Neanderthals Used to Dive Into the Ocean to Collect Shells, New Discovery Suggest

Neanderthals ​were not as boorish or dull as historians once believed. A new discovery of a humanoid detailed that his walk was performed with an upright posture and some groups located in Western Europe might have also swum on a regular basis.

A new assay of 171 shells, discovered in a Neanderthal​ archaeological region in Italy, implies that the extinct population used to dive to the ocean depths for tools, even before the appearance of modern humans and their fishing habits.

Basic Activities ‘Beyond’ Their Capabilities

The cave in which these ancient artifacts were discovered is known as the Grotta dei Moscerini, was dug in 1949, and the contents have been estimated to be more than 70,000 years old. This cave, however, is not accessible anymore. Its collection of 171 clamshells has been well selected over the decades, enabling researchers to perform a microscopic review that unveiled the fact that Neanderthal​s were able to do much more than they initially thought.

Not only were the shells manually shaped into useful instruments, but the researchers also say almost a quarter had been gathered underwater from the bottom of the sea as live creatures. Every one of them belongs to the Mediterranean smooth clam species Callista chione, and a shell expert could then determine which were gathered from the beach, and which were collected from the ocean floor, by comparing numerous elements in their appearance.

“The live animals that lived in the sea had a shiny shell,” archaeologist Paola Villa from the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History explained to The New York Times.

“The ones that are thrown by storms or dragged by a current onto the beach, because they sat in the sun and in the sand, their outer shells are opaque and not as shiny.”

A large number of these thin and sharp shells were utilized as tools due to the evidence of ‘knapping’ found on them, but it is still unclear as to whether the Neanderthal​s​ ate the meat that was inside.

A large number of these thin and sharp shells were utilized as tools. Image: [Villa et al., PLOS ONE, 2019]
The new discoveries add to an increasing collection of evidence that implies Neanderthal​s​ did not only plunged in the water for shells. Rather, similar sites and new anatomical research shows that skin-diving in deep waters was a regular activity these humanoids performed.

Neanderthals Were More Intelligent Than Initially Thought 

research published last year discovered the fact that Neanderthals​ showed incredibly high levels of bony increments in their external ear canal, and in humans, this condition is usually linked to cold water exposure. One reason is that Neanderthals​ spent a lot of time harvesting aquatic materials, although the species was believed to be too mindless to do such things.

“It reinforces a number of arguments and sources of data to argue for a level of adaptability and flexibility and capability among the Neanderthals, which has been denied them by some people in the field,” palaeoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus from Washington University in St Louis said in 2019.

Other previous research has revealed proof of freshwater fishing by Neanderthals​ in France, even though some still believe this was something beyond their abilities. In comparison to beach-sweeping, collecting shells from the bottom of the sea takes a lot of time and is energy-draining. However, authors of the new research indicate that buried clams are usually thicker than those that end up on the shore.

Moreover, the paper also discovered pumice stones between the cave’s remains, which were probably used as scrapping tools, and which most likely washed up into the Gulf of Naples from erupting volcanoes erupting close by.

“Taken together, there is evidence to build a case that some Neanderthal individuals or populations might have been diving for aquatic resources,” Neanderthal researcher Matthew Pope from the UCL Institute of Archaeology, who was not engaged in the study, told The Guardian.

The study is available in PLOS ONE.​

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