Register for updates

 
 

Archaeology
RSS Feed
Turtle Soup, Perchance? Prehistoric Man Had a Penchant for Tortoises
Monday, February 01, 2016 9:30:00 AM

New discovery at TAU excavation of Qesem Cave reveals tortoises played a supplementary role in the diets of early humans 400,000 years ago

Photo: Cut marks on tortoise bone from Qesem CaveGrilled, boiled or salted? Turtles, or tortoises, are rarely consumed today, but a select few cultures, primarily those in East Asia, still consider turtle soup, made from the flesh of the turtle, a delicacy.

According to a new discovery at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv, the site of many major findings from the late Lower Paleolithic period, they are not alone in their penchant for tortoise. Tel Aviv University researchers, in collaboration with scholars from Spain and Germany, have uncovered evidence of turtle specimens at the 400,000-year-old site, indicating that early man enjoyed eating turtles in addition to large game and vegetal material. The research provides direct evidence of the relatively broad diet of early Paleolithic people — and of the "modern" tools and skills employed to prepare it.

The study was led by Dr. Ruth Blasco of the Centro Nacional de Investigacion Sobre la Evolucion Humana (CENIEH), Spain, and TAU's Institute of Archaeology, together with Prof. Ran Barkai and Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. Other collaborators include: Dr. Jordi Rosell and Dr. Pablo Sanudo of Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES), Spain; and Dr. Krister T. Smith and Dr. Lutz Christian Maul of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, Germany. The research was published on February 1, 2016, in Quaternary Science Reviews.

"Culinary and cultural depth" to the Paleolithic diet

"Until now, it was believed that Paleolithic humans hunted and ate mostly large game and vegetal material," said Prof. Barkai. "Our discovery adds a really rich human dimension — a culinary and therefore cultural depth to what we already know about these people."

The research team discovered tortoise specimens strewn all over the cave at different levels, indicating that they were consumed over the entire course of the early human 200,000-year inhabitation. Once exhumed, the bones revealed striking marks that reflected the methods the early humans used to process and eat the turtles.

"We know by the dental evidence we discovered earlier that the Qesem inhabitants ate vegetal food," said Prof. Barkai. "Now we can say they also ate tortoises, which were collected, butchered and roasted, even though they don't provide as many calories as fallow deer, for example."

According to the study, Qesem inhabitants hunted mainly medium and large game such as wild horses, fallow deer and cattle. This diet provided large quantities of fat and meat, which supplied the calories necessary for human survival. Until recently, it was believed that only the later Homo sapiens enjoyed a broad diet of vegetables and large and small animals. But evidence found at the cave of the exploitation of small animals over time, this discovery included, suggests otherwise.

Open questions remain

"In some cases in history, we know that slow-moving animals like tortoises were used as a 'preserved' or 'canned' food," said Dr. Blasco. "Maybe the inhabitants of Qesem were simply maximizing their local resources. In any case, this discovery adds an important new dimension to the knowhow, capabilities and perhaps taste preferences of these people."

According to Prof. Gopher, the new evidence also raises possibilities concerning the division of labor at Qesem Cave. "Which part of the group found and collected the tortoises?" Prof. Gopher said. "Maybe members who were not otherwise involved in hunting large game, who could manage the low effort required to collect these reptiles — perhaps the elderly or children."

"According to the marks, most of the turtles were roasted in the shell," Prof. Barkai added. "In other cases, their shells were broken and then butchered using flint tools. The humans clearly used fire to roast the turtles. Of course they were focused on larger game, but they also used supplementary sources of food — tortoises — which were in the vicinity."

The researchers are now examining bird bones that were recently discovered at Qesem Cave.

Photo caption: Cut marks on tortoise bone from Qesem Cave. Courtesy Prof. Ran Barkai.




Latest News

8,000 Cyber Security Experts to Attend 9th Annual Cyber Week Conference at TAU

Weeklong event features world's top cyber security experts in government, military, industry and academia.

Study Shows How the Nervous System Can Transmit Information Across Multiple Generations

Mechanism identified in nematodes allows neurons to communicate with germ cells, TAU researchers say.

TAU Researchers Spearhead Early Detection of Parkinson's Disease

New method tracks early stages of protein aggregation involved in Parkinson's.

Inauguration of the Ady Seidman Lobby

Attractive large entrance hall honors the memory of one of the founding fathers of TAU's Engineering Faculty.

Breakthrough in Laser Technology Lights the Way for Improved Displays and Illumination

TAU researchers demonstrate continuous lasing action in devices made from perovskite materials.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Signs MOU Between Florida Institutions and TAU

Governor presented with Friendship Award for his "continued friendship with the State of Israel."

Early Humans Deliberately Recycled Flint To Create Tiny, Sharp Tools

Exceptional conditions at Israel's Qesem Cave preserved 400,000-year-old "tool kit," TAU researchers say.

Egyptian Fruit Bats Trade Food for Sex

Female scroungers form bonds with particular male producers and exchange mating for nourishment, TAU researchers say.

Law Prof. Ariel Porat Named New President of Tel Aviv University

Former Dean of TAU's Buchmann Faculty of Law is an EMET Prize Laureate.

contentSecondary
c

© 2019 American Friends of Tel Aviv University
39 Broadway, Suite 1510 | New York, NY 10006 | 212.742.9070 | info@aftau.org
Privacy policy | Tel Aviv University