Researchers at the Spanish National Research Council had some radical theories on Neanderthal diet and behaviours that could upend our current understanding of the hominids.
To demonstrate the validity of those theories, they spent years catching hundreds of roosting birds after dark, using a net and their bare hands, from caves in Spain. The findings from their unusual study have been published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
Neanderthals or Homo Neanderthalensis were a subspecies of ancient humans. The closest relatives to modern-day humans or homo sapiens, Neanderthals went extinct some 35,000 years ago.
Since the first remains of Neanderthals were discovered in 1829, humanity has learned a lot about our ancient cousins, from their ecology, diet, culture, physiology and their ability to use fire.
Now, researchers from CSIC have explored a niche subject in Neanderthal behaviour – their ability to cooperate in groups and catch roosting birds in caves using fire and tools.
Juan Jose Negro, co-author of the paper and a research professor at CSIC told Vice News, that nobody thought Neanderthals would do anything but sleep during night-time when in reality they would go out and forage for food.
Over the years, we have learned a lot about the Neanderthal diet, which consisted of mushrooms, pine nuts, plants, shellfish, and even dolphin meat. They were apex predators who hunted mammals using a variety of techniques and tools. There has evidence to suggest that they caught birds of prey such as pigeons and a few species of crows.
Guillermo Blanco, the lead author of the paper, has studied Choughs, a subspecies from the crow family of birds, extensively for over 30 years and was aware from experiences that it was really easy to catch them. The authors found evidence from fossil records that Choughs co-existed with Neanderthals, and also found cut marks from a commonly used Neanderthal’s tool on fossil choughs.
Over the last 20 years, the authors also located over 180 chough roosting sites across Spain, which were located inside caves that Neanderthals liked to inhabit. To demonstrate the viability of their hypothesis, researchers along with their co-workers spent years trying to catch choughs through trial and error. Using fire, and tools that Neanderthals could construct they caught hundreds of birds and recorded their observations. The caught birds were released unharmed.
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