Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Neanderthals noshed on barbecued birds

Study finds extinct species may have been smarter than previously thought

  • Print

Long before there were urban plazas and parks filled with pigeons all across the world, pigeon ancestors and Neanderthals were hanging out together in rocky caves on the island of Gibraltar.

In a study published Thursday in Scientific Reports, researchers say they have found evidence of an association between Neanderthals and rock doves (the avian ancestor of feral pigeons) that goes back at least 60,000 years, before modern humans arrived in Europe.

The rock doves may have stolen scraps of food from the Neanderthals, and in turn, these pigeon ancestors may have made up a large part of the Neanderthal diet, the researchers say.

In the past, scientists have argued Neanderthals did not possess enough skills to catch birds, but the discovery of cut marks and teeth marks on the fossilized bones of ancient rock doves contradicts that view.

"Our study implies abilities previously only ascribed to modern humans," said Clive Finlayson a paleontologist at the Gibraltar Museum and one of the lead authors on the paper. "There is too much material for the birds to have been casually scavenged. There must have been active hunting involved."

The archaeological team examined more than 1,700 rock dove bones in two caves on the southern tip of the Gibraltar peninsula from birds that lived between 60,000 and 28,000 years ago.

On 28 of the dove bones, the team found clear evidence of cut marks, suggesting a tool was used to get the meat off the rock dove's bone. It's a small percentage of the bones they looked at, but they note rock doves could easily be consumed by a hungry Neanderthal without tools -- kind of like how we eat chicken legs and wings today. They also found burn marks on many of the bones, suggesting they had been cooked over a fire.

"I had suspected that Neanderthals, contrary to popular opinion, exploited birds, but we had to show that they were deliberately bringing the birds back to the cave," said Finlayson. "The first 'Aha!' was finding cut marks in the pigeon bones, but finding more, and also burned marks and tooth marks, really sealed it."

The study adds to a growing body of evidence Neanderthals may have been more sophisticated than we gave them credit for in the past. It has already been established they could control fire, probably wore furs and were adept at making stone tools. Recent studies have also suggested that their diet included plants, too, as well as large game and rabbits.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that there is very little difference in the subsistence behavior of Neanderthals when we compare them to the modern humans that followed them," Finlasyon said. "The missing factor is how far their cognitive capabilities made them symbolic and abstract thinkers."

There has already been movement on that front, too. A study published in December found evidence our closest human relatives buried their dead as long as 50,000 years ago.

In 2012, Finlayson published a study suggesting Neanderthals may have preferred to adorn themselves with large black feathers from birds of prey.


-- Los Angeles Times


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2014 A2

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Key of Bart - Cali For Jets Nation

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009
  • Aerial view of Portage and Main, The Esplanade Riel, Provencher Bridge over the Red River, The Canadian Museum for Human Rights and The Forks near the Assiniboine River, October 21st, 2011. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) CMHR

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google