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The Vulture in the Sky and the Hominin on the Land: Three Million Years of Human–Vulture Interaction

By Federico Morelli, Anna Maria Kubicka, Piotr Tryjanowski, Emma Nelson

Category Journal Articles
Abstract

Vultures and humans have been sympatric for millions of years and evidence from the archaeological and historical records suggests interdependence over long periods. Like other species, early hominins probably used these birds to locate carcasses in the landscape. With the evolution of large-bodied and more encephalized hominins, the quest for high-quality food would have intensified. Vultures used as beacons for meat may have been particularly important to hominins dispersing out of Africa, facilitating the occupation of new landscapes. Neanderthals and prehistoric modern humans incorporated vulture parts into their culture, and while the symbolic and ritualistic significance of the birds may have varied through time and across cultures, their link with positive life forces is apparent. More recently, the intensification of farming and modern sanitary restrictions, as well as the spread of human populations, has led to the radical decline in vulture populations throughout the world. Without commitments by governments to fund vulture conservation programs, the ability to preserve many species may be limited over the long term. In this review paper we discuss the ability of vultures to act as beacons signaling meat in the landscape and our changing relationships with these enigmatic birds through a shared history. Within this narrative, we outline why vultures are fundamental to maintaining our ecosystem and should therefore be protected.

Publication Title Anthrozoös
Volume 28
Issue 3
Pages 449-468
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
DOI 10.1080/08927936.2015.1052279
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Tags
  1. Humans
  2. Interspecies interactions
  3. Scavengers