Finding Puts 'Extra Nail in the Coffin' on Neanderthal Theory

Prehistoric humans loved a good roasted crab, dispelling notion they didn't enjoy seafood
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2023 5:10 PM CST
Neanderthals Enjoyed a Crab Bake as Much as We Do
We're not sure if the Neanderthals used lemon on their crabmeat.   (Getty Images/LarisaBlinova)

Prehistoric humans may not have had Red Lobster or Long John Silver's, but that doesn't mean they didn't enjoy a good seafood sit-down as much as their modern-day relatives. In fact, scientists have determined that Neanderthals quite enjoyed crab, which they caught by the shore, then roasted over coals before eating, per new research published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology. The study noted that archaeologists digging up a cave at the Gruta da Figueira Brava site in Portugal, south of Lisbon, unearthed not only stone tools and charcoal, but also remnants of what Neanderthals were chowing down on 90,000 years ago.

Per a release, a "wide variety of shellfish remains" were found in the cave, including mussels and clams, but "overwhelmingly," those remains represented brown crabs. Study leader Mariana Nabais of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution and her team found that the hunted crabs were mainly large adults, with a carapace (the hard upper shell) measuring about 6 inches wide, with each crab providing about 7 ounces of meat. Researchers say the crabs were busted open for that meat with stone tools, and that black burn marks on the shells indicated the Neanderthals cooked the crabs over hot coals at temperatures between 575 degrees Fahrenheit and 930 degrees Fahrenheit.

CNN notes that the finding "builds upon evidence that overturns the long-standing notion that a taste for seafood—rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are important for brain growth—was one of the unique factors that made our own species, Homo sapiens, smarter than other, now-extinct prehistoric humans, such as Neanderthals." Adds Nabais in the release: "Our results add an extra nail to the coffin of the obsolete notion that Neanderthals were primitive cave dwellers who could barely scrape a living off scavenged big-game carcasses."

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The scientists acknowledge that they're not sure why these ancient humans were drawn to crabs, especially as the quick-moving creatures weren't particularly easy to catch. The researchers say the crabs were likely caught in shallow low-tide rock pools not far from the cave, perhaps with the help of spears to stun them. "Whether such foods were perceived as tasteful, reflected some sort of festivity, added social value to whoever harvested them, or had other consumption-associated meanings is beyond our grasp," the researchers write. (More discoveries stories.)

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