Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

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Killer Ape Hypothesis

Largely outdated idea that the earliest humans were carnivorous apes who were selected for because they adopted a social organization based on a hunting lifestyle where males provided meat for mates and offspring; these killer apes were as likely to murder and eat one another as they were to butcher other species. This proposal was most associated with playwright and popular writer Robert Ardrey and a series of books he wrote beginning in the early 1960s. Ardrey actually heard these speculations, based on evidence from Makapansgat, from Raymond Dart, whom he visited in the 1950s; see osteodontokeratic culture. Aka the headhunter hypothesis. Others who subscribed to this hypothesis included Sherwood Washburn and Konrad Lorenz. An implication of the hypothesis was that humans were aggressive and warlike by nature; this part of the killer ape proposal struck a negative chord with many scientists. By the end of the 1960s this proposal was largely discredited and supplanted by taphonomic testing and the scavenging hypothesis. Sometimes compared to sociobiology, which is also Darwinian in nature, the killer ape hypothesis has a selective mechanism.

See African Genesis and man the hunter hypothesis.

Cf. gathering.

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