The suite of derived human traits, including enlarged brains, elevated fertility rates, and long developmental periods and life spans, imposes extraordinarily high energetic costs relative to other great apes. How do human subsistence strategies accommodate our expanded energy budgets? We found that relative to other great apes, human hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers spend more energy but less time on subsistence, acquire substantially more energy per hour, and achieve similar energy efficiencies. These findings revise our understanding of human energetic evolution by indicating that humans afford expanded energy budgets primarily by increasing rates of energy acquisition, not through energy-saving adaptations such as economical bipedalism or sophisticated tool use that decrease subsistence costs and improve the energetic efficiency of subsistence. We argue that the time saved by human subsistence strategies provides more leisure time for social interaction and social learning in central-place locations and would have been critical for cumulative cultural evolution.
Science, vol. 374, n° 6575, décembre 2021