Snakes eat lizards and other snakes, and today, they are considered by some people in the Far East to be scrumptious. But prehistoric man living in the area near Haifa have been found for the first time to have eaten snakes and lizards.
The evidence was found in the Carmel Caves located on the western slopes of Mount Carmel some 20 kilometers south of Haifa that were first excavated in the 1920s and 1930s and then resumed from the late 1960s onwards, using advanced scientific methods based on modern geological, archaeological and paleontological study of pollen, animal
The caves were occupied intermittently during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic ages (half a million to some 40,000 years ago). In the course of this very long period of time, deposits of sand, silt and clay of up to 25 meters accumulated there, and excavations proved that it has one of the longest sequences of human occupation in the Levant.
The first evidence of the consumption of snakes and lizards by ancient man was found at the Pleistocene Natufian site in the Carmel cave. “With the method we developed, we may be able to find even earlier evidence,” said Dr. Reuven Yeshurun of the University of Haifa who co-authored the study that has just been published in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports. “We know from historical sources that humans ate snakes as early as the Middle Ages, but until now there was no evidence that they did so even 15,000 years ago.
The Natufian culture in the prehistory of Eretz Israel (between 11,000 and 15,000 years ago) was the period of transition between the hunter-gatherer cultures of the Paleolithic and early Neolithic farmers and is characterized by the expansion of the human diet.
At the El-Wad Cave (Cave of the Valley) in Carmel, excavated Yeshurun and Prof. Mina Weinstein-Evron, thousands of snake bones and lizards had previously been discovered on the remains of prehistoric floors. However, unlike the bones of other animals found on the site, such as deer and rabbits, which were cut and burned and therefore clearly indicated that they were used for food, it was unclear whether snake bones and lizards were part of the diet of our ancestors or perhaps they were the remains left by predatory animals.
To answer this question, archeology doctoral student Ma’ayan conducted a series of experiments that examined what the bones of lizards and large snakes would look like when roasted by man, digested by birds of prey or crushed by pressure from soil and trampling over them. The results of the experiments were compared with the remains of reptiles found on the site so as to understand what processes have undergone the archaeological finds from their arrival to the site.
The investigation revealed that many species of lizards and small snakes arrived on the site as undigested parts excreted by birds nesting in the caves, fell and then were exposed to grinding and trampling by the site’s human inhabitants. In contrast, the archaeologists found evidence that the large and non-venomous species were probably caught and eaten by humans. Human digestion modifies the bone through high levels of acidity and digestive enzymes. This fact helped the team design experiments to compare patterns of burning, weathering (exposure to environmental factors such as sun, wind, temperature and humidity that create flaking and splitting of the bone surface), trampling and erosion of remains that had been discarded.