NewsEuropeGourmet Neanderthals cooked seafood and hunted giant elephants in cooperative mode

Gourmet Neanderthals cooked seafood and hunted giant elephants in cooperative mode

The latest estimates hold that the Eurasian continent came to house some 70,000 homo neanderthalensis that covered its entire length, from a southern cave in the Iberian Peninsula to the remote tundras of northern Europe, during the more than 200,000 years that they existed. This week two investigations have been published that show that Neanderthals, far from having the short, brutal and isolated existence of pure hunter-gatherer nomadism that was attributed to them years ago, had encounters during life for cooperation with other clans, such as hunting of giant elephants, and even complex cooking, like a Mariscada in the Atlantic.

In present-day Germany, in a former open-air coal quarry near the city of Halle, more than 3,000 bones, tusks and teeth have been discovered from 70 Palaeoloxodon antiquus, an already extinct species of giant mammals that inhabited the Pleistocene and disappeared 125,000 years ago. The research that collects it, published in the journal Science Advances and led by scientist Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, from the Monrepos Archaeological Research Center and Museum in Neuwied (Germany), concludes that Neanderthals hunted these many-tonne pachyderms for at least 2,000 years, in the ice age.

The cuts in the bones made with tools found in the excavation are the key. Analyzing the archaeological site discovered in 1980, Gaudzinski-Windheuser’s team deduced not only that Neanderthals were capable of organizing strategic hunting parties with different clans, but also that they possessed sufficient intelligence to anticipate the need to have than store food. That is, that beyond a simple subsistence hunt, there was a supply of food thanks to these “protein bombs” that were piled up in pantries. Which would indicate a limited nomadism due to the climatic conditions of the continent at the time. The pachyderms found, of which there is a record with almost intact skeletons in the sample, are the ancestors of current African elephants, and they weighed up to 14 tons and were larger than mammoths.

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The Gruta da Figueira Brava facing the Atlantic Ocean, located south of Lisbon (Portugal), where Neanderthal populations roamed, approximately 90,000 years ago.

neanderthal seafood platter

The scientist Nabais describes her result as “unpublished” and welcomes the fact that much more research is now being done in caves and sites in southern Europe, places where evidence is accumulating that Neanderthals inhabited for long periods of time. The work of Nabais’s team consisted of analyzing the crab claws found and other remains of marine life, many with burns, and making sure that their fractures or cuts corresponded and could be dated with the Neanderthal record, and in turn rule out that other animals They would have been deposited there or the corrosion of the years would have brought it. The cave, discovered in the 1980s, remained sealed due to a melting of rocky sediments. Nabais laughs when reflecting on whether what he found can be described as “kitchen gourmet“, since she does not want to speculate about what was going on inside the minds of these ancestors, but for her it is undeniable that “there is preparation and planning, since it is a meal that requires time.”

Our discoveries are the last nail in the coffin of the outdated notion that Neanderthals were primitive cavemen.

Mariana Nabais, Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES)

Nabais, in the foreground, and another IPHES researcher collect the remains of Neanderthal food.
Nabais, in the foreground, and another IPHES researcher collect the remains of Neanderthal food.Mariana Nabais

One behavior that both studies highlight is the ability of these groups of hunter-gatherers to move between different camps according to their seasonal needs. The prehistory researcher Igor Gutierrez Zugasti details how the accumulated evidence suggests that Neanderthals are “integrated into their environment, they are not like us today”, he comments ironically, “they move through different areas depending on the climate and what they require”. This, in the eyes of the expert, was probably due to the fact that they sought refuge in the Mediterranean caves during the ice age and then returned to the great Eurasian steppe at the end of the cold.

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The professor at the International Institute for Prehistoric Research at the University of Cantabria, not linked to either of these two publications, details how other previous works have indicated that Neanderthals were dedicated to monitoring herds of wild animals on their migratory routes to learn about their dynamics and learn. “It is not the same as shepherding”, he clarifies, but it is undeniable, given the evidence, that there was a transmission of knowledge, as reflected in the creation of tools within the tribe itself and cooking was also taught between generations.

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For the researcher, the knowledge provided by these new discoveries closes another debate on the Neanderthal diet, which in the past was believed to consist only of meat. The popular conception that these homos They were only carnivores is a recurring myth, similar to what happened at the end of the 20th century regarding hybridization between species, which genetics ruled; or as their apparent coarseness and mental retardation at the cognitive level, since “they were not so different from sapiens in intelligence, perhaps less social,” concludes Zugasti emphatically. The dividing line “between them and us” would thus become more blurred for the scientist.

Neanderthals are integrated into their environment, they are not like us today, they move through different areas depending on the climate and what they require

Igor Gutierrez Zugasti, researcher in prehistory University of Cantabria

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