In most places, turtles and their cousin the tortoise are niche ingredients, but life today is much different than it was for our ancestors during the late Lower Paleolithic era. While today we have companies like Seamless to deliver food right to our door, our ancestors hunted their meals, so a slow-moving tortoise was quite a convenient dinner option.
According to recently published research investigating the 400,000-year-old Qesem Cave site near Tel Aviv, the tortoise may have been a far more common food than previously thought for early humans living in what is now modern-day Israel. Researchers found tortoise remains across different levels of the cave, leading them to believe humans consumed the animal during the site’s entire 200,000 years of inhabitation.
Beyond being easy to capture, the shelled animals “represent an important combination of edible and non-edible resources,” according to the paper, and humans could prepare them as a meal in a wide variety of ways. “According to the marks, most of the turtles were roasted in the shell,” said Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University. “In other cases, their shells were broken and then butchered using flint tools.”