Did you know that the Neanderthals were a species closely related to our early human ancestors (Homo sapiens)?
Neanderthals lived across Europe and went extinct about 40,000 years ago. They were bigger and stronger than the early humans who had more complex brains.
Scientists previously believed that Neanderthals were bulky carnivorous savages who went extinct because they weren’t smart enough to adapt to their environments.
However, new evidence in a Portuguese cave once occupied by Neanderthals reveals that this species actually had a diverse diet. A research team led by Dr. João Zilhão from the University of Barcelona found layers of seafood in sediment dating back to the Neanderthal time period.
The Neanderthal Diet
Neanderthals weren’t simple creatures who solely depended on meat from land animals as people once thought.
Before this, scientists believed that Neanderthals were almost only meat-eaters. Even though Neanderthals settled around different parts of Europe and some groups also ate plant-based foods (eg. pine-nuts, mushrooms, and mosses), they were all thought to be carnivorous because of their large kidneys and liver.
Normally, humans can eat up to 35 percent lean meat without facing kidney problems, but larger kidneys allowed Neanderthals to consume more meat and protein.
However, the new discovery shows that Neanderthals were actually able to adapt to their coastal borders and utilize its resources. They knew how to fish and they consumed marine foods. Seafood was at least half of the Neanderthal diet, including fish, mollusks, crabs, seabirds, seals, and even dolphins and sharks (indicated by evidence of shark teeth).
The Role of Seafood
Scientists have always believed that omega-3 fats abundant in seafood allowed early humans to increase brain capacity and evolve significantly. This new research shows that Neanderthal brains developed much more than previously thought.
This is the first crucial piece of evidence that shows seafood in the Neanderthal diet. Previously, scientists had found tools made of shells that indicated that Neanderthals could swim and dive up to 13 feet. However, they did not have any evidence of seafood resources used by Neanderthals before this discovery. This is because many of the coastal areas in Europe where they might have lived are now submerged under melting glaciers and rising seas.
This new evidence shows us that Neanderthals were just as capable as early humans in Africa, and the reasons for their extinction may have to do with other unpredictable circumstances. These interesting findings bring us closer to our ancient relatives.
Sources: NYTimes, Business Insider, TechTimes, Sapiens.org