I’ve been reading Thin on the Ground, a book by Stephen Churchill. One of his ideas is based on the fact some predator species are dominant over others and get the lion’s share (cough, cough) of the kills. Lions frequently steal carcasses from hyenas, while everyone steals from cheetahs and wild dogs, etc.
There is good evidence ( stable isotope data) that Neanderthals were highly carnivorous, and that they used thrusting spears, which are effective but not as generally useful as atlatls – standoff weapons. Churchill suspects that with their thrusting spears tech, Neanderthals were _not_ the top dogs of the predator guild, and that they may have been dominated by cave lions and scimitar cats, while having approximately equal status with hyenas. In practice, this would mean that Neanderthals often lost kills to high-ranked carnivores such as cave lions. The majority of calories from animal kills would go to higher-ranked carnivores ( not to Neanderthals) . Neanderthal population size would be limited, and some environments ( like open plains, where kills are highly visible) might be effectively closed to them.
Neanderthals don’t seem to take much advantage of the Atlantic salmon runs – maybe da Bears didn’t let them.
We think of Man as #1, and generally that’s the case nowadays, but it wasn’t always true.
So imagine that the Predecessors, the population that left those footprints at White Sands, didn’t have the atlatl. They may have arrived as fishermen, and may have been gradually re-inventing and improving their hunting techniques. They had to compete with short-faced bears, sabertooth tigers, the American lion, dire wolves, the American cheetah, grizzly bears, and wolves. Their diet was not as limited as that of the Neanderthals – North America was warming and plant foods were available – but they may have been dominated by some of the larger predators. if so, their cut of the herbivores may have been limited, they may have been limited to certain kinds of terrain, etc. They may have been thin on the ground, like Neanderthals.
Third example: we know that modern humans arrived even earlier in Australia/New Guinea ( then joined as Sahul), and those humans _were_ ecologically dominant, even though they did _not have atlatls ( until fairly recently), as far as we know. They became common enough to leave noticeable numbers of artifacts and skeletons, and they drove most of the Australian megafauna to extinction.
Why would human domination be easy in Australia and hard for Predecessors in the Americas?
I would guess because the dominant predators of Sahul were reptiles and marsupials.