Mortality profiles can be used to investigate modes of accumulation of fossil assemblages, including predation by ancient nonhuman and human (Homo) hunters. Prey age at death reflects hunting decisions and opportunities in terms of calories returned for energy spent and risks taken. Nonhuman carnivores commonly harvest vulnerable individuals (young and old), whereas humans consistently can take prime adults. As an example of how mortality profiles can be used to illuminate predator behavior, this article examines when the ability to select prime-age animals emerged during human behavioral evolution. Although it would be expected that the appearance of this behavior coincided with the appearance of morphologically and archaeologically modern humans, analyses of archaeological assemblages from western Europe and South Africa suggest that this trait was already present in archaic people who preceded modern humans. Studying age distributions in fossil assemblages is not without its limitations, including the difficulty of estimating age at death in fossil specimens, pre- and postdepositional biases, and reconstructing the age structure and behavior of prey herds. Nevertheless, valuable behavioral information can be gained by using controlled comparisons of many assemblages.
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