Neanderthal ate shellfish - study

2011-09-15 14:54

Madrid - Neanderthal cavemen supped on shellfish on the Costa del Sol 150 000 years ago, punching a hole in the theory that modern humans alone ate brain-boosting seafood so long ago, a new study shows.

The discovery in a cave near Torremolinos in southern Spain was about 100 000 years older than the previous earliest evidence of Neanderthals consuming seafood, scientists said.

Researchers unearthed the evidence when examining stone tools and the remains of shells in the Bajondillo Cave, they said in a study published online in the Public Library of Science.

There, they discovered many charred shellfish - mostly mussel shells - left by Neanderthals. They were able to date the shells by radiocarbon testing to about 150 000 years ago.

That is "almost contemporaneous" to the earliest evidence of modern humans eating shellfish at Pinnacle Point in South Africa 164 000 years ago, said the study led by the University of Seville's Miguel Cortes Sanchez.

"This discovery makes the Bajondillo Cave the oldest record of this activity among Neanderthals, as the earliest evidence until now did not go back further than 50 000 years," said Francisco Jimenez Espejo, researcher at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), which was part of the study.

"Many researchers argue that eating shellfish is one of the behaviours that define modern humans and to a certain extent an adaptive advantage that allowed homo sapiens to expand," Espejo said.

"But this investigation shows that at the same time as homo sapiens in southern Africa, homo neanderthalensis in the southern Iberian peninsula used the same resources."

  • NuttyZA - 2011-09-15 15:09

    I would have thought that they would have eaten anything that was in abundance and easily caught... nothing better than a few mussels in a red wine, tomato and garlic sauce... with a few slices of a freshly baked baguette for dipping!!!

      ecoecho - 2011-09-15 16:23

      My thoughts exactly - up to the point where you added in the red wine etc., heheh.

      CTScientist - 2011-09-15 18:34

      Baboons off Cape Point (some - not all) regularly make use of marine resources as well. I'm sure access to marine resources depends on a variety of issues - but it appears that multiple animals do so under times of stress. Brown hyaenas will even undergo behavioural changes to access Seal pups during the breeding season in Namibia.

  • Cfr - 2011-09-15 15:24


  • Colline - 2011-09-15 15:36

    i bet the prawns were BIG back then...Yummeeee

      CTScientist - 2011-09-15 18:32

      Actually, Richard Klein has shown that mollusks etc were considerably larger in MSA and Middle Paleolithic assemblages than in LSA or Upper Paleolithic assemblages. And even more so than our own modern assemblages. It has to do with over exploitation. More fully grown adults available for exploitation when there were less hominins on the landscape to harvest them.

  • Fredster69 - 2011-09-15 15:39

    Another initial theory blown out the water

      NuttyZA - 2011-09-15 15:43

      and what initial theory would that be????

      Ateis - 2011-09-15 16:06

      Fredster loves to post things like this on science articles, never debates - just a troll really

      GLY - 2011-09-15 16:46

      Nutty and Ateis I have pasted the first paragraph of the article to save you time in scrolling up "Madrid - Neanderthal cavemen supped on shellfish on the Costa del Sol 150 000 years ago, punching a hole in the theory that modern humans alone ate brain-boosting seafood so long ago, a new study shows." Q.E.D.

      Ateis - 2011-09-15 16:56

      GLY If you have been following Fredster69's posts on all the science articles you would know exactly what I mean!

      Ateis - 2011-09-15 17:19

      One of Fredsters jewels of wisdom from "So we supposedly come from apes which are animals, and we all know that they mate very often. Now how do you explain this? There were no Neanderthals, it is a made up story that lives in the head of Charles Darwin (and his followers) " Comes and vomits out comments like this but never engages in debate Q.E.D

      spookhuis - 2011-09-15 20:14

      I have come to the conclusion that you are the JM of science, you say something and run away. Back up your comments please.

  • sarecen - 2011-09-15 16:00

    its really hard to understand how we see things ching, but watch district 9 and you might understand :)prawn

  • AquaticApe - 2011-09-15 16:12

    That's why I'm an aquatic ape! Shellfish, yummmmm. And Humans can eat it raw as well as cooked. We can't digest raw mammal and dinosaur(birds).

