Discovery adds to growing evidence that Neanderthals were very similar to modern humans
Neanderthals made extensive use of coastal environments, munching on fish, crabs and mussels, researchers have found, in the latest study to reveal similarities between modern humans and our big-browed cousins.
Until now, many Neanderthal sites had shown only small-scale use of marine resources; for example, scattered shells. But now archaeologists have excavated a cave on the coast of Portugal and discovered a huge, structured deposit of remains, including from mussels and limpets, dating to between 106,000 and 86,000 years ago.
Researchers say the discovery shows that Neanderthals systematically collected seafood: in some layers the density of shells was as high as 370kg per cubic metre. They say this is exciting because the use of marine resources on such a scale and in such a way had previously been thought to be a trait of anatomically modern humans.
Prof João Zilhão, of the University of Barcelona, a co-author of the report, said the discovery added to a growing body of research suggesting modern humans and Neanderthals were very similar.
“I feel myself uncomfortable with the comparison between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, because the bottom line is Neanderthals were Homo sapiens too,” he said. “Not only was there extensive interbreeding, and such interbreeding was the norm and not the exception, but also in every single aspect of cognition and behaviour for which we have archaeological evidence, Neanderthals pass the sapiens test with outstanding marks.”
The findings chime with recent evidence that Neanderthals had “surfers’ ear” and may have dived to collect shells for use as tools. Previous finds in Spain have shown they decorated seashells and were producing rock art 65,000 years ago.