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The Neanderthals liked seafood, too, new evidence suggests

Figueira Brava site on the Atlantic coast of Portugal.

The Figueira Brava site on the Atlantic coast of Portugal.
Picture: P. Zilhão et al., 2020 / Science

The Neanderthals who lived in Portugal during the last ice age consumed large quantities of seafood, according to new archaeological evidence. The discovery suggests that the Neanderthals, like our modern human ancestors, utilized marine resources.

Marine food resources such as fish, eel, molluscs and crab were staples in the Iberian Neanderthal diet for tens of thousands of years, according to research published today in Science.

Neanderthal debris piles, known as dinner in the archaeologists’ parlance, which included traces of marine food, was discovered at the site of Figueira Brava on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. The dietary waste in these spaces, such as discarded bones and shells, was radio-colonized to between 106,000 and 86,000 years ago, which pointed to the intensive and consistent use of marine resources by the Neanderthals in this region for a long time, according to the new newspaper.

Shell fragments found in the cave.

Shell fragments found in the cave.
Picture: P. Zilhão et al., 2020 / Science

In addition, these Neanderthal animals consumed land animals like waterfowl and deer, pointing to a diet that can only be described as surf ‘n peat, as one researcher expressed the. But for the authors of the new study, led by archaeologist Joao Zilhão of the University of Barcelona, ​​this means that Iberian Neanderthals were not just hunter-gatherers – they were fisherman-hunter-gatherers, in a discovery that further limits behavior between Neanderthalists from early modern people.

The fact that Neanderthals utilized marine resources is a controversial issue among some researchers, because of the inconsistency archaeological evidence.

Back in 2008, for example, paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer and his colleagues published evidence which shows that the Neanderthals who lived in two caves in Gibraltar used marine food resources, but “there was criticism at the time that this behavior was probably rare and sporadic in the Neanderthals, compared to the much richer material from early early modern humans living near the beaches of southern Africa, explained Stringer, a researcher from the Museum of Natural history in the UK who was not involved in the new study, in an email to Gizmodo.

In fact, early modern people, otherwise known as Homo sapiens, who lived in southern Africa during the same time period – the Middle Pleistocene – rubbed seafood safely, as evidenced by their ample consumption of seafood about 160,000 years ago. The lack of evidence of this behavior among the Neanderthals led to The belief among some archaeologists that marine diets were strictly the domain of modern humans.

It is important to resolve this debate, because seafood is a rich source of brain-boosting fatty acids. Marine diets could therefore have played an important role in human history, including Neanderthals.

As I said, there is evidence of Neanderthals utilizing marine resources, except for the Stringer paper.

Neanderthals collected shells that they used for jewelry and to do tool. The new discovery at Figueira Brava is important as it is the most comprehensive evidence yet to show that the Neanderthals consistently lived by marine resources, at least in the coast of Iberia. The new discovery also shows striking behavioral similarities between Neanderthals and early modern humans.

The paleontological and archaeological material collected at Figueira Brava included evidence of molluscs, crabs and fish (including eels), but also waterfowl, deer, horses and even pine nuts. The researchers also found evidence of stone tools and other artifacts.


Picture: P. Zilhão et al., 2020 / Science

“The variable but consistent signal of these behaviors across multiple archaeological layers at Figueira Brava provides robust evidence of systematic, long-term coastal adaptations of the Neanderthal during the Pleistocene,” wrote archaeologist Manuel Will of the University of Tübingen in a subsequent Science Insights article. The new study “disproves the theory that Neanderthals could not extract various ocean resources in large quantities,” said Will, who did not participate in the new research. he Added a warning: “an archaeological site does not make a pattern.”

Stringer said the new study “adds a lot to the data showing that Neanderthals were really well adapted to living offshore and coastal resources,” but “we still need more evidence of the broader picture of Neanderthals against modern behavioral similarities and differences before we can claim complete behavioral equivalence between them. ”

These problems despite the new document suggest a lifestyle for hunting and gathering for the Iberian Neanderthals during the Middle Pleistocene.

As to why similar sites have not been found elsewhere, Zilhão and his colleagues speculate that other Neanderthal sites were washed away as sea levels rose at the end of the recent ice age, especially those in coastal Europe. If so, it may be difficult to find further evidence elsewhere.

Hey, no one said archeology would be easy, but we keep approaching the truth with every discovery.

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