Conservation and Trapping News

Beaver exploitation, 400,000 years ago, testifies to prey choice diversity of Middle Pleistocene hominins
Nov 17, 2023 10:43 ET


Data regarding the subsistence base of early hominins are heavily biased in favor of the animal component of their diets, in particular the remains of large mammals, which are generally much better preserved at archaeological sites than the bones of smaller animals, let alone the remains of plant food. Exploitation of smaller game is very rarely documented before the latest phases of the Pleistocene, which is often taken to imply narrow diets of archaic Homo and interpreted as a striking economic difference between Late Pleistocene and earlier hominins. We present new data that contradict this view of Middle Pleistocene Lower Palaeolithic hominins: cut mark evidence demonstrating systematic exploitation of beavers, identified in the large faunal assemblage from the c. 400,000 years old hominin site Bilzingsleben, in central Germany. In combination with a prime-age dominated mortality profile, this cut mark record shows that the rich beaver assemblage resulted from repetitive human hunting activities, with a focus on young adult individuals. The Bilzingsleben beaver exploitation evidence demonstrates a greater diversity of prey choice by Middle Pleistocene hominins than commonly acknowledged, and a much deeper history of broad-spectrum subsistence than commonly assumed, already visible in prey choices 400,000 years ago.

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