Study finds prehistoric humans ate bone marrow like canned soup 400,000 years ago

Study finds prehistoric humans ate bone marrow like canned soup 400,000 years ago
Marrow inside a metapodial bone after six weeks of storage. Credit: Dr. Ruth Blasco/AFTAU

Tel Aviv University researchers, in collaboration with scholars from Spain, have uncovered evidence of the storage and delayed consumption of animal bone marrow at Qesem Cave near Tel Aviv, the site of many major discoveries from the late Lower Paleolithic period some 400,000 years ago.

The research provides direct evidence that early Paleolithic people saved for up to nine weeks before feasting on them inside Qesem Cave.

The study was published in the October 9 issue of Science Advances.

"Bone marrow constitutes a significant source of nutrition and as such was long featured in the prehistoric diet," says Professor Ran 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 at Qesem Cave."

"This is the earliest evidence of such behavior and offers insight into the socioeconomics of the humans who lived at Qesem," says Dr. Ruth Blasco. "It also marks a threshold for new modes of Paleolithic human adaptation."

Study finds prehistoric humans ate bone marrow like canned soup 400,000 years ago
Skinning in combination with tendon removal during the development of the experimental series. Note the use of the tool with an inclination almost parallel to the bone. Credit: Maite Arilla

"Prehistoric humans brought to the selected body parts of the hunted animal carcasses," says Professor Jordi Rosell. "The most common prey was , and limbs and skulls were brought to the cave while the rest of the carcass was stripped of meat and fat at the hunting scene and left there. We found that the deer leg bones, specifically the metapodials, exhibited unique chopping marks on the shafts, which are not characteristic of the marks left from stripping fresh skin to fracture the bone and extract the marrow."

The researchers contend that the deer metapodials were kept at the cave covered in skin to facilitate the preservation of marrow for consumption in time of need.

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.

"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," adds 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 emphasizes.

Study finds prehistoric humans ate bone marrow like canned soup 400,000 years ago
Examples of cut marks associated to disarticulation and/or skinning on deer metapodials from Amudian and Yabrudian levels of Qesem Cave. Credit: Ruth Blasco

Until recently, it was believed that the Paleolithic people were hunter gatherers who lived hand-to-mouth (the Stone Age version of farm-to-table), consuming whatever they caught that day and enduring long periods of hunger when were scarce.

"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 marrow," Professor Avi Gopher explains.

According to the research, this is the earliest evidence in the world of food preservation and delayed consumption of food. This discovery joins other evidence of innovative 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," concludes Professor Barkai. "This kind of behavior allowed humans to evolve and enter into a far more sophisticated kind of socioeconomic existence."


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More information: R. Blasco at Centro Nacional de Investigaci├│n sobre la Evoluci├│n Humana (CENIEH) in Burgos, Spain el al., "Bone marrow storage and delayed consumption at Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel," Science Advances (2019). advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/10/eaav9822
Journal information: Science Advances

Citation: Study finds prehistoric humans ate bone marrow like canned soup 400,000 years ago (2019, October 9) retrieved 20 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-10-prehistoric-humans-ate-bone-marrow.html
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Oct 11, 2019
What you are observing here are not "butchering cut marks" to the bone but rather "ceremonial notching marks" done by the Pleistocene hunter prior to harvesting and consuming the meat of each animal killed. These bones were carried with them or left at the camp site. Each mark or cut was carefully "sawed-in" by a reciprocal sawing action within the same groove to give it depth. Both the sequencing and depth of the cutting here follow a regular pattern and are in no way butchering cut marks. To help you out...these artifacts were carried with the hunter and used to assist in the release of the animal spirit into the spirit world for recycling back from the spirit world into the natural world through the birthing process in order to secure future game, hence the multiple cut marks for all the animals killed.

Oct 13, 2019
What you are observing here are not "butchering cut marks" to the bone but rather "ceremonial notching marks" done by the Pleistocene hunter prior


Claimed not only without evidence, but against the evidence described in the article: "The combination of archaeological and experimental results allowed them to isolate the specific marks linked to dry skin removal".

Your presumption of authority where there is none is not helping anyone, least of all yourself: blocked for inane trolling.

