Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hominins ate seafood

<...and sometimes seafood ate hominins...>



Neanderthal exploitation of marine mammals in Gibraltar

C. B. Stringer, J. C. Finlayson et al, Communicated by Erik Trinkaus, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, June 16, 2008 (received for review April 22, 2008)


Two coastal sites in Gibraltar, Vanguard and Gorham's Caves, located at Governor's Beach on the eastern side of the Rock, are especially relevant to the study of Neanderthals. Vanguard Cave provides evidence of marine food supply (mollusks, seal, dolphin, and fish). Further evidence of marine mammal remains was also found in the occupation levels at Gorham's Cave associated with Upper Paleolithic and Mousterian technologies [Finlayson C, et al. (2006) Nature 443:850–853]. The stratigraphic sequence of Gibraltar sites allows us to compare behaviors and subsistence strategies of Neanderthals during the Middle Paleolithic observed at Vanguard and Gorham's Cave sites. This evidence suggests that such use of marine resources was not a rare behavior and represents focused visits to the coast and estuaries.

Neanderthals Took Hunt for Food to the Sea

By HENRY FOUNTAIN Published: September 22, 2008

The Neanderthals were seafood lovers, new findings suggest.

Paleontologists digging in sediments at two large caves on a Gibraltar beach have found clear evidence that more than 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals ate mussels and other mollusks, fish and even marine mammals like seals and dolphins. And it was not that this bounty just fell into their lap: there are other signs that they actively hunted some of their seafood, just as they did with land animals.

Yolanda Fern├índez-Jalvo of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, Christopher B. Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London and colleagues identified the remains of meals, including bones from monk seals and common and bottlenose dolphins, in Gorham’s and Vanguard caves on the eastern side of the rock. The findings are reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some of the bones showed damage from stone tools, probably from the Neanderthals’ removing the meat from them. At Vanguard cave, the researchers found a hearth; evidence suggested it was used not for cooking but for preparing the seal and dolphin carcasses (for one thing, heating them would make the bones easier to break and the marrow easier to remove).

The location of the remains at Vanguard cave indicates that it had at least three periods of use by the Neanderthals. And many of the bones were from immature mammals, raising the possibility that the Neanderthals hunted during breeding season, when seals came on land for long periods to breed. Taken together, the evidence points to the Neanderthals’ making deliberate visits to the coast in search of delicacies from the deep.


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