January 20, 2022 5:18 pm

Neanderthals captured birds in caves for consumption

The neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) captured at night for consumption chovas, a species of birds with completely black plumage and similar in size to pigeons, according to a study led by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC).

Until now, the association between Neanderthals and these species was thought to be circumstantial and was due to the fact that they both used the same shelters. But the marks on some bones belonging to these corvids have revealed its consumption by humans. The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

In recent years, evidence has accumulated that their diet was varied and included plants, small mammals, some birds, and even invertebrates.

Neanderthals, which inhabited temperate areas of Europe and central Asia until their extinction about 40,000 years ago, are known for their diet of large herbivores, consisting of horses, goats and bovids wild. However, in recent years evidence has accumulated that their diet was varied and included plants, small mammals, some birds And till invertebrates, such as crustaceans and bivalves that they collected in coastal areas.

Among the fossils of birds that are most frequently found in the caves that these hominins occupied are those of Piquirroja rain and rain piquigualda. These species form aggregations to sleep inside the chasms and from the Neolithic they are also present in human constructions.

“Recently, it has been possible to show that some fossil chough bones from Neanderthal sites show signs of processing and consumption by humans. We also know that some of those bones were cooked over a fire ”, he points out. Guillermo Blanco, researcher at the National Museum of Natural Sciences (MNCN-CSIC) and first author of the work.

A habitual and expanded consumption

The study reviews data from Neanderthal sites with the presence of fossil bones red-billed chough and yellow-billed chough, species that would provide a good protein supply to a Neanderthal.

“Both these birds and ancient humans overlapped their ranges in Eurasia for a long period of time. In fact, they appear in sites from different times from the Iberian Peninsula to the Caucasus. Therefore, the habit of consuming them was extensive, in time and space, and it must have occurred with a certain frequency “, he explains. Juan Jose Negro, scientist at the Doñana Biological Station (EBD-CSIC).

Neanderthals were able to hunt them when they came to the caves at dusk for the night. With the help of fire, they could generate enough light to scare them inward.

Antonio Sánchez-Marco, from the ICP

To determine how they were able to capture these species of corvids, very elusive and distrustful during the day, the researchers resorted to what is known as actualistic method: inferring past behaviors by analogy with events in the present.

“The capture by hand of choughs in the cavities that they use to sleep at night, without any additional technology beyond portable light sources (torches), leads us to think that the Neanderthals could hunt them when they arrived at the caves at dusk. to spend the night. With the help of the fire, which they already dominated, they could generate enough light to scare them into the cavity and trap them ”, he points out. Antonio Sanchez-Marco, of the Catalan Institute of Paleontology Miquel Crusafont (ICP) and co-author of the study.

The social behavior of choughs to sleep at night allows the capture by hand and simultaneously of numerous specimens. Also, when scared and chased in caves, they have a tendency to fly inside. This, the study points out, would facilitate catches. And to this would also contribute the adaptation for the scotopic vision (in low light) of the Neanderthals, since they had eyes larger than those of the Homo sapiens.


Blanco G., Sánchez-Marco, A. & Negro, J. J. (2021). “Night Capture of Roosting Cave Birds by Neanderthals: An Actualistic Approach”. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 9, 733062. DOI: 10.3389/Febru.2021.733062


Rights: Creative Commons.


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