Neanderthals ate seafood including crabs, clams, oysters and dolphins

Neanderthals fed regularly on mussels, fish and other omega-3-rich marine life including seals, which likely impacted their cognitive abilities, a new study claims.

Archaeological digs along the Portuguese coast reveal the evidence that our cavemen ancestors had as much fondness for seafood as modern humans today.

Both Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens tucked into 'surf and turf', from molluscs, crabs, fish, waterfowl and dolphins to horse, goat and red deer, as well as pine nuts. 

The findings are based on ancient remains in the cave of Figueira Brava, Portugal, dating to roughly 106,000-86,000 years ago – when Neanderthals settled in Europe. 

A mussel shell bed taken from a section of the soil in the cave with a 20 cm ruler for comparison

A mussel shell bed taken from a section of the soil in the cave with a 20 cm ruler for comparison

Figueira Brava is 18.6 miles (30km) south of Lisbon on the slopes of the Serra da Arrábida, a natural park facing south, about a 45-minute drive from Lisbon

Figueira Brava is 18.6 miles (30km) south of Lisbon on the slopes of the Serra da Arrábida, a natural park facing south, about a 45-minute drive from Lisbon

‘Pretty much every potential source of food that existed in the environment they [Neanderthals] exploited and used it,’ said Professor João Zilhão, an expert in palaeolithic archaeology at the University of Barcelona.

‘The significance of these finding is that it showed that the people living about 100,000 years ago were practising the same type of economy of subsistence economy that you see 10,000 to 5,000 years ago only in Neolithic Europe.’

Food from the sea is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other fatty acids that promote the development of brain tissue.

Seafood could explain the early appearance of people that used remains as symbolic artefacts, reflecting a greater artistic and emotional intelligence.

A view of the Figueira Brava cave with its three entrances. Today Figueira Brava is located directly on the waterfront, but at the time of the Neanderthals it was up to 1.2 miles (2km) from the coast

A view of the Figueira Brava cave with its three entrances. Today Figueira Brava is located directly on the waterfront, but at the time of the Neanderthals it was up to 1.2 miles (2km) from the coast

Pieces of Palourde clam (Ruditapes decussatus) found in the site. This mollusc is cultivated and harvested today, such as in waters at Poole Harbour, Dorset

Pieces of Palourde clam (Ruditapes decussatus) found in the site. This mollusc is cultivated and harvested today, such as in waters at Poole Harbour, Dorset

This includes body painting using ochre from the earth and the decoration of containers made of ostrich eggs with geometric motifs.

‘Such behaviour reflects human's capacity for abstract thought and communication through symbols, which also contributed to the emergence of more organised and complex societies of modern humans,’ said Dr Dirk Hoffmann at the Göttingen Isotope Geology Department.

WHAT DID NEANDERTHALS EAT? 

Neanderthals are mostly associated with a diet of meat, including deer, ibex or even mammoth. 

But 50 per cent of the diet of the inhabitants in Figueira Brava including Neanderthals was built by coastal resources, researchers say:

Molluscs (limpet, mussel and clams; crustaceans (brown crab and spider crab)

Fish (shark, eel, sea bream, mullet)

Birds (mallard, common scoter, goose, cormorant, gannet, shag, auk, egret, loon)

Mammals (dolphin, seal). 

This was complemented with the hunt of deer, goats, horses, aurochs and other small preys such as tortoises. 

Among the other carbonised plants found were olive trees, vines, fig trees and other Mediterranean climate typical species. 

Pine forests were exploited as fruit tree gardens. 

Previously scientists suggested that only Homo sapiens in Africa fished and reaped the rewards of brain-boosting fatty acids that seafood contains, which may have enhanced their cognitive development.

This, they say, allowed technological and cultural innovations to blossom during the Middle Stone Age – a period lasting from 200,000 to 25,000 years ago – allowing early modern

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