Evidence Shows Neanderthals Ate Birds

Squab was apparently on the neanderthal menu for over 40,000 years in Gibraltar

New evidence shows that Rock Doves (an ancestor to today's feral pigeons) were eaten by Neanderthals Wild Wonders of Europe / Hermansen/Nature Picture Library/Corbis

This summer, archaeologists are making all kinds of discoveries about Neanderthals' eating habits. In June, archaeologists analyzing Neanderthal fecal matter found that they ate vegetables, and now a team of archaeologists working in Gibraltar have found evidence that Neanderthals ate birds, as well. Pigeons, to be precise, as far back as 67,000 years ago. 

Hunting birds was long considered to be an activity pursued only by modern humans. But in a new paper published in Scientific Reports, archaeologists analyzed over 1,700 bones from rock doves—ancestors of today’s feral pigeons—from a cave in Gibraltar. They found tool marks and charring on a few of the bones, indicating that those bones may have been eaten for food.

"They liked what we like and went for the breasts, the drumsticks and the wings," study author Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, told Phys.org

The evidence suggests that the neanderthals were eating pigeon on the site for 40,000 years, long before modern humans moved into the cave system. The researchers caution, though, that it's possible the marks might have come from other activities, like waste disposal. Only 28 of the bones studied had tool marks on them, but as io9 reports, that isn’t totally surprising, given how humans butcher birds:

That's indeed a relatively small proportion of the Rock dove bones analyzed, but that could simply be because the easiest way to eat a dove is the same way most of us each chickens today: directly from the bone  

The authors point out in the paper that some bones also had teeth marks or burning consistent with cooking. Roast pigeon anyone?

[H/t Archaeology Magazine]