A nice article by Anna Goldfield in Sapiens today profiles the work of zooarchaeologist Grace Veach, who is examining the remains of rodents in Liang Bua Cave, on the island of Flores. “Can Rat Bones Solve an Island Mystery?” This site is otherwise well-known as the discovery locality of Homo floresiensis.
By looking at the markings and textures, such as gouges or scrapes, on the surfaces of the rat bones, Veatch can tell whether the animal was butchered or whether it passed through the digestive tract of one of the local birds of prey. Most of the small- and medium-sized rats from Liang Bua seem to have been consumed by birds. However, Veatch was surprised to find some unexpected cut marks on one small specimen from the material associated with H. floresiensis. This introduced the possibility that the “hobbit” diet included all sizes of rat.
The article makes note of a paradox in archaeological thinking. Archaeologists often interpret small mammal remains as evidence for advanced behavioral solutions like nets and snares, at least when they find such remains in sites where they think modern humans were active. But when the find small mammal remains in Neandertal or archaic human sites, they have often dismissed or ignored them.
That is changing, at least with respect to Neandertals, as a newer generation of archaeologists has revisited the importance of small mammals and birds in Neandertal foraging strategies. Human foragers today rely upon a wide array of animal
But we are only starting to learn about the foraging behavior of the Flores hominins. I’ll be looking forward to seeing more of this research.