Neanderthals ate dolphins and seals, researchers reveal

More than 80,000 years ago, Neanderthals were eating a wide range of food from the sea, according to the latest research, even hunting dolphins and seals. The study, which was led by the University of Gottingen in Germany, sheds new light on our extinct relatives. Excavation of a cave at Figueira Brava in Portugal provided evidence that Neanderthals looked to the sea for their food, as well as the land. “Their diet included mussels, crustaceans and fish as well as waterfowl and marine mammals such as dolphins and seals,” the researchers explain in a statement. A paper on the research has been published in the journal Science. Scientists were able to study deposits of calcite, a mineral, during the excavation of the cave, nearly 19 miles south of Lisbon. This meant that experts were able to date the excavated layers of the Figueira Brava cave to between 86,000 and 106,000 years, during the Neanderthal era. “The use of the sea as a source of food at that time has so far only been attributed to anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa,” the researchers explain. “Food from the sea is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other fatty acids that promote the development of brain tissue.” The findings increase our knowledge of Neanderthals. “The recent results of the excavation of Figueira Brava now confirm that if the habitual consumption of marine life played an important role in the development of cognitive abilities, this is as true for Neanderthals as it is for anatomically modern humans,” the researchers explained. The scientists have also noted that, more than 65,000 years ago, Neanderthals made paintings in three caves in the Iberian Peninsula. They also said that perforated and decorated seashells can be attributed to Neanderthals. In another recent study, experts analyzed seashells fashioned into tools that were discovered in Italy in 1949 to reveal how some Neanderthals had a much closer connection to the sea than was previously thought. In a separate study released last year, a team led by anthropologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University reported that many Neanderthals suffered from “swimmer’s ear,” bony growths that form in the ear canal through regular exposure to cold water or chilly air. Experts have been gaining new insight into Neanderthals in recent years. In 2018, for example, archaeologists in Poland identified the prehistoric bones of a Neanderthal child eaten by a large bird. In another study released in 2018, scientists suggested that climate change played a larger part in Neanderthals’ extinction than previously thought. Last year researchers in France reported that climate change drove some Neanderthals to cannibalism. The closest human species to homo sapiens, Neanderthals lived in Eurasia for around 350,000 years. Scientists in Poland report that Neanderthals in Europe mostly became extinct 35,000 years ago. However, there are a number of theories on the timing of Neanderthals’ extinction, with experts saying that it could have occurred 40,000, 27,000 or 24,000 years ago.

Fascinating!!  …until they just had to throw in the climate change part, without explaining how, or backing it up.  Typical..

Slow flow of human immigration may have doomed Neanderthals

What killed off the Neanderthals? It’s a big debate, and now a study says that no matter what the answer, they were doomed anyway. Our close evolutionary cousins enjoyed a long run in Europe and Asia, but they disappeared about 40,000 years ago after modern humans showed up from Africa. The search for an explanation has produced many theories including climate change, epidemics, or inability to compete with the modern humans, who may have had some mental or cultural edge. The new study isn’t intended to argue against those factors, but just to show that they’re not needed to explain the extinction, says Oren Kolodny of Stanford University. He and colleague Marcus Feldman present their approach in a paper released Tuesday by the journal Nature Communications. They based their conclusion on a computer simulation that represented small bands of Neanderthals and modern humans in Europe and Asia. These local populations were randomly chosen to go extinct, and then be replaced by another randomly chosen population, with no regard for whether it represented the same species. Neither species was assumed to have any inherent advantage, but there was one crucial difference: Unlike the Neanderthals, the modern humans were supplemented by reinforcements coming in from Africa. It wasn’t a huge wave, but rather “a tiny, tiny trickle of small bands,” Kolodny said. Still, that was enough to tip the balance against the Neanderthals. They generally went extinct when the simulation was run more than a million times under a variety of assumptions. If survival was a game of chance, “it was rigged by the fact that there’s recurring migration,” Kolodny said. “The game was doomed to end with the Neanderthals losing.” Kolodny said the evidence that such migrations actually occurred is suggestive rather than conclusive. Such migrations would not be expected to leave much of an archaeological trace, he said. Experts in human origins said the paper could help scientists pin down the various factors that led to the Neanderthals’ demise. It fits in with other recent attempts to explain the extinction without assuming behavioral differences between Neanderthals and our ancestors, said Wil Roebroeks of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. The notion of such differences is largely disproven, he said. Katerina Harvati of the University of Tuebingen in Germany said while the new work could be useful in solving the extinction mystery, it doesn’t address the question of why modern humans dispersed from Africa into Europe and Asia. It’s important to figure out what was behind that, she said in an email.

