Israeli researchers find first evidence ancient humans ate snakes, lizards
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Archaeology

Israeli researchers find first evidence ancient humans ate snakes, lizards

University of Haifa archaeologists say residents of Mount Carmel snacked on reptiles some 15,000 years ago, possibly as part of transition to sedentary lifestyle

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Researchers with the University of Haifa dig up Natufian remains in the Mount Carmel area of northern Israel. (Courtesy/Reuven Yeshurun, University of Haifa)
Researchers with the University of Haifa dig up Natufian remains in the Mount Carmel area of northern Israel. (Courtesy/Reuven Yeshurun, University of Haifa)

Israeli researchers have found evidence that ancient humans ate snakes and lizards as a regular part of their diet, in what they said was a first finding of its kind.

University of Haifa researchers uncovered the evidence at the el-Wad Terrace in the Mount Carmel area near Haifa, which dates back some 15,000 years. The findings were published on Wednesday in the peer-reviewed science journal Scientific Reports.

“We know from historical sources that people ate snakes in the Middle Ages, but until now there was no evidence that they did so 15,000 years ago. It’s very possible that with the help of the method we have developed we’ll find even earlier evidence,” said researcher Reuven Yeshurun.

The site’s inhabitants were part of the Natufian civilization, known for its transition into an agricultural lifestyle, as well as other cultural evolution.

Thousands of bones from snakes and lizards have been found on the floors of prehistoric homes in the area, but it was unclear whether the animals had been eaten by humans or were deposited through natural processes.

The bones of larger animals that were clearly eaten by humans, such as rabbits, bear markings indicating the carcasses were butchered and cook, but lizard and snake bones, which are mostly very small vertebrae, do not bear such marks.

Vertebrates of reptiles studied by University of Haifa archaeologists. (Courtesy/Roee Shafir)

The researchers studied the surfaces and fragmentation patterns of the lizard and snakes bones found at the site, and in a series of experiments sought to mimic the natural processes that would break down the animal carcasses, including by leaving carcasses outside and burning them, then comparing the results to the ancient bones.

The team determined that the ancient humans ate the snake-like European glass lizard, large whip snake, and to a lesser extent, eastern Montpellier snake and common viper.

The broadening diet in the ancient communities may indicate the transition to a more sedentary lifestyle and more intense use of resources, the researchers wrote.

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