Prehistoric humans stored bone marrow

According to a study from Tel Aviv University and researchers from Spain, early Paleolithic people stored animal bones for weeks and then feasted on them, according to archeological findings in Qesem Cave in Israel. The Lower Paleolithic time period that occurred 400,000 years ago has had much of its history discovered at the cave.

“Bone marrow constitutes a significant source of nutrition and as such was long featured in the prehistoric diet,” explained Professor Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University in a press release. “Until now, evidence has pointed to immediate consumption of marrow following the procurement and removal of soft tissues. In our paper, we present evidence of storage and delayed consumption of bone marrow at Qesem Cave.”

The study reveals how early humans adapted and interacted with each other to survive. The residents of the Qesem Cave usually brought some parts of animal carcasses, including limbs and skulls of fallow deer.

“We found that the deer leg bones, specifically the metapodials, exhibited unique chopping marks on the shafts, which are not characteristic of the marks left from stripping fresh skin to fracture the bone and extract the marrow,” said Professor Jordi Rosell of Rovira i Virgili University in Reus, Spain.

The bones were covered in skin in order to preserve marrow. Indeed, experimentation by the researchers determined that marrow fat was only minimally degraded after up to nine weeks of storage in the cave.

“We discovered that preserving the bone along with the skin, for a period that could last for many weeks, enabled early humans to break the bone when necessary and eat the still nutritious bone marrow,” added Tel Aviv University’s Professor Ruth Blasco, lead author on the study.

Essentially, the bones were vessels for the marrow that was so critical in these Paleolithic humans’ diets. When the people of the Qesem Cave wanted to eat, they simply peeled back the protective skin and shattered the bone. This pattern of food storage represents a major advancement in hunter-gatherer behavior and a step towards growing human intellect.