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In 1949 a group of archaeologists unearthed in the caveGrotta dei Moscerini (Italy) 171 seashells, all of a local species of mollusk called the smooth clam (Callista chione), that theneanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) had collected and transformed intotoolsabout 90,000 years ago.
Now, a study by the University of Colorado (USA) has revealed that these hominins not only caught them from the beach, but also dived to look for theshell perfect. His analysis is published today in the magazinePLoS ONE.
“We started studying the tools as part of a general job at the Italian cave site,” he explains. Paola Villa, main author of the work and scientist at the American university.
What the researchers were not expecting was that many of them had a shiny, smooth exterior, showing that they were plucked directly from the seabed like live animals. "It is quite possible that Neanderthals collected shells from two to four meters deep," says Villa. "Of course, they did not have diving equipment."
The rest of the shells had exteriors slightlyeroded by the time. It is what you would expect in shells that have been washed up on the beach, according to the authors.
Tools taken from the sea
The archaeologist claims that they used stone hammers to crush the shells of the mollusks, forming cutting edges that have remained sharp for a long time.
The team also found a large number ofpumice stones that they used as abrasion tools. According to the researchers, this material could have reached the beach of Moscerini by the eruptions of the volcanoes of the Gulf of Naples, 70 kilometers south of the cave.
This is not the first time that these hominids have been related to the sea. A study published in August found that many Neanderthals suffered from the'Surfer's ear', a condition in which one of the bones of the ear canal grows excessively as a result of the repeated contact with cold water and the wind that is common among aquatic athletes.
For Villa, the findings are further proof that Neanderthals were as flexible and creative as their modern human relatives when it came to making a living, a stark contrast to their portrayal in popular culture.
“People are beginning to understand that Neanderthals didn't just hunt large mammals. They also did things like freshwater fishing and even diving, "he concludes.
Villa P, Soriano S, Pollarolo L, Smriglio C, Gaeta M, D’Orazio M, et al. "Neandertals on the beach: Use of marine resources at Grotta dei Moscerini (Latium, Italy)”. PLoS ONE(January 15, 2020) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0226690