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Prehistoric man had a penchant for turtles

Prehistoric man had a penchant for turtles

Not many people consume turtles, or tortoises, 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 fondness for tortoise. 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.

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 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. Until now, it was believed that Paleolithic humans hunted and ate mostly large game and vegetal material, said Prof. Barkai.

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

Prehistoric man had a penchant for turtles