Cooperative Hunting and Meat Sharing 400–200 kya at Qesem Cave, Israel – PNAS

Brief details of research from Israel which has led authors Mary Stiner et al to ruminate upon the possibility that differing cut-marks from ancient kills may offer insights into how meat-sharing behaviours amongst archaic humans may have evolved through the various stages of the Palaeolithic.


Zooarchaeological research at Qesem Cave, Israel demonstrates that large-game hunting was a regular practice by the late Lower Paleolithic period. The 400- to 200,000-year-old fallow deer assemblages from this cave provide early examples of prime-age-focused ungulate hunting, a human predator–prey relationship that has persisted into recent times. The meat diet at Qesem centered on large game and was supplemented with tortoises.

These hominins hunted cooperatively, and consumption of the highest quality parts of large prey was delayed until the food could be moved to the cave and processed with the aid of blade cutting tools and fire. Delayed consumption of high-quality body parts implies that the meat was shared with other members of the group.

The types of cut marks on upper limb bones indicate simple flesh removal activities only. The Qesem cut marks are both more abundant and more randomly oriented than those observed in Middle and Upper Paleolithic cases in the Levant, suggesting that more (skilled and unskilled) individuals were directly involved in cutting meat from the bones at Qesem Cave. Among recent humans, butchering of large animals normally involves a chain of focused tasks performed by one or just a few persons, and butchering guides many of the formalities of meat distribution and sharing that follow. The results from Qesem Cave raise new hypotheses about possible differences in the mechanics of meat sharing between the late Lower Paleolithic and Middle Paleolithic.

The paper is behind a relatively low pay-wall, (i.e. you’ll still be able to afford food later in the week) but before coughing up the readies, check, who carry a discussion of the research, which includes comment from one of the paper’s authors, Professor Avi Gopher, as shown here:

“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,” says Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU’s Department of Archaeology. “What this could mean is that either one person from the clan butchered the group’s meat in a few episodes over time, or multiple persons hacked away at it in tandem,” he interprets. This finding provides clues as to social organization and structures in these early groups of hunters and gatherers, he adds.

Among human hunters in the past 200,000 years, from southern Africa to upstate New York or sub-arctic Canada, “there are distinctive patterns of how people hunt, who owns the products of the hunt, how carcasses are butchered and shared,” Prof. Gopher says. “The rules of sharing are one of the basic organizing principles of hunter-gatherer cultures. 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. There was a distinct shift about 200,000 years ago, and archaeologists and anthropologists may have to reinterpret hunting and meat-sharing rituals.”

Qesem Cave, the site in question, is described in this abstract from Frumkin et al, 2009:

Résumé / Abstract

The Qesem karst system may serve as an example for aging chamber caves. It includes two caves which have undergone several stages of natural and human-induced deposition, as well as subsidence and collapse. Natural deposits include calcite speleothems, bedrock collapse debris, and clay fill. Karst dissolution and associated sagging and decomposition have operated since the initial cave formation. Inclined sediments are attributed to several processes, mostly dominated by gravitational sagging into underlying dissolution voids, affecting cave deposits and sometimes the host-rock. U-Th dating shows that speleothem deposition has been common during the mid-late Quaternary, but deposition sites shifted according to local conditions. The aging of caves occurs when they become totally filled by sediments and ultimately consumed by surface denudation, as documented in Qesem Cave.

See also: Qesem Cave Project, from where image at top, ‘Fallow deer jaw from Qesem cave’ was sourced.


Cooperative hunting and meat sharing 400–200 kya at Qesem Cave, Israel, 1. Mary C. Stiner, 2. Ran Barkai and 3. Avi Gopher  Published online before print July 28, 2009, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0900564106    PNAS  August 11, 2009   vol. 106  no. 32  13207-13212

Gravitational Deformations and Fillings of Aging Caves : The Example of Qesem Karst System, Israel, FRUMKIN Amos (1) ; KARKANAS Panagiotis (2) ; BAR-MATTHEWS Miryam (3) ; BARKAI Ran (4) ; GOPHER Avi (4) ; SHAHACK-GROSS Ruth (5) ; VAKS Anton  Revue / Journal Title Geomorphology   ISSN 0169-555X  Source / Source 2009, vol. 106, no 1-2 (166 p.)  [Document : 11 p.] (3/4 p.), pp. 154-164 [11 page(s) (article)]

One thought on “Cooperative Hunting and Meat Sharing 400–200 kya at Qesem Cave, Israel – PNAS

  1. I wonder if it’s occurred to anyone reading here that archaeology can be conducted without reference to such relics, or relics of any kind, but purely on the basis of inference from genetic and ethnographic data — including musical data. This is what I am currently working on, with reports on my research regularly presented on my blog, Music 000001.

    You are all invited to take a look, if only to figure out what I’m doing wrong — and launch the sort of attacks for which archaeologists are famous. I happen to relish such attacks, so please by all means have at it. And if you happen to agree with me, why that would be a rare treat!

    Please join me, to read and comment, at:


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