Researchers found evidence at the Qesem cave site in Israel that ancient humans ate tortoises, as well other large animals, a new study suggests.
The cave was discovered in 2000, while people were doing road construction. Archaeologists who study ancient humans have uncovered a lot of remnants in the “magic” cave (Qesem means magic in Hebrew).
Between about 400,000 to 200,000 years ago, ancient humans occupied the cave, according to archaeologists. When they first found the cave, researchers saw that a portion of it had collapsed.
Ran Barkai, one of the lead archaeologists for the study and a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations at the Tel Aviv University, said that a lot of people thought that ancient hunter gatherers only liked to hunt large animals, rather than small ones.
However, the new findings prove that humans also had an interest for smaller game, such as tortoises. That being said, the majority of the bones found in the cave still belonged to larger game: specifically fallow deer, researchers said.
According to Dr. Barkai, none of the bones found in the cave are complete. The shattered bones indicate that humans did not only eat the flesh of the animals, but they also sucked the marrow from the broken bones, Dr. Barkai explained.
Based on evidence from the cave, researchers came to the conclusion that ancient hunter gatherers ate tortoise in three different ways: using flint to break the shell open, roasting them in fire, hammering the tortoise around the axis to pry the shell.
An analysis of human teeth fount at the Qesem cave site suggests that ancient humans consumed vegetables, starch, and a lot of meat, according to researchers.
Dr. Avi Gopher, a professor at Tel-Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations and another of the new paper’s authors, said that tortoise hunting was likely done by people who were too unfit to hunt fallow deer, such as children and the elderly.
The Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT) is a model that helps predict how foragers make their decision when searching for food: obtaining food provides energy, but searching for and capturing the food requires both energy and time – which means that there has to be a cost-benefit analyses.
However, the fact that hunter gatherers pursued tortoises (which have a small amount of meat), or small birds, indicates that their decisions were not solely based on the Optimal Foraging Theory, according to Dr. Gopher. Perhaps diversity of diet made them pursue game that did not bring that much in return, he added.
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