Oh jesus! Archaeologists reveal the culinary taste of prehistoric Israelis

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the first humans to live in the area of ​​the modern state of Israel were aware that what the animals ate influenced the taste of their meat and the quality of their skin and they chose their hunting grounds based on of your culinary preferences and supply needs, has suggested new research based on remains discovered at the Qesem Cave site.
A group of Israeli and Spanish experts analyzed hundreds of animal remains, especially teeth, discovered in the cave and understood that different areas of the site were dedicated to different activities, such as slaughter, extraction of bone marrow or treatment of skins. Furthermore, they were surprised to discover that the animals processed in these areas, despite belonging to the same species, were characterized by different diets, as Tel Aviv University Professor of Prehistoric Archeology Ran Barkai said.

“The Qesem cave was visited by the first humans from about 400,000 years ago and up to 200,000 years ago,” he said. “It was a very interesting period in terms of human biological and cultural evolution because we are talking about a human type that came immediately after Homo Erectus, the common ancestor of the Sapiens and Neanderthal, and just before them.”

“This period was characterized by many technological innovations, including the beginning of the use of fire,” he added.

Located in the hills of Samaria, the cave remained sealed and was not accessed until the year 2000 when it was discovered by chance and for this reason, it offers a range of really well preserved artifacts and vestiges of Paleolithic life distributed in 11 meters of archaeological layers. .

Teeth from Qesem Cave 311 (credit: Prof. Israel Hershkowitz / TAU)

Thousands of animal remains were found, mostly fallow deer and horses, including many skulls and teeth.

“The teeth are especially interesting because depending on their wear it is possible to understand what type of food the animal consumed and, in some cases, also during what time of year it was hunted,” said Barkai.

The cave was not permanently occupied, but it was still highly organized and season after season, for years, if not tens of thousands of years, its residents maintained the same organization.

“There were several chimneys, some areas were dedicated to stone tool making, some areas to animal skin processing, others to breaking animal bones to extract bone marrow, etc.,” Barkai said.

The researchers found that in different areas of the caves, the animals were hunted in different seasons, so the cave was used for long periods of the year, at least several months.

“What was totally unexpected was that the animals taken to specific areas of the cave had a specific diet,” Barkai noted. “For example, we discovered that fallow deer that only ate leaves were taken to the central chimney of the cave. At the same time, the fallow deer found where the skins were processed also ate branches and grass. This pattern is recognizable in different areas of the site. “

According to Barkai, animals with similar diets were hunted on the same hunting grounds.

“Our interpretation is that those early humans chose where to hunt based on the specific benefit that the animals there could offer them, including in terms of food preferences,” he noted. “In other words, the food that the animals ate influenced the resources that humans wanted to extract from them: they knew that meat from a certain area where deer ate leaves would have a certain type of flavor, while deer that consumed other forms of vegetation would have different qualities “.

“Their knowledge of the environment in which they lived was much more sophisticated than we imagined,” he said.

For the future, researchers are working to understand more about how the dietary practices of animals affected their potential in terms of what early humans looked for in them.

“We would like to find out more about how the food eaten by fallow deer and horses influenced their qualities and how humans viewed them,” Barkai concluded.


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