Systematic butchering of fallow deer (Dama) at the early middle Pleistocene Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov (Israel)

Rivka Rabinovich*, Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, Naama Goren-Inbar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations

Abstract

Three assemblages of fallow deer (Dama sp.) bones excavated from the early middle Pleistocene (oxygen isotope stage 18) layers of the Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, Israel, furnish evidence of systematic and repeated exploitation of complete carcasses by hominins. The excellent state of preservation of the bones and the presence of only minimal signs of carnivore involvement permit an investigation of the role of hominins as the primary agents responsible for the damage to these bones. Hominin expertise in dealing with fallow deer carcasses is manifested by cut marks, percussion marks, and hack marks on the bones. The archaeozoological analysis of the anatomical position and frequency of these marks suggests that carcass processing followed systematic practices that reflect an in-depth knowledge of fallow deer anatomy and a consistent behavioral strategy. These assemblages represent one of the earliest examples of methodological butchering practices in Eurasia. The evidence of carcass processing observed at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov resembles that seen in late Pleistocene sites in Israel, which were inhabited by modern humans. We interpret the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov data as indicating that the Acheulian hunters at the site (1) were proficient communicators and learners and (2) possessed anatomical knowledge, considerable manual skill, impressive technological abilities, and foresight.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)134-149
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Volume54
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the German-Israel Foundation for a grant that supported this study; the LSB Leakey Foundation, National Geographic Society, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem for grants supporting the fieldwork; and Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for supporting the laboratory work. We appreciate the continued help and dedication of the GBY staff, particularly Rivka Biton. We thank G. Laron for producing Figs. 7, 8, and 12–14 . We also thank Anna Belfer-Cohen and John D. Speth for their comments on an earlier version of this paper, Uzi Motro for his insightful suggestions, Ofer Bar-Yosef for permission to study the Hayonim Cave strata D faunal assemblages, and Mona Ziegler and Noah Lichtinger for their technical support. We are grateful to Ricka Rak for skillfully editing the manuscript and to Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro for sharing his insights on the faunal material. The authors also thank C. Egeland and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Keywords

  • Acheulian
  • Butchering
  • Dama
  • Gesher Benot Ya'aqov

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