Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Neanderthals at the beach

In two sea caves on the east side of Gibraltar, paleontologists have discovered the remains of marine mammals that they suggest were eaten by Neanderthals. Vanguard and Gorham’s caves were previously known to have been occupied by Neanderthals at least 32,000 years ago.

The scientific research was carried out by a multidisciplinary group of Spanish, British and Gibraltarian scientists, including Dr. Isabel Cáceres member of Universitat Rovira i Virgili of Tarragona (URV) and Institut de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES). The results are published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America.

Some animals showed signs of having the meat stripped by Neanderthals - IPHES / CSIC

The authors identified the remains of fish, mussel shells, and seal bones­ along with the remains of other land animals that Neanderthals hunted and eaten sedimentary layers corresponding to the era when Neanderthals lived in the caves. The findings provide the clearest evidence to date that Neanderthals, like prehistoric humans, actively sought out and consumed animals from the ocean. The researchers show that the bones of some animals from the caves showed signs of having the meat stripped off by stone tools associated with Upper Paleolithic and Mousterian technologies used by Neanderthals. The seal remains are those of juveniles, suggesting the Neanderthals may have actively tracked down the animals at calving season. The sites on Gibraltar show that hunting and gathering of marine animals was a regular, seasonal part of the coastal Neanderthal lifestyle, the authors say.

Until now the scientific community had thought that Homo sapiens was the only human group that had the capacity to take advantage of all natural resources, including marine nutrients. Isabel Cáceres has pointed out that "the exploitation of marine resources in Gibraltar is developed first by Neanderthals and after by Homo sapiens. Both species have similar strategies for hunting and processing the marine resources."

The research shows that the Neanderthals, far from being limited to carnivorous land mammals, had a full knowledge of the environment. This fact allowed them to use all the resources they had at their disposal.

Isabel Cáceres emphasizes: "Since the exploitation of marine resources also encourage a greater territorial stability, we suggest that the survival of Neanderthals until chronologies so late in Gibraltar could be a direct result of good adaptation to the environment (exploitation of marine resources) and, therefore, the success of an economic, social and cultural complex" .

For more information

Article #08-05474: “Neanderthal exploitation of marine mammals in Gibraltar,” C. B. Stringer, J. C. Finlayson, R. N. E. Barton, Y. Fernández-Jalvo, I. Cáceres, R. C. Sabin , E. J. Rhodes, A. P. Currant, J. Rodríguez-Vidal, F. Giles Pacheco, J. A. Riquelme Cantal

Nature, Vol 443. 19 de octubre de 2006

Science, Vol 296. 3 de mayo de 2002

Isabel Cáceres
Area de Prehistoria, Universitat Rovira i Virgili de Tarragona - IPHES