Washington: Scientists have found what they say is the earliest clear evidence of organised feasting from a 12,000-year-old burial site, a discovery which suggests humans have developed this important social behaviour much before the advent of agriculture.
An international team of archaeologists uncovered the remains of at least 71 tortoises and three wild cattle in two specifically crafted hollows from a burial cave in the Galilee region of northern Israel.
The tortoise shells and cattle bones, according to the scientists, exhibited evidence of being cooked and torn apart, indicating that the animals had been butchered for human consumption.
Lead researcher Natalie Munro of the University of Connecticut said: "Scientists have speculated that feasting began before the Neolithic period, which starts about 11.5 thousand years ago.
"This is the first solid evidence that supports the idea that communal feasts were already occurring -- perhaps with some frequency at the beginnings of the transition to agriculture."
Munro, who carried out the research along with Leore
Grosman of Hebrew University, said each of the two hollows was
manufactured for the purpose of a ritual human burial and
related feasting activities.
The tortoise shells were situated under, around and on top of the remains of a ritually-buried shaman, which suggests that the feast occurred concurrently with the ritual burial, said the researchers who detailed their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
On their own, they said, the meat from the discarded tortoise shells could probably have fed about 35 people, but it`s possible that many more than that attended this feast.
Munro said: "We don`t know exactly how many people attended this particular feast, or what the average attendance was at similar events, since we don`t know how much meat was actually available in the cave.
"The best we can do is give a minimum estimate based on the bones that are present."
A major reason why humans began feasting -- and later began to cultivate their own foods -- is because faster human population growth had begun to crowd their landscape.
In earlier periods of the Stone Age, the researchers said, small family groups were often on the move to find new sources of food. But, around the time of this feast that lifestyle had become much more difficult.