views updated May 29 2018


GAME. The importance of nondomesticated animals, or game, in the human diet is unclear. Some anthropologists have argued that the advent of hunting game with tools was the critical development in the evolution of humans, resulting in such cultural characteristics as male aggression, sophisticated tools, and the sexual division of labor. The role of game in the human diet can more clearly be understood in light of ecological, nutritional, evolutionary, and cross-cultural information.

Except in the high latitudes occupied by peoples such as the Inuit, plants are generally the most abundant food source. Game is rarer than plants due to the second law of thermodynamics: As one moves up the food chain from plants, to herbivores, to carnivores, one finds that there is less to eat at the higher levels because energy is lost at each step in the chain. Not only is game rarer than plant foods, it may also be more difficult to obtain. Plants may protect themselves with thorns or toxins, but they do not hide or run away as animals do. These two points suggest that people might always choose plants over game as food sources. However, due to a process called biological magnification, game provides more concentrated packages of nutrients than do plants. In addition, some plant foods are difficult to digest without processing. Hence, some anthropologists classify game as "high-quality" foods and plants as "low-quality" foods.

Human nutritional requirements and digestive physiology suggest that at least some game is required in the diet. With the exception of vitamin B12, humans can obtain all the nutrients they require from plant foods. Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products. Humans require only 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day and can generally store sufficient amounts for up to twenty years, but a chronic lack of vitamin B12 in the diet may cause pernicious anemia, fatigue, and damage to the nervous system, and in children compromise growth. The need for protein is often the basis of arguments that humans require meat in their diet. While for humans game is a good source of protein, the required amino acids may be obtained from a mix of plant foods. In some regions, such as the Arctic, there is relatively little plant life; thus, humans there generally require game to meet their protein requirements. Although humans are clearly capable of digesting game, their gut has a long digestion time similar to that of apes, which are primarily folivorous (Milton, 2000). In addition, it is possible that too much game may compromise human health. Game is generally leaner than meat from domesticated animals, and too much lean meat increases a person's metabolic rate such that ingested energy is used entirely to digest the food eaten. Consequently, lean meat must be eaten with energy-rich foods such as fat or carbohydrates. Furthermore, high-protein consumption may exceed the liver's ability to metabolize amino acids.

Human nutritional requirements and digestive kinetics are a function of the evolutionary history of the species. Therefore, an understanding of game in the human diet requires a consideration of the diets of human ancestors. It should be borne in mind that the role of game in the diets of human ancestors may be overemphasized, because plant food remains are less likely to be preserved in the fossil record than animal food remains. In addition, any plant food remains that do exist may have been overlooked by early researchers working with the perception that hunting was paramount in the subsistence strategies of human ancestors.

Hominids in Africa 4 to 2.5 million years ago did not leave archaeological traces such as "kitchen middens" and stone tools. Consequently, little is known of their diets. In lieu of archaeological data, dietary inferences have been made on the basis of paleoecological reconstructions, craniodental morphology, dental wear, chimpanzee behavior, and stable isotope analyses of their remains. Paleoecological reconstructions, craniodental morphology, and dental wear suggest that these first hominids subsisted primarily on fleshy fruits and leaves. Using chimpanzees as models for the behaviors of the first hominids also leads to the conclusion that they had a diet that was primarily vegetarian with an occasional animal product. This agrees with a stable isotope analysis of the bones of a three-million-year-old Australopithecus africanus from South Africa that indicates this hominid ate fruits, leaves, large quantities of grasses and sedges or animals that ate these plants, or both (Sponheimer and Lee-Thorp, 1999). Interestingly, the researchers suggest that these hominids may have been capable of procuring game prior to the development of stone tools.

