Friday, October 24, 2008

Human consumption of tortoises in the Later Middle Pleistocene

Bolomor Cave, located on the southern slope of the Valldigna valley, approximately two kilometres south-east of the town of Tavernes (Valencia, Spain), reveals that tortoise consumption by humans appears to have been common practice in the Later Middle Pleistocene.
The acquisition and consumption of small prey in the pre-Upper Palaeolithic is a highly debated topic at present. For some authors, the systematic obtaining of these animals is only part of the subsistence strategies used by anatomically modern Humans. Several researches consider that the systematic capturing of small prey is more related to the gathering that with the hunting and therefore, the technology required for their obtaining should be more complex and sophisticated (traps, etc.).
However, the consumption of small prey dates back to the Plio-Pleistocene chronologies in some sites. Although the utilization of leporids has been recorded in several pre-Late Pleistocene European sites, the evidence of tortoise consumption is documented not as common for these periods. However, Level IV of Bolomor Cave, dated in Later Middle Pleistocene, has clear diagnostic elements to document the acquisition and use of tortoises (Testudo hermanni) for food.

The scientific research was carried out by Ruth Blasco, collaborator of Area de Prehistoria Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona (URV) and Institut de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES). The results were published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, 35 (2008): 2839-2848.

Cutmarks documented on tortoises at Level IV of Bolomor Cave - Photo: Ruth Blasco
According to Ruth Blasco, the use of tortoises for food appears to be quite common among the hominids that occupied at Level IV of Bolomor Cave. The evidences documented are: (1) cutmarks on limb bones and ventral surface of the carapace and plastron; (2) presence of burning on tortoise skeleton and shell; (3) elements of anthropogenic breakage on carapace and plastron and; (4) human toothmarks on limb bones.

This research show patterns in the tortoise consumption sequence from Level IV of Bolomor Cave and improves data on the butchery process and tortoise consumption in the Late Middle Pleistocene.

Bolomor Cave, apart from providing human fossils, has revealed important discoveries related to the discovery and use of fire. The site provides a stratigraphical sequence of approximately 250,000 years of levels with and without fire and document the evidence oldest of anthropogenic structures of combustion in the Iberian Peninsula and therefore, in the Southern Europe.

For more information

Article “Human consumption of tortoises at Lever IV of Bolomor Cave (Valencia, Spain)”, R. Blasco

Journal of Archaeological Science, 35 (2008): 2839-2848.


Ruth Blasco

Area de Prehistoria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili de Tarragona - Institut Català Paleocologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES)