Scientists have unearthed evidence revealing our early ancestors planned their meals ahead of time for when food was scarce.
Remnants of bone marrow were discovered at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv that are some 400,000 years old, suggesting the ancient dwellers stored and delayed consumption of food.
The findings have also determined that early Paleolithic people saved animal bones for up to nine weeks before feasting on them.
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Remnants of bone marrow were discovered at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv that are some 400,000 years old, suggesting the ancient dwellers stored and delayed consumption of food
The study into the ancient bone marrow was led by Dr. Ruth Blasco of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations and Centro Nacional de Investigación Sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH).
Along with her TAU colleagues professors Ran Barkai and Avi Gopher.
‘Bone marrow constitutes a significant source of nutrition and as such was long featured in the prehistoric diet,’ explained Barkai.
‘Until now, evidence has pointed to immediate consumption of marrow following the procurement and removal of soft tissues. In our paper, we present evidence of storage and delayed consumption of bone marrow at Qesem Cave.’
‘This is the earliest evidence of such behavior and offers insight into the socioeconomics of the humans who lived at Qesem.
The ancient bone marrow was found in the Qesem Cave outside of Tel Aviv
The team found deer leg bones, specifically the metapodials, with chopping marks on the, ‘which are not characteristic of the marks left from stripping fresh skin to fracture the bone and extract the marrow’
‘It also marks a threshold for new modes of Paleolithic human adaptation.’
The researchers continued to explain that these early humans enjoyed feasting on fallow deer.
After stripping the dead animal of its meat and fat, these cave dwellers brought the limbs and skull inside,which were stored away for later.
The team found deer leg bones, specifically the metapodials, with chopping marks on the, ‘which are not characteristic of the marks left from stripping fresh skin to fracture the bone and extract the marrow,’ the researchers explained.
It is suggested that the deer were covered in skin to keep the marrow preserved.
The researchers evaluated the preservation of bone marrow using an experimental series on deer, controlling exposure time and environmental parameters, combined with chemical analyses.
The combination of archaeological and experimental results allowed them to isolate the specific marks linked to dry skin removal and determine a low rate of marrow fat degradation of up to nine weeks of exposure.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE STONE AGE?
The stone age is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers more than 95 per cent of human technological prehistory.
It begins with the earliest known use of stone tools by hominins, ancient ancestors to humans, during the Old Stone Age – beginning around 3.3 million years ago.
Between roughly 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, the pace of innovation in stone technology began to accelerate very slightly, a period known as the Middle Stone Age.
By the beginning of this time, handaxes were made with exquisite craftsmanship. This eventually gave way to smaller, more diverse toolkits, with an emphasis on flake tools rather than larger core tools.
The stone age is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers more than 95 per cent of human technological prehistory. This image shows neolithic jadeitite axes from the Museum of Toulouse
These toolkits were established by at least 285,000 years in some parts of Africa, and by 250,000 to 200,000 years in Europe and parts of western Asia. These toolkits last until at least 50,000 to 28,000 years ago.
During the Later Stone Age the pace of innovations rose and the level of craftsmanship increased.
Groups of Homo sapiens experimented with diverse raw materials, including bone, ivory, and antler, as well as stone.
The period, between 50,000 and 39,000 years ago, is also associated with the advent of modern human behaviour in Africa.
Different groups sought their own distinct cultural identity and adopted their own ways of making things.
Later Stone Age peoples and their technologies spread out of Africa over the next several thousand years.
‘We discovered that preserving the bone along with the skin, for a period that could last for many weeks, enabled early humans to break the bone when necessary and eat the still nutritious bone marrow,’ added Dr. Blasco.
‘The bones were used as ‘cans’ that preserved the bone marrow for a long period until it was time to take off the dry skin, shatter the bone and eat the marrow,’ professor Barkai.
Prior to finding the ancient bone marrow, experts believed that the that the Paleolithic people had constantly hunted and consumed their entire kill in one day — resulting in periods of hunger.
‘We show for the first time in our study that 420,000 to 200,000 years ago, prehistoric humans at Qesem Cave were sophisticated enough, intelligent enough and talented enough to know that it was possible to preserve particular bones of animals under specific conditions, and, when necessary, remove the skin, crack the bone and eat the bone marrow,’ explained professor Gopher.
The team has deemed these findings as the ‘earliest evidence in the world of food preservation and delayed consumption of food’.
This discovery joins other evidence of modern-day behaviors found in Qesem Cave including recycling, the regular use of fire, and cooking and roasting meat.
‘We assume that all this was because elephants, previously a major source of food for humans, were no longer available, so the prehistoric humans in our region had to develop and invent new ways of living,’ concluded Prof. Barkai.
‘This kind of behavior allowed humans to evolve and enter into a far more sophisticated kind of socioeconomic existence.’