Bird feathers were used more than 300,000 years ago in the Middle East

Bird feathers were used more than 300,000 years ago in the Middle East

Ruth Blasco, researcher at the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) leads a taphonomic study recently published in the journal Journal of Human Evolution, that shows evidence that birds were not only used for food but also for their feathers more than 300,000 years ago in the Middle East.

The results of this work, in which researchers from the Tel Aviv University in Israel, the Rovira i Virgili University, the IPHES of Tarragona and the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont of Barcelona have collaborated, suggest that poultry farming was not just limited to food, either as a supplement to the diet or as an occasional resource, but also possible use of pens for non-nutritional purposes.

“We propose that there was a combination between the dietary and symbolic aspects of the birds as a characteristic of the new mode of adaptation that the Achelo-Yabrudiense cultural complex of the Middle Pleistocene in the Near East”Declares Ruth Blasco.

Swan, pigeon, crow and starling

The Human handling of birds found at the Israeli site of Qesem Cave It is determined by the identification of cut marks, flexion fractures and human bites in the bones of the wings of swan (Cygnus sp.), pigeon (Columba sp.), crow (Corvus ruficollis) and starling (Sturnus sp. .).

Despite being radically different species, the modifications that some of the bones present could be related to aspects that go beyond the nutritional one. In the case of the crow, the cut marks are located in the distal part of the ulna or ulna, and could be related to plucking. At an experimental level, it has been verified that this area of ​​the bone is usually contacted with the tool during the development of this activity, since there is hardly any muscle mass associated with this bone.

“However, the fact of detecting marks that are possibly the result of the extraction of skin and feathers does not mean that the animal was obtained solely and exclusively for this purpose, but that this phase of the processing was carried out at the site. ”, Says Blasco.

A special case

Undoubtedly the case that should be highlighted in this study is the carpometacarpus (distal wing bone) of a swan, since it is the element that presents greater number of incisions and sawing of the set, a circumstance that denotes an insistence on the processing of this part of the wing.

This anatomical part has hardly any muscle mass, only skin, feathers and tendons. The feathers in this area of ​​the wing are especially long and narrow, and the peculiarity is that they are strongly attached to both the carpometacarpus and the phalanges, causing great difficulty in their extraction.

"The fact of detecting a high number of marks and even an intentional bending fracture indicates that non-food resources were especially sought after in this case," says Blasco

Birds in the scientific debate

The presence of small animals in the paleolithic archaeological record it has long been considered a key variable in evaluating fundamental aspects of human behavior.

The origin of the inclusion of these animals in human subsistence has generated an intense debate during the last fifty years linking ecological models with eco-social, environmental and cultural aspects.

Birds within this debate occupy a prominent place not only because of their small size or the difficulties involved in capturing them (mainly due to their flight and evasion capabilities), but also because of their possible symbolic role in relation to non-nutritional resources. they provide (feathers, claws, etc.).

Bibliographic reference:

Ruth Blasco et al. "Feathers and food: Human-bird interactions at Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel" Journal of Human Evolution 136, 102653.


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