. On the other hand I’ve only spoken to a few who didn’t believe do how can you gauge it?

              • Caradoc says:

                The buqwus masks and the Columbia River heads both resemble nonhuman primates, whereas yellow skin does not recall negritoid Asians. Nor does the head hair as it is presented on the masks. Greg Forth presents information on the buqs for comparative purposes, in his seminal book about the ebu gogu. (ISBN-13: 978-0710313546, ISBN-10: 0710313543)

              • Stephen W says:

                Legend origin could just be orphans instead of a separate race of people. Being deprived of elders could make them develop odd dialects, and malnourishment could create other peculiarities.

    • DD'eDeN says:

      Good point, as was Gregs’ post. I’ll add that the immigrants deliberate use of fire must have been indecipherable to New World fauna.

      • Caradoc says:

        And as a new and efficient herbivore, the anthropogenic burning used in land management, would itself have competed with some of the vegetarian fauna. Wouldn’t just be the hunting, as people assume.

  5. AppSocRes says:

    I have read enough on the subject to know that most experts think human predation played a major in wiping out the large herbivores in the Americas around the time the last glaciation ended. Human involvement in the extinction of the largest predators, e.g., dire wolves, short-faced bears, sabre tooth cats, could have occurred in four wayus ways: (1) eliminating the prey of large predators ; (2) successfully out-competing large predator/scavengers for kills, carcasses and other food sources; (3) on average, winning violent encounters with any animals that attacked or otherwise endangered human beings; (4) some combination of (1), (2), and (3).

    Can someone tell me if there’s any evidence or evidence-based theories on how humans might have contributed to the extinction of most large predators in the Americas?

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Extinction dates line up exactly with human arrival dates on contintents and islands all over the world. This alone is overwhelming evidence.

    • Smithie says:

      It has always struck me how frightened the average black bear seems of people. Wolves also seem to offer a non-random level of respect. I have seen a coyote run helter-skelter and then stop for a moment at the treeline, which almost seems like an instinct to avoid projectile weapons.

      Bison would have probably been a plentiful food source for some extinct predators like the American lion.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        North American mountain lions (panthers, cougars, painters, etc.) really, really don’t like being around people. They’re quite dangerous when confronted by people, but they go out of their way to avoid confrontations. For example, a mountain lion has lived in Griffith Park in the dead center of Los Angeles in recent years, but he was close to impossible to find.

        Did this characteristic evolve over the last 10k to 15k years?

        In contrast, black bears are a little more at ease with people. It’s pretty common on Los Angeles news stations to show video of a black bear who has come down out of the hills for a swim in a backyard pool

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Here’s an LA Times article from a year ago on the famous puma, P-22, who has lived in 8 square mile Griffith Park since 2012:


          He ate a koala in the LA Zoo.

          Rangers caught him down and put a tracking collar on him. But out of the 10,000 or so people who visit Griffith Park on the average day, only a tiny number see him, except for professionals with access to the real time tracking signal.

        • Caradoc says:

          Like HBD, this cannot be stable, as Spaniards regarded the puma as the Christian’s friend for its lack of fear or hostility.

      • another fred says:

        Their fear of humans seems to be heavily influenced by the size of the human. Like alligators, they will go after a small human quite enthusiastically.

  6. dave chamberlin says:

    I can’t imagine a hungry saber toothed tiger or a short faced bear doing anything on the first sight of a puny human but attacking. They are huge killing machines and anything the size of a human had been easily killed before. But the humans would rarely be caught alone, they knew there was safety in numbers. They would be prepared and a charging predator was more likely to pounce on the sharp point of a pike than a helpless human. Obviously mankind kicked ass in the long run but I am sure those early moms had to raise big families to overcome attrition to some very nasty carnivores.

    Maybe those beachcombers mentioned a few posts back really did stick to the beaches for thousands and thousands of years. The forests were filled with real honest to God monsters.

  7. j says:

    I must be wrong, but I do not know of any large South American savanna predator, living or extinct. The most fearsome are the “puma” and the “Jaguar”, which are at most overgrown cats.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Wikipedia says the largest species of saber-toothed tiger, weighing up to 880 pounds, lived in South America:


      Went extinct 10,000 years ago:

      “Smilodon died out at the same time that most North and South American megafauna disappeared, about 10,000 years ago. Its reliance on large animals has been proposed as the cause of its extinction, along with climate change and competition with other species, but the exact cause is unknown.”

