Project

Hand-thrown spears: Ballistics, accuracy and learning to hunt among BaYaka Congo Basin foragers

Goal: This project aims to investigate the contributions that hand-thrown spears have made to technological adaptations, life history, and cognition. Using observational, interview, and experimental data collected among BaYaka foragers from the Congo Basin, a population that regularly hunts with spears, the present project will seek to understand how experience contributes to spear throwing proficiency, and how this experience is acquired.

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Project log

Annemieke Milks
added a research item
Teaching likely evolved in humans to facilitate the faithful transmission of complex tasks. As the oldest evidenced hunting technology, spear hunting requires acquiring several complex physical and cognitive competencies. In this study, we used observational and interview data collected among BaYaka foragers (Republic of the Congo) to test the predictions that costlier teaching types would be observed at a greater frequency than less costly teaching in the domain of spear hunting and that teachers would calibrate their teaching to pupil skill level. To observe naturalistic teaching during spear hunting, we invited teacher–pupil groupings to spear hunt while wearing GoPro cameras. We analysed 68 h of footage totalling 519 teaching episodes. Most observed teaching events were costly. Direct instruction was the most frequently observed teaching type. Older pupils received less teaching and more opportunities to lead the spear hunt than their younger counterparts. Teachers did not appear to adjust their teaching to pupil experience, potentially because age was a more easily accessible heuristic for pupil skill than experience. Our study shows that costly teaching is frequently used to transmit complex tasks and that instruction may play a privileged role in the transmission of spear hunting knowledge.
Annemieke Milks
added a research item
Humans are selective social learners. In a cultural landscape with many potential models, learners must balance the cost associated with learning from successful models with learning from accessible ones. Using structured interviews, we investigate the model selection biases of Congolese BaYaka adolescent boys learning to hunt with spears (n p 24; mage p 15.79 years; range, 12– 20 years). Results from social relations models suggest that adolescents nominated accessible adult men (closely related kin and neighbors) as preferred spear hunting models. Direct cues for success were not strong predictors for adolescent nomination in the statistical models, despite learners justifying model selection according to teaching and spear hunting skill. Indirect cues including body mass index, age, and cross-domain prestige were weak predictors for adolescent nomination. We interpret these findings as suggesting that BaYaka spear hunting knowledge is widely shared in the community, with all adult men participating in spear hunting and therefore having the requisite experience to transmit this skill. This supports previous findings that in egalitarian societies with low rates of role specialization, prestige has limited importance for cross-domain learning.
Annemieke Milks
added a project goal
This project aims to investigate the contributions that hand-thrown spears have made to technological adaptations, life history, and cognition. Using observational, interview, and experimental data collected among BaYaka foragers from the Congo Basin, a population that regularly hunts with spears, the present project will seek to understand how experience contributes to spear throwing proficiency, and how this experience is acquired.