Expertise Capacity And Hunter-Gatherers
36. [...] [T]he capacity to develop expertise [...] would have been critical for the survival of early hunter-gatherers. Lee (1979) noted that in hunting the !Kung use in depth expert knowledge and reasoning. For example, hunters can spot from a particular track the animal which made it, its sex, age, whether alone or ill, what it was eating, and how long ago (to within 15 minutes) since the animal made the track. They can do this by reading the shape, depth and condition of tracks, whether they are alone, and how they are spaced and located. Tracks found to the east side of a tree might suggest that the animal rested there in the morning shade (Lee 1979, pp. 212-213). Such knowledge, like other forms of expertise, takes many years, indeed decades, to learn. Moreover, it is known to be more important than physical skill to hunting success: the individuals most successful at hunting are those in the over 39 age group (with decades of experience tracking), not the more physical able (but less experienced) individuals under this age (Lee 1979, pp. 242-244). Indeed, an old man in his fifties or sixties might go with a young man (usually his son), interpreting the tracks while the young man does the hunting.
37. This example suggests that among early humans the individuals with the brains that had the greatest capacity to acquire expertise would survive more successfully than those without their extensive knowledge. The reasons for this would not only include expertise in hunting but expertise in many other activities such as gathering, tool manufacture and social communication. Over time, the advantages conferred by success in these activities would result in the natural selection of brains with increased capacity for expertise.
Quoted on Sun Oct 2nd, 2011