Göbekli Tepe is an archeological site located in modern-day Turkey. It is believed to have been built more than 10,000 years ago. The monumental megaliths carved with scenes of various animals pre-date Stone Henge by 6,000 years. It is a site of great historical significance to all of mankind and is believed to have been sacred or ritualistically important to the Neolithic people of the region.
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While the carvings and ruins of Gobekli Tepe are the main attraction, there is one fascinating artifact that scientists continue to find at the archeological site that may be even more revealing when it comes to mankind’s past: bones. Bones found at Gobekli Tepe reveal a hunter-gatherer culture. The recovered animal bones suggest that our ancestors ate wild game ranging from hares to fish to birds. Many many birds.
Researchers examining the bones left behind by ancient meals at Gobekli Tepe were surprised by the presence of bones from more than 84 species of birds. Unlike most modern diets, a sizable majority of these birds were identified as passerines — the family of birds with feet designed for perching, including all songbirds. Nearly 40% of the remains belonged to corvids, predominantly rooks, jackdaws, and hooded crows.
Starlings, larks, thrushes, and finches made up the next most common set of bones. There were remains from some more traditional gamebirds as well, including partridges, quails, doves, and grouse. One species of sandpiper was found along with bones from several large wading birds and a surprising array of at least 21 distinct species of raptor.
When it came to meal time, Neolithic humans at Gobekli Tepe had a “life list” that would make a modern birdwatcher jealous. Fascinatingly, though, a similarly ancient archeological site, also in modern-day Turkey, was found to represent a much less adventurous palate. The avian bones found at the Gusir Hoyuk dig site are comprised of game birds by a staggering majority of over 99%.
So why the discrepancy? Archeologists believe that hunters at Gusir Hoyuk stuck closely to the dry grassland habitats where game birds are most abundant. The wetlands and forests where passerines and wading birds are found must have gone largely ignored. At Gobekli Tepe, however, the diversity of avian bones suggests that some groups of humans must have cast a rather wide net with regards to different types of hunting habitats.
The relationship between humans and the earth’s wildlife is as ancient as humanity itself. Although recorded history only goes back so far, archeological information continues to provide new insights into the ways in which our ancient ancestors interacted with the birds that shared their world.
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