Sunday , November 29 2020

Neanderthals may have been shallow free divers, suggests a new study, Ars Technica


      Life’s a beach, then you go extinct –


Clams were useful as both food and tools.



/ Because Mediterranean is smooth clams live up to their name, their shells produce a cleaner cutting edge than others. , 0 years ago used the sturdy shells of Mediterranean smooth clams to make sharp-edged scraping tools. Clamshells wash up on beaches all the time, but University of Colorado archaeologist Paola Villa and her colleagues say that some of the worked shell tools at Moscerini look less like flotsam and more like someone scooped them off the seafloor while they were still fresh.

Shells that wash ashore after their former tenants die usually show signs of sanding and polishing, as they spend time being bounced along the sandy bottom by waves. Many also feature small holes where a marine predator drilled its way inside. But nearly a quarter of the shells at Moscerini looked surprisingly pristine, aside from the changes made by Neanderthals.

If Villa and her colleagues are right, Neanderthals at Moscerini may have practiced free diving, and they certainly did a lot of wading . Mediterranean smooth clams usually live in at least half a meter (1.6 feet) of water, and usually more. They bury themselves just beneath the sand, and it’s easy to spot where their feeding siphons reach up to the water above. Neanderthals could have easily scooped them up by hand if they were willing to go deep enough.

Winter by the sea

Members of the hominin family tree have used shells to cut and scrape things for at least , 0 years, when Homo erectus

groups on the shores of Java used freshwater mussel shells as tools. Even after agriculture reached most of Europe during the Neolithic period around 9, 0 years ago, people still used mussel shells to clean hides and finish the surfaces of ceramic vases. But usually, people just picked shells up and used them, without any kind of reworking to make them better tools. Moscerini is one of the only known sites were people were working shells into a particular sharp-edged shape, as if it were flint.

The clamshell postmortem evidence isn’t exactly definitive, but it’s not terribly shocking to suggest that Homo sapiens did invent invent wading and diving. In fact, it would probably be more surprising if a close hominin relative spent a few millennia alongside a temperate body of water without taking up diving. Plenty of evidence, including isotopic ratios in fossil bones, supports the idea that Neanderthals living along the Mediterranean coast ate shellfish, marine mammals, and fish. They also seemed prone to surfer’s ear , which suggests that at least some Neanderthals spent a lot of time in or near the water.

“The technical competence, capacity for innovation, and broad knowledge of the environmental resources have a greater time depth among non-modern humans than commonly acknowledged, ”wrote Villa and her colleagues. In other words, Neanderthals were smarter and more competent than we’ve given them credit for until recently.


. / journal.pone. 100 (

DOIs ).

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