The Rabbits of Picareiro Cave: Small Mammal Hunting During the Late Upper Palaeolithic in the Portuguese Estremadura
This paper analyses nearly 9000 rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) bones recovered from Picareiro Cave, central Portugal. The majority of the rabbit bones were recovered within the remains of two hearth features dating between 11,800 and 12,300 . Element patterning indicates that entire rabbit carcasses were carried to the cave for processing and consumption. The patterning of burned bones suggests that the carcasses were roasted whole over or within hot coals. A total of 400 tibia, femur, and humerus shafts were recovered, which indicates that marrow was systematically extracted from these long bones. A nutritional comparison of rabbit, pork, and deer meat shows that rabbit meat is as nutritionally balanced as deer meat, and considering that extra fat was extracted from the long bones of most of the carcasses consumed in the cave, rabbit was not a “starvation food”. Rabbit hunting provided the Late Upper Palaeolithic peoples of central Portugal with substantial calories, a relatively balanced diet of protein and fat, and several important minerals such as calcium. While small mammal hunting was important to the Late Upper Palaeolithic peoples of central Portugal, additional research is required on earlier occupations before we know whether the hunting of small prey intensified through time in this region of southwest Europe.