Beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, near a Portuguese cave, lies the evidence that Neanderthals were enjoying seafood dinners as far back as 90,000 years ago.
A recent archaeological study has uncovered remnants of brown crab meat in an ancient kitchen belonging to our distant ancestors. This paints a more sophisticated picture than what was once believed about these primitive humans’ eating habits.
The study was published in Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. Archaeologists have uncovered a tantalizing trove at the ancient Neanderthal site of Gruta da Figueira Brava – 32km south of Lisbon.
Between 2010 and 2013, they discovered crab shells, mussels, clams, and limpets left behind by our distant ancestors. Further analysis revealed that Neanderthals were not only capable hunters but also masterful fishermen as well. It’s an exciting discovery that overturns long-standing beliefs about their lifestyle.
“Our results add an extra nail to the coffin of the obsolete notion that Neanderthals were primitive cave dwellers who could barely scrape a living off scavenged big-game carcasses,” said Dr. Mariana Nabais, a postdoctoral researcher at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution in Tarragona, Spain.
The exploitation of crabs by Last Interglacial Iberian Neanderthals:
The evidence from Gruta da Figueira Brava (Portugal)https://t.co/uZKVBKtcVM
Crab remains reveal complete animals brought here, roasted on coals, then cracked open to access the flesh. pic.twitter.com/Iw7tkVIYQN
— MU-Peter Shimon 🀄 (@MU_Peter) February 9, 2023
Use of harvesting tools
After excavating the site, the team uncovered 635 pieces of shell belonging to at least 33 crabs. Upon examining them further, they found signs that tools had been used to harvest them and heat marks consistent with roasting on hot coals.
Intriguingly, these particular crustaceans seemed larger than normal – perhaps signifying they were purposely chosen for their size by skilled hunters.
Neanderthals, during the last 100,000 years of the Stone Age, were creating culinary wonders similar to modern gourmet dishes.
Cooking the crabs 90,000 years ago
Neanderthals weren’t merely gathering crabs – they were also cooking them before eating them.
By studying the distinctive black burns on the shells, in comparison with other mollusks heated at certain temperatures, Nabais and her colleagues concluded that Neanderthals had been roasting these crabs at a remarkable 300-500 degrees Celsius.
“Our results add an extra nail to the coffin of the obsolete notion that Neanderthals were primitive cave dwellers who could barely scrape a living off scavenged big-game carcasses,” said Nabais. “Together with the associated evidence for the large-scale consumption of limpets, mussels, clams, and a range of fish, our data falsify the notion that marine foods played a major role in the emergence of putatively superior cognitive abilities among early modern human populations of sub-Saharan Africa.”
Neanderthals also hunted giant elephants
Ancient Neanderthals were not just hunters and gatherers but also mammoth hunters. A mine in east Germany uncovered 3,400 bones belonging to 70 of these behemoths. They showed numerous signs of having been skillfully hunted with wooden spears 125,000 years ago.
“Either they were capable of storing the huge amounts of food that came from butchering these animals for a long time and/or that they were operating in, at least temporarily, in much larger groups than commonly envisaged for Neanderthals and other early hunter-gatherers,” University of Leiden archaeologist and study co-author Wil Roebroeks said in an interview with NPR.