Mass procurement and prey rankings: insights from the European rabbit

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18 Scopus citations


In the archeological record, the presence of smaller-bodied species is often assumed to indicate a decline in higher-ranked, larger-bodied prey and broadening of the diet to include lower-ranked items with higher handling costs. This shift is typically considered to be a product of a “broad spectrum revolution” that gave rise in many regions to increased sedentism, subsistence intensification, and investments in farming at the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary. However, recent evidence suggests that the use of small, fast prey may have emerged much earlier in hominin evolution than previously appreciated. Here, we assess ethnographic, historical, and actualistic observations of European rabbit hunting to explore whether such small, fast prey are inherently lower-ranked than larger ones. We find that, in combination, the type of procurement method and the population density of rabbits substantially affect foraging returns and the definition of prey types. When rabbits are locally abundant and mass-captured in the open, on-encounter returns are predictably high, sometimes higher than those of large-bodied ungulates. We suggest that rabbit hunting may have been locally and intermittently common during the European Middle and Late Pleistocene as rabbit densities waxed and waned.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number262
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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