Neanderthals used seashells as tools, new research


This October 2014 video is called A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins.

From PLOS:

Neanderthals went underwater for their tools

Neanderthals collected clamshells and pumice from coastal waters to use as tools

January 15, 2020

Neanderthals collected clamshells and volcanic rock from the beach and coastal waters of Italy during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study published January 15, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Paola Villa of the University of Colorado and colleagues.

Neanderthals are known to have used tools, but the extent to which they were able to exploit coastal resources has been questioned. In this study, Villa and colleagues explored artifacts from the Neanderthal archaeological cave site of Grotta dei Moscerini in Italy, one of two Neanderthal sites in the country with an abundance of hand-modified clamshells, dating back to around 100,000 years ago.

The authors examined 171 modified shells, most of which had been retouched to be used as scrapers. All of these shells belonged to the Mediterranean smooth clam species Callista chione. Based on the state of preservation of the shells, including shell damage and encrustation on the shells by marine organisms, the authors inferred that nearly a quarter of the shells had been collected underwater from the seafloor, as live animals, as opposed to being washed up on the beach. In the same cave sediments, the authors also found abundant pumice stones likely used as abrading tools, which apparently drifted via sea currents from erupting volcanoes in the Gulf of Naples (70km south) onto the Moscerini beach, where they were collected by Neanderthals.

These findings join a growing list of evidence that Neanderthals in Western Europe were in the practice of wading or diving into coastal waters to collect resources long before Homo sapiens brought these habits to the region. The authors also note that shell tools were abundant in sediment layers that had few stone tools, suggesting Neanderthals might have turned to making shell tools during times where more typical stone materials were scarce (though it’s also possible that clam shells were used because they have a thin and sharp cutting edge, which can be maintained through re-sharpening, unlike flint tools).

The authors add: “The cave opens on a beach. It has a large assemblage of 171 tools made on shells collected on the beach or gathered directly from the seafloor as live animals by skin diving Neanderthals. Skin diving for shells or freshwater fishing in low waters was a common activity of Neanderthals, according to data from other sites and from an anatomical study published by E. Trinkaus. Neanderthals also collected pumices erupted from volcanoes in the Gulf of Naples and transported by sea to the beach.”

After sequencing the Neanderthal genome, scientists discovered all present-day non-African individuals carry some Neanderthal ancestry in their DNA. Now, researchers present evidence of Neanderthal ancestry in African populations too, and its origin provides new insights into human history: here.

A new study documented the earliest known interbreeding event between ancient human populations — a group known as the ‘super-archaics’ in Eurasia interbred with a Neanderthal-Denisovan ancestor about 700,000 years ago. The event was between two populations more distantly related than any other recorded. The authors proposed a revised timeline for human migration out of Africa and into Eurasia. The method for analyzing ancient DNA provides a new way to look farther back into the human lineage: here.

Over 80,000 years ago, Neanderthals were already feeding themselves regularly on mussels, fish and other marine life. The first robust evidence of this has been found by an international research team with the participation of the University of Göttingen during an excavation in the cave of Figueira Brava in Portugal. Dr Dirk Hoffmann at the Göttingen Isotope Geology Department dated flowstone layers — calcite deposits that form like stalagmites from dripping water — using the uranium-thorium method, and was thus able to determine the age of the excavation layers to between 86,000 and 106,000 years. This means that the layers date from the period in which the Neanderthals settled in Europe. The use of the sea as a source of food at that time has so far only been attributed to anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) in Africa. The results of the study were published in the journal Science: here.

2 thoughts on “Neanderthals used seashells as tools, new research

  1. Pingback: Neanderthals could weave, new research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: How Neanderthals made bone tools | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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