      Yeah, obviously, that this terrifying beast went extinct just about when proto-Indian super-hunters from the Bering Strait arrived in South America is a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.

      Seriously, though, how would Indians have taken on these terrifying beasts? Did Indians have the bow and arrow yet they wiped out most megafauna in the New World? Did they have dogs?

      What would their strategy be? Capture prey alive and tie it to a tree in a defile and wait to ambush the predator? Have dogs find down the den and kill the kittens?

      Are there parts of Asia, such as islands, where hunter gatherers wiped out all the tigers?

      • gcochran9 says:

        Atlatls, no bows. Dogs, I think.

      • MawBTS says:

        I don’t think tigers typically live on islands. They need huge ranges (267–294 km in the case of a male Siberian tiger).

        You can kill large cats with dogs, but you don’t want to have an Old Yeller type relationship with said dogs. I once heard a story about a pack of wild dholes that chased down a Bengal tiger. It killed fourteen of them before dying.

      • ChrisA says:

        The Maasia were supposed to individually kill a lion with a spear as a rite of passage (they have stopped this now). These African lions are smaller than the ones in post glacial America but they are still pretty formidable and also co-evolved with human hunting techniques. I guess you wait for the animal to come to you, goading it to charge, then try to land a killer blow when it gets close, these animals are not heavily protected so a spear through the guts is probably enough.

        • another fred says:

          I saw something about that in the past. According to what I saw they use a long spear with the butt secured against a divot in the ground and must hit the lion in the breast to pierce the heart, otherwise Lions1 Masai 0.

          That is the definitive account provided 1.) I recall correctly, and 2.) the guy who wrote it knew his shit.

      • Kill the kittens I imagine, Many apex predators have low reproductive rates and would not survive long against a species that understands killing the babies for 20 years will mean no more killing machines ever again. Many surviving megafauna have very protective maternal behavior think moose but those are the survivors. If you had previously camouflaged your babies or used threat displays to keep the curious away the cubs were doomed, and in the long run so was your species.

      • Caradoc says:

        The SEA islands were more or less Hoabinhian, with subsistence based off edible snails, fruits etc, till the Neolithic. Their stone tools were used for processing rattans. Such people were not equipped to hunt large beasts of prey, nor did they compete with them for resources.

      • Toad says:

        Seriously, though, how would Indians have taken on these terrifying beasts?


        Have a mass of hunters in a widely dispersed formation each chuck their one spear until it’s turned into a pincushion and is immobilized.

        African Tribesmen Hunting Lion Prides Down with Bare Hands and Spears

        African hunting elephants and hippos

    • Garr says:

      There are several references to “lions” in The Iliad, but they’re always described as hunting alone. Were European lions not family-lions like the African ones (the wives hunting together, the teenage boys and dad helping out if necessary), or did the composer of the Iliad’s lion-passages just not know much about lions?

    • Caradoc says:

      Dusicyon avus, extinct in the Holocene, was a wolf analog and a kind of mainland warrah. I tried to see if I could fit the Andean wolf into this, but from the description of the skull, I cannot. So the wolf analog was greatest in the Holocene.

  8. dearieme says:

    If I thought that the local carnivores were competing with me for food I think I might make efforts to exterminate their young.

    • Caradoc says:

      Is there any statistics for such culling by historical hunter gatherers? Yes it makes sense given other carnivores do it, but with herding being a form of prey management accompanied by changing notions of property, I imagine the Neolithic intensified that kind of thing. I imagine it is hard to source data.

  9. Cheechako says:

    “Happy hunting grounds” is a phrase used often in the bio of Irwin Mudeater, who captured Louis Riel. What a story. When tenderfoots expressed apprehension at sleeping under the prairie sky lest they be attacked by Indians, Mudeater assured them that they never attack during the dead of night, otherwise they don’t go to the “Happy hunting grounds” when they die. They attacked just before dawn usually. Which probably isn’t news to some.

