The Alpha Male

Christopher Boehm talks about a cave painting from the early Holocene:

What we see in one is a cluster of ten male archers who seem to be rejoicing in something they have just done as they expressively wave their bows in the air. Lying on the ground some yards away is an inert human male figure who looks almost like a porcupine,62 with exactly ten arrows sticking in him.

That’s all we know for sure, but some speculation is possible.

First, ten archers suggests a band of perhaps forty, which would be a bit larger than average today, but well within the central tendencies already discussed. Elsewhere in Spain, two similar depictions show three and six archers, respectively, so the overall average would be about six, which seems to be right at the average for contemporary foragers—even though with such a small sample size, this is merely suggestive. Second, with the killings done unanimously and at short range, this would appear to be an instance of execution within the band, rather than a very lopsided act of killing between bands. We can’t be sure, but the appearance of this event three times suggests that it could have been an execution scene similar to the “communal” one described by Richard Lee for the Bushmen, where a serial killer was “porcupined” by his group.

Boehm, Christopher (2012-05-01). Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame (p. 158). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

H-G don't execute one of their band lightly, so it usually takes a serious offense to provoke it. One crime that will provoke it, if persistent and blatant, is "big man behavior" - acting like an Alpha Male. Rigorous egalitarianism is the rule in mobile HG societies, and violations of this ethos can be fatal. Chimpanzee bands, on the other hand, always have an alpha male.


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