Neanderthals Ate Dolphins, Seals, Cave Remains Suggest

September 22, 2008

Neanderthals living in a pair of caves on the Mediterranean Sea regularly feasted on mussels, fish, and other types of marine life, according to a new study.

The finding suggests that Neanderthals actively foraged for seafood just like early modern humans, according to Clive Finlayson, an anthropologist at the Gibraltar Museum.

Neanderthals and modern humans are distinct species that split from a common ancestor several hundred thousand years ago.

(Test your Neanderthal knowledge with our online quiz.)

Why modern humans thrived and Neanderthals ultimately failed has long been a topic of scientific intrigue, and previous research had suggested that the ability to exploit marine resources was one of the defining characteristics for the success of modern humans.

But the new research may eliminate sophisticated foraging skills from the list of potential advantages unique to humans.

"I don't think that the success of one or the other had to do with subsistence, with the way they hunted or fed," Finlayson said.

"There may be other factors coming into this, or it may just have been a question of luck."

Seafood Feasts

The new theory is based on excavations of two caves on the western edge of Gibraltar, a British territory at the southern tip of Spain (see map).

Previous studies showed Neanderthals periodically occupied the caves as recently as 28,000 years ago.

(Related: "Neandertal's Last Stand Was in Gibraltar, Study Suggests" [September 13, 2006].)

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