The evidence of 2.5 million years ago in Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge points to both tool makers and the consumption of game. Animal bones with cut marks indicative of butchering found in association with these tools indicate that the hominids who lived there ate game. How these bones were obtained is a subject of debate, because cut marks on the bones are sometimes found overlying tooth marks of carnivores, suggesting scavenging by the hominids. Some researchers argue for hunting or for confrontational scavenging in which groups of people drove carnivores off still-fleshy animals. Others argue that these people practiced passive scavenging from carcasses that had already been largely consumed. While evidence that might resolve this debate is sparse, the simplicity of the Oldowan tools may favor more passive scavenging (Klein,2000).

Around 1.8 million years ago Homo erectus appears in the fossil record with a greatly expanded brain and more refined tools. The expansion of the brain dramatically increased the energy requirements, as the brain uses energy as much as ten times faster than average body tissue. Hence, it has been argued that increased access to high-quality, readily digestible flesh and marrow may have been essential for brain enlargement. However, corms, tubers, and other subterranean plant foods might have provided equal or greater nutrition for effort, and most historically recorded African hunter-gatherers exploited them heavily (Klein, 2000). Moreover, while there are many animal bones associated with H. erectus sites, there are few cut marks on the bones and a lot of carnivore teeth marks, suggesting that the fossil assemblage may not be due to human activity but to people inhabiting the same waterside sites as those favored by other animals.

The use of fire renders game a more viable food, as heating makes the tissue more digestible. So archaeological evidence of fire might help determine the consumption of game. The earliest possible site for fire is Locality 1 in Zhoukoudien, China (600,000400,000 years ago), but this has been disputed due to the lack of mineral ash in deposits. To date, the earliest undisputed sites are deposits from 200,000 years ago in African, West Asian, and European caves.

The origin of Neanderthals around 130,000 years ago brings clear evidence of hunting of game. This conclusion is reached on the basis of faunal remains associated with Neanderthal living sites, wear patterns on their tools, and the analysis of stable isotopes and trace elements in their skeletal remains. Stable isotope analysis has been used in particular to compare the diets of Neanderthals with subsequent Homo sapiens. Such an analysis of nine H. sapiens and five Neanderthals from the European midUpper Paleolithic (about 20,00028,000 years ago) indicates that the Neanderthals had diets composed primarily of large terrestrial herbivores, whereas H. sapiens had a broader diet with a heavy reliance on freshwater resources (Richards et al., 2001). M. P. Richards and colleagues conclude that this transition was made possible by refined technology that made it easier to capture freshwater game. Stable isotope analysis of H. sapiens skeletons from sites in Israel dating from 70,000 to 10,000 years before the present reveals an increase in plant foods in the diet 20,000 years ago (Schoeninger, 1982). The change, it is argued, was due to refined technology for processing plant foods.


While anatomically near-modern people were present in Africa by 130,000 years ago, not until around 10,000 years ago were plants and animals domesticated. This means that for at least 77 percent of the time the species has been in existence, humans have obtained food by hunting and gathering. Hence, many of behavioral propensities, dietary requirements, and biocultural responses to food likely evolved prior to the advent of agriculture (Bogin, 2001). Given this, ethnographic and archaeological data concerning the diets of hunter-gatherers help explain the role of game in human diets.

As with the paleoanthropological data, studies of hunter-gatherer diets are biased by the perception among early researchers that hunting was the most important subsistence strategy. An additional problem in describing the natural or ideal diet of hunter-gatherers is the tremendous variation documented for such diets (Jenike, 2001). Despite the cultural and geographic diversity of hunter-gatherers, spanning from the rainforests of central Africa to the Arctic tundra of Baffin Island, similarities exist across these groups (Bogin, 2001). First, foragers consume a diverse array of food items; 105 species of plants and 144 species of animals among the !Kung San of southern Africa's Kalahari Desert, 90 species of plants and animals among the Ache of Paraguay's tropical forest (Hill and Hurtado, 1989), and 10 species of plants and 33 species of animals among the Dogrib of subarctic Canada (Hayden, 1981). Second, gathered rather than hunted foods are the primary source of dietary energy for most foragers. Richard B. Lee (1968) reported that, among 58 foraging societies, the primary subsistence base was gathering for 29, fishing for 18, and hunting for 11. Of those who relied on fishing or hunting, almost all were north or south of the fortieth parallel, a region researchers believed was not occupied by Paleolithic foragers. A review of the data in 2000 for 229 hunter-gatherer groups concluded that animal protein and fat provided up to 45 to 65 percent of the energy consumed and that 73 percent of these groups acquired as much as 56 to 65 percent of the energy they consume from animal foods (Cordain et al., 2000). When greater than 35 percent of the energy is from animal foods, the extra is from aquatic game.

