It has been 10,000 years since humans commonly lived in hunter-gatherer societies, families of about 30 members, surviving by cooperating and protecting one another. Encountering a strange tribe was a tense affair and could even be deadly. Gray wolves still live this way: they cooperate in pursuit of food, they are social with their immediate family, but will aggressively defend themselves and their resources from strangers.
The dirt path is cool on my feet. Even though the sun is out, it is dark in the forest as we move quickly but silently; heading towards home and the little ones waiting for us. I hear a bird call off towards the thick trees, an alarm. At the same time my mother, leading the way, stops and looks intently the same direction. The scent hits me, father, and my sister only a second before we see them. Two, then three, at least five strangers burst through the trees. I don’t recognize their faces. Father tenses and rushes forward. I am immediately next to him but when we see two more strangers join the group father turns and I follow. Mother is ahead of us, sprinting, but sister turned the wrong way and is now surrounded by the strangers. I look over my shoulder and see they are nearly on top of her. She is fighting. I stop and then run a few steps back toward her as she is slammed to the ground. The strangers look up from their attack, look directly at me.
In this passage did you picture a hunter-gatherer family, traveling through the forest before encountering a neighboring tribe? Bare feet, nimble hands with strong thumbs, grasping a spear or a bow. Or did you picture an animal? Perhaps a wolf pack on route to their den, where pups safely awaited the adults’ return? Paws, fur, pricked ears, a shiny black nose. For both types of groups—a pack of wolves or a hunter-gatherer family, it is extremely dangerous to meet a neighboring group while outnumbered and unprepared. Two out of every three wolves that die in Yellowstone National Park are killed during these encounters.