Neanderthals may have hunted or scavenged pigeons for food, a study in Scientific Reports suggests. Until recently, systematic exploitation of birds has been considered to be an exclusive and defining feature of modern human behaviour.
Clive Finlayson, Ruth Blasco and colleagues examined the bones of rock doves - ancient ancestors of feral pigeons - found in Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar, that cover a time period of 67,000 to 28,000 years ago. This time range coincided with the occupation of the cave by Neanderthals and, subsequently, by modern humans. Some of the bones have cut marks or show signs of being burnt, which may indicate that the birds may have been butchered and cooked. The proportion of bones found to have cut marks was relatively small, but the authors note that small birds would require minimal butchering; human tooth marks were found on some bones, providing further signs that the birds were eaten by inhabitants of the cave.
The researchers propose that their findings provide evidence that Neanderthals, and later modern humans, may have exploited rock doves as a food source, hinting that Neanderthals may have had some similar skills to modern humans in terms of obtaining food.
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