The importance of game in the diets of many hunter-gatherer groups is apparent in paleoecological reconstructions as well. Tim Flannery (2001), for example, writes that 13,000 years ago in North America, a sparse human population drove much of the megafauna to extinction by hunting.

Nonhuman Primates

Given humans' close evolutionary relationship with apes and monkeys, a final line of evidence to consider is the importance of game in the diets of nonhuman primates. In general, most nonhuman primates appear to eat little animal matter because of the difficulty of obtaining it and a gut poorly suited to the digestion of animal matter (Milton, 2000).

This is not to say that game does not form an important part of the diet of some nonhuman primates. For example, observations of chimpanzees in different African sites reveals that they hunt often (Mitwani et al., 2002). The vast majority of the game hunted and eaten is red colobus monkeys, hunted primarily by males four to ten times per month with a success rate greater than 50 percent. The hunts entail a high cost in both energy expended and risks taken. Once caught, the meat is selectively shared with members of the troop. Interestingly, the chimpanzees do not appear to hunt to meet a nutritional need, as they hunt primarily during the seasons when fruit is abundant. Rather, among chimpanzees, game may be a political tool used to increase one's genetic contribution to subsequent generations (Mitwani et al., 2002). By sharing the meat, the hunter builds alliances within the troop. These alliances enable a chimpanzee to establish and maintain a high rank that appears to confer mating and reproductive advantages.

Ecological factors suggest that if humans were to choose their diet on the basis of availability alone, they would choose one composed primarily of plant foods. But, given the concentration of nutrients found in game and the difficulty of digesting some plant foods, they would likely wish to complement the plant foods with game. Nutritional considerations indicate that at least some game is required in the diet.


Paleoanthropological data reveal that human ancestors of 4 to 2.5 million years ago ate primarily plant foods and possibly some game. Only at 2.5 million years ago does definitive evidence of the consumption of animals, obtained via scavenging or possibly hunting, appear. The expansion of the brains of human ancestors 1.8 million years ago does not necessarily mean they increased their consumption of animal foods. Rather, they may have increased their energy intake via the consumption of energy-rich plants. The Neanderthals of 130,000 years ago were the first hominids for whom game was a staple of the diet. H. sapiens also consumed game, albeit a greater variety and less focused on megafauna. Data from hunter-gatherers indicate they consumed a wide variety of plants and animals and that, by and large, plant rather than animal products provided the bulk of the calories consumed. Studies of nonhuman primates document that game is regularly consumed among some species. Although the nutritional implications of this behavior are not clear, it does appear to have cultural implications among chimpanzees, where meat is shared by males to enhance their reproductive potential. Each line of evidence considered here suggests that, beginning 2.5 million years ago, game formed part of the diet of human ancestors, and that plant foods have provided the bulk of human calories. In short, game was a part of the diets of early hominids and hunter-gatherers, but plants predominated in the diet. The evidence is insufficient to clearly evaluate the impact of this subsistence strategy on human behavior.

See also Agriculture, Origins of; Evolution; Hunting and Gathering; Mammals; Prehistoric Societies .


Bogin, Barry. The Growth of Humanity. New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001.

Cordain, Loren, Janette Brand Miller, S. Boyd Eaton, Neil Mann, Susanne H. A. Holt, and John D. Speth. "Plant-Animal Subsistence Ratios and Macronutrient Energy Estimations in Worldwide Hunter-Gatherer Diets." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71 (2000): 682692.

