Ancient Hunting

The old evolution of the hunting

By on October 27th, 2007 07:31 GMT
Ancient Greeks believed that hunting was discovered by the gods, who taught people how to do it. Numerous legends and myths about hunting involve gods and semigods: centaurs are hunters, Perseus is considered the first hunter, while Castor learns on horseback the art of chasing the prey in the woods and to kill it by spear. Pollux chased and killed wild animals with the help of the dogs.

Aristotle said that the hunt is just and natural, by means of which man claims what belongs to him but he must prove skill and knowledge for that.

Most scenes on the walls of the caves left for us by the Paleolithic men depict scenes of hunting wild animals. Hunting has always been present in art and culture, from poetry to painting, on the walls of the ancient palaces and temples, on clay or parchment chronicles.

Toussenel said: "Hunting is the first and oldest ancient art. It is previous to gastronomy and war, because the man first got hungry, and its carnivorous instinct made him dash on everything that was alive. War started later, perhaps from a quarrel generated by hunt".

A man's first coat and stake were due to hunting and as a sign of gratitude, various gods protected the hunter, bringing him luck.

Hunting weaponry evolved from sticks to lances and daggers, having fixed a well sharped silex piece on the head. Groups armed with spears and boulders attacked the big game and in these fights, victims were on both camps.

The hunt was consumed by the family group or by the whole community, the sharing being made by the elders of the tribe following strict rules.

The primordial hunter was characterized by force, courage and skill in catching the game. The man had to be a good hunter to gain status inside the group. Hunting and fishing were made by all the members of the community.

Later, the hunters passed to a secondary plan with the domestication of the livestock and agriculture. The attitude towards the hunting activity changed: it was no more a risky fight for survival, turning into a sport. In time, the best hunters and warriors became the most powerful and dominated the primitive populations; a new social hierarchy emerged. Fishing remained a "privilege" for the farmers.

Already 4,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia (now southern Iraq), average people were allowed to hunt just small game, despite the abundant game from those times. The princes and officials from Assyria and Babylon hunted following a well-established protocol: elephants, leopards, aurochs (wild cattle), wild boars, deer, antelopes and onagers (wild asses). Falcons were already employed for hunting small game.

The lion hunting was reserved just for the kings, on foot or in their war chariots on two wheels. Of course, there may have been kings or officials extremely skilled on handling the sword, spear, arrow or lasso. But the royal vanity had to be mesmerized, and this is how the scribes wrote the first ... "hunting tales".

The Assyrian king Tiglatpalasar I (1116-1078 BC) synthesized this way his hunting career: "I killed four giant, powerful bulls in the desert of the Mitanni land, with my hard bow, my steel sword, and ny sharp arrows... I also killed 10 strong elephant bulls in Harran on the banks of the Habur River. A captured 4 live elephants. From the order of the Ninurta god, I killed in fight, standing on foot, 120 brave hearted lions and 800 lions from my war chariot."

Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) was more persuasive: in just one hunting party "I killed 30 elephants with the bow, 257 powerful wild bull I killed them from my war chariot, I killed 370 strong lions just by spear like birds in a cage".

Hindu religion has forbidden for millennia the consumption of meat. Still, the young animals could be sacrificed, with one condition: the beneficiary was not supposed to be the butcher and the fish could be consumed if the fisherman was the "indirect cause" of the death of the fish, which hung up on the hook by itself. The flesh and eggs of the turtles were also appreciated.

Still, during some festivities, the prohibition on eating the flesh of adult animals was temporarily eliminated.

Many Indian kings were more or less vegetarian, respecting the food restriction installed by Asoka, who forbade the animal massacres destined for the royal dinner. Instead of thousands of animals being sacrificed daily, he recommended just three: two peacocks and a gazelle.

But according to the Indian conception, the ideal king was a skilled hunter and warrior. Chasers armed with webs and traps had to surround the game, generally lions, wild boars or deer.

The Indian society was divided into several categories: wood gatherers, fruit and medicinal leaves collectors, wild bee honey collectors, bird catchers/hunters and fishermen.

The hunters were accompanied by aggressive and standing dogs and were armed with bows and pipe bows and they also used traps. They made platforms in the trees filled with ripe fruits, waiting for hours in the tree for the antelopes to come, attracted by the fruits. These animals were killed by arrows.

The hunters also delivered live, unharmed animals for the royal parks and hunting reserves, without the use of a trap. They ointed the grass in places where an antelope grazed honey. The hunter waited, but when the animal got used with the human smell and look, it got increasingly tamed and in the end could be easily captured.

Elephants were hunted for the ivory. On the place where animals used to come for drinking, the hunter dug a square hole, whose walls were sustained by stones and girders and covered it with boards over which wet soil and grass was spread. The hunter had an underground access to the hole and through an opening he could throw his arrows.

During the night, when the elephants came to drink, one unhappy animal fell in the trap. The poisoned arrows thrown by the hunter had the anticipated effect and the hunter cut the tusks with a saw.

Domesticated elephants were also used for capturing wild individuals which were later domesticated for war, work or entertainment.

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An Assyrian relief depicting king Nimrod finishing off a wounded lion. Images of kings battling with lions are  common in Mesopotamian art, aiming to enhance the king's representation as a powerful and virile conqueror. The mane prolonging deep onto
   An Assyrian relief depicting king Nimrod finishing off a wounded lion. Images of kings battling with lions are common in Mesopotamian art, aiming to enhance the king's representation as a powerful and virile conqueror. The mane prolonging deep onto