Early humans shared meat differently 300,000 years ago

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Washington, August 14 (ANI): A University of Arizona (UA) anthropologist has discovered that humans living at a Paleolithic cave site in central Israel between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago were as successful at big-game hunting as were later stone-age hunters at the site, but that the earlier humans shared meat differently.

"The Lower Paleolithic (earlier) hunters were skilled hunters of large game animals, as were Upper Paleolithic (later) humans at this site," said UA anthropology professor Mary C. Stiner.

"This might not seem like a big deal to the uninitiated, but there's a lot of speculation as to whether people of the late Lower Paleolithic were able to hunt at all, or whether they were reduced to just scavenging," Stiner said.

"Evidence from Qesem Cave says that just like later Paleolithic humans, the earlier Paleolithic humans focused on harvesting large game. They were really at the top of the food chain," she added.

The Qesem Cave people hunted cooperatively, then carried the highest quality body parts of their prey to the cave, where they cut the meat with stone blade cutting tools and cooked it with fire.

Stiner was invited by Ran Barkai and Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology to participate in the Qesem Cave Project.

Stiner analyzed the pattern of cut marks on bones of deer, aurochs, horse and other big game left at Qesem Cave by hunters of 400,000 to 200,000 years ago.

Her novel approach was to analyze the cut marks to understand meat-sharing behaviors between the earlier and later cooperative hunting societies.

The patterns revealed a striking difference in meat-sharing behaviors: The earlier hunters were less efficient, less organized and less specialized when it came to carving flesh from their prey.

"This is somewhat expected, since the tools they made took considerable skill and locomotor precision to produce," Stiner said.

Random cut marks, and higher numbers of cut marks, made by the earlier hunters show they attached little social ritual or formal rules to sharing meat, according to Stiner.

Many hands, including unskilled hands, cut meat off the bone during feeding.

By contrast, by later times, by the Middle and Upper Paleolithic, "It's quite clear that meat distribution flowed through the hands of certain butchers," Stiner said.

"The tool marks made on bones by the more recent hunters are very regular, very efficient and show much less variation in the postures of the individuals cutting meat from any one bone. Only certain hunters or other fairly skilled individuals cut meat that was to be shared among the group," she added. (ANI)

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