Flannery, Tim. The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001.

Hayden, B. "Subsistence and Ecological Adaptations of Modern Hunter/Gatherers." In Omnivorous Primates, edited by Robert S. O. Harding and Geza Teleki. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

Hill, Kim, and A. Magdalena Hurtado. "Hunter-Gatherers of the New World." American Scientist 77 (1989): 436443.

Jenike, Mark R. "Nutritional Ecology: Diet, Physical Activity, and Body Size." In Hunter-Gatherers: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, edited by Catherine Panter-Brick, Robert H. Layton, and Peter Rowley-Conwy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Klein, Richard G. "Archaeology and the Evolution of Human Behavior." Evolutionary Anthropology 9 (2000): 1736.

Lee, Richard B. The Dobe !Kung. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984.

Lee, Richard B. "What Hunters Do for a Living; or, How to Make Out on Scarce Resources." In Man the Hunter, edited by Richard B. Lee and Irven DeVore. Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1968.

Milton, Katherine. "Hunter-Gatherer Diets: A Different Perspective." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 71 (2000): 665667.

Mitwani, John C., David P. Watts, and Martin N. Muller. "Recent Developments in the Study of Wild Chimpanzee Behavior." Evolutionary Anthropology 11 ( January 2002): 925.

Richards, Michael P., Paul B. Pettitt, Mary C. Stiner, and Erik Trinkaus. "Stable Isotope Evidence for Increasing Dietary Breadth in the European Mid-Upper Paleolithic." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98 (2001): 65286532.

Schoeninger, Margaret J. "Diet and the Evolution of Modern Human Form in the Middle East." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 58 (1982): 383403.

Sponheimer, Matt, and Julia A. Lee-Thorp. "Isotopic Evidence for the Diet of an Early Hominid Australopithecus africanus. " Science 283 (1999): 368370.

Warren M. Wilson


views updated May 18 2018

game1 / gām/ • n. 1. a form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck. ∎  a complete episode or period of play, typically ending in a definite result: a baseball game. ∎  a single portion of play forming a scoring unit in a match, esp. in tennis. ∎  Bridge a score of 100 points for tricks bid and made (the best of three games constituting a rubber). ∎  a person's performance in a game; a person's standard or method of play: he will attempt to raise his game to another level. ∎  (games) a meeting for sporting contests, esp. track and field: the Olympic Games. ∎  (games) Brit. sports and athletic activities as organized in a school. ∎  the equipment for a game, esp. a board game or a computer game.2. a type of activity or business, esp. when regarded as a game: this was a game of shuttle diplomacy at which I had become adept. ∎  a secret and clever plan or trick: I was on to his little game, but I didn't want him to know. ∎  a thing that is frivolous or amusing: a Tarot reading is not a game or a stunt.3. wild mammals or birds hunted for sport or food. ∎  the flesh of these mammals or birds, used as food.• adj. eager and willing to do something new or challenging: they were game for anything after the traumas of Monday.• v. [intr.] [often as adj.] (gaming) play games of chance for money: the gaming tables of Monte Carlo. ∎  play video or computer games.PHRASES: ahead of the game ahead of one's competitors or peers in the same sphere of activity.beat someone at their own game use someone's own methods to outdo them in their chosen over inf. said when a situation is regarded as hopeless or irreversible.make (a) game of archaic mock; taunt.make a game of it Sports make a contest more closely (or on) one's game playing badly (or well).the only game in town inf. the best, the most important, or the only thing worth the game behave in a fair or honorable way; abide by the rules or games deal with someone or something in a way that lacks due seriousness or respect: Don't play games with me!DERIVATIVES: game·ly·ness·ster / -stər/ n.game2 • adj. dated (of a person's leg) permanently injured; lame.


views updated Jun 27 2018


Wild birds and beasts. The word includes all game birds and game animals.

The state, in its sovereign power, owns game for the benefit of the general public. The only manner in which a private individual can acquire ownership in game is by possessing it lawfully such as by hunting and killing it under a license.

