Neanderthals regularly fed mussels, fish, and other omega-3 rich marine life, including seals, which likely affected their cognitive abilities, a new study claims.
Archaeological digs along the Portuguese coast reveal evidence that our caveman ancestors loved seafood just as much as modern humans do today.
Both Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens hid in ‘surf and peat’, from molluscs, crabs, fish, waterfowl and dolphins to horses, goats and red deer, as well as pine nuts.
The findings are based on ancient remains in the Figueira Brava cave, Portugal, dating from approximately 106,000-86,000 years ago – when Neanderthals settled in Europe.
A mussel shell bed from part of the ground in the cave with a 20 cm ruler for comparison
Figueira Brava is located 30 km south of Lisbon on the slopes of the Serra da Arrábida, a south-facing natural park, about 45 minutes’ drive from Lisbon
“Virtually every potential food source that existed in the environment they were in [Neanderthals] exploited and used, ‘said Professor João Zilhão, an expert in paleolithic archeology at the University of Barcelona.
“The significance of this finding is that it showed that the people who lived about 100,000 years ago were practicing the same kind of self-sustaining economy that you see only in Neolithic Europe 10,000 to 5,000 years ago.”
Food from the sea is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other fatty acids that promote the development of brain tissue.
Seafood can explain the early appearance of people using relics as symbolic artifacts, reflecting greater artistic and emotional intelligence.
A view of the Figueira Brava cave with its three entrances. Nowadays Figueira Brava is located directly on the water, but at the time of the Neanderthals it was 2 km from the coast
Pieces of Palourde clam (Ruditapes decussatus) found in the site. Today, this mollusk is farmed and harvested, such as in waters off Poole Harbor, Dorset
This includes ocher earth painting and decoration of containers made of ostrich eggs with geometric motifs.
“Such behavior reflects man’s ability to think and communicate abstractly through symbols, which has also contributed to the emergence of more organized and complex societies of modern people,” said Dr. Dirk Hoffmann of Göttingen’s Department of Isotope Geology.
WHAT DO NEANDERTHALS EAT?
Neanderthals are usually associated with a diet of meat, including deer, ibex, or even mammoths.
But 50 percent of the diet of Figueira Brava’s residents, including Neanderthals, was built by coastal sources, researchers say:
Molluscs (limpet, mussel and clams; shellfish (brown crab and spider crab)
Fish (shark, eel, sea bream, harder)
Birds (mallard, common sea duck, goose, cormorant, gannet, cormorant, aluk, egret, diver)
Mammals (dolphin, seal).
This was supplemented by hunting deer, goats, horses, aurochs and other small prey such as turtles.
Among the other charred plants found were olive trees, vines, fig trees and other typical Mediterranean climates.
Pine forests were exploited as fruit orchards.
Previously, scientists suggested that only Homo sapiens fished in Africa and reaped the benefits of brain-boosting fatty acids containing seafood, which may have improved their cognitive development.
This, they say, allowed technological and cultural innovations to flourish during the Middle Stone Age – a period from 200,000 to 25,000 years ago – allowing early modern humans in Africa to expand and conquer the world.
This theory is “devoid of an empirical basis,” says Professor Zilhão, and the recent findings in Figuera Brava show that Neanderthals might have benefited equally from fish.
If regular consumption of marine life played an important role in the development of cognitive skills, this applies to Neanderthals as much as anatomically modern humans, the team believes.
‘In similar environments and similar climatic conditions and in the right places, people did much the same thing in Europe or Africa, regardless of whether we call them Neanderthals or’ moderns’ and these are in fact only a small racial difference between populations that eventually become part of Gay Sapiens should be considered, “said Professor Zilhão.
Figueira Brava is located 30 km south of Lisbon on the slopes of the Serra da Arrábida, a south-facing natural park, about a 45-minute drive from Lisbon.
Today, Figueira Brava is right on the waterfront, but at the time it was up to 2 km (2 miles) from the coast.
At the location, Dr. Hoffmann flowstone layers – calcite deposits that form as stalagmites from dripping water – using the uranium-thorium dating.
Broken open and burnt fragments of scissors from the edible crab (cancer pagurus), which is still eaten
Uranium-thorium dating is a way of determining the age of a rock by the amount of radioactive thorium it contains.
Using this method, Dr. Hoffmann was able to determine the age of the excavation layers between 86,000 and 106,000 years – the period when Neanderthals settled in Europe.
Despite the similarities, researchers still found signs of more advanced fishing for Homo sapien sites along the jewelry made from shells.
50 percent of Figueira Brava’s diet was made up of coastal resources, including molluscs (limpet, mussel and mussel) and shellfish (brown crab and spider crab)
The study also contradicts the idea that Neanderthals were based on cold tundras and were experts in hunting mammoths, rhinos, buffalo and reindeer.
“Most Neanderthals would have lived in southern regions, especially in Italy and the Iberian Peninsula, and their lifestyle would have been very similar to that of Figueira Brava,” said Zilhão.
The international team of archaeologists built on research in the 1920s, when sites were found 100,000 years old in Gibraltar, Spain.
The latest results have been published in the journal Science
WHO ARE THE NEANDERTHALS?
The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor who mysteriously died out about 50,000 years ago.
The species lived in Africa with early humans for hundreds of millennia before moving to Europe about 500,000 years ago.
Later, they were joined by people who made the same journey in the past 100,000 years.
The Neanderthals were a human cousin, but not a direct ancestor – the two species separated from a common ancestor – who died about 50,000 years ago. Depicted is a Neanderthal museum exhibition
These were the original ‘cavemen’, traditionally thought to be stupid and brutal compared to modern humans.
However, in recent years, and especially in the past ten years, it has become increasingly clear that we are selling Neanderthals short.
A growing body of evidence points to a more sophisticated and multi-talented type of ‘caveman’ than anyone thought possible.
It now seems likely that Neanderthals buried their dead with the concept of an afterlife in mind.
In addition, their diets and behaviors were surprisingly flexible.
They used body art like pigments and beads, and they were the very first artists, with cave art from the Neanderthals (and symbolism) in Spain apparently older than the earliest modern human art by some 20,000 years.