Thursday, September 15, 2011

modernity and fish

An interesting article on the use of shellfish by Neandertals, this time 150kya in Spain. It's not too surprising, since Neandertals used shellfish there, and in other parts of the Mediterranean, in later periods, but this puts Neandertal use of shellfish almost as far back as the Pinnacle Peak finds in South Africa.

This brings up the issue of fishing and shellfishing as signs of modernity, as well as issues of diet breadth among premodern peoples. I'm not surprised to find Neandertals had the behavioral plasticity to use marine resources. I've always assumed that the use of fish, shellfish, and small game is a reflection of environmental/economic/demographic circumstances, rather than of inherent ability. Perhaps this find will strengthen that interpretation.


  1. Of course, large-ish and easy-to-gather shellfish should be pretty highly ranked, as long as you've got the rock to break them open with (and depending on shoreline characteristics). It'd be a bit more surprising to find substantial fish use at that time.

  2. Yes, very true. Some of the Middle Paleolithic caves at Gibraltar have fish and dolphin remains, but I don't know how much of a handle they have on the taphonomic problems there. The caves are full of seagulls, depositing, among other things, fish.

    Still, this issue of marine resource use is one that keeps coming up. I agree shellfishing doesn't seem like a very big deal. It's just sitting on the rock at their feet, for heaven's sake! But clearly it is seen as important by some archaeologists.