Generally, every individual has the right to hunt and take game in any public place where his or her presence is lawful, so long as the person neither violates statutory regulations nor injures or infringes upon the rights of others. A hunter does not acquire an absolute right to a wild animal by mere pursuit alone, and the individual forfeits any potential ownership by abandoning the chase prior to capture. The exclusive right to hunt or take game on privately owned property vests in the owner or his or her grantees. This property right of the owner is limited by the right of the state to regulate and

preserve the game for public use. A suit for trespass may be brought against one who interferes with another's right to hunt.

A statute that proscribes the hunting of game without a license, and that requires the payment of a fee for such license, constitutes a proper exercise of the police power of the state.

Game laws govern the killing or taking of birds and beasts. Game wardens ordinarily can arrest violators, seize illegally taken game, bring actions for trespass, or institute prosecutions for violations of the game laws.

Under a number of game laws, it is a penal offense to kill or take certain types of game in certain seasons of the year or without a license. A hunter is required to exhibit a license when properly called on to do so, and it constitutes a legal violation if the person cannot do so.

In a situation where an individual has lawfully obtained possession of game—enclosing and caring for them as domestic animals—the person can kill one or more of them if necessary for care and management or for humane purposes. In addition, an individual might be justified in killing game in violation of the law if it were necessary for the protection of persons or

property. It sometimes constitutes an offense to export game beyond the limits of the nation or state in which it was killed or captured, to ship it for sale in a certain manner, or to absent certain information upon the package.

The United States has entered into treaties with other countries, including Great Britain and Mexico, for the protection and preservation of migratory birds and game animals. It constitutes an offense to violate statutes that were enacted to implement such treaties. For example, a regulatory statute might limit the number of birds that can be killed by any individual each day, and it would be an offense to exceed such limit.

The federal government, subject to the consent of the state, can establish a game refuge for the protection of game and migratory birds and proscribe all hunting in the vicinity. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is administered by the interior department, to conserve and preserve fish and game in wildlife refuges and game ranges.


Endangered Species Act; Fish and Fishing.


views updated Jun 11 2018

game Non‐domesticated (i.e. wild) animals and birds shot for sport and eaten. Rabbit and pigeon may be shot at any time, but other game species, such as grouse, hare, partridge, pheasant, quail, deer (venison), and wild duck may not be shot during the close season, to protect breeding stocks. Game birds are generally raised on farms to provide sport, rather than being hunted in the wild, and increasingly game species are farmed and killed in conventional humane ways to provide food. Traditionally, game is hung for several days to soften the meat, whereupon it develops a strong flavour.


views updated May 11 2018

game ahead of the game ahead of one's competitors or peers in the same sphere of activity.
beat someone at their own game use someone's own methods to outdo them in their chosen activity.
the only game in town the best or most important of its kind; the only thing worth concerning itself with.

See also the great game, game, set, and match, the name of the game, play the game.


views updated Jun 27 2018


a flock of herd or animals raised and kept for sport or pleasure; wild animals or birds pursued, caught, or killed in the chase; technically, game under the Game Act of 1862 includes hares, pheasants, partridges, woodcocks, snipes, rabbits, grouse, and black or moor game.

Examples: game of bees, 1577; of conies, 1576; of partridges, 1762; of red deer, 1788; of swans, 1482.


views updated May 11 2018

game1 amusement OE.; organized amusement XIII; †sport derived from the chase, (hence) wild animals pursued for sport XIII. OE. gamen, gomen = OS., OHG., ON. gaman; of unkn. orig. For loss of -n cf. clue, eve, maid.
Hence vb.; a new formation of XIII, distinct from OE. gam(e)nian. Hence gamester XVI.


views updated May 29 2018

game2 full of spirit. XVIII. adj. use of GAME1 sporting sense of ‘spirit for fighting, pluck’.


views updated May 09 2018

game3 (colloq.) lame. XVIII. of unkn. orig.; cf. synon. GAMMY.