Study of Neanderthal diet shows they were more than just ‘primitive cave dwellers’

Neanderthals in present-day Portugal caught sea creatures more than 90,000 years ago and used cooking methods that would give them “significant nutritional benefits,” new study findings reveal.

The research, published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Archeologyanalyzed prehistoric deposits of shells and bones unearthed in a cave south of present-day Lisbon.

The study’s findings have provided further evidence that ancient human ancestors were more than just cave dwellers, according to scientists including Mariana Nabais of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution.

“Our results add an additional nail to the coffin of the outdated notion that Neanderthals were primitive cave dwellers who could barely make a living off the carcasses of prey animals,” said Dr. Nabais.

Shells discovered from intact stone age deposits overwhelmingly represent brown crabs, suggesting that these crustaceans were the shellfish of choice for human ancestors.

The findings suggest that the sea creatures were brought into the cave whole, where they were roasted over hot coals and then eaten, indicating that the Neanderthals regularly caught large brown crabs.

“They would take them in pools on the nearby rocky shoreline, targeting adult animals with an average carapace. [shell] width of 16 cm”, explained Dr. Nabais.

The researchers also assessed shell breakage, looked for signs of butchering and percussion marks, and also determined whether the crabs had been exposed to high temperatures.

The fracture patterns in the shells suggested that the animals were probably cut open to access the meat.

The Neanderthals not only harvested the crabs, but also roasted them, according to black burns found on the shells, which indicated that the crabs may have been heated to around 300-500°C, typical for cooking.

This analysis helped the researchers rule out the involvement of other predators, as the study revealed no carnivores or rodent markings. The breakage patterns also did not indicate predation by birds.

The scientists found that the large crabs were mostly adults, likely producing around 200g of meat.

Since crustaceans tend to be elusive, archaeologists speculate that Neanderthals may have harvested these oversized brown crabs from low tide pools in the summer.

The new findings, along with previous evidence that Neanderthals consumed limpets, mussels, clams, and a variety of fish on a large scale, debunk the notion that shellfish consumption played a significant role in increasing cognitive abilities among people. first modern human populations of sub-Saharan Africa. the scientists said.

While it remains unknown why Neanderthals chose to collect crabs, the researchers said that cooking and eating the crustaceans would have offered them “significant nutritional benefits.”

“The notion of Neanderthals as high-level carnivores living off large steppe-tundra herbivores is extremely skewed,” said Dr. Nabais.

“Such views may well apply to some extent to the Neanderthal populations of the Ice Age periglacial belt of Europe, but not to those living on the southern peninsulas, and these southern peninsulas are where most humans live. of the continent lived throughout the Paleolithic, before, during and after the Neanderthals”, he added.

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