Oracle Bones

Oracle Bones

The article describes the work of archaeologists from Tel Aviv University and the University of Arizona who have been studying cut marks on late Lower Paleolithic period animal bones from Qesem Cave in Israel. Their findings, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, conclude that the number and placement of these cut marks offer archaeological evidence of an alternative, earlier, and less specialised form of meat preparation. According to Professor Avi Gopher of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Archaeology:

From 200,000 years ago to the present day, the patterns of meat-sharing and butchering run in a long clear line. But in the Qesem Cave, something different was happening.

The cut marks we are finding are both more abundant and more randomly oriented than those observed in later times, such as the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods […] suggesting that more (skilled and unskilled) individuals were directly involved in cutting meat from the bones at Qesem Cave.

For the past 200,000 years, in other words, the butchering of large animals has been done by one or two individuals in a community, who were specially trained to carry out a relatively ritualised series of tasks. Prior to that, the bones at Qesem seem to show, meat cutting was more of an ad-hoc free-for-all.

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