Cooperative hunting and meat sharing 400-200 kya at Qesem Cave, Israel

Mary C. Stiner, Ran Barkai, Avi Gopher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13207-13212
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number32
StatePublished - 11 Aug 2009


  • Acheulo-Yabrudian
  • Cut marks
  • Levant
  • Lower Paleolithic
  • Zooarchaeology


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