Researchers from Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Spanish and German scholars, discovered that early humans living in the Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv 400,000 years ago ate tortoises as part of their diet.
“Until now, it was believed that Palaeolithic humans hunted and ate mostly large game and vegetal material,” said Prof. Ran Barkai, Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology. “Our discovery adds a really rich human dimension—a culinary and therefore cultural depth to what we already know about these people.”
Tortoise specimens were found all over the Qesem Cave, revealing evidence that they were eaten during the entire 200,000 years of human habitation at the cave. Researchers also were able to understand how humans ate the tortoises.
“We know by the dental calculus we discovered earlier that the Qesem inhabitants also ate vegetables,” said Barkai. “Now we can say they also ate tortoises, which were collected, butchered and roasted even though they do not provide as many calories as fallow deer, for example.”
Barkai said that throughout history, there is some evidence that tortoises were used as “preserved or canned food,” but the recent findings “adds an important new dimension to the know-how, capabilities, and perhaps taste preferences of these people.”