Oct 14, 2019
I'm not here to give you or anyone else here a short course in portable art but I have worked extensively in this area. These are clearly notching marks used for spiritual ceremonies. LOOK AT THE DEPTH! They are sawed in.... they are not cut marks. Some of the areas that are in between the marks are in RELIEF...particularly the top middle photo and the first one in the middle row that I can see and look at the spacing . THEY FOLLOW A CONSISTENT PATTERN which you would not see in cut marks but you would see in deliberate carvings done directly to the bone. How do you explain that one? It was commonplace to elevate such areas like this by removing material surrounding that area. Look first before firing off a comment like that. You should ask questions first.

Oct 14, 2019
I'm not here to give you or anyone else here a short course in portable art but I have worked extensively in this area. These are clearly notching marks used for spiritual ceremonies...

Why do you think the markings were necessarily of a "spiritual" nature?

Oct 14, 2019
These marks are always found on game animals. Some of the notches aren't notches at all but multiple smaller figures of that same animal so that helped me figure out (redundancy) that it represented multiple kills and ceremonies. Earlier primitive pieces just use lines. In the late Pleistocene, rocks, ivory, and bone etc. always had a smooth area for rubbing that usually "tightly" fit the contours of the finger but on larger pieces the palm This was key for me. The figurines here in the states are coated with red ocher or the red is part of the rock to begin with before carving. The red is always found below the figurine (bleed out) or in association with mortal wounds. Smaller figurine are often associates with or in the blood area "spirit". After examining thousand and thousand of similar examples, it became quite apparent due to placement and color that the spirit was believe to be in the blood and the smoothness was evidence of ceremonies.

Oct 14, 2019
If you go to Wikipedia- Lion-man you will see those same lines represented on the leg. 40,000 year old specimen. Although no one on the planet has a clue what those lines mean... I do!!!! Now go to "concept art of the ice age" -daily mail. You will see lines in front of the deer and lines on the body of the bovine animal. I just looked these up for you. If I didn't examine the use of these lines in context and view the continuum back in time to the early Pleistocene period, then as good as I am at this, I might not have been able to determine what those lines meant by themselves but usually you can assume that it is a counting system but not always, I needed the context of later specimens so I could work back in time to make that connection and determination.

Oct 14, 2019
These marks are always found on game animals. Some of the notches aren't notches at all but multiple smaller figures of that same animal so that helped me figure out (redundancy) that it represented multiple kills and ceremonies. ... This was key for me. The figurines here in the states are coated with red ocher or the red is part of the rock to begin with before carving. The red is always found below the figurine (bleed out) or in association with mortal wounds. Smaller figurine are often associates with or in the blood area "spirit". After examining thousand and thousand of similar examples, it became quite apparent due to placement and color that the spirit was believe to be in the blood and the smoothness was evidence of ceremonies.

I dunno... I think there may have been something additional being communicated, as well...

Oct 14, 2019
@bradfordcutler
I have worked extensively in this area
well, then! surely you're able to provide evidence other than your statement of authority?
If you go to Wikipedia...
-daily mail.
then as good as I am at this,
I suggest you take a page from Whyde, an artist with an exceptional mind

Oct 14, 2019
@bradfordcutler
I have worked extensively in this area
well, then! surely you're able to provide evidence other than your statement of authority?
If you go to Wikipedia...
-daily mail.
then as good as I am at this,
I suggest you take a page from Whyde, an artist with an exceptional mind

Cut it out, Stump...
Yer gonnna make me blush...:-)

Oct 14, 2019
All these chopping marks appear to be at the end of the bone where the limb was separated at the joint. Looks like something you would do to better tie a cord to the bone for hanging the meat.

Oct 16, 2019
All these chopping marks appear to be at the end of the bone where the limb was separated at the joint. Looks like something you would do to better tie a cord to the bone for hanging the meat.

Isn't there a lot of cartilage at the joint end?
(That might be hacked at to get it off the end of the bone)

5 hours ago
I totally understand your reservations on this issue but I have observed and worked in this area as a private individual that loves stone age portable art and knows what it is. I hope that I have at least instilled a measure of trust here and a curiosity for other individuals to investigate this for themselves to confirm what I already know to be true. I'm sorry that I can not elaborate anymore than what I have already said. I'm too old to write a book on the subject and there is very little interest in this area of research anyway, very few collect them like I do. Kudos to all the commenters here and please start examining these for yourself like I have. I know you don't have enough information or exposure to make a good counter argument on this subject ...that's not my fault. ...don't blame the messenger.

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