  10. GAY_WEED_DAD_69 says:

    Offtopic: is there any decent research over what IQ level is required to do certain tasks? Example: what’s the minimum IQ you need to do calculus? I know that we have data on average IQ of majors, but that’s indirect and is open to selection effects.

    • Jim says:

      Since calculus tends to have some of the highest failure rates among freshman courses and since 110 is often cited as an IQ threshold for college level study I would guess that few people below IQ 110 would be able to master calculus sufficiently to make it worthwhile to study.

      • Patrick L. Boyle says:

        If it takes – as you say – and IQ of 110 to do calculus, which kind? At one time I taught calculus and as I remember, integral was challenging but differential was trivial.

        • Jim says:

          I doubt that individuals with IQ’s much below 110 would do well at either although becoming an explicit integration virtuoso might be a little more taxing.

        • AppSocRes says:

          Differentiation can be learned by rote. But my experience has been that many students taking calculus these days have trouble differentiating the composition of functions, even when it’s presented to them via the old chain rule formula dy/dx=(dy/dz)(dz/dx) a la Thomas’s Calculus text. These students find it enormously difficult – almost impossible – to work out the order of composition and then apply the formula. They also have a lot of trouble with basic algebra, trig, geometric/spatial thinking, etc., etc.

          • Jim says:

            When reading Hardy’s calculus book I was amazed at the level of knowledge of algebra, geometry and trigonometry he assumed in his students for the problems, like knowledge of the properties of complex cross ratios etc. Few freshmen students today would know these things.

    • I think Steve Sailer estimated a similar number for passing Algebra II a few years ago – which he saw as a pivot point or a threshold of abstract thinking.

    • iffen says:

      Anyone with a spare 10,000 hours can do calculus.

  11. Anuseed says:

    Related question: how come Neanderthals and Denisovans didn’t wipe out the megafauna?

    • Anuseed says:

      Cos they were thick?

      • another fred says:

        Their populations were thin.

        • Anuseed says:

          Then that raises the question of why our populations were bigger. Any ideas?

          • MawBTS says:

            Better tools is the most plausible explanation, I think.

            We had woven nets and snares, while they didn’t. This gave us access to fish and small animals, while they were limited to large game like mammoths. And large game has an annoying habit of going extinct.

            Better traps and spearheads would increase our kill rate, and storage pits allowed us to wrest more calories out of each kill. Better clothing allowed us to survive in harsher conditions.

            If we were smarter, it’s also possible we were trading, bartering, sharing knowledge about the movements of animals (etc) to an extent that they weren’t.

            • gcochran9 says:

              If you mainly depend on a few big game species, your population will go down when theirs does – it is unlikely you will drive anything extinct. Self-limiting. And there is no evidence that the Neanderthals did drive anything extinct in Europe. But if you have wider options – if you can catch smaller things, more plants, fish, things at a lower trophic level ( and yes, are more efficient) then you can hang around at fairly high density even when big game has become scarce, that is a recipe for causing extinction.

            • engleberg says:

              @Better tools is the most plausible explanation, I think.

              Yes, and flexibility. A company of two hundred people could live off rabbits and small critters for daily food. They could dig pits around their brush hovels and maintain a hearth fire. At need on the march they could muster a hundred pikemen, with ten guys in gillie suits hiding out front, and the rest throwing darts. That’s formidable even for a sabertooth pride. – I think a short-faced (=long-legged) bear could still hop in for lunch, oh well. Too soon for gillie suits and pikes, much less pike drill? Maybe, but a grass cloak or a long spear is easier to make than a Clovis point, and social organization is always pretty flexible.

            • Caradoc says:

              I strongly question H. saps caused any of the extinctions in the latest Pleistocene or early Holocene of Eurasia. Despite a few high profile vanishings like the woolly mammoths and rhinos, there was no pattern of blitzkrieg discernible, as there might be in Australia or the Americas. When you bear in mind how the mammoth, steppe bison and Irish elk were all fragmented by climate at the end of the Pleistocene, you can see the same delayed extinction pattern even for Steller’s sea cow and now the Sumatran rhino. The climate hit first, and Holocene human impacts were late and intense, else slowly abrasive.

  12. crew says:

    Well, predatory behavior is socially constructed, as is sexually predatory behavior, so those mega predators probably never existed, and all those PedoWood women wearing #METOO stickers are confused.

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