Our ancestors lived in an Africa in which no-one had ever fired a gun, shot an arrow or thrown a spear. The continent was dominated by large and very dangerous animals - not only the lions and leopards, but others now long extinct like sabretooths and cave lions. Eagles looked for an opportunity to snap up a wandering toddler. Crocodiles made it dangerous to go near water. Many predators were nocturnal, with better senses of smell and hearing than ours. None of these animals had any reason yet to learn the instinctive fear of man which we now so confidently take for granted. Yet among the many books on human evolution, you will look in vain for an answer to the basic question of how our ancestors survived at all.
The standard book on human evolution is probably Klein’s The Human Career. It is an excellent and very thorough account which should be on everyone’s bookshelf. It suggests that for the first million and more years of Homo evolution, our ancestors had no flint-tipped spears, no arrows, nothing to enable them to drive away a leopard, let alone to kill a wildebeeste. Yet the issue of defence against predators is simply not discussed.
This omission is all the more surprising when we consider that much of the evidence on which Klein and his colleagues rely consists of bones and fragments of bone left behind by predators and scavengers. Like all other wild animals, our ancestors always normally lost their last battle and ended their lives as food for other animals.
Darwin, writing at a time when almost nothing was known about human prehistory, but relying on common sense and his profound knowledge of the natural world, suggested the key to the evolutionary success of our ancestors. Unlike every other animal, they learned to keep their enemies at bay by throwing missiles. This e-book develops Darwin's idea and traces subsequent developments