The Man Hunters is a television documentary
about the search for fossil man. A Film on fossil man for a
general television audience could have its problems, but MGM,
in close collaboration with F. Clark Howell and Phillip Tobias,
has put together an hour-long film which is informative and
fun to watch as well. Instead of giving detailed descriptions
of fossil finds or leading the audience up and down the stratigraphies,
The Man Hunters focuses on a few of the wider issues in human
evolution, and then devotes much of its time to the sites where
fossil man has been found and particularly to the scientists
who research man's fossil ancestry, the man hunters themselves.
The film is divided into four "acts"
of roughly fifteen minutes each. The opening portion of the
film sets the temporal frame of reference for the audience using,
among other things, a picture of the footprint of an American
astronaut on the moon, 500,000 year old footprints from Hungary,
and finally actors representing the "australopithecines"
of more than three million years ago... The Man Hunters (then)
gets down to the business of presenting the search for fossil
man as a mystery story, starting with Les Eyzies and proceeding
back through time and the levels of human evolution.
The old Cro-Magnon-Neanderthal dichotomy
is represented by a sequence from a 1912 movie in which Cro-Magnon
emerges the victor over the more brutish Neanderthal after "discovering"
the use of a stone on a stick as a weapon. The modern interpretation
of Neanderthal as a "variety of modern man" is then
illustrated using paintings by Czech artist, S. Burian.
The history of the genus Homo is traced
from Francois Bordes' excavations at Combe Grenal in France
through Mt. Carmel and Lazaret to Choukoutien. Original film
sequences from the early excavations in Palestine form a fascinating
contrast to the painstaking collecting and recording of every
conceivably pertinent bit of data that is shown on the modern
paleolithic digs. The Lazaret Cave excavations are used effectively
as an example of the cultural inferences that can be made from
details analysis of the position of stones and stone tool fragments,
charcoal, sea shells, and bear claws.
A brief look at films of the original excavations
at Choukoutien and the subsequent Japanese invasion of China
and a short characterization of the Homo erectus leads the viewer
to the end of part two. Mauer, Steinheim, Swanscombe, Torralba,
Pithecanthropus, and others are all missing--perhaps good film
materials did not exist for them, and their inclusion would
probably have needlessly complicated things.
The remaining half of the film concentrates
on Australopithecus. One "act" summarizes the history
of the finds, from original pictures of Dart and the first known
australopithecine skull to the latest finds made by Clark Howell's
Omo expedition. Then, an attempt is made at an interpretation
of the nature of Australopitecus and its mode of life. The film
very briefly characterizes Australopitecus robustus as a vegetarian
and a separate, ultimately less successful form than the smaller
"human toothed," Australo-pithecus africanus.
The discussion of the nature of Australopithecus
is somewhat unsatisfying. Some time is spent on Brain's theory
of Swartkrans as a possible leopard kill spot, and some of DeVore's
baboon footage is used to illustrate the value of the primates'
abilities at social cooperation in defense against predation.
Little is said about man as a predator and theories of tool
use and weapon use are only briefly mentioned. When it comes
to the question of the role and development of aggression in
man's evolution, one arrives at the weakest part of the film,
a protracted discussion of whether man has osteodontokeratics.
The arguments given against the aggressiveness of Australopithecus
are weak and somewhat misleading as to the probable nature of
earliest known man. Statements like "That just isn't the
way I envision him..." are not very convincing and a picture
emerges of a meek fellow, constant prey to leopards, shambling
along in half shadows. As a result, one could come away with
the impression that Dart is right. Additional data from primate
behavior studies could have made the case against killer apes
much more convincing, but time limitations perhaps precluded
I recommend this film very highly for use
in introductory anthropology course. In the space of a single
lecture period, it covers many of the highlights in the search
for fossil man and gives interesting, if not particularly detailed,
information about stages of human evolution back to, but not
beyond, the "australopithecines." It provides a stimulating
introduction to the study of fossil man, and is a good starting
point for more detailed discussions by the teacher in later
One of the most interesting aspects of
the film, at least from the professional's point of view, is
the sequences taken of archeologist and human paleontologists
at work: among others, Bordes making a hand-axe, the Leakeys
prowling at Olduvai, Dart, and Broom handling the early "australopithecine"
posture while training the "apeman" actors for the
Even in a graduate course on human paleontology
the film is very useful, since it shows many of the original
fossil man sites and gives advance students a visual impression
of some of the contexts, both ecological and intellectual, in
which fossil man is studied. If astronauts, clocks in the desert,
and live "australopithecine" actors seem gimmickly,
they many be regarded as necessary elaborations for a general
television audience. Instead of detracting from the value of
the film they help to make it rather fun to watch.