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European Neanderthals for fresh seafood, which may have boosted their brains

The recent excavation of a cave site along the Portuguese coast revealed a host of fossilized remains of food, including fish, birds and mammals. It is estimated that the Neanderthals lived in the cave, known as Figueira Brava, between 86,000 and 106,000 years ago.

The discovery highlights Neanderthal populations that relied on the sea as a source of food, in addition to hunting and gathering on land – a very different picture from those who hunted mammoths in bitterly cold climates.

These Neanderthals enjoyed a diverse diet.

From the sea they could party on limpet, mussels, mussels, brown crabs, spider crabs, sharks, eels, sea bread, mules, dolphins and seals. Marine birds also included mallards, common scooters (a large sea sand), geese, cormorants, gannets, shags, auks, egrets and loons.

On land they chased red deer, goats, horses, turtles and aurokas, an extinct wild ox. They were supplemented with plants such as leftover olive and fig trees as well as pine nuts from pines.

Skeletons found in the cave could reveal Neanderthal's death rites

Neanderthals living in Italy and across the Iberian Peninsula would probably have followed a similar lifestyle with a Mediterranean climate.

The study was published Thursday in the journal Science.

In fact, the amount and diversity of marine fossils found in the cave exceeds other newer sites. This suggests that the Neanderthals were comfortable and practiced when catching seafood. In the past, this level of adaptability has only been associated with modern people living in southern Africa at the same time.

Cracked open and burned fragments of crab were also found in the cave.

“Figueira Brava provides the first record of significant marine resource consumption among Europe’s Neanderthals,” the researchers wrote in the study.

For researchers, it is another way to reduce the gap between modern humans and Neanderthals.

Some researchers believe that the introduction of seafood into the diet of early modern humans helped their cognitive development due to Omega-3 fatty acids and other brain stimulating nutrients. It contributed to the cultural and technological development that led them to migrate out of Africa and spread throughout the world.

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“If this shared consumption of marine resources played an important role in the development of cognitive skills, it did so for all of humanity, including the Neanderthals, and not just the African population that later spread,” said João Zilhão, study author and Catalan Institute of Researcher and researchers at the University of Barcelona.

In recent years, researchers have revealed evidence that “the Neanderthals had a symbolic material culture,” Zilhão said.

A cat bone found in the cave reveals the diversity of life in the area at that time.
Zilhão published a study two years ago about 65,000-year-old cave paintings found in three caves on the Iberian peninsula that are credited to the Neanderthals. This is in line with another discovery of pendants and shells colored with pigment, which is also considered to be the work of the Neanderthals.

“[These findings] support a view of human evolution where the known fossil variants, such as the Neanderthals “in Europe and its African anatomy at the same time – more like ours – should be understood as remnants of our ancestors, not as different higher-lower species,” Sa Zilhão.

The Neanderthals combed beaches and dived for shells to be used as tools, the study says

But why has it taken so long to establish that the Neanderthals were adapted to coastal life? The researchers suggest that this is because many of the caves they would have used are probably under the sea now, due to a rise in sea level over time.

Earlier this year, a separate analysis of mussel shells and volcanic rocks from an Italian cave revealed that the Neanderthals collected shells and pumice from the beaches. And because of specific indicators on some of the shells, the researchers also believe that the Neanderthals wade and dove into the ocean to retrieve shells, which means they may have been able to swim.
A view of the Figueira Brava cave with its three entrances.

There was evidence that the shells were formed of stones to make them thin, sharp and resilient. The scales were dated to between 90,000 and 100,000 years ago. This is before the arrival of modern people in the Western Europe region.

This is in line with evidence from another study suggesting that some Neanderthals were affected by “surfers’ ear”, based on bony growths found on the ears belonging to a few Neanderthal skeletons.

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