dinsdag 23 oktober 2012

Elephant trails as the highway of the hunter-gatherer

Human migration as a kind of elephant tourism? Actual hard evidence is maybe a bit wanting but Gary Haynes makes an interesting suggestion on how (prehistoric) hunter-gatherer are aided in their exploration of their environment by the landscape management of several elephantine species in past and present times. Read his papers 'Mammoth landscapes: good country for hunter-gatherers' and 'Elephant landscapes: human foragers in mammoths, mastodonts, and elephants'. For elephant trails as desire trails see earlier.
Studies of elephants in the wild show clearly that proboscideans make complex mental maps of water points, mineral sources, forage patches, fruit trees, travel routes, and socializing sites. My own studies confirm that travel routes between these important places can be effortlessly found by human foragers and other animal taxa. Proboscidean trails are well used, clearly identifiable, and easy to follow. They tend to be flat surfaced (because elephants have flat feet and great weight which compresses the ground so much), measure about 45 cm wide or more, and are consistently placed year to year. Human hunters or scavengers would have recognized these trails, read the signs to be found on them, and made use of them to track and follow vulnerable animals moving from water source to forage to cover to mineral licks and back again.

The modern literature on African and Asian elephants shows that they frequently move long distances, exploring for new forage, new mates, or new ranges. Proboscideans also habitually re-use old trails seasonally or more often, thus establishing clear networks of widely separated places connected by paths. Such networks of fixed and dependable trails would provide a means to encourage exploratory mobility by human pioneers into new ranges.
Mineral pit dug by elephants

1 opmerking:

  1. I have a pet theory that at least some of the old roads of California - El Camino Real, San Pablo Avenue - are based on pre-Spanish Native American trails, and the early Native Americans would have followed old mammoth or mastodon trails between water sources, grazing lands, etc.

    I have absolutely no evidence to back this up.