The Importance of Stone-Throwing

on June 15, 2015

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been trying to pull together all my recent thoughts on the origin of the cycle of visions in a way that holds together and makes sense. But meanwhile, here’s something of interest that Alexei brought to my attention yesterday.

The blogger, Phil Paine, begins by considering the fact that the earliest hominins appear to have lived along riverbanks and lakesides. He notes that these are extremely dangerous environments because they’re where predators come to attack game animals — but also that this offers unique advantages for a clever opportunist.

The oppor­tu­nity I had in mind was theft. What if you could take advan­tage of the fact that game ani­mals will come to the river­side or lake­side, and that preda­tors would follow them and kill them? What would be needed would be some way of dri­ving the preda­tors away after they made their kills, then steal­ing the fresh kills. There had been, even back then, some spec­u­la­tion about early hominins being scav­engers rather than hunters, but I think those who were advanc­ing this idea were think­ing more of the kind of scav­eng­ing that is done by minor car­ni­vores that “clean up” the kills of major preda­tors, who usu­ally leave sig­nif­i­cant amounts of left­overs after they have gorged them­selves on the best bits. This is not what I had in mind. I was think­ing, rather, of hominins divid­ing their atten­tion between gath­er­ing the numerous tid­bits that can be found on river­banks — birds’ eggs, cray­fish, nuts, tubers, small bur­row­ing ani­mals, fruit, berries, frogs, fish — and the theft of fresh kills from preda­tors. How do you steal from a big cat? You let it make its kill, then you drive it away. But, how do you drive it away?

You throw rocks.

The more I looked at the phys­i­o­log­i­cal changes that dis­tin­guished early hominins from their simian rel­a­tives, the more they seemed to me to line up with throw­ing rocks. Chim­panzees reg­u­larly throw things (usu­ally excre­ment, which they fling as a sign of hos­til­ity), but they are not very good at it. Their wrists are not well-shaped for it, their fin­gers are too long, and their arms and shoul­ders don’t have the right con­fig­u­ra­tion for pitch­ing things accu­rately. But it is pre­cisely these fea­tures that are dra­mat­i­cally mod­i­fied in early hominins, and the changes are as dra­matic as those in the lower body and spine that favour bipedal­ism. Human beings, the inher­i­tors of these changes, may not be able to run like a chee­tah, or out­per­form other ani­mals in many tasks, but they are spec­tac­u­larly good at throw­ing things. One has only to look at children play­ing base­ball or cricket to see that humans have evolved phenomenal throwing skills. Early hominins had all these fea­tures — they have remained remarkably sta­ble ever since. They prob­a­bly were as good at throw­ing rocks and hitting the mark as we are.

That was intriguing, but it seemed to refer to a much earlier stage of human evolution than the one I’ve been examining, so I simply filed it away. But just now I was sorting through some old notes and came on a few points I’d jotted down from a book by William H. Calvin titled The Ascent of Mind that was published in 1990.

According to my notes, Calvin hypothesized that throwing things was central to human evolution because it led to the development of sequential skills that required the harmonization of masses of neurons. He further suggested that this was the basis of narrative awareness.

In other words, language, story, and the visions themselves may all have grown out of the throwing ability that we developed long before we started making tools. Now, that’s fascinating — and completely relevant to the scenario I’ve been trying to develop.

Calvin’s book is available online at the above link. The main link for his website is, and I plan to explore it for clues. He looks like a pretty cool dude.

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One Response to “The Importance of Stone-Throwing”

  1. guslinton says:

    Interesting that recently stone throwing kids in Baltimore were able to cause police to retreat.

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