Tech UPTechnologyThe people of Atapuerca ate turtles

The people of Atapuerca ate turtles

atapuerca-tortugasTheturtles were part of the menu of the first human populationsaround 1.2 million years ago, when they began to inhabit the Sima del Elefante in Atapuerca (Burgos), preciselyat the site where the oldest human remains in Europe have been documented. This has been demonstrated by the Atapuerca researchers, led by Ruth Blasco, after studying fossil remains of tortoises of the speciesTurtle hermannior Mediterranean tortoise and a terrapin,Emys orbicularis. Of the total of this set, 8 fossils ofTurtle hermannihave cut marks on the inner face of the shell: two remains at the TE14c level and six at TE11, both more than a million years old. “These marks are produced as a result of theextraction of viscera for human consumption“adds Blasco.

Data related to the study of the meat diet more than 1.2 million years ago are scarce because there are few sites of these chronologies and, in addition, research has always focused mainly on large animals. However, thesmall wildlife remains, such as birds, rodents, frogs, or turtles, are frequent in the deposits of this period. “Their presence has often been interpreted as the result of accumulations of natural origin or the product of intrusions of carnivores and birds of prey in the caves. Although these cases exist, in the Sima del Elefante we have been able to identify human groups as directly responsible of the presence of some of these small animals “, explains Blasco, who publishes his conclusions in the magazineJournal of Human Evolution.

Similar cases have been identified only in Africa, specifically in the East Lake Turkana reservoirs, during the same period. With later chronologies, human consumption of turtles is recorded more frequently not only in Europe, but also in the Middle East and Africa.

The remains of tortoises used for nutritional purposes, together with the remains of a rabbit and a bird also eaten by humans at other stratigraphic levels with similar chronologies and large prey, suggest ageneralist behavior regarding the meat diet, “which could have been one of thekeys to the success of the first hominids that colonized Europe more than a million years ago“, remarks the IPHES researcher.


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