Neanderthals widely used coastal environments and ate fish, crabs and mussels, as researchers found in the recent study to uncover similarities between modern humans and our tall brown cousins.
So far, many Neanderthal sites have shown little use of marine resources. For example, scattered shells. Now archaeologists have unearthed a cave on the coast of Portugal and discovered a huge, structured deposit of remains, including shells and limpets, that were formed 106,000 to 86,000 years ago.
Researchers say the discovery shows that Neanderthals systematically collected seafood: in some layers, the mussel density was up to 370 kg per cubic meter. They say this is exciting because the use of marine resources on such a scale and in this way was previously seen as a feature of anatomically modern people.
Prof. João Zilhão from the University of Barcelona, co-author of the report, said the discovery has contributed to a growing body of research suggesting that modern humans and Neanderthals are very similar.
“I feel uncomfortable with the comparison between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens, because the bottom line is that Neanderthals were also Homo Sapiens,” he said. “Not only was there an extensive intersection, and such an intersection was the norm and not the exception, but in every aspect of the knowledge and behavior for which we have archaeological evidence, Neanderthals passed the Sapiens test with excellent grades. “
The results are consistent with recent evidence that Neanderthals had a “surfer’s ear” and may have been diving to collect shells for use as a tool. Previous discoveries in Spain have shown that they adorned shells and produced rock art 65,000 years ago.
“Forget this Hollywood-like image of the Neanderthal man as this half-naked primitive that roamed the steppe tundra of northern Europe and searched for mammoths and other mega fauna with poor and inefficient weapons,” said Zilhão. “The real Neanderthal is the Neanderthal in southern Europe.”
The discovery seems to throw cold water at the idea that modern marine foods, rich in fatty acids, have helped them outperform Neanderthals by better perception.
“If [marine foods] were important to modern people, then they were also important to Neanderthals – or maybe they didn’t have the meaning that people attach to them, ”said Zilhão, noting that in any case only a few modern people lived on the coast.
In Science magazine, researchers write that the newly excavated site, which was about 2 km or less from the coast when Neanderthals occupied it, contained a variety of stone tools, roasted plant material, and remains of horses and deer, as well as eels, sharks, seals , Crabs and waterfowl, which suggests a varied diet.
Zilhão said the find also shed some light on Neanderthal fishing practices and noted that they must have had baskets or bags. “You can’t run 2,000 meters with a catch of 10 or 20 kilos of mussels in your hands,” he said, adding that the Neanderthal population probably also understood that shellfish collected at the wrong time could be poisonous.
The team says the lack of other huge mussel deposits in Europe could be due to a lack of conservation: shellfish could not be transported far from the coast, and therefore many such occurrences in Northern Europe would have been destroyed when the polar ice caps moved forward on others They could be submerged when the sea rose to today’s level.
The section of the Portuguese coast where the new find was made is perhaps the only place on site where such deposits could have been preserved. In contrast, South Africa saw an increase in the country, which means that many such deposits have been preserved.
Dr. Matthew Pope, a Neanderthal researcher at the UCL Institute of Archeology who was not involved in the study, said the results were significant.
“We have increasingly recognized the sophistication of Neanderthal behavior, but one thing that continued to characterize the behavioral development of modern humans in Africa was the appearance of a systematic collection of marine resources, and this was a difference between the two groups of the population,” he said. “Evidence like this is important to show that Neanderthal populations are able to use marine resources systematically.”