How It Works
Ancient humans ate snakes and lizards
Words by Mindy Weisberger
People who lived 15,000 years ago in what is now Israel feasted on snakes and lizards, archaeologists have discovered. Prior excavations in the Levant, a geographic region that historically included Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and parts of Syria and Jordan, unearthed thousands of bones belonging to lizards and snakes.
Animal bones are usually found where ancient people once lived if the animals were being eaten.
But it was unknown if lizards and snakes were part of the human diet or if their bones were left behind by other predators. By experimenting on the bones of modern squamates, the group that includes lizards and snakes, researchers developed visual references for different types of surface damage, such as erosion, burning or digestion by birds of prey.
When the scientists compared these patterns to damage in squamate bones found at the el-wad Terrace, a cave site near Israel’s Mount Carmel that was occupied by humans between 11,500 and 15,000 years ago, they determined that many of the ancient bones had been eaten by people. At the el-wad Terrace settlement, the site was densely layered with animal remains, of which “a high percentage” belonged to lizards and snakes.
Nearly 3,000 squamate remains, mostly vertebrae, were collected at el-wad, making up about 33 per cent of all the animal remains at the site.