Tortoise exploitation at the MSA site of Blombos (South Africa)

While classic zooarchaeological studies mainly focus on large mammal remains, a recent paper by Thompson and Henshilwood focus on the exploitation of tortoises. Their aim is to demonstrate through a detailed taphonomic analysis, rather than through mere association, that tortoises are exploited in the Still Bay layers of Blombos Cave. 9,686 specimens from two layers were examined for taxonomic affinity, element, side, fragmentation, burning and bone surface modifications. It is concluded that MSA people collected and exploited these tortoises. They were being cooked upside down and provided an easy to collect protein and fat package. This paper gives an excellent insight into the complexities of MSA subsistence behaviour, beyond the classic large mammals.

Full reference: Jessica C. Thompson and Christopher S. Henshilwood. 2014. Tortoise taphonomy and tortoise butchery patterns at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 41, 214–229.

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