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Scientists pretend to be Neanderthals and seek ways to catch birds in caves in search of food

Reconstruction of Neanderthals.Credit: public domain

Our closest relative, the Neanderthals, became extinct 40,000 to 35,000 years ago. Since the discovery of the first Neanderthal fossils 165 years ago, scientists have described Neanderthals in culture, sociality, ecology, diet, fire control, tool making and use, physiology, and even genomic code. I learned more than anyone else. Other non-human humans. Here, Spanish researchers use a very original approach, scientific “role-playing,” to reconstruct new elements of Neanderthal behavior. ..Their findings are published in Ecology and evolution frontier..


Neanderthals are known to have eaten plants, fungi, crustaceans, roasted pine cones, and stranded dolphin meat. At the same time, they were important apex predators hunting mammals with a variety of techniques, from spear ambush to capture and chase. There is also increasing evidence of regular catching of flying birds, such as birds of prey, pigeons and crows.

“Here we show that the Neanderthals may be preying on the red-billed chough, a bird that spends the night in a cave, which is the preferred refuge for the Neanderthals. The Neanderthals dazzle the flying red-billed chough at night. We will rebuild the method of using fire to let, enclose, and grab, “said the lead author, Dr. .. Guillermo Blanco at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid.

Currently, two species of red-billed chough are occurring in Southern Europe and Central Europe, North Africa, the Near East and Central Asia. This distribution overlaps significantly with the previous Neanderthal range. Herds roost at night in caves and rocky crevices. Due to the small number of caves, red-billed choughs sometimes shared these with Neanderthals.

Mark fossils of red-billed chough

Blanco et al. Began by reviewing literature on bird fossils found in caves that also contain Neanderthal fossils and tools. They confirm that coexistence of Neanderthals and red-billed choughs was common. In Europe, the red-billed chough is one of the most abundant bird fossils in Neanderthal caves. Especially on the Iberian Peninsula, fossil red-billed choughs were often cut from so-called “Mousterian” stone tools manufactured by the Neanderthals 300,000 to 35,000 years ago.

“These cut marks are strong evidence that the Neanderthals caught and chopped red-billed chough. The red-billed chough meat not only produces calories, but also welcomes micronutrients. Its bright black feathers and yellow or red The beak and claws may be used personally by Neanderthals. “Decoration,” says Dr. Juan J. Negro, co-author of Estación Biológicade Doñana in Seville.

Between 1988 and 2020, the author found 185 red-billed chough roosts throughout Spain, about one-third of which were in caves, crevices, and crevices. Most roosting sites are used annually, providing shelter for 3 to 737 red-billed choughs, respectively.

Role-playing for science

The author and his colleagues then used a kind of scientific “role-playing” to find the best way to catch the red-billed chough glass through trial and error. In a team of two to ten, the “Neanderthals” sneaked into a roost at night with rope nets, ladders, and lamps that imitated torches. All of these are tools that Neanderthals can probably build. They recorded the characteristics of the roost, the size of the team, the strategies and tools used, the reaction of the chaff, and the number captured. Birds were always released unharmed. In 296 trials conducted at 70 roost sites, researchers were able to catch 5525 red-billed choughs.

Dr. Antonio Sanchez Marco, co-author of the Catara de Paleontrogia Miquel Crusafont Institute in Barcelona, ​​said, “Red-billed choughs can be used by Neanderthals in caves at night when using artificial light such as fire. We conclude that there is a unique vulnerability to it. ” “When you’re dazzled, the red-billed chough tries to escape outwards. In that case, you’ll often catch it with a net behind the entrance, or to the ceiling and catch it by hand. Two or three red-billed choughs are adults. Although the Neanderthals generate enough energy to fully eat, some skilled hunters can easily catch 40 to 60 red-billed choughs per night. ”

The authors found that the necessary social, cognitive, and physical skills are for Neanderthals, who live in groups of 10 to 20 adults and children, have larger brains than modern humans, and are more anatomically better suited. Claims that it was well within range. Climb more than us.

“Research over the last decade has shown that Neanderthals are far more diverse in behavior than previously thought. Our study is a good example. Neanderthals have another unexpected skill, the roost. We were able to reconstruct the catching of birds. Given the variety of behaviors, given the ongoing extinction crisis, it becomes more difficult and urgent to explain why the Neanderthals disappeared. “Branco concludes.


Neanderthal hunting camp in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula


For more information:
Night capture of roosting cave birds by Guillermo Blanco and others, Neanderthals: a realistic approach, Ecology and evolution frontier (2021). DOI: 10.3389 / fevo.2021.733062

Quote: Scientists pretend to be Neanderthals to investigate how birds were caught in caves for food (September 15, 2021). .html

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Scientists pretend to be Neanderthals and seek ways to catch birds in caves in search of food

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