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Thread: Pugilistic prehumans

  1. #1 Pugilistic prehumans 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    Nov 2008
    New Zealand
    Facing a violent past: Evolution of human ancestors' faces a result of need to weather punches during arguments, study suggests -- ScienceDaily

    The reference above offers a hypothesis to explain why Australopithecus and other prehuman ancestors had such robust faces, with heavy bone structure. The suggestion is that the males fought a lot, including hitting each other in the face. Evolution then equips the prehumans with strong bones to resist damage.

    We do know that more 'primitive' human societies are more violent than modern humans, so this kinda makes a kinda sense. However, I suspect that punching would not have been the main form of attack. After all, we know that, with the more fragile bones of modern human faces, hitting someone in the head is still likely to break wrist bones. It must have been more the case in earlier times. So, did they hit each other in the head with weapons? Or is this hypothesis so much bulldust?

    PS. Something I just happen to know (weird for a person who hates boxing) is a tidbit about boxing history. Early boxing was bare knuckle, and mainly involved blows to the body, since hitting someone bare knuckle on the face or head hurt the puncher's fist like crazy, and sometimes broke bones. Since boxing gloves became adopted, hitting the face or head increased dramatically, with that becoming the primary target. The death rate during boxing bouts also increased substantially. Bare knuckle boxing very rarely resulted in death. Boxing with gloves kills frequently enough to add up to many boxing deaths each year. That is simply because gloved boxers hit their opponent in the head, where bare knuckle boxers do not. Not if they want to keep intact hand bones, that is.

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  3. #2  
    Forum Ph.D.
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    Jul 2010
    I suspect that punching would not have been the main form of attack.
    I'd agree with that. There must have been some strong social norms - an early variant of queensbury rules - or else it could as easily be fist holding rock rather than empty fists. I'm not convinced it was fist fighting that made our ancestors the way they were - also not sure how we could ever know.

    The chances of dying in fights go up when in the presence of hard paving and construction of stone and concrete - cracked skulls from being knocked down or falling badly will more often be more deadly than the blows themselves. Still, people dying in unarmed "fist-fights" is not that uncommon; currently in Australia it's become integral to the "get tough on drunken violence" political debate to focus on the unprovoked or unexpected "king hit" but I recall in my youth that fights were more socially acceptable - even a semi-legitimate "social" activity for a Friday night; "A f**k or a fight!" is something I recall being shouted to random strangers; no women present that I recalled, so I'm not sure if the first part was rhetorical.

    I'm not sure, but I think the deaths that occurred in those days -1960's - were more accepted as well, and were put down to accident and bad luck without much in the way of legal consequences or media interest.

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