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2 March 2016
Tortoises in the diet of early humans

A team of researchers, headed up by the Tel Aviv University (Israel), has recently been studying animal remains fund in a cave known as the Qesem Cave, located 12 km from Tel Aviv.
     Human occupation of the cave was first identified in 2010 and is recorded as having started approximately 400,000 years ago and covered a span of 200,000 years. Whilst it is widely known that early humans captured, cooked and ate large game (in addition to a vegetarian diet), the discovery made by the team indicates that turtles also formed a significant part of their diet. Whilst not being as nutritious as larger game, the turtles nevertheless provided substantial calorific value, enough to warrant the time and effort needed in their capture, transport and preparation.
     Studies of the remains found indicate that there were two main ways of cooking these heavily armoured creatures, either by roasting whole within the shell or by splitting the shell open with flint tools and roasting the flesh on its own. As turtle remains were found at most levels throughout the cave it is thought that they must have been part of the diet throughout the 200,000-year human occupation.
     Doctor Ruth Blasco, a leading member of the team, is quoted as saying "In some cases in history, we know that slow-moving animals like tortoises were used as preserved or canned food. Maybe the inhabitants of Qesem were simply maximising their local resource. In any case, this discovery adds an important new dimension to the knowhow, capabilities and perhaps taste preferences of these people"

Edited from EurekAlert! (1 February 2016)

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