Fascinating!!   🙂

Underground stone structures likely built by Neanderthals, scientists say

Two mysterious stone rings found deep inside a French cave were probably built by Neanderthals about 176,500 years ago, proving that the ancient cousins of humans were capable of more complex behavior than previously thought, scientists say. The structures were made from hundreds of pillar-shaped mineral deposits, called stalagmites, which were chopped to a similar length and laid out in two oval patterns up to 16 inches high. They were discovered by chance in 1990, after remaining untouched for tens of thousands of years because a rockslide had closed the mouth of the cave at Bruniquel in southwest France. While previous research had suggested the structures pre-dated the arrival of modern humans in Europe around 45,000 years ago, the notion that Neanderthals could have made them didn’t fit long-held assumptions that these early humans were incapable of the kind of complex behavior necessary to work underground. Using sophisticated dating techniques, a team led by archaeologist Jacques Jaubert of the University of Bordeaux, France, found that the stalagmites must have been broken off the ground around 176,500 years ago “making these edifices among the oldest known well-dated constructions made by humans.” “Their presence at 368 yards from the entrance of the cave indicates that humans from this period had already mastered the underground environment, which can be considered a major step in human modernity,” the researchers concluded in a study published online Wednesday by the journal Nature. Jaubert ruled out that the carefully constructed rings, which show traces of fire, could have come about by chance or been assembled by animals such as the bears and wolves whose bones were found near the entrance of the cave. “The origin of the structures is undeniably human. It really cannot be otherwise,” he told The Associated Press. The Neanderthals who built them must have had a “project” to go so deep into a cave where there was no natural light, said Jaubert. They probably explored underground as a group and cooperated to build the rings, using fire to illuminate the cave, he said. “These are exceptional tours, certainly for extraordinary reasons we do not yet know.” Paola Villa, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who wasn’t involved in the study, said the site “provides strong evidence of the great antiquity of those elaborate structures and is an important contribution to a new understanding of the greater level of social complexities of Neanderthal societies.” The authors said the purpose of the oval structures — measuring 172 square feet and 25 square feet — is still a matter of speculation, though they may have served some symbolic or ritual purpose. “A plausible explanation is that this was a common meeting place for some type of ritual social behavior,” Villa suggested. Wil Roebroeks, a Neanderthal expert at the University of Leiden, Netherlands, noted that the structures in Bruniquel may represent only the tip of the iceberg of Neanderthal culture, but most relics would have been made of organic material and decayed long ago. “Bruniquel cave (shows) that circular structures were a part of Neanderthals’ material culture,” said Roebroeks, who called the rings “an intriguing find, which underlines that a lot of Neanderthal material culture, including their ‘architecture,’ simply did not survive in the open.” Roebroeks, who also wasn’t involved in the study, said the fact that similar rings haven’t been found anywhere else makes it hard to test any theory about how they came to be. “One could even envisage that groups of Neanderthal teenagers explored this underground environment deep in the cave, as teenagers tend to do, building fires, breaking off stalagmites and gradually turning them into the structures that 175,000 years later made it into (the journal) Nature,” he said.

Fascinating!!    🙂

Neanderthals wore eagle talons as jewelry 130,000 years ago

Long before they shared the landscape with modern humans, Neanderthals in Europe developed a sharp sense of style, wearing eagle claws as jewelry, new evidence suggests. Researchers identified eight talons from white-tailed eagles — including four that had distinct notches and cut marks — from a 130,000-year-old Neanderthal cave in Croatia. They suspect the claws were once strung together as part of a necklace or bracelet. “It really is absolutely stunning,” study author David Frayer, an anthropology professor at the University of Kansas, told Live Science. “It fits in with this general picture that’s emerging that Neanderthals were much more modern in their behavior.” [Top 10 Mysteries of the First Humans] The talons were first excavated more than 100 years ago at a famous sandstone rock-shelter site called Krapina in Croatia. There, archaeologists found more than 900 Neanderthal bones dating back to a relatively warm, interglacial period about 120,000 to 130,000 years ago. They also found Mousterian stone tools (a telltale sign of Neanderthal occupation), a hearth and the bones of rhinos and cave bears, but no signs of modern human occupation. Homo sapiens didn’t spread into Europe until about 40,000 years ago. The eagle talons were all found in the same archaeological layer, Frayer said, and they had been studied a few times before. But no one noticed the cut marks until last year, when Davorka Radov?i?, curator of the Croatian Natural History Museum, was reassessing some of the Krapina objects in the collection.

Cool!    🙂