      Flamewulf - 2011-09-15 22:06

      You subscribe to the aquatic ape hypothesis then?

  • JWock - 2011-09-15 16:24

    They used radiocarbon dating to prove it is 150 000 years ago? But radiocarbon dating has an upper limit of 60000 years after which it is considered inaccurate.

      Ateis - 2011-09-15 16:34

      I think the age is an estimate. Radiocarbon dating does have the upper limit, maybe they used something additional like potassium-argon dating. The article is copied verbatim from other sites, so it's not easy to read up on this study

      JWock - 2011-09-15 16:40

      They were measuring the age of the shells, not the rock. You can't use potassium-argon dating for carbon based organisms, you use radiocarbon dating.

      Ateis - 2011-09-15 16:58

      I know that, but it can be used to date clay layers found with the shells.

      Ateis - 2011-09-15 17:10

      To add to that: "The half-life of potassium-40 is 1.3 million years. And since potassium is an essential mineral ingested by organisms, it exists in animals' fossil remains. "

      JWock - 2011-09-15 18:24

      Then the clay in the shells is old, but we don't know when the clay got into the shells. The article says radiocarbon dating, which has a limit. Either the article is wrong, or the study is wrong.

      CTScientist - 2011-09-15 18:29

      @ JWock: It is impossible to get a believable radiocarbon date post-50-60ka. Sometimes dates are returned which are above 50-60ka, but these only mean that the item in question post dates the validity of radio carbon dating techniques. In addition, dating marine resources offers other challenges anyway. These include the notorious 'reservoir effects' which render any carbon derived dates suspect. Either the research paper, or the author of this article, have made a mistake. @ Ateis: Potassium-Argon, or Argon-Argon, dating techniques do not reliably date shell (or fossil organisms) directly. Its application in East Africa is centered on dating sediment horizons that have volcanic materials in them. Spain, as far as I am aware, does have active volcanoes. So this method could work, as long as the sediments were dated. Luminescence methods are another alternative. But again, these would not date the shells themselves, but rather quartz (or other viable) grains in sediments around the shells. I suggest you read the paper to figure out exactly what dating methodology was used, because I'm certain this article has it mixed up.

      CTScientist - 2011-09-15 18:50

      Abstract of the study: "Numerous studies along the northern Mediterranean borderland have documented the use of shellfish by Neanderthals but none of these finds are prior to Marine Isotopic Stage 3 (MIS 3). In this paper we present evidence that gathering and consumption of mollusks can now be traced back to the lowest level of the archaeological sequence at Bajondillo Cave (Málaga, Spain), dated during the MIS 6. The paper describes the taxonomical and taphonomical features of the mollusk assemblages from this level Bj19 and briefly touches upon those retrieved in levels Bj18 (MIS 5) and Bj17 (MIS 4), evidencing a continuity of the shellfishing activity that reaches to MIS 3. This evidence is substantiated on 29 datings through radiocarbon, thermoluminescence and U series methods. Obtained dates and paleoenvironmental records from the cave include isotopic, pollen, lithostratigraphic and sedimentological analyses and they are fully coherent with paleoclimate conditions expected for the different stages. We conclude that described use of shellfish resources by Neanderthals (H. neanderthalensis) in Southern Spain started ~150 ka and were almost contemporaneous to Pinnacle Point (South Africa), when shellfishing is first documented in archaic modern humans." (Cortés-Sánchez et al. 2011: 1) They study outlines their dating of the entire sequence. This is where the confusion comes from. They could use radiocarbon on the upper members, on others on the lower members.

      Ateis - 2011-09-16 06:39

      @CTScientist Thank you for the great info. For my own education then, you would not be able to date the fossil itself if it had ingested potassium via food?

  • Oldbuck - 2011-09-15 18:25

    The ones here eat pap

  • spookhuis - 2011-09-15 20:11

    Bet they didn't pay the same prices we have to pay today.....;)

  • pages:
  • 1