Neanderthals were pioneers in fishing

Hyperaxion Mar 27, 2020

Evidence found in the Gruta de Figueira Brava, in Portugal, suggests that our Neanderthal ancestors pioneered fishing 80,000 years ago.

Recent studies in the Gruta de Figueira Brava, in Portugal, show something that historians already suspected: Neanderthals were pioneers in marine activities. The team, led by João Zilhão, from the University of Barcelona, Spain, published two articles on their findings in the scientific journal Science.

Neanderthals were pioneers in fishing
Fragments of edible, cracked and cooked crab legs. (Credit: Universitat de Barcelona / João Zilhão).

According to the researchers, they found evidence that the Neanderthals that inhabited the region 80,000 years ago survived by fishing and catching seafood. This indicates their diet included mussels, crustaceans and fish, as well as water birds and sea mammals, such as dolphins and seals – rich in omega-3 and other fatty acids known to promote brain development.

Experts explain that there has always been a suspicion that the consumption of these substances has increased the cognitive abilities of human populations in Africa. “Among other influences, this could explain the early emergence of a culture of modern people who used symbolic artifacts, like body painting with ocher, using ornaments or decorating containers made of ostrich eggs with geometric motifs,” said Dirk Hoffmann, co-author research, in a statement to the press.

The Gruta de Figueira Brava, in Portugal. (Credit: Universitat de Barcelona/João Zilhão).

According to him, this behavior reflects the human capacity for thought and communication through symbols, “which also contributed to the emergence of the most organized and complex societies of modern humans,” said Hoffmann.

The study still provides evidence that the population in that area supplemented their diet by hunting deer, goats, horses and other small prey, such as turtles. In addition, remains of charred plants, such as olive trees, vines, fig trees and other species typical of the Mediterranean climate, were found, which indicates that Neanderthals also made fires and cooked food.

Neanderthals fished and gathered seafood off the coast of Portugal. (Credit: Universitat de Barcelona / João Zilhão).

For the researchers, these findings indicate that, contrary to what was thought, the diet of this species was not based only on large animals and raw foods. “Our research supports a vision of human evolution in which known fossil variants, such as Neanderthals in Europe and their contemporaries of African anatomy, must be understood as our ancestors, and not as different species,” said Zilhão in a statement.

Knowing that Neanderthals were already able to use marine resources is essential to understanding the evolution of the species – and how it influenced modern humans. “[This ability] can help explain how, between 45,000 and 50,000 years ago, humans were able to cross the Timor Sea to colonize Australia, New Guinea and then, about 30,000 years ago, the islands closer to the western Pacific,” said Zilhão.


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