By Ruby Prosser Scully
Neanderthals were better hunters than we thought. Fossils suggest they were hunting rabbits in Western Europe thousands of years ago.
Eugene Morin at Trent University in Canada and colleagues examined fossilised rabbit remains from eight sites in the north-western Mediterranean region. They found evidence of burning, which was probably from cooking, as well as cut marks on the meat-bearing bones.
Neanderthals were the most likely rabbit hunters at the majority of the sites. “It changes the perspective on Neanderthals,” says Morin. “Before that, most researchers would have said that Neanderthals were exclusively large game hunters.”
Hunting quick and small game has a poorer calorie return given its costs, and the consensus was that this was rare until the Upper Palaeolithic era 40,000 years ago, around when modern humans arrived in Europe.
Food shortages probably drove Neanderthals to broaden their diet, although finding archaeological evidence of their hunting techniques is challenging.
The tip of a projectile point in a bone can shed light on some hunting methods, but the string and roots used to snare and trap animals don’t preserve well.
There were very few infant rabbit bones at the sites, which may suggest that the inhabitants weren’t flushing rabbits out of their warrens, and instead hunting them individually.
While larger animals such as bison probably still made up the bulk of the Neanderthals’ diet, the finding shows that their diets weren’t uniform and they adapted to different environments across different regions of Europe, says Morin.
Journal reference: Science Advances , DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav9106
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