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Hominids Go Nuts Volume 55 Number 3, May/June 2002
by Esther Hecht

[image]Early "nutcrackers" were basalt and limestone rocks, pitted by use in opening large quantities of nuts. (Courtesy Heidi Gleit) [LARGER IMAGE]

While men in the Levant were out hunting 780,000 years ago, women were busy shelling pistachios and almonds to supplement their diet, according to recent finds at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site in northern Israel. The discovery of both nuts and "nutcrackers" in the same archaeological layer provides the earliest evidence--from the Lower Palaeolithic period--that nuts were an important part of these hominids' diet and that they had the tools to open them. The seven species of hard-shelled nuts, including pistachios, acorns, and wild almonds, were preserved by waterlogged sediment. "Some of the nuts [water chestnuts and the seeds of prickly water lilies] were not known to have grown in this country," said Naama Goren-Inbar, of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The "nutcrackers," such as the one shown here, were basalt and limestone rocks, pitted by use in opening large quantities of nuts. Among chimpanzees and in contemporary hunter-gatherer groups, females collect nuts and open them with similar tools, according to Goren-Inbar. The hominids may have competed with other large mammals for acorns and water chestnuts; they would have had to know when each species ripened to collect the fruit before the other mammals got to it.

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© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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