History of Hunting
San hunters in Africa
People have been hunting for a long, long time, certainly since the Old Stone Age, about 40,000 BC. Of course people hunted different animals in different places, depending on the environment. But the main hunting techniques did not change very much from the Stone Age right through the Middle Ages.
There were really two kinds of hunting. The older kind
was hunting for survival, hunting for food.
When people went hunting for food they didn't worry about being sporting,
they just caught as many animals as they could in the easiest way. One
way to catch birds, for instance, was to put sticky lime
on the branches of a bush, and then put seeds and things birds like
to eat on the branches. When birds landed there they would get stuck,
and then people came and threw nets
over them and caught them.
Rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals were also usually caught in traps and snares, or in nets.
The other kind of hunting was hunting for sport, as a sort of dangerous thrill. This kind of hunting was basically something rich people did to show that they were rich, like going on safari today. Sport hunting, after the Early Bronze Age when horses came to the Mediterranean, was mostly done on horseback, with bows and arrows or with spears and nets, and with dogs. You hunted deer, or boar (wild pigs). You did eat the meat after you killed it, but if all you wanted was dinner there were easier ways to go about it.
In West Asia, there was also a tradition of ritual lion hunting for the king. In Western Europe in the Middle Ages, kings kept whole forests for their own private hunting use: Fontainebleau in France, or Sherwood Forest in England (of Robin Hood fame).
To find out more about ancient and medieval hunting, check out these books from Amazon or from your local library:
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers, edited by Richard Lee and Richard Daly (1999).By specialists, but accessible to interested adult readers.
Hunting in the Ancient World, by J.K. Anderson (1985). Greek and Roman hunting.
The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China, by Mark Elvin (2004). An account of how people from the Stone Age on gradually changed the environment of China (and hunted the elephants that used to live there).