Diet of Figueira Brava Neanderthals Was Rich in Seafood, Archaeologists Say

by johnsmith

An international team of archaeologists found that the Neanderthals who occupied Gruta da Figueira Brava in the Arrábida range, Portugal, between 86,000 and 106,000 years ago ate mollusks, crabs, fish, and even dolphins and seals.

Homo neanderthalensis by Charles R. Knight.

Homo neanderthalensis by Charles R. Knight.

Excavating at Figueira Brava, University of Barcelona’s Professor João Zilhão and colleagues unearthed shell middens rich in the remains of mollusks, crabs, fish as well as terrestrial food sources.

“The cave site of Figueira Brava is located 30 km south of Lisbon on the slopes of the Serra da Arrábida,” the archaeologists said.

“Today it is located directly on the waterfront, but at that time it was up to 2 km from the coast.”

“We found that the Neanderthals living there were able to routinely harvest mussels and fish, and to hunt seals.”

Gruta da Figueira Brava, Arrábida, Portugal. Image credit: Pedro Souto / João Zilhão.

Gruta da Figueira Brava, Arrábida, Portugal. Image credit: Pedro Souto / João Zilhão.

Marine food is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other fatty acids that promote the development of brain tissue.

Until now, it has always been suspected that this consumption increased the cognitive abilities of the human populations in Africa.

“Among other influences, this could explain the early appearance of a culture of modern people that used symbolic artifacts, such as body painting with ochre, the use of ornaments or the decoration of containers made of ostrich eggs with geometric motifs,” said co-author Dr. Dirk Hoffmann, a researcher at the University of Göttingen and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

“Such behavior reflects human’s capacity for abstract thought and communication through symbols, which also contributed to the emergence of more organized and complex societies of modern humans.”

“The results from 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 findings were published in the journal Science.


J. Zilhão et al. 2020. Last Interglacial Iberian Neandertals as fisher-hunter-gatherers. Science 367 (6485): eaaz7943; doi: 10.1126/science.aaz7943

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