Meat Eaters: From Prehistory to Present Day
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Nutritionists, health experts, and ethicists may argue over the risks and benefits of eating meat, and Western societies may be reducing meat eating, but from the earliest times, meat has been important in human diets and in developing and maintaining cultures.
Marylène Patou-Mathis, an authority in prehistory who has spent 15 years on research that includes seminal food practices, explores the essential and fascinating position in human history of the hunting and consumption of meat. In prehistoric times, she found, game hunting was a central necessity that contributed not just to diet but also to the organization of society and the development of certain life skills. Hunting had important social consequences: the development of strategic thinking, the division of labor, the distribution of the yield of the hunt, and group cohesion.
Prey has often been multisymbolic, making it necessary for the hunters to choose carefully what and how they hunted and for the entire society to be selective about methods of consumption. The object of the hunt was often considered sacred, and across time, rituals had to be performed before and after the killing or before and after eating.
Patou-Mathis discusses the symbolic importance of animal flesh—and of human flesh. Human sacrifices and cannibalistic rituals have been practiced by many diverse societies over the course of history, in all areas of the world. Most modern societies no longer rely on hunting for food, but hunting can still be seen as part of our cultural heritage in such practices as hunting for sport or watching bullfights.
Marylène Patou-Mathis : Marylène Patou-Mathis is a paleontologist and head of the archaeozoological unit of the Department of Ancient History at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. She is the author of several books on prehistory, most notably, Néanderthal une autre humanité (Perrin, 2006).