Experiments in bone boiling: nutritional returns and archaeological reflections

Karen D. LUPO & Dave N. SCHMITT

en Anthropozoologica 25-26 - Pages 137-144

Published on 01 June 1998

This article is a part of the thematic issue Proceedings of the 7th ICAZ International Meeting, Constance, September 1994

Boiling bones with adhering meat is a common processing technique utilized by contemporary and prehistoric human populations. Although most scholars agree that this is a time-intensive process, little quantitative data exists on the time or effort involved or the amounts and types of nutrients that can be extracted by this technique. This paper presents data on the efficiency of boiling animal bones in relationship to processing carcasses without the aid of fire. These data are the results of recent butchering experiments involving impala, wildebeest, and zebra carcasses. Carcasses of some medium-sized taxa can be quickly butchered and almost completely processed without the aid of fire. Boiling bones is very time consuming but aids in the removal of bone grease and improves the quality of lean meat. Given these results, we question how often pre-fire hominids would transport the bones of medium and larger-sized prey for culinary purposes. We also suggest that boiling should be adopted as a bone processing technique as soon as the use of fire emerges and may be reflected by specific types of bone damage patterns.


Carcass butchering, bone boiling, nutritional value, East Africa, taphonomy.

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