Modern hunting behavior in the early Middle Paleolithic: Faunal remains from Misliya Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel

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Understanding the behavioral adaptations and subsistence strategies of Middle Paleolithic humans is critical in the debate over the evolution and manifestations of modern human behavior. The study of faunal remains plays a central role in this context. Until now, the majority of Levantine archaeofaunal evidence was derived from late Middle Paleolithic sites. The discovery of faunal remains from Misliya Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel (>200 ka), allowed for detailed taphonomic and zooarchaeological analyses of these early Middle Paleolithic remains. The Misliya Cave faunal assemblage is overwhelmingly dominated by ungulate taxa. The most common prey species is the Mesopotamian fallow deer (Dama mesopotamica), followed closely by the mountain gazelle (Gazella gazella). Some aurochs (Bos primigenius) remains are also present. Small-game species are rare. The fallow deer mortality pattern is dominated by prime-aged individuals. A multivariate taphonomic analysis demonstrates (1) that the assemblage was created solely by humans occupying the cave and was primarily modified by their food-processing activities; and (2) that gazelle carcasses were transported complete to the site, while fallow deer carcasses underwent some field butchery. The new zooarchaeological data from Misliya Cave, particularly the abundance of meat-bearing limb bones displaying filleting cut marks and the acquisition of prime-age prey, demonstrate that early Middle Paleolithic people possessed developed hunting capabilities. Thus, modern large-game hunting, carcass transport, and meat-processing behaviors were already established in the Levant in the early Middle Paleolithic, more than 200 ka ago.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)656-677
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Naomi Cleghorn, Matt Hill, Erella Hovers, Daniel Kaufman, and Nimrod Marom for their important comments on previous versions of this manuscript. Dick Bruggeman provided editorial assistance. We also thank Rivka Rabinovich for her help using the comparative collection of the Department of Evolution, Systematics and Ecology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The research was generously supported by the Dan David Foundation through the “Dan David Expedition: Searching for the Origins of Modern Homo sapiens ,” the L.S.B. Leaky Foundation, The Irene Levi Sala CARE Archaeological Foundation, and the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Haifa. The research was funded in part by the Israel Science Foundation (grant 147/04).


  • Hunting
  • Levant
  • Middle Paleolithic
  • Middle Pleistocene
  • Multivariate taphonomic approach
  • Skeletal-element transport
  • Taphonomy
  • Zooarchaeology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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