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Prehistoric humans ate roasted turtles

Tuesday, Feb 2, 2016,15:56 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Jerusalem | Paleolithic humans enjoyed eating roasted tortoises, according to a new study that uncovered evidence of turtle specimens at a 400,000-year-old site in Israel.

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 discovery at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv in Israel, the site of many major findings from the late Lower Paleolithic period, provides direct evidence of the relatively broad diet of early Paleolithic people, researchers said.

Until now, it was believed that Paleolithic humans hunted and ate mostly large game and vegetal material, said Ran Barkai, from Tel Aviv University in Israel. Our discovery adds a really rich human dimension – a culinary and therefore cultural depth to what we already know about these people, Barkai said.

The researchers 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 showed 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 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, he said.

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.

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.

In some cases in history, we know that slow-moving animals like tortoises were used as a ‘preserved’ or ‘canned’ food, said Ruth Blasco of the Centro Nacional de Investigacion Sobre la Evolucion Humana (CENIEH) in Spain.

May be the inhabitants of Qesem were simply maximising their local resources. In any case, this discovery adds an important new dimension to the knowhow, capabilities and perhaps taste preferences of these people, Blasco said.

According to the marks, most of the turtles were roasted in the shell, Barkai said. In other cases, their shells were broken and then butchered using flint tools.

The humans clearly used fire to roast the turtles, Barkai said. Of course they were focused on larger game, but they also used supplementary sources of food – tortoises – which were in the vicinity, Barkai said.